If the U.S. national anthem plays at this summer's Olympics in Beijing, it's likely that a proud psychologist will watch the medal ceremony knowing that he or she had a small part in fulfilling that athlete's dreams.
Increasingly, psychologists help Olympians improve their concentration, focus their skills and cope with the intense pressure of high-level competition.
Here are some of the psychologists who helped prepare America's 2008 Olympians:
James Bauman, PhD, of the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Chula Vista, Calif., is making his fifth trip to the Olympics, working primarily with U.S. Swimming, U.S. Track and Field, U.S. Women's Softball, and the first-ever Olympic Bicycle Motocross teams. While in China, he will help the athletes focus on their competitive routines and manage their stress. "People now understand we're there to help them with their strengths," he says.
Charlie Brown, PhD, a private practitioner in Charlotte, N.C., has trained members of the U.S. Whitewater, Canoe/Kayak teams to stay focused during races. Although he won't be traveling to China, he'll continue to coach the athletes via online chats. "I'll be helping them through cyberspace," he says.
Chris Carr, PhD, of the Sport and Performance Psychology Program at St. Vincent Sports Performance Center in Indianapolis, is counseling the U.S. Diving Team at his second Olympics. "In a judged sport like this, my role is to help the divers focus on what they control ... their thoughts, their emotions and their preparation to dive at their best each time."
Karen Cogan, PhD, of the University of North Texas, is the U.S. TaeKwonDo Team's secret weapon. As the team's first sport psychologist, she put the athletes through competition simulations and trained them to use relaxation and imagery to improve their performance.
Ross Flowers, PhD, of U.S. Olympic Committee in Chula Vista, Calif., will be working with the U.S. Track and Field, Rowing and Canoe/Kayak teams. "I work with people who are blessed with great talent," says Flowers, who helps the athletes develop their mind-body connection and draw on the support of their friends and families.
Peter Haberl, EdD, of the U.S. Olympic Committee in Colorado Springs, Colo., prepares athletes from the U.S. Water Polo, Shooting and Track Cycling teams to handle both success and disappointment. "After all, there's a very small difference between being on the podium and finishing fourth," Haberl says.
Colleen Hacker, PhD, of Pacific Lutheran University, is going to the Olympics with the U.S. Field Hockey Team, which qualified for the games for the first time in 24 years. Hacker relies on such performance-enhancement techniques as imagery, focusing, distraction control and pre-performance routines. "I try to empower athletes to have the skills necessary to produce optimal performance at elite levels, to be at their best more often and to play their best when it counts the most," she says.
Sean McCann, PhD, of the U.S. Olympic Committee in Colorado Springs, has worked with the U.S. Shooting Team since 1991 and the U.S. Weight Lifting Team for two years. This year, he's also working with the U.S. Bicycle Motocross Team, which debuts at this year's games, and the course is among the hardest they've ever ridden. "It's my job to help them deal with what they can control," he says.
Margaret Ottley, PhD, of West Chester University, is supporting the U.S. Track and Field Team by reinforcing skills athletes already use, including breathing techniques, positive self-talk and sensory awareness. "I support athletes' self-determination and drive to achieve their personal goals," she says.
Marshall Mintz, PsyD, of Springfield Psychological Associates in Springfield and Randolph, N.J., is attending his first Olympic games with gold and silver medalists from the U.S. Men's and Women's Rowing teams. Over the past year, Mintz has helped the athletes cope with putting their lives on hold to participate in the games. "There is also an increase in tension and stress around the Olympics, and my goal is to try to help the athletes to stay as intensely focused and committed to the task at hand," he says. (Read more about Mintz on page 64.)
Kirsten Peterson, PhD, of the U.S. Olympic Committee in Colorado Springs, will travel to Beijing to support the U.S. Wrestling and Boxing teams. "I'm awed by the dignity of these athletes and how they cope gracefully," she says.