Newsday – Feb 14, 2006 – Patricia Kitchen – While plenty of understudies have gone on stage at the last minute, and countless business people have made that key presentation when the boss’ plane was late, few can know just what it’s like to be Emily Hughes right now:

One minute she’s not an Olympics contender. The next minute she is.

It’s a real lurch to go from backstage to center stage, said Duffy Spencer, a life coach and business consultant in Westbury. In a split second, she says, Emily assumed the status of top-level contender, and she now has to internalize that role — and fast.

How can she do that? Here’s the advice from performance and success coaches.

For starters, they said, it’s essential that she focus on the positive. Coaches say that a performance often reflects how the athlete has been thinking, so Emily needs to steer clear of the negative, such as the perception that she’s starting at a deficit because of her late arrival.

James Loehr, performance psychologist and chief executive of the Human Performance Institute in Orlando, Fla., said he would counsel her to aim in a direction of excitement, adventure, even gratitude to Michelle Kwan for knowing when to step aside — those, as well as thoughts that reflect the positive element of “going in fresh.”

Laura Berman Fortgang, a life coach in Verona, N.J., would help her “go within” to focus on what she can control, not what she can’t. That would rule out the anticipation of judges’ reactions, comparisons to her sister Sarah and media reports.

Psychologically, Emily is coming from the perfect place, said John Murray, a performance psychologist in Palm Beach. That’s because since Jan. 27, the day her potential spot on the Olympic roster was given to Michelle Kwan, she hasn’t been under any “negative pressure” as a result of being in the spotlight. Now that pressure will begin, and he said the key for Emily is to go in with an attitude of excitement. “It’s hard to be tense,” he said, “when you’re having fun.”

Dr. John F. Murray is a sports psychologist and clinical psychologist providing sports psychology and counseling services based in Palm Beach, Florida.