This study was designed to examine if mental skills and strategies such as high confidence, commitment, and the use of cooperative routines, as well as previously unexamined physical, social, and environmental factors affect Olympic performance. Athletes and coaches from 8 Atlanta US Olympic teams were interviewed. Four teams met/exceeded performance expectations and 4 teams failed to perform up to performance predictions. Focus group interviews were conducted with 2 to 4 athletes from each team. Individual interviews were conducted with 1 or 2 coaches from each team. Each interview was recorded, transcribed, and analyzed by three trained investigators using hierarchical content analyses. Differences existed between teams that met/exceeded performance expectations and teams that failed. Teams that met/exceeded expectations participated in resident training programs, experienced crowd and family or friend support, utilized mental preparation, and were highly focused and committed. Teams that failed to meet expectations experienced planning and team cohesion problems, lacked experience, faced travel problems, experienced coaching problems, and encountered problems related to focus and commitment. Results indicated that achievement of peak performance at the Olympic Games is a complex and delicate process influenced by a variety of psychological, physical, social, and organizational factors.
Daniel Gould, Christy Greenleaf, and Russ Medbery are with the Department of Exercise and Sport Science at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, Greensboro, NC 27402-6169. Diane Guinan is with the Cooper Institute for Aerobics Research, Dallas, TX 75230. Kirsten Peterson is with the United States Olympic Committee, Sport Science and Technology Division, Colorado Springs, CO 80909.