Think Like An Olympian




I love the Olympics. I can hardly stand the wait until the opening ceremonies in London this summer. Not only do I swell with national pride for the duration of the games, but I truly love a good competition. As a lifelong athlete, I have some concept of the physical training and preparation that goes into training for a sporting contest, but new research spurred by the upcoming Summer Games shed some light on the psychological preparation necessary to be an elite, world-class competitor.

Talent is multidimensional. Some kids are just born to be athletes. Others work hard to build technical skills. What do they have in common? They train to be winners. Not only do they train their bodies and improve speed, strength, endurance, or skills related to their sport, they train their minds to manage stress, overcome challenges, and control their emotions.

Imagery is a common technique in sports. An athlete who visualizes himself performing well in competition is more likely to do so, since the imagery gives the body a “been-there-done-that” feeling related to winning. Building confidence, even in the imagination, improves performance.

Stress management is more important at the Olympics than, perhaps, any other sporting contest. The once-every-four-years level of anxiety, coupled with intense media coverage would be enough to break even the highest-caliber athlete. Training to manage stress and control emotions, even outside of competitive settings, gives elite athletes a mind-over-matter jump on the competition.

Coaches are also critical to athletic success. No athlete has achieved greatness on his own. Coaches provide strategy, direction, goal setting, and feedback. An objective base of support increases the odds of superior athletic performance.

So, what can the simple spectator, or even the ultra-competitive suburbanite, learn from the sports psychology of elite athletes?  Basically, it’s this: No matter what your challenge, get your head in the game. Work hard, play hard, think positively, manage stress, and maintain a solid support system. Whether it’s the race up the corporate ladder or the potato-sack race of parenthood, you can’t do it alone, and natural talent will only get you so far.

As you cheer on your favorite athletes this summer and sing your national anthem with pride, remember that winning isn’t everything, but preparing to win just might be. Go Team!

References

Colbert SD, Scott J, Dale T, & Brennan PA (2012). Performing to a world class standard under pressure-Can we learn lessons from the Olympians? The British journal of oral & maxillofacial surgery, 50 (4), 291-7 PMID: 22682376

Gee CJ (2010). How does sport psychology actually improve athletic performance? A framework to facilitate athletes’ and coaches’ understanding. Behavior modification, 34 (5), 386-402 PMID: 20935240

Gould D, & Maynard I (2009). Psychological preparation for the Olympic Games. Journal of sports sciences, 27 (13), 1393-408 PMID: 19787542

Martin J (2012). Mental preparation for the 2014 Winter Paralympic Games. Clinical journal of sport medicine : official journal of the Canadian Academy of Sport Medicine, 22 (1), 70-3 PMID: 22222589

Olusoga P, Maynard I, Hays K, & Butt J (2012). Coaching under pressure: a study of Olympic coaches. Journal of sports sciences, 30 (3), 229-39 PMID: 22168369

Image via S.Borisov / Shutterstock.

Jennifer Gibson, PharmD

Jennifer Gibson, PharmD, is a practicing clinical pharmacist and medical writer/editor with experience in researching and preparing scientific publications, developing public relations materials, creating educational resources and presentations, and editing technical manuscripts. She is the owner of Excalibur Scientific, LLC.
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