UWM sports psychologist helping athletes at Winter Olympics

MILWAUKEE -- Olympic athletes are in peak physical condition, but what happens if they struggle mentally? 

That's where sports psychologists come in. The University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee happens to have a world-renowned sports psychologist who is in South Korea working with Australian Olympians. 

Dr. Barbara Meyer has worked at UWM for nearly three decades, completing dozens of research projects and she runs the laboratory of sports psychology. 

But in her spare time, she also trains Australian aerial skiers and speed skaters. The Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang is her fifth Olympic games. 

"I will be on the ski hill with them every day, I will be in the speed skating rink with them," she said. 

Her job is to help them manage the pressure of reaching their sport's biggest stage

"We try to keep them confident," she said. "We try to keep them healthy, we try to keep them in a bubble. There's so much attention on them right now."

She also helps them manage family pressures and their social media presence

"We have athletes who are better off without social media," Meyer said. "We help them work out social media black out plans. I also work with athletes who need that sort of energy...so if we blacked out their social media at the games that would be really different for them and it would be detrimental to their performance."

While she's one of two mental health professionals working on Australia's team, she says bigger countries focus heavily on this aspect of an athlete's performance. 

"I would think that Team USA, Team Canada and some of the premier winter sport countries in Europe would have a full staff of psychological professionals."

But the stigma she says isn't completely gone. 

"I think sports psychology is one of the last areas of expertise or one of the last disciplines that has gained somewhat wide acceptance," she said. "We're really finding that it is that psychological piece that's separating those who get on the podium from those that don't."

Other than working with Olympians, Meyer spends a lot of time with collegiate athletes. She says sports psychologists are becoming more common even at the high school and youth sports levels too. 
 

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