"The Olympic games represents a unique context for athletes. It is the pinnacle of their sporting careers.

Not every athlete is carrying the hopes of their nation, but there is always pressure to perform on the world stage - the faith, funding, and hopes of all those who have supported athletes can weigh heavily for those who strive to do their best during what can be a few seconds every four years. That pressure looks and feels different for every athlete.

Whilst some people, including many of the world's best athletes, thrive in pressure situations, others may not. Some athletes will benefit from bespoke psychological support to prepare for and manage the pressure that comes with career-defining competitions.

Sports psychology is not a new tool, but it is still under-used by many athletes and organisations. This is not typically because it isn't valued. Funding is tight and physical preparation, understandably, is often prioritised. But those working in sport psychology can and often are employed to great effect as part of a team of technical coaches, strength and conditioning experts, and nutritionists to help athletes perform optimally when it matters most.

How we help athletes depends on their needs and their short-, medium-, and long-term goals. I work with individuals, teams, coaches, and organisations to both maintain and optimise performance. I start with considering what peak performance preparation looks like for each athlete or team and go from there to develop a considered and actionable plan. This may include considering things like psychological load, rest and recovery, stress and anxiety management, managing setbacks, and coping under pressure.

We can help athletes learn how to cope effectively, deal with disappointment, and, importantly when you think of heptathletes or swimmers competing day after day across multiple events, recover during often short windows of time at major competitions."

Sport is tough, and always will be

"Living with both winning and losing can be challenging for athletes and coaches, so effective support is essential, particularly in the build-up and aftermath of competition.

We've seen more and more athletes, like Adam Peaty and Naomi Osaka, take breaks at the top of their game. The reality here is that sport can be an extremely tough arena to work and compete in. There will always be a focus on winning; this is what drives competition and competitive spirit. But with recent attention being paid to athlete welfare, it is becoming more widely accepted that sports psychology needs to be a mainstay in athlete support provision.

My career researching athlete welfare using theories of psychological stress, including applied research with athletes, has demonstrated the importance of athletes talking about wellbeing and their mental health where they feel safe and comfortable to do so.

Whether they do it publicly like Adam and Naomi, or within their professional circles, talking is important and helps to raise awareness. This is the first step in most change and optimisation. Once individuals working in organisations are aware of athlete wellbeing and mental health, they can then take steps to protect and promote welfare."

Living well despite the pressure

"Sport psychology research has shifted strongly in recent years towards positive psychology and, in doing so, is starting to move away from a focus on stress. The focus in some of our research in the Carnegie School of Sport is to understand what it means for athletes and coaches, for example, to live well despite the pressures of sport. Our extensive research on athlete and coach welfare includes deep dive explorations of what wellbeing means to athletes and coaches.

What we have learnt from this work is that it's important for individuals to feel heard and valued, and that maintaining wellbeing needs to be a joint effort between individuals, their support network, and the organisations that they work with.

That's why we strive not just to work with athletes, but those around them as well. Support staff, coaches and family - they can all play a positive role in the wider team effort to support athletes through the pressure they'll face in Paris."

Learn more about the research, teaching, and publications of Dr Faye Didymus.

'The Olympians' airs on Wednesday 17 July at 17:45 on Eurosport.

Dr Faye Didymus

Reader / Carnegie School Of Sport

Faye is Reader in sport and exercise psychology. She is chair of the Association for Applied Sport Psychology's Research Development Committee, a fellow of the Higher Education Academy, and a BASES Accredited Sport and Exercise Scientist.

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