4 Insights into the Mental Game of an Olympian
If your house is like mine, you have been consumed with the Olympics over the last 10 days. Not only have you been watching gymnastics and swimming, but checking out archery, table tennis, equestrian – you name it. It’s hard to not to get caught up in all the coverage, but what I think is the most interesting is not how talented these men and women are [which is clear, talent has a lot to do with getting to the games], but the skills that they are showing all of us each time they compete. And it’s not just their ability to jump, run, and throw – but how they handle the mental and emotional side of competition that seems to be the most amazing piece of their performance.
Here are 4 Insights into the Mental Game of an Olympian:
Routine – Whether it is gymnastics, swimming, or archery – every person that will medal or come close, will have a routine. The best routines include three things: First, the include deep, relaxed breathing. With these breaths, an athletes blood pressure and heart rate decreases, and their focus on the current task increases. Second, which is linked to the first with their focus, they keep their focus internal. You don’t see a podium level athlete looking around at the competition [and if they do, it doesn’t they are doing something wrong]. Their focus is on making sure that they do their best and challenging themselves to compete at the highest level they can be at in that moment [more on that later]. And third, it keeps athletes focused on the process and not the outcome. Obviously, they want to win that medal, or achieve a personal best. However, rather than think ‘My God, I am 100m away from that Gold,” a good routine makes them aware of strategy, mechanics, and the things that they have done correctly over and over again in training [which is a huge source of confidence]. Pay attention to these things over the next few days and I you will see what I mean.
One Heat [or event] at a time – Nearly every event at the Olympics requires some type, if not several, qualifying rounds. The best athletes understand that the Olympics is a journey to the medal stand, and that in order to achieve their goal, that the journey includes multiple steps, the first is to get through the competition that is in front of them. Mentally strong athletes know how to control their energy, both emotionally and physically, during the preliminary rounds so that they are ready for the next part of the journey. A bad heat does not make or break them, but it is how they can learn from those mistakes [ready our post about being a learner not a loser HERE] to be at their best during the next performance.
Positive Communication – Podium athletes don’t sulk, hang their heads, or say negative things to themselves after things don’t go the way that they want. Nor do they walk to the starting block or performance arena showing anyone that they are nervous. Obviously, after a bad performance, they are not happy, but they know that dwelling on the negative does nothing to help their next performance, or how they are seen to the people that have gone on the journey with them. They communicate positively in how they stand – tall, looking ahead, with their shoulders back and chin up. Their head is not down feeling sorry for themselves. The stand and present themselves with confidence. They use positive self-talk whether internally or out loud [just look at what Laurie Hernandez said to herself before her balance beam routine]. Lastly, they communicate positive language with their team. You don’t see Michael Phelps saying negative things to his relay team before the start of the race. You see a person who is there to not just do his own job, but improve the performance of his teammates.
Awareness – Athletes that end up on the podium not only understand who they are, but they act out those traits and values in their performance. They don’t act one way in a prelim, then get to the finals and become someone that they are not. Their awareness and belief in themselves is a pillar that helps define their performance. Being true to themselves not just builds their confidence, but is a way to pay tribute to all the people that got them there. They know that it was not just a journey that they traveled alone, but one that involved coaches, family, and friends who supported them when it seemed as if they were not going to get there [this happens with every athlete along the journey]. And having this personal awareness makes the reward much more fulfilling, because it is a testament to a commitment they made – to be there true self no matter what the stakes.