Recent events at the 2020 Olympic Games have called into question the emotional standard required to be successful as an athlete. Triggering the discussion was the continued struggles of Naomi Osaka in tennis and Simone Biles in gymnastics. When discussing the psychology of sports, it’s important to take into consideration what other factors unrelated to competition can impact on the outcome of the athlete’s performance. As an example, Naomi ’s decision to withdraw from post-match press interviews was due to questions being asked unrelated to her performance on the court. Those types of questions she stated, triggered bouts of depression in her. Simone is the face of the Team USA gymnastics and labeled as the greatest female gymnast of all time. That labelling set an extremely high level of performance for her to meet. Then there is Michael Phelps in swimming who stated that his parents were told that he could be an Olympian in 2000. This announcement created added pressure for him to win. It became so unbearable that Michael once considered suicide.
The perception of always winning by your team, family, and your country can be overwhelming for some athletes. Most athletes would rather do without the added stress and simply compete without the fanfare. This is where the psychology of a person’s personality comes into play. Understanding the psyche of a person in general centers on three components: the id, ego, and superego. The id addresses the basic instincts of who we are and indicates our inherited personalities which are based upon our environments. Naomi Osaka’s mental approach may be viewed as having some components of introversion, whereas Serena Williams, is seen as being more confident. In the case of Simone Biles, she struggles with the peripheral responsibilities normally associated with stardom even though she is an exceptional gymnast. Then there are the personalities, like Deion Saunders, who loves living in the limelight. Performance all boils down to having confidence and it can sometimes be fleeting for the athlete in preparing to compete. In Naomi, Michael, and Simone’s cases, it could be that high expectations may put too much pressure on them when performing. These high expectations can cause depression and is real for many people even when they are at the upper echelon athletically or just an average man or woman doing their job.
As mentioned previously, players such as Serena Williams and Deion Sanders thrive on the perception of excellence. They can be defined as having not only egos, but super egos. Some athletes embrace the pressure of high expectation. When taking the field, mat, or court of play they believe that no one is better than they are. As the former NFL star wide receiver, Isaac Curtis put it, “when I step on to the field, defensive backs don’t exist.” Confidence cannot be learned; it is developed over a period of time. Muhammad Ali felt he was the ultimate boxer on the planet when he stepped into the ring. Michael Jordan took the court similarly. On the flip side, their opponents struggled with being intimidated playing the icons of their sport.
I feel that for some mega athletes having the ability to eliminate those outside forces will make them even better athletes. It’s not surprising that there is a big demand for sports psychologists and sociologists to help process the impact of their environment. In a nutshell, athletes can be burdened with situations just like the next person, except their issues are played out in a public forum. I believe a little empathy and understanding will go a long way.