While most of us quickly shifted from worrying about Lindsey’s shin to applauding the sweep of “The Hurt Locker” and now to prepping brackets for March Madness, a few stalwarts are still sifting through the Olympics from the inside out.
Nicole Miller, visiting assistant professor of exercise and sport science at the U, was in Vancouver serving as the sport psychology consultant (aka mental coach) for U.S. Speedskating. She spent 3-1/2 weeks in February on site, coaching elite short track and long track speed skating athletes through the most intense, pressure-packed, distracting, emotional and stressful time imaginable (and that was off the ice).
Back in Salt Lake, she has hung up her USA team jacket for now and resumed teaching at the U. Eleven graduate students—aspiring sport psychology professionals themselves—had formed an independent study course this semester.
The class makeup is nearly as interesting as the Olympics. Two are doctoral students, the rest are working on their master’s. Many want to learn how to counsel athletes. One is working on a degree in dance. After a class from Nicole last semester she ‘wanted more’—because sport psychology techniques can be used in dance as well. Another master’s student just missed the Olympic team herself competing in equestrian. One is an athletic trainer who works with a Major League Baseball organization. He is looking for skills he can use with injured athletes. Some have interned with Nicole, working one-on-one with her and her client athletes for an up close and personal view of the practice of sport psychology. All are intent on learning from Nicole’s time preparing for, and counseling the athletes in, Vancouver.
And Nicole is ready to share her experiences with them.
For one thing, the view of the games from American television shows one reality; the view from the ground is quite different. Even the opening ceremonies, ostensibly for the athletes—and iconic for viewers and visitors—can present difficult challenges. Athletes can stand in staging areas for nearly four hours before walking into the stadium for their possible ten second face shot. For those who compete the next day, deciding to participate for the experience or skip to save your legs for competition is not a trivial one. Nicole provided that scenario to her students as a powerful, real-life lesson.
In the weeks left in the semester, Nicole will continue to present scenarios from the Games to help her students learn from what she learned. Coaching is not just about blades on ice. It’s about managing expectations, keeping focused, handling disappointment, maintaining confidence, making difficult decisions while in the midst of a tumultuous international festival and once-in-a-lifetime competitive event.
And once you learn to control yourself, you can help the athletes, she says with a smile.
Read more about the U’s graduate program in psychosocial aspects of sport here: http://www.health.utah.edu/ess/PSAS/index.html