So, what’s on your mind? Sports shrink: what it means to be mentally tough

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A leading sports shrink who last week mentored some Queenstown sportspeople confirms the proverbial ‘top two inches’ matter in top-level sport.

Palmerston North-based Gary Hermansson – team psychologist for every New Zealand Olympic and Commonwealth Games team since 1998 – says the physical skills and physical readiness of top sports-people are so similar that it comes down to who turns up mentally on the day.

“Often form goes out the window when you go to those pinnacle events – it comes down to who can hold the mind and body connection together.”

Hermansson says the All Blacks have performed poorly at World Cups since 1987 because they’ve struggled mentally.

“The need to win and the expectations that go with that become so predominant that they shift their attention.

“Instead of being driven by the usual desire to perform well, they get driven by a fear of losing, and when that kicks in, you get frightened and you finish up getting over-anxious and you make mistakes and decision-making goes out the window.”

But didn’t we win the last World Cup?

“You could argue they choked and won at the same time.”

Hermansson says golfers and cricketers tend to suffer from mental pressure more than other sportspeople – he was psychologist for the Black Caps cricket team from 2005 to 2008.

“The reason is there is so much pressure on the outcome – instead of actually performing, people get preoccupied by what not to do, than what to do.”

Cricket bowlers, for example, get preoccupied by looking for a wicket rather than delivering the ball.

Asked who he’s helped to win gold medals, Hermansson – who stresses he wasn’t exclusively responsible – nominates rowers Rob Waddell and the Evers-Swindell twins and cyclist Sarah Ulmer.

They were all “mentally tough”, he says.

“I work a bit with [top New Zealand batsman] Ross Taylor at the moment,” he says.

Hermansson – who’s off to the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow, Scotland, next month – met local boxers and young ski racers during his Queenstown visit.

His trip was arranged by local chiropractor Neki Patel, from Queenstown Health. The pair roomed together at the 2002 Manchester Commonwealth Games.

Hermansson says his last visit to Queenstown was with the Black Caps in 2006 when they beat Sri Lanka in a one-dayer at the Events Centre.

Bowler Michael Mason hit the winning runs off the last ball.

“I think the Events Centre is a great place for cricket and I’m surprised they’re not doing a World Cup game here [next year].”