Whether they're hearing national anthems played in their honor or not, Olympic athletes will face a number of challenges when they return home from Salt Lake City, and a St. Lawrence University sports psychologist says that the winners and the losers need similar skills to cope with what lies ahead.

Assistant Professor of Psychology Artur Pocwardowski has served as a sports psychologist for a number of athletic organizations, including Polish teams competing in the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona. He studies coping strategies used by elite athletes and has found that in many cases, the same principles are needed whether the athletes are dealing with success or failure.

"One of the best strategies is to use the experience as a lesson, and act upon what you've learned in your next performance," Pocwardowski says. "This is true whether the performance was a success or a failure. Elite athletes must move on to their next goal."

By conducting extensive interviews with elite athletes (as well as artistic performers), Pocwardowski has determined a number of coping strategies that may be used to help them get beyond the last performance and look toward the future.

"The most distinct strategies that elite performers told us about included controlling or managing their negative emotions by looking to the future and using hope as a way of working through the painful aftermath of failure," Pocwardowski says. "They also have to keep things in perspective, by realizing that they cannot always be successful. They should view their performance from a distance, keeping in mind all of the other values, priorities and goals in their lives. That's what helps them move on to the next challenge and see it as the next opportunity to succeed."

Those who come back wearing medals also need to learn how to cope, he adds. "They should be building up a positive image of themselves, sort of like making deposits on a self-confidence account," Pocwardowski says, "so that they can draw upon it in the future. They also must stay confident, but humble, and learn from their success so that they may improve in their next performances."

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