Elliott: Sports psychiatrist not mandatory at Games

BY SANJAY MYERS Observer staff reporter

Friday, July 20, 2012    

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THE lack of a sports psychiatrist in the Jamaican party to the London 2012 Olympic Games will not lessen the team's chances of doing well, says Jamaica Athletics Administrative Association (JAAA) medical official Dr Herb Elliott.

Elliott, who was team doctor for the Beijing Olympics four years ago, said the athletes are already prepared and he is confident the experienced coaching staff will be able to handle any issue which may arise.

"The team has been well prepared and you could see that at the (National) Trials (in June). I had to do a lot of inter-facing with them. Most of them were tested, and I was a part of that programme and talking to them, you realised that they were prepared mentally and doing what they have been doing for four years — getting ready for this," he said.

"Yes, there are some teams that carry a sport psychologist or psychiatrist, but in the Jamaican team we have many people who are qualified to help our athletes at the highest level.

"The mental side is important, but it's not absolute that we have a sports psychologist," said Elliott, who has been in the medical field for over 35 years.

He noted that Montreal 1976 Olympic gold medallist Donald Quarrie, who is technical leader of the contingent to London, is as fit as anyone to guide athletes through any mental obstacles they may face.

"Most of our coaches and doctors are fully cognisant of the needs of our athletes. The Jamaica Olympic team also has Donald Quarrie. He has gone through the coaching courses and has also done the psychological preparation of athletes for competition at the highest level," Elliott argued.

The bulk of Jamaica's elite competitors hail from either the Glen Mills-conditioned Racers Track Club or the MVP outfit, which is led by head coach Stephen Francis.

Elliott, also a member of the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) medical commission, did not overlook the impact that the two veteran coaches have had on the athletes' psyche.

"Most of our coaches have to be good at psychology to coach some of our temperamental athletes. These people are well qualified and I can speak of Mr Francis and Mr Glen Mills," he said.

"All athletes who operate at the highest level are prepared both physically and psychologically. You can't win if you are not prepared that way. Over the years coaches have done a lot to help athletes before they go into the battle."

Elliott added: "Every day when an athlete trains, he or she has to be prepared psychologically for the work. At the end of the day they and the coaches go over how they are improving and what else they need to do. That is the sort of training that will prepare you for going into the battle. This is war and you prepare your soldiers for it."

The former Kingston College student, who quietly but proudly noted his success in the half-mile event at the Boys' Championships decades ago, did concede that having a specialist can help, but questioned the impact that person can have in a short time.

"Yes it is nice if you can have someone there. In the past people have gone with the team, but they didn't make a big difference. They have to be working with the team all the time. Picking up somebody at the last moment can help a little but it is not as essential. Picking up even the best psychologist or psychiatrist at a late stage is of little help," he said.

"Now the team is short on money and short on (non-competing) personnel because of the number of athletes. The Olympics can only allow you a certain number of officials and those officials have been booked. So for instance, normally I would have gone with the team, but they didn't have the space," Elliott added.

When asked how an athlete may recover mentally if he or she suffers disappointment in another discipline, Elliott used an example of Quarrie's rebound during the 1980 Games.

"We have done it. In 1980 in Moscow Quarrie didn't place (medal) in the 100 (metres event). The coaches and the team got him prepared for the 200 (metres) and he got a bronze medal. We always have to prepare the athletes and if they have setbacks we have to prepare them to overcome it so they can go out and do well," he said.



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