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
"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
"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