Swimmers' bonding session highlights need for psychologists

The public apology by the Australian men’s swimming team for playing pranks on their team-mates as part of a bonding session shows Swimming Australia may have made a big mistake by not having a psychologist to help them relax and bond, says a leading sports psychologist and former elite athlete.

Adjunct Associate Professor Patsy Tremayne is a former Commonwealth Games high board diving bronze medallist, and is a foundation member of the Australian Psychological Society's College of Sport and Exercise Psychologists (CoSEP). She was formerly a psychologist with the AFL Players Association. 

She says revelations the swimmers took sleeping pills and knocked on their team-mates’ doors to “relax and feel normal” highlights how important it is to have a psychologist on hand to help athletes deal with the enormous pressure they are facing during Olympic Games competition.

“Even normally calm athletes and coaches can become more nervous before an Olympic Games, and the swimmers themselves cited the increased pressure and media attention on them as a reason for the pranks in which they took part,” says Associate Professor Tremayne, from the UWS School of Social Sciences and Psychology.

“The psychologist can help them deal with this by having short consulting encounters with individual athletes or coaches whenever the need and occasion arises - whether this be in hotel lobbies, buses, parking lots, or even a quiet corner at the swim complex.”

Associate Professor Tremayne says athletes in individual sports such as swimming regularly compete against each other at National meets, so when they are chosen on the Olympic Team a psychologist is useful in breaking down barriers so swimmers will provide support to each other. 

“Facilitating team bonding sessions is one of the most crucial roles a psychologist provides, and this doesn’t happen overnight, it takes time,” she says.

“Activities where you share personal experiences with your team-mates or have small group discussions to outline your feelings help with the team bonding process and need to begin well before the Games to develop rapport and trust among swimmers.”

“For this reason psychologists should be working with the team in the months leading up to the Olympic Games, as well as during them, always knowing how to be accessible without being in the way.

“Their job is to bring a confident, upbeat, and optimistic approach, and the swimmers’ media conference has demonstrated it’s imperative that a psychologist who knows the sport and is trusted by the team members is included with the Olympic Swim Team in the future.”
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