Today, I want to share with you something that I read a couple of year ago and the text which really drove me and pushed me to create products like
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The Inner Realm – http://www.theinnerrealm.tv
and Beyond The Rings – http://www.BeyondTheRings.tv
This article is entitled “The Gold Medal Mind”
It is by James Bauman, Ph.D. Jame is a doctor of sports psychology and he used to work at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Chula Vista, California.
ANY COMPETITIVE ATHLETE WILL TELL YOU THAT WHAT SEPARATES THE GREAT HOPEFULSFROM THE GREAT ACHIEVERS IS THE KNOWLEDGE AND APPLICATION OF MENTAL SKILLS. HERE, U.S. OLYMPIC TRAINING CENTER SPORT PSYCHOLOGIST JAMES BAUMAN, PH.D., REVEALS JUST WHAT IT WILL TAKE TO SUCCEED IN SYDNEY THIS SUMMER–OR AT LEAST JUST IMPRESS EVERYONE AT THE GYM.
The day before Jonathan Jordan was to compete in the 1996 NCAA Track and Field Indoor Championships in Bakersfield, he got food poisoning and had to be rushed to the hospital. His coach tried to convince him to withdraw from the next day’s race, but with the championship on the line, Jordan refused to quit.
The next morning, the 26-year-old triple and long jumper from suburban Chicago focused all his energy on the one good jump he knew he had to make. “I put everything into it,” he said. “I was more relaxed than I ever was.” When the jump measured an expansive 23 feet, a surprised Jordan said, “Oh my God.” He had placed first, in spite of his weakened condition.
“In such situations I have found myself asking: ‘How can I compete now?’ But you concentrate and dig for something you didn’t know you had,” says Jordan, who will head for the Olympic Trials in Sacramento this summer.
A computer with all the gigabytes in the world is useless without the software to make it run. And so it is with the Olympian, whose mind is the software controlling that collection of hardware known as flesh and bone and muscle. Aside from their astounding physical prowess, it is the Olympians’ mental muscles–and how they flex them–that really sets them apart from everyday athletes.
“The difference between you and the guy next to you is almost completely mental,” says Curt R. Clausen, 32, the six-foot-one former public administrator whose newly shaved head will stand out in the 50-kilometer Olympic race walk in Sydney. “At the highest level,” says Clausen, who is ranked No. 1 in the United States and fourth in the world, “that’s what makes the difference.”
In my more than 10 years of working with hundreds of athletes, as the sport psychologist at Washington State University and one of four sports psychologists for the Sport Science and Technology Division of the U.S. Olympic Committee, I have seen how “mental management” contributes to an athlete’s performance. Some Olympians even say it accounts for 90% of their success. While it’s difficult to quantify percentages, we do know from years of research and hundreds of studies just how important psychological preparation is to optimum athletic performance.
It can even conquer the worst of distractions, as it did for Kathy Ann Colin, who overcame physical injuries, the distraction of college and a family disaster before becoming the No. 1 kayaker in the U.S.
Colin has had her eyes on the Olympics since she was 6, thinking she’d get there through gymnastics. But after tearing a ligament in her right knee when she was 12, she turned to kayaking. She had to give that up, too, when she left her hometown of Kailua, Hawaii, to attend the University of Washington. But after graduating from college and landing a good job with Boeing,. Colin knew that if she were ever to compete in the Olympics, she had to train full time. Three years ago, she moved to the U.S. ARCO Olympic Training Center in Chula Vista, California, to work out with the national team.
When finally, last summer, the day came for her to qualify for the 2000 Olympics, tragedy struck. Colin’s parents, who had flown all the way from Hawaii, were robbed at the airport and left with nothing but the clothes on their backs.
“I spent the whole day crying and rounding up clothes from teammates,” the athlete recalls.
On top of that, she and kayak pair teammate Tamara Jenkins were having trouble balancing, and their warm-ups were “awful.” When experts predicted that the race would be the fastest anyone had seen in 20 years, the pair was distracted, nervous and excited–all at once.
“I knew what I had to do,” says Colin. “I had put too much time and effort into this.” So with all the tenacity her five-foot-eight, 145-pound body could muster, she turned to Jenkins and said: “We can do this. Focus and relax and don’t worry about anything else. Just do what we do.”
And they did. Colin and Jenkins will be paddling for the gold in the K-2 in Sydney this summer.
Numerous studies over the years confirm that successful athletes are better able than the rest of us to deal with distractions. Olympic athletes in particular find ways to remain focused on an event to the exclusion of negative influences such as unruly crowds, inclement weather, even family problems. In his 1986 comparative study, Stanford University’s Albert Bandura, Ph.D., internationally known for his work in personality and social learning theory, showed that while the vast majority of us spend lots of time worrying about things we can’t control, successful athletes attend primarily to those cues or stimuli that are relevant, or within their control.
And where mental ability counts most is in preparation.
In addition to the intense concentration or focus of a Jordan, Clausen or Colin, “mental management” involves a number of techniques, including imaging, comparing performances, positive self-talk, mental relaxation, and achieving what athletes call “flow.” And you don’t have to be Olympic material to benefit from them. While the rest of us may lack the dream or the gift to compete in Sydney this summer, we can still use our minds to improve our sports performance.
