1988 U.S. Olympic Wrestling Excellence: I. Mental Preparation, Precompetitive Cognition, and Affect

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Daniel Gould UNC, Greensboro

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Robert C. Eklund Auburn University

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Susan A. Jackson UNC, Greensboro

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This study involved extensive interviews with all 20 members of the 1988 U.S. Olympic Wrestling Team about their performances in the Seoul Olympics. Qualitative research methodology and analyses were employed to acquire and preserve rich representations of these experiences. Mental preparation strategies, precompetitive cognition, and affect were examined by having the wrestlers respond to a series of questions about their all-time best match, worst Olympic match, and most crucial Olympic match. Considerable consistency was found across wrestlers’ responses regarding all-time best and worst Olympic matches whereas striking differences were found between the best and worst matches. For example, before best matches, wrestlers followed mental preparation plans and routines and were extremely confident, totally focused, and optimally aroused. They also focused on clear tactical strategies. Before worst matches, wrestlers were not confident, had inappropriate feeling states and experienced many task-irrelevant and negative thoughts, and deviated from preparation plans. These results are consistent with other research with Olympic athletes and suggest that precompetitive states play a critical role in competitive performance.

Gould and Jackson are with the Dept. of Exercise and Sport Science, University of North Carolina at Greensboro, Greensboro, NC 27412-5001. Eklund is with the Dept. of Health and Human Performance, Auburn University, Auburn, AL 36830.

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