Mental Training Inc. explains the keys to success for Sochi Winter Olympians in the development of their mental toughness.
What does it take to medal in the Olympics? If you ask any gold medalist, they’ll tell you it starts and ends with their mind, not their physical abilities. In addition to the enormous amount of physical training required to win a gold medal, one of the least well known aspects of an Olympian’s preparation is their dedication to mental training.
Apolo Ohno, the most decorated winter Olympian in American history wrote in his book Zero Regrets: Be Greater than Yesterday, that “such strength did not come from my physical self; it started within the depths of my mind.” As Apolo points out, physical strength is no longer enough to win Gold, peak performance requires mental toughness.
Mental toughness improves the same way as physical strength, through consistent, focused training. Most Olympians work regularly with a mental skills trainer, like a Sports Psychologist or Certified Mental Trainer®, to improve their mental skills. ”During mental training sessions, an athlete will learn how to achieve difficult goals, improve their focus, build confidence, overcome fears, control their thoughts, and manage their emotions so they can enter the zone faster and stay there longer,” says Dr. Bob Neff, Founder and CEO of Mental Training, Inc. (MTI), one of the world’s leading companies at helping athletes enhance their mental toughness.
MTI athletes are taught to focus on the process (the task at hand) while they’re competing. As simple as this might sound, it’s actually very challenging. USA Olympic Hockey Team member T.J. Oshie successfully demonstrated the importance of focusing on the process, rather than the outcome as he finished four out of his six shots in the shootout against Russia to lead the US to victory. The athletes who work with Mental Trainers® at MTI know that when they start focusing on outcomes, they’re thinking about uncontrollables which causes more pressure, nerves and mistakes. Obviously that’s not the recipe for success.
With the margins of Olympic victory often as miniscule as a tenth of a second, learning to recognize and control thoughts and images becomes critical. Visualization or mental imagery, is the practice of controlling actions in your mind. “Research shows that athletes who practice visualization activate the same brain and muscle patterns as if they were competing physically,” says Dr. Neff. This is just one form of mental practice that has been shown to improve confidence and enable athletes to stay calm when on the big stage. With consistent practice, visualization can be the difference between the gold and going home empty handed.
American skier, Mikaela Shiffrin, who became the youngest gold medal winner in the Slalom’s history at the age of 18 (finishing 0.53 seconds ahead of silver medalist Marlies Schild) won the gold many times in her head before she even arrived in Sochi. After making history, Mikaela told the world why she trains so hard mentally. “You can visualize this in your head and you can mentally prepare and you can make the moment happen and create your miracle. But when it does happen, it’s hard to put into words how incredible it is.”
Everyone agrees that mental toughness is critical for success, but few young athletes train mentally. If you have big aspirations, learn from the Olympians and add mental training to your daily workouts.
About Mental Training, Inc.
Mental Training, Inc. was founded in 2006 by Robert Neff, Ph.D. with the goal of helping good athletes become great. MTI and its team of Certified Mental Trainers® offer 1-on-1 mental training for amateur, professional, and Olympic athletes. Services also include programs designed for teams, associations and school districts. Extending beyond sports, MTI also works with executives, managers and salespeople, helping them control their thoughts and emotions while equipping them with the mental tools to perform their best when it matters most.