Peak performance at the Olympics: an in-depth psycho-social case study of the 1998 U.S. Women's Olympic Ice Hockey Team
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The purpose of this study was to gain an in-depth understanding of selected psycho-social factors associated with the gold medal winning peak performance of the 1998 Women's Olympic Ice Hockey Team. These psycho-social factors were grouped into six specific purposes: cohesion and coaching, team confidence, team-specific ideal performance states, individual confidence, individual task-specific ideal performance states, Olympic stress, and coping methods. In-depth interviews using a two-part interview guide were conducted with all 20 team members. Hierarchical content analysis procedures were used to analyze the interview data. Method triangulation in the form of quantitative instruments, source triangulation, analyst triangulation and member checks were utilized to support the credibility of the interview data. Results showed that the team was highly cohesive and confident. Primary sources of cohesion were the commitment to a common goal, mutual trust and acceptance, and coaching actions. Cohesion was considered to contribute significantly to performance. Sources of confidence were performance accomplishments, coaching, cohesion and perceived readiness. The team reported a very strong relationship with the head coach, who was considered highly effective. Collectively, the team did experience task-specific, ideal peliormance states at various times in selected games at the Olympics. On an individual level , athletes reported high confidence based on peliormance accomplishments, constructive feedback, role clarity, and effective preparation. Due to their preparation the athletes experienced few stressors and coped effectively with them. lndi vidually, the athletes also experienced ideal peliormance states during selected games at the Olympics. However, these states were fragile and not present for the entire duration of a game. The description of taskspecific, ideal peliormance states, collectively as well as individually, matched Csikszentmihalyi's (1990) theoretical model of flow. Unambiguous feedback was a particularly salient flow dimension for these team sport athletes. From a team development perspective, the team achieved the performing stage of its development at the Olympics characterized by high cohesion and confidence, role clarity, acceptance, and commitment as well as strong leadership and ideal peliormance states. Strength and limitations as well as practical implication of these findings with regards to preparing the team for 2002 were discussed.
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