Kyle Paquette, who has developed the mental training aspects of our program and worked with our coaches and athletes for the past seven years, is in Rio as the Performance Coach of our Olympic Mens Volleyball Team. We hope you are following their progress as they have earned a decisive victory against the USA and played a solid match against #1 ranked Brazil.
August 2, 2016 – Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Following an enjoyable and successful week-long training camp in Taubaté, a small Brazilian city located approximately 300 kilometers southwest of Rio de Janeiro, the National Men’s Volleyball team arrived in Rio excited to fully embrace and experience the Olympic Games. As documented in the media, the road to Rio for Volleyball Canada, and in some cases its delegates, spans across a 24-year period that has involved tremendous adversity, some spectacular highs, and many challenging lows. Although the Olympic Games represent an athletic competition of grandiose size and importance (nationally and for the individuals involved), the mental preparation for our athletes, coaches, and support staff remains narrow in its focus and objectives. In short, my role is to help the team members keep their attention on their respective performance tasks – the specific actions and thoughts that increase the team’s probability of success when consistently executed and attended to.
Given the scale of the Games and how dissimilar they will be to any other competitive environment that our team will have experienced, staying connected to performance will at times be much easier said than done. As such, we continue to invest a significant amount of time, both as a team and as individuals, anticipating and reflecting on the ongoing impact of adversity and distraction. Distraction, simply put, is anything that pulls our attention away from performance. Although distraction is almost exclusively discussed in terms of the harm it can have on performance, it is important to understand that the actual sources of distraction are never inherently good or bad – even “good” things, such as exciting thoughts (“We‘re going to win”), emotions that make us feel good (joy and surprise), well-intended social support (local fans cheering us on), and good individual performances (a timely big block) can momentarily interfere with our ability to effectively stay connected to our performance. By continuing to practice being open, honest, and vulnerable both to ourselves and to each other, we are better able to recognize and accept the many inevitable distractions that will threaten to undermine our performance, as well as our overall enjoyment and experience at the Games.
The unfortunate reality is that the sport system often does little to nurture the traits of mindfulness, openness, honesty, and vulnerability – in many cases, these traits are discouraged, and young athletes are rewarded for supressing their thoughts and emotions in an effort to “be strong”, “suck it up”, and to display a false sense of confidence and bravado. At a young age, athletes are taught that certain thoughts, emotions, and performance outcomes are good and that others are bad. As a result, athletes unknowingly develop sophisticated habits to pursue the “good” in sport and to avoid the “bad”. These maladaptive habits create inner conflict among athletes who enter competitive situations with competing goals of simultaneously trying both to win and to not lose. Another form of conflict relates to the inability to effectively interpret and process common and predictable cognitive and emotional responses to competition. For example, athletes develop patterns of getting anxious about the prospect of feeling anxiety, getting angry for feeling and expressing anger, or being afraid of feeling fear and having thoughts rooted in doubt. When these habits are left unaddressed during an athlete’s development, they become a primary source of interference at the high-performance level. Despite being sufficiently equipped with the physical abilities and technical skills required to succeed, performances are far too often hijacked by common psychological limitations.
Throughout the Games, our challenge will be:
- To recognize the adversity and distraction when it presents itself, as well as the impact it has on our performance – no matter how big or small it may be
- To accept that adversity and distraction are part of the Olympic experience, at times our expectations will not be met, and that our natural cognitive and emotional responses to any situation are valid – we don’t need to waste time and energy pretending that we are thinking or feeling anything unnatural
- To reconnect to our performance tasks as efficiently as possible when we become distracted
What an exciting time! We are all so grateful to be part of the greater Canadian Olympic Team and to proudly represent our amazing country! #TeamCanada #2016Rio