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NZ junior track cyclists gain psychological edge

Friday, September 12, 2014
NZ junior track cyclists gain psychological edge

A Massey University lecturer has been helping New Zealand’s next generation of track cyclists to get a competitive edge through the use of sport psychology.

The New Zealand junior track cycling team recently returned home from South Korea and their most successful World Championship campaign in recent years. The team brought home two gold (Points Race/Madison), one silver (Individual Pursuit), and two bronze (Men’s Team Pursuit and Women’s Team Pursuit) medals.

Lecturer in sport psychology in the School of Sport and Exercise Warrick Wood worked with the team on several occasions during their build up to the event.

“I was extremely impressed with the professionalism of this young group of athletes, and the level of engagement and critical thinking they demonstrated, both individually and as a group, regarding the psychological elements to performing under pressure,” he says.

The presence of sport psychology is becoming increasingly prevalent at all levels of sport, but particularly at the elite level, where the differences in physical attributes are minimal.

“At the top of the pyramid, we see a very level playing field regarding what athletes bring physically to competition. Who ends up on the podium is, more often than not, going to be determined by who ‘shows up’ mentally on the day,” he says.

The number of elite athletes and teams that are committing time and resources to sport psychology is rapidly growing.

“My involvement with the team was aimed at assisting the athletes in developing the awareness and tools to ensure that, when they arrive at the competition venue, they are focused on the right elements, trust their preparation and planning, and achieve an appropriate level of arousal to compete in their specific events. The coaching staff had done a fantastic job of establishing a positive environment, based on professionalism and a strong team culture, so it was a real pleasure to work with this group.”

It was an additional resource that head coach Ross Machejefski says was greatly appreciated. “Warrick’s contribution to the team was significant. He provided specialist insight that helped us prepare effective competition plans, and his involvement assisted greatly in us fostering an individual and collective belief that we could be successful,” he says.

The field of sport psychology is growing at a fast pace and Mr Wood says it appears that attitudes are shifting from one that reflects a remedial stance, to a more common belief that considering and developing robust mental skills is just as important as ensuring athletes eat and warm-up appropriately prior to competition, and doing so can provide an edge over competition.

“This is accentuated at the top level of competition where persistent internal and external distractions occur and the pressure to perform can, at times, be overwhelming,” says Mr Wood.

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