Exactly 1 month ago I wrote a blog called Olympic & professional athletes natural ability. In that blog I wrote the following:
In my experience with many Olympic and professional athletes although they still have an ingrained natural ability and continued family support, in their early 30’s things begin to change mentally.
Where these athletes have had a lot of family support to support their natural abilities, this begins to change in their mid to late 20’s. They start to individuate from their families and lose some of their support at least the way they’ve known it. In the process of individuation they start looking for support in other places: teammates, coaches and other professionals and many times are let down by the lack of support (information, feedback, training, etc.). This brings with it new mental challenges which impacts their performance and how they see the world.
For these athletes their natural ability has brought them a long way but in order to continue to compete at the level they want to compete, it becomes important for them to deal with the individuation process and all of the mental challenges that can come with it: confidence, self esteem, doubts, fears, anxiety, motivations, etc. that impacts their performance and their lives. For many of these athletes this is new information and challenging to deal with.
In Psychological preparation for the Olympic Games article I just read (Journal of Sports Sciences, November 2009; 27(13): 1393–1408) it states similar information:
Studying 120 renowned artists, academicians, musicians, mathematicians, swimmers, and tennis players, Bloom (1985) found consistency across fields for investments of tangible and intangible resources found to be essential in nurturing promising individuals with talent. Parents provided financial support and transportation to numerous competitions and performances. They also provided considerable social-emotional support, facilitating disciplined involvement while avoiding excessive pressure and expectations. The parents also acted as models for disciplined independence and fostered such behaviour in their children. Thus, these results clearly show that talent development is a long-term process that involves not only the talented individual but also a system of support.
If you haven’t read Malcolm Gladwell’s book it’s worth reading. It’s interesting because he talks about why certain people ‘get ahead’ and others don’t. His research states that it has a lot to do with when they were born; the era, the year, etc. One of his examples was hockey players. He talked about why some Canadian hockey players were better than others and this was tied to when they were born. The hockey season in Canada starts around January and if you reached the right age to play around January you could start when the season started however if you reached the right age to play in February, March, April…then you were starting later than some of your counterparts which meant you were getting less playing time and probably a different kind of instruction on the game. In Gladwell’s book this was the reason that some hockey players were better than others and if you think about it, it does make sense.
Ability, support and timing
If you put all of this together then you probably have an Olympian. If you have one or two of the three you probably don’t have an Olympian.
Given this, I think that my original premise was that Olympians were born at the right time to be Olympians and that their natural ability carried them through most of their live but what seems to happen in my experience of working with several Olympians is that as they get older the support system changes. As the support system changes they are left to figure out how to ‘support’ themselves in a way that seems to leave holes in their confidence, motivation, negative thoughts, self esteem, doubts, fears, worries, etc.
Interesting eh? What are your thoughts?
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