How sports psychology helps many champions

It’s hard to admit that champions, these modern day heroes, are neither omniscient nor supermen / women, and they cannot control everything.

There was a time when a talented athlete, accompanied by an efficient trainer, could succeed alone. That time is over. The demands of high-level sport, the degree of perfectionism that it demands, the tiny gaps that separate the very first in their sport require the intervention of collaborators capable of allowing the athlete to master the various factors of performance. . Thus, equipment, medical, biological and psychological specialists work alongside the coach to enable him to climb to the highest step.

Although sports psychology was born in Europe and the French played a major role at the very beginning of its development, it was across the Atlantic, and then in northern European countries, that it took off. In France, its influence was slowed down by the sports movement, which, as a whole – Ministry of Sports and National Technical Directorates -, hindered its penetration. I take for example the objections of inadmissibility addressed, between 1996 and 2002 by the Ministry of Sports, the CNOSF and the Association of national technical directors to the proposals of the French Society of Sports Psychology (SFPS) to release the mental preparation for the obscurantism in which she found herself. The SFPS then drew up an ethical charter for intervention in sports psychology – which is still relevant today and the only one to be recognized by all professionals – and drafted the first accreditation committee for sports psychology stakeholders. – also still in force. It proposed to put itself at the service of the sports movement with the aim of cleaning up the landscape of stakeholders, who were beginning to flourish on sports grounds, and to work on establishing good practices. The sports movement’s refusal to collaborate was radical: it preferred to continue along the laissez-faire path rather than regulate these practices in order to put them in order. In addition to this refusal, there was ignorance, even obscurantism, regarding support and mental preparation, making it difficult to introduce these techniques into the sporting world. Let's face it bluntly, this lack of reaction from the ruling power opened the door to a wild flowering of all kinds of mental trainers, most of whom had little skill beyond the title they had self-attributed. Athletes paid the price for another twenty years. Several great champions then had recourse to a private "shrink", without the knowledge of their trainer, and many suffered from questionable practices which were revealed with great noise by the media.

Although these wild practices are less frequent today, it is inconceivable, in a country like France, where the slightest sporting activity is, rightly, framed by a State patent, that no legislation comes to regulate the function of mental trainer.

Even today, including among those who have participated in this book, athletes entrust their preparation to an accompanying person discovered on the classifieds or by word of mouth, and some athletes, including top level athletes, work with a trainer without the knowledge of their trainer. Fortunately, these cases have become relatively marginal.

The fact that champions, having been confronted with this situation themselves, are, once their careers are over, in charge of the organization of French sport gives hope for better days for the involvement of mental preparation in the preparation of sportsmen. Thus Ghani Yalouz, Olympic medalist, now boss of INSEP, shares his own experience, his doubts and his awareness: “I myself, an athlete, did not believe in mental preparation at all. I was like, "I'm not sick, I'm not going to go see a shrink." While no, shrink or mental trainer, that means anticipating discomfort. We are way behind the United States, the Nordic countries, the Eastern countries and even Cuba. "

Few high-level athletes today do not benefit from psychological support. In comparison, 20% of champions who participated in Champions Mental in 2007-2008 had contact with a "shrink" and only one of them had an episodic practice. While 80% of those who participated in 2011-2012 in the Mental des coaches used it, most of them occasionally. Only two athletes (only one active) among those who have participated in this book have never had a mental trainer, two practice occasionally and all the others have regular support. All are satisfied and would not imagine preparing without this support. Which one of them sums up:

“There is a lot less preconception about mental preparation than in the past. Not long ago, we were afraid of it, and we dared not say it, lest you be seen as weak. It changed. I know quite a few players who use it. "(Gaëlle Hermet)

Thus, top-level athletes no longer wait to be in difficulty to get help, and, even if they have perfect control of their psyche and their mind, they surround themselves with the skills of an accompanying person. the goal of making further progress. Now, with the internal mimicry in sport and the appeal of the media helping, many top athletes consider that not receiving mental preparation constitutes a handicap. It took more than twenty years for reason to prevail over the obscurantism of the sports movement.

However, the vision of what constitutes mental preparation is not clear, neither for the vast majority of athletes, nor for many top athletes, nor for most of their coaches. Also, it seems to me necessary to clarify the question.

Read also: The key to the success of champions: endure to last

© Editions Payot & Rivages, Paris, 2019.

Extract from Hubert Ripoll's book, "Champions and their emotions: Understanding self-control", published by Payot editions.

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