After the Usain Bolt became the 1st person in Olympic history to win three-straight men’s 100m titles last night, he stated that “all I had to do was stay cool, and everything would be fine.” To stay cool when there are nearly 1 billion people watching around the world – all of which are expecting you to win, obviously, is much easier said than done. But, like all of the things that I blog about each week – being cool can be trained. Let’s look at what he does to ‘stay cool’:
He focuses on himself
In the 100m, one of the skills that I talk try to teach athletes when it comes to the mental game, is to ‘run & stay in your own lane.’ Now, obviously this has a physical aspect to it, but what we are trying to address here is the mental and emotional side of the race. For example, Bolt knew his toughest opponent, American & Former Olympic Gold Medalist Justin Gatlin, traditionally has a great first 20m to his own race, but rather than focus this, he makes his focus internal – on HIS start, on HIS execution. He understands that the greatest challenge is not in beating the field, but rather challenging himself to compete at his best. He knows that by focusing on his lane, he has the opportunity to do just that.
He is prepared
Many people believe that Bolt’s confidence comes from his talent – I believe rather, that it is his preparation that is the source. And it’s not the playing with the crowd, or the laughing and joking with his teammates during the warm-up that gets him prepped to compete at his best [granted that helps], but it is all the little things he does, physical and mentally that the layperson will not look for, nor see. Bolt watches tape of himself and other runners in other heats, he and his teammates go through event simulations in practice [like the false starts he went through in his semi-final heat], and he visualizes the race and the multiple ways that it could turn out, over and over again. That preparation allows him to have a sense of calmness, confidence, and readiness that puts him in a better place than anyone else ever is or ever will be.
He is relaxed
This trait seems obvious to everyone watching. He is playing with the crowd, his chatting in the warm-up area, he even smiled with 10m to go during his semi-final heat! But let’s look at the specifics: First, his breathing is calm and controlled. You don’t see any choppy and/or shallow breaths from Bolt. They are deep, slow, and relaxing. This keeps his heart rate down and his thoughts at ease. Second, he is continually committed to his routine. Much like Phelps swinging his arms on the starting block, or Jordan spinning the ball twice before he shot a free throw [noticed how I mentioned two of the greatest of all-time in their sport? There are similarities, folks], when Bolt gets into the blocks, he takes his deep breath, does his sign of the cross twice, and points to the sky. This happens before every, single, race. And athletes without a routine tend to show their emotions more in big moments with poor breathing, extra movements, and nervous body language – things you don’t see from Bolt. Lastly, when talking specifically about his race, he doesn’t panic. Just like when we discussed the fact that he focuses on himself, when something happens that maybe be potential problem [a bad start or being behind late], you don’t see him turn into someone that he is not. He stays focused on his lane, continues his confidence, and stays committed to the plan – these are all signs of being relaxed.
An interesting question to ask yourself after reading this is – when it’s time for you to be at your best, do you act in a way that puts the focus on yourself? Are you prepared? Are you relaxed? Again, these are all things that can be trained. There is only one Usain Bolt, however the traits he shows and the way he ‘stays cool’ are skills that we can learn and help improve our own performance.