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Supporter burnouts and blues, or the Post-Tokyo Phenomenon (Part 1)

There are a number of mental phenomena in business and sport that constantly puzzle the professionals who have to deal with them. In 2021, the Olympics were held, albeit with a one-year delay, and while many have tried to determine what the fundamental difference would be psychologically between a traditional and a pandemic Games, even the smartest professionals have focused mostly on the period leading up to Tokyo. Very few were concerned with what would happen to the athletes afterwards. It is interesting because basically, health-wise, post-Covid services were already underway, but no one really planned for the specific mental management of Olympians. “Burnout” was always a phenomenon after a four-year period of competition, and now when that period was stretched to five years with a year and a half of lockdowns before the big competition, putting extra mental strain on the athletes. Why would we think that this challenge is not on a larger scale than we have ever faced in our lives?

Before the Games

Even before Tokyo, it was a major challenge for athletes, coaches, and, of course, mental health professionals to prepare for the big competition in conditions that were completely different from the norm. It was thought that this could have negative consequences for everyone, as the lack of “lead-up” competitions, in particular, posed unexpected obstacles to the development of a competitive spirit. Yes, but as any professional in the field of mental training in sports now knows, athletes with different personalities react differently to changed circumstances. The RISE system, which is now the most successfully used internationally, distinguishes between five main approaches to mental preparation. The mental reactions and decision-making mechanisms defined for the Ruler, Individual, Supporter, Expert, and Complex personality types differ significantly during peacetime and a crisis. Looking back over these long five years, the biggest problem was that athletes were in states of crisis far more often than usual. They had already experienced crises in the run-up to the Games, with the cancellation of lead-up events and then the postponement of the Olympic Games themselves by a year presenting unprecedented challenges for certain personality types. It was the Supporter type, the least able to manage change, that everyone was worried about, as it was clear that they were not prepared for such a change, and no one could determine how they would react. The first reaction of very many was despair. It would have been interesting and certainly instructive if the Olympics had been postponed by, say, only three months, and we could have seen the consequences of that for the Supporter athletes. They reject the change at first, they can’t cope with it, but like everything else, they accept even the biggest change and live with it. Yes, they do, but they need time, and looking at the serious psychological studies of mental health professionals on specific training, this time was roughly between 3-6 months for the Supporter personality type athletes to accept and adapt to the new circumstances. However, once they accept a change, they formalise it into a routine, and it becomes the new norm. This is why we started the evaluation with them, as research using the RISE profiling system clearly shows that Tokyo 2020 was the Olympics of Supporter athletes. They have never represented such a large share of the winners’ roster as they did in the summer of 2021, and this is true for both individual and team sports. This is not surprising, as a Supporter is the type of athlete who puts in a very serious amount of work, who works honestly, who, when given a task to do, does it even when their coach is not checking. For them, their sport has also been a kind of escape route in a world plagued by a pandemic. Because of this, they were able to train even harder and got to the point where, by 2021, they were much stronger, more physically fit, and as they started to train for competitions, they saw exactly that this was not true of their opponents. In fact, they have improved a lot in terms of confidence, which is a constant issue for them. In addition, most of the requests for mental coaching came from the Supporter athletes, who were duly apprehensive about the whole situation. This meant that their mental condition quickly matched their high level of physical fitness, and they were able to take on the big challenge. There they found themselves up against Rulers who were lazy in their training, Individual athletes who were mood-dependent in their preparation and competition, and Expert athletes who were equally resistant to change but who were building their new system and life much more slowly than the Supporter. In addition, all the competitions were held without a real audience, which was a tragedy for the very extroverted Individual and Ruler, while the Supporter and Expert athletes were not bothered at all. It is no coincidence that if we go into a deeper personality assessment, Tokyo 2020 clearly belonged to athletes whose primary personality was Supporter and whose secondary personality was Expert. And obviously, there are always exceptions, who, regardless of their personality type, thought that mental coaching had serious value and learned to manage the negative aspects of their own personality that emerged in different situations.