Achieving a full recovery

20 years ago, Dr. Cal Botterill had very simple advice for struggling Chicago Blackhawks sniper Michel Goulet: “Francophone hockey players don’t work hockey, they play hockey.”

And that was exactly the kind of message Botterill, a leading sports psychologist from the University of Winnipeg, put forward in his lecture at Laurier on the afternoon of Mar. 24.

Botterill has worked with seven NHL teams and a number of Olympians, including gold medalists Jon Montgomery, Kaylee Humphries, Heather Moise and Chandra Crawford, but most notably his daughter Jennifer who is a three-time gold medalist with Canada’s women’s hockey team.

On Thursday, Botterill came to Laurier as part of the Eastern Canada Sport and Exercise Psychology Symposium, which brought students and industry professionals from across the country to the WLU campus.

The main theme of Botterill’s lecture was “sustaining high performance,” something he believes many athletes take for granted.

“Too many athletes get in thinking ‘if I can have one good day I’ll be great,’” said Botterill. “Part of our work is helping people solve those problems. It’s once you stop getting in your own way and start playing with, as my daughter says, a clear mind and unburdened heart that you’ll be successful.”

In addition to working with athletes, Botterill has also worked with people in other high-stress fields such as doctors, firefighters and business executives. And no matter what the field, he found that the most commonly overlooked aspect of sustaining high performance was recovery.

“How many of us neglect our health?” he asked the audience. “We’re all human and there’s too much denial and repression. We don’t stop sometimes because we just keep those anxieties inside…. Even elite performers in every field are just humans. They’re ordinary people doing extraordinary things.”

Stressing the importance of rest and recovery, Botterill maintained that whether it’s a doctor working 30 hours straight or an athlete spending 12 hours a day in the gym, 70 per cent of the population is what he called “under-recovered.” According to Botterill, this under-recovery leads to stress effects, which severely hamper a person’s ability to perform at a high level.

Along with the lack of recovery, Botterill said people in high-stress fields can also suffer from a crippling fear of failure. This fear of not living up to expectations, being surpassed or simply not being good enough can be enough to throw off even the most talented athlete or doctor.

However, according to Botterill, the solution is quite simple.

“‘Want to,’ beats ‘have to’ every time,” he said. “Always ask yourself, ‘do I want to do this or do I have to do this,’ and that will remind you why you’re doing what you’re doing…. You have to be prepared to work at anything to be successful. But it’s how much you play, the attitude you bring and how much you enjoy the challenges, that really enable you to be successful.”

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