On September 10, 2001, Kimberley Amirault flew to New York City to start her job as a performance consultant with one of the highest profile franchises in professional sport, the National Hockey League’s Rangers.
And if trying to negotiate the diverse personalities endemic to that sport wasn’t enough, the tectonic events of the following morning certainly would require her to push her skills to the limit.
“What I found was that the biggest thing was that I needed to remain consistent,” Amirault says of how she approached her time in New York. “I’m a Maritimer, so I’m pretty grounded in who I am.”
That grounded nature served her well over the following four years as she commuted between New York and Calgary to engage athletic personalities from the NBA, NHL and members of Canada’s national sports teams.
Contrary to what so many motivational speakers and gurus claim, there is no “magic spell” that suddenly transforms an athlete from someone who is good at his or her sport to someone who is great at it.
Amirault is quick to explain a lot of factors affect performance, depending on the activity and athlete, from pain tolerance and focus, to passion and mental rehearsal. According to Amirault, success, whether individual, team or corporation, requires an eclectic suite of strategies and techniques, as well as commitment throughout the organization.
Amirault’s efforts, in conjunction with physical trainers and coaches, helped Canada to its best-ever medal performance at the 2006 Winter Olympic Games in Italy, where our athletes won 24 medals.
Recognizing her contribution to the attitude changes in Canadian athletes who were no longer satisfied with fourth place, the Canadian Olympic Committee named Amirault as the lead for Sports Psychology for the 2010 Winter Games in Vancouver.
Motivating great performances comes with additional pressure. The COC has called on Canadian athletes not just to win more medals in Vancouver, but to win more than any other country — a feat that will likely require about 35 podium-worthy performances.
Not a small feat for a country with the dubious distinction of being the only nation to have never won Olympic gold on home soil, snow or ice.
However, the goal of a best-ever Olympic showing seems possible when you consider that last year Canada’s sliders, skaters and skiers combined to lead the world in the medal rankings.
And while she is proud of this improvement in performance, Amirault is quick to credit a refreshed sports structure that offered not just psychological support to athletes but also improved funding for coaching, nutrition, physiotherapy and equipment.
She also sees the bigger picture of what this improved Olympic Games performance can mean.
“Look at 2002 when Women’s Hockey won the gold medal. There was an increase in girls’ hockey enrollment,” says Amirault. “Take that a step further, and that we want to have a more active youth — which in turn helps combat obesity, improve health care, all those things that we’re concerned about.”
Why she’s the top: She’s helped the Columbus Blue Jackets, New York Rangers and New York Knicks with the psychological aspect of winning games, and she’s played a major role in the success of Canada’s winter athletes.
The key to her success: “You want to work yourself out of a job, because you want the athlete to be totally self reliant when they step on the line,” Amirault says.