October 18, 2017

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Balance, then beam

Sports psychologists at Games teaching athletes to be their best, enjoy the moment

WAYNE GLOWACKI / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS</p><p>At left, Dr. Adrienne Leslie-Toogood (the Canadian Sport Centre Manitoba's lead psychologist) and Olympic swimmer and Manitoban Chantal Van Landeghem in the Helen Glass Centre for Nursing on the U of M campus that is part of the Canada Summer Games Athletes Village.</p>

WAYNE GLOWACKI / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

At left, Dr. Adrienne Leslie-Toogood (the Canadian Sport Centre Manitoba's lead psychologist) and Olympic swimmer and Manitoban Chantal Van Landeghem in the Helen Glass Centre for Nursing on the U of M campus that is part of the Canada Summer Games Athletes Village.

Swimmer Chantal Van Landeghem remembers dancing at the 2009 Canada Summer Games in Prince Edward Island.

Van Landeghem, now a 23-year-old Olympic and Canadian national team athlete, also swam pretty well in P.E.I. at her first multisport games; she won four medals — two gold, a silver and a bronze.

Back home in Winnipeg this week for the 2017 Canada Summer Games, Van Landeghem said finding a balance between competition and other activities has played an important role in her overall success and is a psychological tool she continues to use as an elite athlete.

That's why Van Landeghem is part of a team, led by chief psychologist Dr. Adrienne Leslie-Toogood, that has brought sport psychology services to young athletes for the first time in the 50-year history of the Canada Games.

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Swimmer Chantal Van Landeghem remembers dancing at the 2009 Canada Summer Games in Prince Edward Island.

Van Landeghem, now a 23-year-old Olympic and Canadian national team athlete, also swam pretty well in P.E.I. at her first multisport games; she won four medals — two gold, a silver and a bronze.

Back home in Winnipeg this week for the 2017 Canada Summer Games, Van Landeghem said finding a balance between competition and other activities has played an important role in her overall success and is a psychological tool she continues to use as an elite athlete.

That's why Van Landeghem is part of a team, led by chief psychologist Dr. Adrienne Leslie-Toogood, that has brought sport psychology services to young athletes for the first time in the 50-year history of the Canada Games.

"We had this large dance on the last night in 2009 and it was just getting to know other people as friends and it was a really cool opportunity to branch out from your sport and from the province," said Van Landeghem, who recently earned her degree in clinical psychology from the University of Georgia. She'll be studying at the University of Manitoba this fall for her master's degree under Leslie-Toogood's mentorship.

"For a lot of these athletes, sports psychology is still a relatively new concept to them. A lot of them are super young, 11, 12, 13 years, so this might be their first time even really hearing about it. We're hoping to just introduce them to the concept and add perspective so they can enjoy the Games. Just look around and take every opportunity to enjoy the moment as it comes," said Van Landeghem, a bronze medallist at the 2016 Olympic Games with Canada's women's 4x100 freestyle relay team.

She said she remembers trading many pins in 2009, another fun way to interact with other athletes, coaches and volunteers.

Leslie-Toogood, who has also worked with athletes at Olympic and Paralympic Games, said it is easy (for athletes) to become overwhelmed at such a large event with so many athletes, different sports and related festival activities.

"We work with athletes to maintain perspective. That might be to leave the athletes village when you're not competing, get out and remember why you're here," Leslie-Toogood said. "Helping them with pre-performance strategies can be very helpful to manage nerves, which is to be expected, and to normalize some of that. We want to help them figure out how they're wired, how they respond and what helps them with that."

Van Landeghem said sport psychology has taught her to focus only on what she can control.

"I realized there was no use in worrying about how fast the swimmer beside me was going to swim, for example, because I couldn't control that. What I could control was my attitude, how I dealt with my emotions and my effort. This simple, yet powerful concept has been one of the greatest influences in helping me perform at my best under pressure," she said.

"In my experience, those competitors that are mentally tough and mentally have that confidence, that resiliency, are often the competitors that you see standing on the podium."

Leslie-Toogood said adding sport psychology to athlete services is a chance to help young athletes develop good habits.

"You want them to take really good care of their body and themselves emotionally. When athletes come here, they can have a really great experience and they want to learn how to manage that success. They can also not perform the way they'd like, and learning how to deal with failure is part of that whole sport journey, as well," she said.

"We know that if we can help athletes learn to deal with that in a positive way early, they'll have great habits in place to stay emotionally and mentally well through the journey of high-performance sport."

Team Manitoba tennis competitor Stefan Barré said sports psychology has taught him visualization.

"It's imagery, it's visualizing yourself playing the match before you play it, so it's not as stressful. You feel like you've been in that position before because you've played it over in your mind," said Barré, 14.

"People say stretching is important for your body and sports psych is just as important for your mind. It needs a break, it needs to be rested and it needs to be warmed up for matches, just like your body. You need to know what you can do for yourself to help yourself play the best that you can."

Sport psychology has been offered at the Polyclinic on the 4th floor of the Helen Glass Centre for Nursing building at the University of Manitoba or by appointment, by sport psychology team members visiting various venues and in five workshops that have been offered this week.

Leslie-Toogood said organizing committees use past Games as templates for future Games, so she is optimistic that sport psychology will now be a regular part of medical services for athletes.

ashley.prest@freepress.mb.ca

Read more by Ashley Prest.

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