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Rhonda Cohen-Extreme Sport Psychology-Downhill Skiing

Downhill Skiing and the Winter Olympics


Watch THE NEXT episode of Inside Sport – Michael Johnson, Downhill Skier


Monday 8 February 10.35-11.05pm BBC ONE ( or thereafter on i-player)
Olympic sprinting legend Michael Johnson moves from track to piste to discover what makes downhill skiers risk their lives in pursuit of sporting glory.Hurtling down a mountain at up to 80mph with minimal protection is something that most people would consider an act of madness, so Michael sets out to discover why these athletes enjoy what they do so much and how they deal with the risks involved and the crashes that inevitably happen. Talking to some of the biggest names in the sport, including skiing greats Franz Klammer and Hermann Maier, as well as experts from the world of psychology and neurology, Michael aims to discover just what makes downhill skiers tick. http://www.bbc.co.uk/sport
There are a variety of motivational factors that push skiers and other individuals towards participation in extreme sport . For example, it could be due to risk taking, sensation seeking, arousal seeking or perhaps it based on certain personality factors. What everyone wants to know is why these Olympians are putting their lives at risk. We all accept that high achievement at sport is linked in with the pursuit of excellence and enjoyment of sport. There are achievement theories that can account for this (needs achievement and self determination theory). Research has also revealed that there are a number of other motivational factors such as social facilitation, physical fitness, affiliation, aggression, self esteem, self actualization and stress release.
In this episode of extreme sport , I talk to Michael Johnson about why there is this variation in risk. Risk taking has been linked with sensation seeking. Sensation seeking is a trait which includes risk taking and sensation seeking behaviours and in addition an intolerance for boredom.
There is a difference demonstrated between those involved in moderate risk sports compared to Skiers. This is the perception of self-efficacy or confidence which emerges as a distinguishing factor between these two groups. So skiers score even higher on self confidence though this is also linked in with a desire for mastery which encourages risk takers to overcome the potentially inhibiting influences of anxiety, fear, and the recognition of danger.
Sensation seeking isn’t just about a need for stimulation. It includes a strong desire for novel experiences and the importance of these pursuits outweighed the risk even with regard to negative media attention. So some undertake extreme sport to feel alive and keep from being bored !
Sensation seeking is a trait defined by the seeking of varied, novel, complex and intense sensations and experiences and the willingness to take physical -in sport- (there are also risks in social , legal, and financial) risks for the sake of experiences. Sensation seekers do not seek risk for its own sake and it is not the riskiness that makes it rewarding though participating in extreme sport may pose a risk. The perceived benefits overweigh the risk of injury.
Rhonda Cohen Registered Sport & Exercise Psychologist , specializing in extreme sport . Head of the London Sport Institute at Middlesex University

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