Mental Fitness: Tips from the London Olympians

By: SARAH DAVIS

Edited by: CHRISTINA COLAVECCHIA

I can’t even begin to count how many times I stepped on the line at a track meet and got “that feeling” – where doubt and uncertainty start to creep into my mind and feed off of any positive thoughts I’ve already struggled to muster up. Within seconds before the gun goes off, I would always find myself doubting my training, comparing my thigh muscles to those of the girl next me, or even creating some made-up injury that would explain why I did not compete well…. all before the race even started!

That feeling of pressure combined with the desire to win can mess with your ability to persevere through challenges. Any athlete can tell you that a sport is a lot more than just competing in a meet or playing in a game. Some may even say that training to become mentally fit is more challenging than becoming physically fit. In the July/August issue of Fitness Magazine, Olympians shared their mental struggles and described what it took to get them to where they are today: the 2012 London Olympics.

Scientists have found that coping with a loss has shown to be one of the major reasons why people quit a sport or are less likely to reenter any kind of competition. This is because men and women experience a drop in testosterone levels when they lose. Kerri Walsh, a USA Olympian in beach volleyball, offers advice for those who have a hard time dealing with losing. “I go somewhere quiet and just breath,” says Walsh.

Pranjal Mehta, a psychology professor at the University of Oregon, has studied the effects of a two minute meditation before competition. His studies showed that just relaxing and clearing your mind for these two minutes can decrease the levels of cortisol (a stress hormone) in the body, allowing for a spike in testosterone.

A high school teammate always told me, “If you’re nervous, that’s good because it means you care about what you are about to do.” Anxiety, however, is only good to a certain point. Hope Solo, goalie of the USA women’s Olympic soccer team, says that she will pluck a blade of grass, squeeze it, and then let it fall to the ground. “I let everything go with that blade of grass,” says Solo. Find your own way to release your anxiety. Sciences show that writing your fears down before competition is another good way to relieve any stress you are feeling.

Grueling practices and competition can also take a physical toll on the body. There is no worse feeling than sitting on the sidelines watching your teammates compete. Lolo Jones, a USA Olympian in the 100m hurdles, had to completely learn to walk again after a spinal cord surgery last summer, only to end up with an injured hamstring six months later. “I started reading a bunch of books, writing down affirmations and goals, and visualizing myself running healthy and superfast,” says Jones.

Studies show that when you physically have someone there encouraging you every step of the way, it’s a lot easier to persevere through touch challenges. Genevieve LaCaze, an Australian Olympian in the steeplechase, credits her teammates at the University of Florida with her success. “The team aspect is getting me through this,” says LaCaze. “I will never be able to thank them enough.”

It’s learning how to overcome these mental obstacles that leads athletes to do extraordinary things.

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