July 7, 2016
Gary Hermansson is the Lead Team Psychologist for the New Zealand Olympic Team at Rio 2016. This will be his 5th consecutive Olympics in the capacity of Sport Psychologist. His role in broad terms involves assisting with the development of overall Team culture, responding to problematic psychological issues that might emerge during the Games, and helping athletes, as needed, to mentally prepare for their performances. He is also Professor of Sport Psychology (an an Emeritus Professor) at Massey University.
Preliminaries. With just some two weeks to go before I leave NZ for the Olympics in Rio (on July 24th), there is a great deal happening. Of course there is the usual run of trying to get ahead of pressing matters in all aspects of life, but also a great deal on the go specific to Games preparation. Even though this is my 5th Olympics (Sydney, Athens, Beijing, London, Rio) I get a bit surprised by how focused and frantic things get in the last few weeks of build up.
Over recent months things have ticked along. Athletes that I and others have been involved with have been spread around the world looking to qualify or, for those who have qualified, fine-tuning their preparations through high performance competitions. Gatherings of athletes and support people have taken place around NZ for briefings, uniform measurements, and official and media photographs, followed more recently by athlete selection announcements and unveiling of the Team uniforms.
One very important gathering a few weeks ago was held in Christchurch to formalise a working relationship between the NZ Olympic Committee and Ngāi Tahu in regard to their longstanding and future involvement. As well, it was an occasion for Ngāi Tahu to present to the Rio Chef de Mission (Rob Waddell), and to the Paralympic Chef de Mission (Ben Lucas), the individually crafted greenstone (pounamu) pendants that will be given to Team members at the Games. This gifting has been a tradition since the Athens Olympics and is very special for those receiving them. They carry great symbolic, motivational and personal meaning.
All the while, regular Team Leadership meetings have been held addressing the ongoing multitude of matters that need attention, like accreditations, athlete accommodation, security, transport, uniforms, health and well being, shipping of gear and equipment, and the multitude of ever-changing issues that have to be dealt with and kept on top of.
Over the past couple of years key members of the NZ planning contingent have travelled to Rio to engage directly with the Organising Committee. Several weeks ago now I was able to join them on a visit, and it has been extremely helpful to get a sense of the setting, the venues, the Village and the overall feel for how things are progressing.
A great deal of activity was happening – the city was pretty much a building site – and this is similar to what always happens a few moths out from the Games. The question is always to do with how much can be completed on time. There usually is a point where triage kicks in: (1) must be done, (2) would be great if done, (3) can’t be done, and activity gets targeted accordingly.
As well, there has been attention given to arrival schedules and procedures, room and bed allocations, vehicle availability, freight arrival and unpacking, setting up our space in the Village, Team function planning, organising friends and family spaces, engaging with allocated volunteers and with the Favela
that we are connecting with, and a myriad of other similar matters, even projecting ahead to departure dates and arrival home procedures and events. At the same time as this is happening, some of the NZOC operational staff have been attending meetings in the Gold Coast (Commonwealth Games, 2018) and even in Japan (Olympic Games, 2020), doing preliminary work for those Games. There is a massive amount of behind the scenes work that has to go on to have athletes get to their starting lines.
Of course, all of this has been happening with the backdrop of a variety of concerns in regard to Rio itself; both how ready and how well-managed it will be. There have been and continue to be issues to do with the zika virus, political stability, economic capability, personal security, environmental pollution, facility readiness, transport system functionality, and various other concerns (including doping issues, and country and individual athlete attendances). Some of these issues arise at every Games, and they usually get resolved to a greater or lesser extent as the deadline dates arrive. However, it does seem that there are quite a number of things that have to be brought together in Rio, such that there might be some problems to be responded to there as best as can be managed.
For now, this shares something of the backdrop to the fast approaching Games. I will look to make one more posting before I head away.