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Let the Games begin

And so to the Games of the XXXI Olympiad, Rio, Brazil, 2016. The biggest sporting spectacle there is, the pinnacle of achievement for athletes in many sports, these games will be watched by approximately half of Planet Earth. 11,178 athletes from 205 countries will compete in 306 events across 42 different sports. It is sporting endeavour on a truly global scale.

I am in a privileged position. I have had the opportunity and good fortune to be working with seven Team GB members, who will be competing in Rio in four different sports. I love my work, and I remain in awe of these remarkable individuals. Speaking with them in the run up to these games has given me a close and fascinating measure of what it takes to reach the top. I couldn’t be any more excited for them as they step in the spotlight over the coming fortnight.

It is worth sharing just a few small insights from my work with these elite athletes. I'm sure many of you will be interested in the formula for success. It's something that I think about constantly as well.

Of course there are many things, and many people, that contribute to the success of an athlete. Talent is an obvious trait, but over and above that, hard work and endeavour stand out a mile. I know that it's a bit of a cliché, but in sport hard work is everything. I also tend to buy into this in life in general. The days of an accidental champion are long gone. The amount of effort that each and every competitor in Rio will have had to pour in to even be there is dizzying. Often that work is challenging, repetitive, lonely, or even tedious, and it takes place over a minimum of a four year cycle, but often over a much longer timescale. Try and imagine that. The day to day life of an elite athlete is certainly not glamorous.

Another key attribute that I would pick out is resilience. Each of the athletes I work with has deep resources that they are able to pull on when things are not going to plan. Call it a survival instinct, or a doggedness to stick in and not give up when that might seem to the outside observer to be the more obvious or logical choice. It is the same for most of the top level sports people I meet - they tend to do stubborn very, very well. Without this trait in abundance, most will not survive in elite sport. A career in sport is a stressful choice, and the road to the top is littered with casualties, individuals who aren't as capable at scrapping and surviving. I sometime think that this instinct is of more value than any other trait. Others may see it differently, but all of my athletes have known plentiful hardship, failure, stress and adversity through their choice of career, and all have learned to accept, learn from and overcome it.

A final point worth mentioning is teamwork. You'll hear athletes referring to their support teams in most interviews that they do, and my experience certainly backs this up. The best athletes are the ones who listen and learn, and draw on the advice, experience and expertise of the people around them. This will cover many different angles, including technical, logistical, clinical, medical, practical, psychological and emotional support, received from coaches to specialists to friends and family. The array of people that sit around a top level athlete is usually extensive, and this is the way it needs to be. A difficult journey becomes almost impossible on your own, and those that engage best with this support network are the ones that tend to grow and thrive.

So while we sit back in our armchairs and enjoy the sport in Brazil over the coming couple of weeks, spare a thought for the effort that gets poured by each and every competitor to even have the chance to be a part of this competition. Olympians truly are impressive individuals.

Yours in psychology,


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