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Supporter burnouts and blues, or the Post-Tokyo Phenomenon (Part 2)

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?

After the Olympics

The big event is over, and of course, everyone is waiting to see what happens to the athletes who had a disappointing performance or who did well. You could say — and it is true — that this is also a personality type issue. After all, the Ruler and Individual characters want to enjoy the thrill of a great success, they want to perform, they want to make fame or money out of the result, because for them, this is a very important element of motivation. The Supporter goes on with their work, and the Expert finds out what exactly happened, and if they feel they have reached their maximum, they want to improve upon it, and if they think they have achieved great success but still made many mistakes, they try to correct them for the next challenge. This is how athletes of different personality types react to Olympic success in traditional circumstances, and of course, it should also be noted that a person is much more complex than to be pigeonholed into one main personality category, with the combined effect of several personality types influencing their decisions to varying degrees. In other words, the decisions themselves can take on many shades of colour, in addition to the “pure” directions listed above. But what happens to the losers, the ones who have failed at the Olympics? Under normal circumstances, the Ruler tends to give up, having made a run at the big games, believing they have done their best — they do not have a very strong sense of self-worth in such situations – and feeling that they will not put in the work again to expose themself to another failure. Of course, if they make a living out of this sport and have no other means of making money, they stay with the sport and begin the slow decline of a frustrated person, often into suffering. The Individual gets over failure very quickly, and in most cases, within a few weeks of the failure, they are already planning something new on a much higher level, which will distract them from the past. This is not a bad solution in principle; it is just that they do not learn from their mistakes, but pushes themselves on to the next game. The Supporter will put more work into the sport after the failure and will be even more focused on making the next preparation better. They will find it much harder to digest the failure and try to find the mistakes, but they will mostly point to circumstances and external factors as easier to digest. At the other extreme, they look deep inside themselves and see the future as hopeless. It is also often the case that a Supporter athlete is fed up with the job and decides to quit after the Olympics, and this can be reinforced by an experience of failure, whereas they can rethink everything if they succeed. The Expert analyses, evaluates, and looks for the fault in themself. If they find it, things are fine, especially if they find a mistake that they can clearly correct, because then they can start the next period with even more momentum. It is very rare – but we have seen it happen – when the end result of the evaluation is that reasons beyond their control have prevented them from succeeding. In this case, however, the athlete quits the sport without any transition, because if performance is not the deciding factor in the end, there is no point in continuing. We can see that there are fundamental differences in mental recovery after an Olympic Games, depending on the personality type we are made up of. And COVID has made the situation far more tricky than before.

Post-COVID Olympians

It is common sense that when a mental preparation is as special as it was before Tokyo, the mental reactions and decision-making of Olympians will be special after the Games. Athletes, sports professionals, coaches, and of course, the mental health professionals who work with them will face unprecedented challenges. There is no textbook solution, it was not taught in the past, and no one has any concrete experience. In other words, there is only one thing to do: to gather as much in-depth information as possible from the people concerned as quickly and intensively as possible. Yes, but it is not that easy, because you have to be in very direct contact with them. It is no coincidence that professionals are certain that this market for mental health coaches will shrink seriously and that their numbers will fall dramatically in the coming years. That is, those who will be genuinely and meaningfully employed in sport. Because only those with concrete post-Covid experience will be needed. And only those who have been there in the run-up to Tokyo, who have managed to build up a relationship with the people concerned to such an extent that they want to continue working with them after the Olympics, and who have the level of trust that they have been able to gather direct, in-depth, personal information, can say that. If you do not have that, you will not be able to work in the future; I mean you will not be able to provide professional support, because there will be no publications from that period. There will be no studies available, because nobody will be talking about the private lives of athletes and coaches, that is, if someone has actually built up trust in this area. At the time of writing, we have done a lot of research in this area, but it is simply not very easy to find out who actually worked with these athletes. In the case of the most successful teams and individual athletes around the world, we hear people say things like “a mental coach helped the team”, “we received mental support before a critical match”, or “I have been working with a mental health professional for months or years”—usually all this without names. This is understandable, of course, since a real professional does not “sell out”, and as we can see with the professionals we have found with difficulty, they are usually full of potential assignments, so it is not in their interest to push in this area.

The Post-Covid phenomenon is the most serious challenge in sports at the moment. Although some sports professionals are still trying to conform to tradition and ignore the development of mental work and its role, opinions are changing rapidly in light of the results.