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“Every sport has its challenges, of course, if you step into a boxing ring, the physical toll and the mental toll of knowing I’m going to really hurt here and I have to hurt someone and I have to stay strong and stay focused even when someone is trying to punch me in the face.”
In the last decade, the psychological side of sport has been recognized as an important part of what makes a winner. Team Ireland is thinking the same way with this year’s journey to the Tokyo Olympic Games.
This will be a very different Olympics to any previous year. No overseas supporters are allowed to sporting venues meaning friends and family of the athletes will not be able to go.
Former Olympian Jessie Barr and Dr. Kate Kirby are part of the sports psychology support group for Team Ireland this year.
Speaking to Jessie Barr about minding an athlete’s headspace in this different Olympics, she said:
“Most athletes are used to competing in pretty quiet stadiums until they make it to major championships… what we might end up seeing are athletes who are distracted or find it quite nerve-racking having 80,000 people suddenly looking at me, that’s been taken away so that might benefit them in a positive way.”
— Chloe Watkins (@Clowatkins) June 17, 2021
How can psychology help sport?
Speaking to a psychologist is one of the many supports that Team Ireland provides for its athletes such as a physio and a nutritionist. None of these are mandatory for athletes but it is recommended that they use all services available to them.
Barr has experience of competing at the Games which help her understand what might be going through the mind of an Olympian. She was a 400m hurdler who competed at the London 2012 Games.
“You don’t need to have been an athlete to be a sports psychologist, but I definitely feel that I have the benefit of that experience.
“That feeling of empathy with the athletes and they’re describing a situation of standing on a start-line … and the gravity of it hits me,” added Barr.
Although we will not be able to see our athletes in person, Team Ireland is encouraging everyone to show their support to the Irish through social media.
Barr believes that making it to the start-line is the hardest part for an athlete. Even though there will be no supporters there, the Green Army will be pushing Team Ireland all the way in Tokyo.
“The first time where the athlete steps out into the performance … it’s the first time you realize ‘Oh my God, I’m competing at the Olympics.”