A Survey of U.S. Atlanta and Nagano Olympians: Variables Perceived to Influence Performance. (Psychology)
Gould, Daniel, Greenleaf, Christy, Chung, Yongchul, Guinan, Diane, Research Quarterly for Exercise and Sport
The purpose of this study was to determine the frequency and magnitude of specific variables perceived to have affected U.S. Olympic athlete performance. Participants included 296 Atlanta Olympians and 83 Nagano Olympians. Olympians rated how they perceived specific variables influenced their Olympic performance. Results revealed that numerous variables, including performance influences, such as preparation for distractions and loss of composure; team variables, such as strong cohesion and positive coach-athlete relationships; coaching variables, including coach's ability to deal with crises and coaching expectations; family-friend variables, including general social support and getting event tickets for family and friends; and environmental concerns, such as venue transportation difficulties and Olympic village distractions; were perceived to influence performance. Findings verified the results of qualitative interviews conducted with Olympic athletes and coaches.
Key words: elite athletes, Olympics, peak performance
Sport science and technology has become increasingly important in the preparation and performance of elite athletes. Today, for example, sport scientists are identifying the most effective training altitudes for endurance athletes (Levine & Stray-Gundersen, 1997), useful ways to carbohydrate load before competition (Williams & Nicholas, 1998), optimal ways to anaerobically and aerobically train (Reilly & Bangsbo, 1998), and ways for athletes to mentally prepare for peak performance (Gould & Damarjian, 1998). Taking a scientific approach to athlete preparation has also resulted in numerous National Sport Federations and Governing Bodies establishing sport science and medicine programs.
Improved sport science, technology, and medicine and the application of that knowledge may not automatically result in improved performance. Sport science knowledge must be effectively integrated into a high performance preparation and performance system for the elite athlete. For example, officials from the United States Olympic Committee (USOC) Athlete Performance Division have noted that high quality efforts to enhance athlete performance via scientific preparation have not always resulted in performance success (J. Page, personal communication, 1996). In fact, the larger study from which the present investigation comes was commissioned by the USOC because, despite having the most advanced sports equipment available and cutting-edge sport science support, some highly talented Olympic teams and athletes failed to perform to expectations. Although any number of variables could account for these less than optimal performances, it was the USOC staff's hope that a scientific study of variables perceived by athl etes and coaches to have positively and negatively affected performances at the 1996 Atlanta and 1998 Nagano Olympics would be useful in determining how best to integrate sport science, medicine, and technology into the elite athlete preparation and performance system. Additionally, the USOC was interested in why sport science efforts are both effective and ineffective.
The overall project took 3 years to complete. Phase 1 of the project was designed to identify and examine variables that were perceived to have positively or negatively affected the performance of U.S. Olympic athletes and coaches prior to and during the Atlanta Olympic Games (Gould et al., 1998). A two-part questionnaire and interview data collection procedure was used. Focus group interviews were conducted involving athletes from four teams who met or exceeded performance expectations and four teams who failed to meet performance expectations at the Atlanta Games. Coaches from these Atlanta teams were also interviewed. In addition to the team and coach interviews, a second set of interviews was conducted with 8 athletes (4 individuals who met or exceeded and 4 individuals who failed to meet performance expectations at the Atlanta Games). …