MENTAL REHEARSAL is when athletes not only picture their movements but imagine feeling them as well. In 1988, Canadian sport psychologists Terry Orlick, Ph.D., and John Partington, Ph.D., found that 99% of the 235 athletes they surveyed rely on this technique to prepare for a high stakes race. Studies by the U.S. Olympic Training Center show that 94% of coaches use mental rehearsal for training and competition.
Colin describes how she glides through the waters in her mind as she lies in bed at night: “I focus on the feel of the boat and on my paddling. I am in the race. I get nervous energy. My muscles are triggered as I simulate a stroke in my mind. The boat is picking up; it’s gliding and I’m gliding with it.”
During warm-ups on the water, Colin’s visualizations are key: “I’ll hold a stop watch and imagine the start. My strategy is to figure out the number of strokes I need to win. I tell myself I want to get 152–Land then I make the plan. I know exactly where I’ll be when I stop, and I’ll be within a second of my goal. So when the race comes, there’s nothing new.”
It’s not as easy to mind-map a four-hour race. But Curt Clausen has his’ own way of visualizing the 50-kilometer race walk.
“I start by saying, ‘I want to win this race.’ Then I make a detailed plan with contingencies, strategies and coping methods. I take that plan, visualize the whole thing and then enter the race with it so that it’s running through my head over and over.”
An academic All-American with a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice and a master’s degree in forensic science, Jonathan Jordan talks to elementary school children about the importance of education as well as the preparation needed to become an Olympic athlete.
He begins his visualization two days before an event, he tells them. “I see myself on the runway. Then, I’m taking off on the board. From there, I’m holding my phases, and then I’m landing. If I get prepared like that beforehand,” he explains, “then when I get there I don’t worry about it. That’s something I’ve been doing for 10 years.”
By now he even does it subconsciously. While walking through his hometown shopping mall, Jordan has startled himself by suddenly leaping in the air. “I caught myself doing that one day. I was doing it for quite a bit of time before I realized.”
According to Brent Rushall, Ph.D., in his 1991 book Imagery Training in Sports: A Handbook for Athletes, Coaches and Sport Psychologists, effective performance imagery involves the ability to:
- Focus on the most desirable aspects of the performance;
- Emphasize the feeling of the activity by including all senses that come into play;
- Conjure the image several times;
- Envision the whole environment, including the arena;
- Incorporate competition strategies into the image.
“Each successful imagery trial should be followed by covert positive reinforcement,” Rushall wrote. “The combination of trials and reinforcement is critical for the mental skill to work.”
COMPARING PERFORMANCES with competitors of the same caliber helps athletes build confidence.
“I try to match my mental abilities with the best in the world,” said Andrew Hermann, 29, who will compete in his first Olympic games in the 50-kilometer race walk this summer in Sydney. Hermann ran distance and cross-country at Willamette College in Oregon before turning to race walking, competing in both 20- and 50-kilometer events. He placed second in the Olympic Trials in February.
Right before that, he took a number of tests to gauge his performance against other champions in his field. Afterward, he thought: “I’m just as tough as the best. Why can’t I compete and put on a world-class performance.”
Kathy Ann Colin was already a top-ranked junior kayaking champion when she went to the U.S. Nationals in Sacramento eight years ago, but it wasn’t until she competed in the Olympic trials for the first time in 1996 that she had a true measure of her abilities.
“I remember driving to the airport. Everyone thought I did well, but I was upset because I knew I could do better,” she said. “Up to that point, I was just having fun. But then when I was there, I was jealous because I knew I could do it.” A year later, she began training full time at the ARCO Olympic Training Center.
When Jonathan Jordan first compared himself with others, the prognosis wasn’t good. But when he tried out for the U.S. track and field team in 1996 and didn’t make it, the failure strengthened his resolve.
“I had never gone up against guys who had competed for the U.S. for so many years,” recalls Jordan. “I said, ‘Man, am I supposed to be here?’ “Now he knows what to expect. “With a field like that, you either jump well or you don’t. I know I’m going to jump well because I know the competition.”
POSITIVE SELF-TALK is another self-esteem builder. This internal dialogue, while not the stuff of Hamlet or Macbeth, helps athletes assess their performance; they use it to monitor, instruct and encourage.
“Sometimes I’m having problems with focus, where I’m just not up to it,” says Colin. “So, I say, ‘Come on. Just do it.’ “She urges herself on, saying “ten strokes for power,” then “ten for rhythm,” then “ten for legs.” At one point during the race she’ll be thinking, “Legs, legs, legs” with such ferocity that she’ll blurt it out, much to the chagrin of teammate Jenkins.
During a race, Curt Clausen carries on conversations with himself about his splits, his heart rate, the effort he’s making, how fast he’s going, how hard he can push.
“More importantly,” he says, “I repeat key words: relax, smile, low arms–all little techniques.”
