BY MICHAEL JAMES
Sports psychologist Dr. Robert Schinke knows his stuff. He also knows how to win, which is why he?ll be accompanying Canada?s national men?s boxing team to the Pan American Games in the Dominican Republic next month.
Schinke, 37, a professor of sports psychology at Laurentian University, is well acquainted with competing at the elite level in international sporting events.
A world-class equestrian, Schinke won a silver medal at the Pan American Games in 1987.
Last year, Canada?s boxing team placed first overall at the 2002 Commonwealth games in Manchester, England, an accomplishment due, in no small part, to Schinke?s efforts as team psychologist.
What, then, possessed a man previously involved in a finesse sport like equestrian to become involved boxing?
Schinke is attracted to high risk sports.
?I like working with athletes where a significant amount of pressure and money (or, in this case, medals) are on the line,? he said.
There?s also a certain appeal in working with athletes who have the talent and desire to pursue a professional career once their amateur careers are over.
A staunch believer in maintaining ongoing relationships with the athletes he?s worked with, Schinke has accompanied boxers as they?ve moved from the amateur to the professional ranks.
?My next boxer is fighting for $4.6 million,? he said, adding that continuity, be it with trainers or handlers, is extremely important to a boxer at the elite level.
Boxer Eric Lucas is a case in point. In 2001, he won the WBC super middle-weight crown. He has since defended his title five times. Schinke has been with him on each occasion.
?Eric came from a broken home. He?s very loyal, and he cherishes his friendships. (Lucas) invested a lot of trust in his coach, which is something some boxers aren?t able to do,? he said.
?He?s a strong, hard-core optimist and (it?s up to us, as his handlers) to look after him, to keep him on target.?
Generally speaking, most boxers are very closed off and non-trusting, he said. At least, initially.
That?s why it?s so important to earn their trust, he said. It?s not enough to parachute in just before a fight.
?I?ve been with the national boxing team since 1997...I?m in the trenches with these guys.?
Aside from a high level of credibility within the world of professional boxing, Schinke attributes his success in getting through to amateur boxers as individuals, and as a team, to the diligence of his methodology.
Not only does he keep a file on each athlete, which he updates yearly, he also meets with them one-on-one for up to an hour-and-a-half before a bout to discuss contingency planning. In other words, to prepare them for the worse case scenario.
Helping the athletes sustain their confidence during competition is key, he said. Once the profiling, strategic planning, team-building, dispute resolution, optimism development and motivation have been put in place, it often comes down to confidence.
Schinke recalls the 1999 Pan Am Games.
?The Canadian team was aware they were up against the Cubans and the Americans, who have traditionally been regarded as boxing powerhouses.?
Yet Canada?s national boxing team drubbed the Americans. Ultimately, they lost out to the Cubans, but they picked up seven medals along the way, he said.
?We had motivational talks every night,? he said. ?What makes the difference at that point, is confidence, both within themselves and with the support staff...especially when dealing with a new coach.?
The national team has been experiencing some ?strife? of late, Schinke said. However, he hopes to overcome the problem by working to improve group dynamics. He and head coach Gord Apolloni will have one week of intensive training before the Pan Am Games to achieve that end.
Two other Sudburians will be accompanying Team Canada on the trip to the Dominican Republic: Paul de la Riva will act as media relations officer for the Canadian delegation, while Wendy Hampson has been brought on board
as an athlethic therapist.