Setting our sites on our own “Olympic Gold”: The psychological effects of elite sports on individual sports participation

Contact: Robin Waxenberg
Ellen Satlof, NATA

The Psychological Effects of Elite Sports on Individual Sports Participation

DALLAS, February 11, 2010 -- With the Super Bowl fresh in our minds and the Olympics just days away, we are often inspired to play pick up-ball, master the moguls, savor the snowboard or perfect our figure 8s. "It’s natural for us to be motivated and to start a new personal activity program or tune up our existing regimens, says Ralph Reiff, ATC, MEd, athletic trainer and director, St. Vincent Sports Performance in Indianapolis, Ind.

"Identifying a role model is always a positive way to set your sights on new goals. But it is also important to remember the pros have trained and worked on their mental and physical abilities for years – and sometimes a lifetime," he adds.

If you’re motivated to get off the couch and take on a new physical challenge, or improve your current routine, here are some tips from the National Athletic Trainers’ Association to get you started:

How Physically Fit Am I?
Before beginning a new regimen, or kicking your current one into high gear, consult with a physician and get a pre-participation exam to ensure you are in appropriate shape. Otherwise, consider a gradual introduction to activity with the help of a physician, athletic trainer or other medical professional.

Mental Toughness
Exceeding at sports isn’t just about physical ability. It’s about having the right mindset to take it on. In a 2008 Journal of Athletic Training study, researchers found that college athletes benefit from mental, emotional and bodily toughness to improve either individual performance or treatment program.*1 Being able to visualize your success through sports-specific imagery is also a positive tool in achieving your goals.*2

Set a Goal
It is important to establish a personal goal for short-term and long-term. Is it realistic? You may have just seen Shaun White master an aerial spin on the snowboard, but if you’ve never tried the sport, start with lessons and small steps.

Find the Right Sport
Select a sport that you really enjoy or have always wanted to try. Team up with a buddy who can help keep you motivated on cold or rainy days and on course to achieve your activity goals. If you love speed and snow and quick turns, then downhill skiing may be just right for you and your state of mind. If you prefer flatter surfaces, more control of terrain, perhaps snowshoeing or cross country skiing is the best fit.

Preparation is Key
Be prepared to tackle your new activity. It took Drew Brees years of practice, concentration, new teams and comebacks from injury to win the Super Bowl. Read up on the sport you are considering and talk to a medical professional, and someone savvy in the sport, to evaluate your goals. Online resources or personal accounts from other exercisers are valuable in assessing the sustainability of your goal.

Put a Plan in Place
Daily and weekly detailed plans are useful and keep you on track. It is important to review a daily activity plan with a coach, athletic trainer or physician to ensure it is realistic and that you’ll stick to it. Developing sports-specific aerobic ability, endurance, flexibility, strength and balance in the right proportions is critical to achieving success.

If You Fall, Get Back Up
Literally. Don’t let setbacks hold you back. Consider them motivators to keep pushing forward. Figure skating sensation Rachael Flatt has had her share of spills, but they surely served as motivators to get her laced up and on the rink to win her first national title.

Follow the Plan
Too often we try to do “too much too soon or too often.” The exhilaration that comes with participation often leads us to try to meet new challenges too quickly. Do not get caught up in a spontaneous competition or a faster pace or heavier weights to lift. Stick with the plan.

“Identifying an activity you really enjoy and working towards a realistic goal is the true key to success,” says Reiff. “Following the wins and losses of professional and Olympic athletes shows us that we can all have the ability to try and try again. Not only will you feel better when you find the activity that is right for you, but you will look better and improve your physical self and mental state of mind. Then, you can go for your own personal gold.”

*1 Journal of Athletic Training, Vol. 43, No. 2, pp.125-132
*2 Journal of Athletic Training, Vol. 44, No. 4, pp.410-417

National Athletic Trainers’ Association (NATA) – Health Care for Life & Sport: Athletic trainers are health care professionals who specialize in the prevention, diagnosis, treatment and rehabilitation of injuries and illnesses. The National Athletic Trainers' Association represents and supports 30,000 members of the athletic training profession. Only 42 percent of high schools have access to athletic trainers. NATA members adhere to a code of ethics. NATA supports the right of all patients to have equal access to the services of athletic trainers through the Athletic Trainers’ Equal Access to Medicare Act (H.R. 1137). Visit


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