Based on their comprehensive study of Olympic gymnasts, Michael Mahoney, Ph.D., and M. Avener, Ph.D., reported in the Canadian Journal of Sport Sciences in 1992 that the more positive the self-talk, the easier it is for athletes to excel. In a separate study, published in Cognitive Therapy and Research in 1977, they found that athletes who made the U.S. men’s gymnastics team used more positive self-talk than those who didn’t.
Negative self-talk, on the other hand, is worse than no talk at all. In 1987, pioneering psychologist and founder of rational emotive therapy Albert Ellis, Ph.D., identified general irrational beliefs that can interfere with athletes reaching their potential. They include statements such as: “If I don’t do well, I’m an incompetent person,” or “I must do well to gain the approval of others.” This can result in emotional distraction and decreased performance.
“It’s a battle with yourself,” says Jordan. “I tell myself, ‘Jonathan, you trained too hard for this. That’s why you’re going to win it.’ It’s not being arrogant. It’s just a statement of fact.”
RELAXATION is especially important when even the slightest deviation from the norm can throw Olympians off. “The worst part about a race is the stress,” says Clausen. “You tend to turn that into muscular tension, which detracts from your performance. I do deep breathing to trigger relaxation throughout my entire body.”
Race-walker Andrew Hermann relaxes by visualizing a soothing blue liquid running through his body, from his head to his toes. “If I’m really in a jam,” he says, “I picture brown sugar and pouring water over it. I see it dissolve and it makes the tensions dissolve wherever they are.”
Von Ware, 24, ranked No. 3 in the United States in the triple jump, will prepare for his Olympic trials in Sacramento this July as he has prepared for past meets, by listening to music, strumming his guitar, tapping on a set of drums or fiddling with his laptop. A self-described “computer graphics nut,” he hopes to own his own software company someday. Right now, though, he has his eyes on the prize–Olympic victory.
“The triple jump is structured. It’s very technical, very rhythmic,” says Ware. “And relaxation definitely helps.”
Ware’s abilities to jump, climb, run and perform a variety of athletic moves were recognized at an early age, especially after he broke the high school long jump record of 51 feet in 1994. At that point, Ware abandoned football, his sport of choice, and began to make the Olympics more than a dream.
What makes him happiest, he says, is seeing his mother smiling in the stands as he competes.
“For me,” he says, “that’s total bliss.”
“FLOW” sums up the feelings of bliss, euphoria and contentment that athletes feel when they’re on a roll, when the physical and mental aspects of performance are completely synchronized. In that state, nothing else, not even the crowd in the stands, matters.
“For me, it’s almost an out-of-body experience,” says Ware. “It’s as if you can’t feel your arms or legs or anything. I see nothing but the runway and pit, and my body just responds.”
According to 1999 studies by Susan Jackson, Ph.D., of the Queensland University of Technology in Australia, and Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, Ph.D., of Claremont Graduate University in California, the relationship between an athlete’s confidence and the challenge being faced is a main factor in determining whether or not the athlete experiences competitive flow.
Jackson, in a 1992 study published in the Journal of Applied Sport Psychology, interviewed 28 elite athletes across seven different sports and found that the key factors contributing to flow are confidence, focus, how the performance felt and progressed, optimal motivation and arousal levels. She also found that athletes perceived the flow state to be within their control.
Flow is “a relaxed, fluid feeling, where my technique is better than anyone’s,” says Clausen. “I’m smiling. I’m scanning my competitors. I’m saying, ‘I got these guys here today.’ This is fun. Until this season, I was unable to do that.”
TAKING IT TO THE GYM
You may not have the physical attributes to perform at the level of an Olympian, but you can get the most out of whatever you do to stay in shape by adapting the same mental techniques athletes use.
- Set realistic goals. Be specific about what you want to accomplish, whether it’s walking five miles or biking once a week. Devise steps to achieve the goal and commit to a start-date.
- Build self-confidence by maintaining a clear and honest inventory of your skills. You’re obviously not going to shoot a curl first thing in the morning if you haven’t been on a surfboard in 10 years. But you can build on what you have accomplished before and believe in the untapped potential that is yours.
- Relax. There are a lot of ways to do it. Think about things that put you at ease. Breathe easily and fully. Picture the muscles in your body as being loose and limber. Conjure up soothing images–scenes that make you feel genuinely good.
- Imagine your performance. Rehearse in your mind what it will look like and how you will feel as you break that sweat, run that extra half-mile, curl 10 more pounds. See yourself doing it; then do it.
- Positive self. talk your way to success. First, stop berating yourself for a less than stellar performance. Instead, tell yourself that you will accomplish your goal because you do have the skills to do it. Keep coaxing yourself. And, above all, listen to your self-talk.
- Control distractions by making a quick checklist of everything that might derail you from accomplishing your goal. Eliminate the things you can’t control, like the weather, and focus on those you can, like having the proper shoes or equipment for your sport. Then concentrate on the here and now, because what you do right now and how you do it are the only true parameters of performance.
I certainly hope that you enjoyed that. Any feedback is welcomed and appreciated.
Rhadi Ferguson, PhD, CSCS
4-Time National Judo Champion
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