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Kylie Wilson

Own the moment

Led by Head of Performance Psychology Kylie Wilson, High Performance Sport New Zealand’s Own the Moment initiative hopes to give Kiwis a crucial psychological edge when it comes to performing when it counts in Tokyo.

As part of a HPSNZ review of the 2016 Rio Olympic Games, it was discovered that factors beyond the technical, tactical and physical determined the ability to produce great performances under pressure at pinnacle events.

The review identified that successful athletes adopted tried and tested psychology processes while athletes who often struggled to reach their potential may lack robust processes that are effective in the heat of competition.

Kylie led a small working group that devised a strategy to enable athletes to perform optimally under pressure and the Own The Moment concept was born.

“There was universal agreement from the working group that there was an opportunity to move to a more effective systematic approach to one that is more aligned, integrated and values the importance of prioritising psychological factors,” explains Kylie

“This could be a point of difference compared to other countries leading to a higher success rate for potential medal campaigns, as well as support people to grow, thrive and be highly functioning in all aspects of their lives.”

A big focus of Own the Moment is to engage everyone in the campaign. So, Kylie has looked to integrate psychology work from the top down including high performance directors, coaches, support staff and athletes.

“The athlete may have been doing a lot of work around psychology but if the work wasn’t shared with coaches or support staff then it was not as effective, so we needed to adopt a more embedded and integrated approach.”

In addition, those people supporting the performer also need to have a good understanding of how they function under pressure and do their own work on how bring their best selves.

Kylie describes the Own the Moment foundation as the “important rocks” to put in place. It includes elements such as trust, a learning mindset and an ownership of preparation and performance. Performance skills, which tends to be viewed as the fun stuff (e.g. visualisation, breathing techniques, mindfulness, regulating emotions etc.), is really the icing on the cake.

“It is important to nurture the foundation elements before moving on to the more ‘exciting’ performance skills,” she explains. “The foundation skills are part of a deeper psychology process of self-awareness. If the foundation isn’t there and you are just putting plasters over challenges, that tends not to work so well under pressure.”

In Tokyo Kylie is confident the athletes will be in a much better place to consistently perform under pressure.

“I feel we are far more connected from a psychological point of view than we have been in the past,” she explains. “I anticipate we might see some gains in this area.”

However, as Kylie fully acknowledges, the athletes themselves deserve an enormous amount of credit for their engagement and overall resilience.

“The athletes have blown me away,” she explains. “They’ve faced huge disruptions with lockdowns and a postponed Games. Their ability to leverage off their challenges and apply their learnings has been phenomenal. New Zealanders in general are good in this space, but the athletes have been so adaptable. So many athletes emerged out of lockdown hitting PB’s in testing. This just shows their motivation and commitment.”