Every athlete has performance barriers, even those in peak physical condition. They experience anxiety before competitions or tryouts; they have doubts about their training or about their ability to perform under pressure. The top elite athletes, the most outstanding physical specimens, the athletes who possess an unmatched skill set are still human – and their performance can be sometimes be limited by the psychological side of things.
CSCM’s Director of Sport Psychology Adrienne Leslie-Toogood takes us through what she does on a daily basis as a sport psychologist, and how she helps high performance athletes execute when it matters most.
When your family and friends ask what you do, how do you explain it to them?
Psychology is about “managing your humanity.” I try and help athletes be the best version of themselves in high-pressure situations.
Athletes need to be comfortable with their vulnerability, and my job is to partner with them so they can be resilient performers.
What’s the most common question you get asked?
“What do you actually do?” or “What do you do when you’re on the road?” Getting to know the athlete is the first and most important step of my job; establishing a relationship is key.
Sometimes I’ll present on a larger topic, but generally I start with an assessment. I use different tools for understanding how the athlete performs under stress, whether with pen and paper (TAIS by Nideffer, for example) or with a biofeedback stress test.
Anxiety often comes before performance, but most people want to pretend it doesn’t exist. Instead of denying it, I ask, “How can we manage that anxiety?” None of us are robots. Our brain’s number one job is to help us live, so it naturally responds to high-stress situations.
When we stop letting people fail, they start living safely. We teach them not to live fully or to their true potential.
What’s your favourite part of the job?
It really is a privilege to work with these athletes. They inspire me; they challenge me to adapt, and I get to learn so much from them. I really do love being able to positively impact other people’s lives. These are individuals who are uniquely gifted in sport, and I can help them be their best in critical situations.
My philosophy and focus is on creating meaningful change. It’s all about relationships with the athletes. I remind them: Be grounded. Be amazing. Be well.
Do you think you’ve had success with the athletes you’ve worked with?
Ask me in 20 years once we see who they become! Sport can be a difficult journey. I work to help athletes through that – to be well through that journey.
What motivated you to take this career path?
Sport has always played an important role in my life. I always played and travelled with sport and gained valuable life experiences through that. I had great coaches who supported my development, and I have first-hand experience of how difficult it can be. I realized I could provide resources for others in that. Most of all, I love people and I love helping them.
Do you have a favourite sport to work with?
I love all sports, love helping people push limits – be their best. The work I did on my PhD was with a number of different sports, so I’ve learned to appreciate them all.
“Passion, commitment and intensity unleash a new freedom of an energetic, balanced and holistic person who is healthy for life.”
That’s the mission statement I developed more than 20 years ago in grad school. I’m very driven, and the words remind me to care for myself if I want to sustain that. I’ve got to monitor my drive or I might give myself a heart attack. It reminds me to care for my body along the way.
Something surprising about you?
My basketball skills – I play a mean game of basketball! I also like the arts and appreciate the excellence in them: Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra, MTC, RWB, Contemporary Dancers, whatever!
The Canadian Sport Centre Manitoba acknowledges that our offices are situated on Treaty 1 Land, the original lands of the Anishinaabe, Cree, Ojibway-Cree, Dakota, and Dene Peoples, and on the homeland of the Métis Nation.
The Treaties made on these territories are respected by all those who work at CSCM. We acknowledge the harms and mistakes of the past that were made. In a spirit of collaboration and reconciliation, we dedicate ourselves to continually move forward in partnership with Indigenous communities for ongoing education and learning.
We understand that acknowledging this truth, though important, is only a small part in cultivating the strong relationships we strive to build and maintain with Indigenous communities. We continue to work towards this, with particular attention being paid to the sport specific calls to action #87-91 from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.
We recognize we are not the first to live on this land, and thank these Nations for allowing us access to their land and water.