LONDON — U.S. beach volleyball stars Kerri Walsh Jennings and Misty May-Treanor have a psychological effect on their opponents.
"We're not strong enough in our heads [to know] it's really possible and not be afraid," said Kristyna Kolocova of Czech Republic, after losing to the Americans in two sets (21-14, 21-19) at Horse Guards Parade late Monday night (well, actually, early Tuesday morning).
But Walsh Jennings and May-Treanor have dealt with their own mental hurdles — and they decided to seek some professional help.
The championship duo hadn't played their best volleyball in the run-up to the London Olympics.
"We were in a funk, mentally. It wasn't physical at all. We were just in a weird place," said Walsh Jennings. "We lost our way a little bit. I tried to be too tricky. I tried to be tricky again tonight, I made an error tonight and I learned my lesson."
Since 2009, she had been working with sports psychologist Michael Gervais, who had worked with NBA players in the past. This year, Walsh Jennings and May-Treanor began having joint sessions with Gervais.
Like marriage counseling?
"Absolutely. We're married," said Walsh Jennings. "I have two amazing partners: my husband Casey and Misty. You gotta work through it. Sometimes you take things for granted. I've known her for so long, but I don't know everything's she thinking. It's important to get on the same page."
Walsh Jennings said the sessions helped the volleyball partners "reconnect" on the court.
"What we learned was that we didn't want to let each other down. I don't want to let Misty down. And that was keeping us kind of timid. We had never done that before, and we're done with it," she said.
May-Treanor said the two have seen positive benefits from the psychology sessions. "It's important that we're all on the same page. It's been a process," she said.
After these Olympics, May-Treanor, who turned 35 on Monday, is retiring from Olympic beach volleyball. Walsh Jennings said that was one of the dominant issues worked out through therapy.
"[We talk] about what's on our minds and our hearts," she said. "It's been an emotional journey that we've been on. It's been great for so long, but it's coming to an end and that's really heavy. It's heavy in a beautiful way, but it weighed heavy on us," she said.
The duo moved to 2-0 in preliminary play, as they continue on their path for a third straight Olympic gold medal — and the end of their team.
"It's going to be said, and half devastating, when we're done," said Walsh Jennings. "We just want to go out on top, and [then] we can cry all we want."