Shaping dreams

UQ students contribute to the largest integrated sports program in Commonwealth Games history

More than 15,000 volunteers, and 6,000 athletes and team officials from 70 Commonwealth nations are uniting on the Gold Coast to share in a celebration of sport, culture and community.

The 21st Commonwealth Games is the fifth to be held in Australia, and the first to be held in a regional Australian city.

With medals to be won in a record-breaking 18 sports and seven para-sports, the XXI Commonwealth Games will also be the first to have an equal number of men's and women's podium positions up for grabs.

Among those contributing to this slice of Australian history are several students from the Faculty of Health and Behavioural Sciences here at UQ.

A multi-talented mix of athletes, sports psychologists and batonbearers, some were able to take a little time out of their busy schedules to tell us about their GC2018 journey so far.

Danni Prince

Athlete - Rhythmic Gymnastics

Bachelor of Health, Sport and Physical Education (Honours)

Danni Prince is an Olympian, a National Champion, a Commonwealth Games gold medalist, and a seven-time World Championship athlete.

She's also studying at UQ for a Bachelor of Health, Sport and Physical Education, and we caught up with her last week in anticipation of the games.

What has been has been your highlight of Commonwealth Games competition?

Winning team gold at the 2010 Delhi Games is definitely the highlight of my Commonwealth Games experience so far. As a young 18-year-old at my first multi-sport event, it was incredibly exciting and little overwhelming, but to watch the Australian flag raised and hear the national anthem was a very special moment.

What are you looking forward to the most at GC2018?

I am most excited about competing in front of a home crowd. I find the cheering and clapping from the spectators very encouraging and I can't wait to experience that with a 7500-strong audience on home soil.

Do you have a pre-competition tradition or ritual?

I like to visualise my routine just before I walk onto the carpet, and I always have my lucky hand towel close by!

If you weren't a gymnast, what other sport would you love to compete in?

Probably cycling or triathlon. My parents participate in triathlons and Ironman events so I feel that I would likely be peer-pressured into getting on a bike!

What is your must-pack item when you're competing away from home?

I always have a book to help me unwind, as well as my Beats headphones so that I can listen to music, which helps me stay focused.

Mitchell Wells

Queen's Baton Relay batonbearer

Bachelor of Health, Sport and Physical Education (Honours)

How were you appointed as a GC2018 batonbearer?

My mum nominated me! She was working in aged care when a client of hers who had heard all about my achievements proposed the idea to her. I was in my final year of secondary school at the time and had no idea I had been nominated until I received an email to tell me that I would be running the relay.

Did you have to train for the run?

For me, it was a short run, so I was more focused on preparing to hold such a prestigious object, an honour considered by so many to be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

How did it feel to be running with so many people cheering you on?

It was extraordinary! I vividly remember sitting there on the bus with goosebumps and butterflies. I remember seeing the wonderful smiles on the faces of family and friends as I ran, and also all the little kids who had come down to watch - something for them to aspire to I guess.

Were you worried about dropping the baton?

Initially! I was so nervous about holding it and the fear of possibly dropping it was overwhelming, but once my run had begun, all of those thoughts dispersed and I was having the time of my life.

Did you get to meet any interesting people on the day?

I was fortunate enough to meet several great individuals; most of whom were affiliated with the Commonwealth Games but also the others who were taking part in the event. Their stories, their smiles and their enjoyment made it all worthwhile and is something I will cherish for years to come without a doubt.

Which athlete/sport are you most looking forward to watching?

Personally, I love all facets of sport. I would just simply love to see Australia do well. Of course, there will be good and bad outcomes, and I'm sure the tough, rigid nature of us Aussies will give us the edge over the competition!

Domonique Doyle

Sport Psychologist

Master of Psychology (Sport and Exercise)

Domonique will be assisting GC2018 athletes with managing the extreme pressure of competing in elite sport.

"My tutor informed my cohort about the potential opportunity to work at the Commonwealth Games, and I was keen to get started on my application straight away!" Domonique said.

"My role at GC2018 is to provide psychological assistance to athletes on both a one-to-one and group basis.

"In these sessions we cover any issues that may arise before, during and after competition, and provide tools and techniques to enable the athlete to manage those issues effectively."

Issues can vary greatly depending on the individual and the sport they compete in, but can include performance pressure, performance anxiety, sleep issues, self-talk, motivation, conflict, and travel-related stress.

"I once worked with an athlete who would bite herself when she felt stressed before a game. I quickly addressed this and together we came up with alternative, more effective ways she could tackle pre-performance stress without hurting herself," she said.

Domonique has been assigned to work with triathlon and boxing athletes from Papua New Guinea (PNG) and plans to use the language difference as an opportunity to incorporate non-verbal communication and practical activities into her sessions.

"It is important and to be mindful of the language I use when working with athletes from overseas, so I will be adjusting my speech according to their English skills, and integrating their language as much as I can," Domonique said.

"Working with elite international athletes is a dream come true and I can't wait to jump in at the deep end and give it my best shot."

Jamie Howell

Queen's Baton Relay batonbearer

Bachelor of Exercise and Nutrition Sciences

How were you appointed as a GC2018 batonbearer?

My mother nominated me! I then went through an interview process before being selected to run at Brunswick Street in Fortitude Valley on 31 March.

Did you have to train for the run?

No training as such, I just had to make sure I can run 200 metres without dropping the baton! On the day, I will meet all the other batonbearers at a collection point in Brisbane, from where we'll be taken to the relay site by shuttle bus.

What are you looking forward to the most?

I'm secretly hoping that some famous people will be there on the same shuttle bus, or if I'm really lucky, they'll be handing the baton to me!

Which athlete/sport are you excited to watch in the games?

I have tickets for athletics which I am really looking forward to, but I think the rugby 7's will be awesome as well.

Kate Brayley

Sport Psychologist

Master of Psychology (Sport and Exercise)

What is your role at GC2018?

I have been assigned to the PNG shooting and squash teams, and my role involves delivering induction workshops to athletes, which are focused on preparation for the games, as well as exit workshops which will include things like competition debrief.

Teams will request other workshops relevant to their sport/needs as the Games progress, and athletes will have individual sessions with me throughout the competition period.

Potential issues covered could be related to the environment, adjusting to the athlete village, team communication, sleep patterns, performance nerves, injury and being away from home.

"Large sporting events can be unpredictable, so we have to be prepared for anything!"

As you are working with athletes from non-English speaking nations, how do you build a practitioner/client bond in a short space of time?

I find the best way to build a practitioner/client bond quickly is to be authentic, honest and open. People usually respond well when they can see that you're interested and know that you're listening.

I have worked with individuals whose first language is not English for many years so my ears are finely tuned to different accents and language abilities. It can help break the ice if you attempt to speak their language - that always gets a laugh!

What are you looking forward to the most?

I'm looking forward to putting into practice what I have been training for for many years. I'm excited to have the opportunity to work with elite athletes at a sporting event that doesn't come around very often.

I'm also really looking forward to experiencing the atmosphere of working in the athlete village.

Chris Alarcon

Sport Psychologist

Master of Psychology (Sport and Exercise)

Chris will be working with the PNG weightlifting and rugby 7's teams.

Chris was selected along with four of his fellow students and recalls the application process as being similar to a job interview.

"Applicants were required to briefly describe why we wanted to work at GC2018 and why we should be selected," Chris said.

"Fortunately, I was one of five successful students and will be working with athletes in workshop and individual sessions tailored to any issues the athletes might experience.

"These issues can include an immeasurable range of concerns such as confidence, emotion regulation, communication on the field, and homesickness. It is surprising what athletes can go through during competition.

"In the context of the Commonwealth Games, our work will be focused on understanding what sport psychology is, expectations, goal setting, personal performance, reflection methods, and values."

Chris said building rapport with individuals would usually be an ongoing process but with an event as big as GC2018, and the short time available with the athletes, building trust and respect early on will be a big factor.

"I aim to build rapport by making my sessions enjoyable by including fun and games," he said.

"Language will be a significant barrier but with the aid of translators, I believe this will help me improve and develop my communication skills.

"PNG has over 800 languages and we have been learning key phrases in Tok Pisin, which is a form of Pidgin English.

"My pronunciation is still way off but I'm hoping this will provide another good avenue for building rapport with the athletes."

Chris said he is most looking forward to experiencing the role of a sport psychologist in a much more demanding environment.

"I have experienced the Australian University Games in the past as both a coach and an athlete, so there is a degree of familiarity as to what it is like working in competitions of that nature, but GC2018 is of course on a different level," Chris said.

"It will be a big learning curve and will expose me to new situations and working with athletes from overseas.

"I will have a great opportunity to learn about PNG culture and by interacting with PNG athletes, I'll be able gauge different philosophies on how their view and understand the mental side of sport."

Jacqui Sandland

Sport Psychologist

Master of Psychology (Sport and Exercise)

How were you appointed as a sport psychologist for GC2018?

Our Head of School does a lot of cross-cultural work in sport psychology and was able to offer this opportunity to students via her contacts.

What is your role at GC2018?

I have been assigned to the PNG athletics and swimming teams. A lot of PNG athletes have not been exposed to sport psychology before so increasing their awareness is an important first step.

Throughout the games, I will be working with athletes on performance issues and dealing with adversity - how they can learn from both positive and negative experiences while competing.

How will you navigate the language barrier?

The athletes vary quite a lot in their English speaking ability. I try to be very mindful of keeping the language simple and using visual cues if possible. I also regularly check in with them to see if they have understood what I am saying, and try to create a comfortable space for them to be able to voice any confusion or concern.  

How do you plan to build rapport in a short period of time?

In terms of building rapport with the athletes, having some knowledge of PNG culture is useful, and asking athletes to share their experiences to allow me to learn is exciting.

Counselling skills that we apply every day are imperative, but I am also aware that the short time frame might make this difficult in some instances.

I guess the ultimate goal is to use my training and communication skills to try to make the athlete feel as comfortable as possible. Of course, everyone is different and I will build different levels of rapport with different athletes. It is just like meeting new people in everyday life, some people hit it off more quickly than others.

What are you looking forward to the most?

I am really excited about supporting the athletes on this journey through the games. The athletes will go through a huge range of emotions throughout the next few weeks and to be able to witness, support and learn from the experience is an opportunity that I am extremely grateful for so early in my career.

What is the most unusual pre-competition ritual you have worked with?

I’d like to tell you stories about athletes taking part in crazy circus tricks and not stepping on cracks, but I’m too early in my career to have those stories yet!

A couple of examples come to mind: wearing special race undies or ensuring not to use new gear on competition day is about as interesting as it gets in my experience. One equestrian athlete told me that she always shaves her legs before competing in case she falls and ends up in hospital with hairy legs!

A lot of the time it is about working with athletes to structure a routine in the first place. Turning up to a competition in a panic late and running to the start line has come up a few times, so often I work with athletes to consider what works best for them before they compete. Sometimes a simple list of what works for them can do wonders to prepare an athlete for competition.