Updated: Apr 10
Every athlete attending Rio has reached a high level in their career. It’s a moment when they get to ‘compete with’ some of the very best from across the world. I say ‘compete with’, because the very word is derived from the Latin word ‘competere’ meaning to strive together. The Olympic stage more than any other, is about bringing athletes together from around the world to celebrate sport, to build friendships and strive for one’s best. But what sets about that elite winning mindset of the worlds best?
Athletes who focus on simply winning, will likely fall short. Let’s not pretend however, that winning isn’t important to them, but athletes at the top of their game know that it’s about the smaller shifts and marginal gains that will lead to that win.
Here are 5 keys to that winning mindset
‘I hated every moment of training, but I said, don’t quit. Suffer now and live the rest of your life as a Champion’. Muhammad Ali, The Greatest.
All athletes have had months and years of training preparation in the lead up to the big stage. Those long arduous hours of training are not always easy. Just days ago, Kirsty Coventry, Zimbabwean swimmer and 7 times Olympic medalist posted behind the scenes footage of her training in a bath like tub before daylight had even broken.
But preparation doesn’t only mean training. With Kirsty Coventry, preparation also extended to what she packs in her travel bag for every event; her supply of coffee beans, amongst some of those treasured items.
World-class athletes will pay attention to all other aspects of their preparation, which includes fitness, nutrition before their event, staying hydrated, and having enough sleep and rest in recovery.
2. Find that enjoyment and have fun
“I play because I have fun, if I don’t have fun on the court, there is something wrong. I am just a 19 year old boy that likes to do what he likes, nothing else.” Rafael Nadal, French Open Champion, 2005
The very best seek out enjoyment even during the toughest moments. Fellow peer Amy Baltzell, a 1992 US Olympic Rower, All Americas Cup sailor, Sport Psychologist and author of “Living in the Sweet Spot”, believes enjoyment and wellbeing is integral to achieving success. The intrinsic desire, and that selfless spirit that dissolves the ego of winning, is what delivers best performance. Finding motivation from what they love is what spurs them onto success.
3. Take control
For many of the athletes, it will be their first time at an Olympic games. Rather than get caught up in thoughts of having to prove themselves by winning, or be overwhelmed by the situation when they see some medalist athletes line up alongside them, I tell athletes to take control. Enjoy the excitement, and bring your attention to your routine. Set your mind to doing your best. When your mind wanders to aspects outside of your control, acknowledge them and accept them, but turn back to what’s in the moment and part of your process.
I also tell athletes to have some trigger words or motivational phrases to help them stay in that moment. Mo Farah reminds himself of his training and uses this to help him during a race. When rivals draw up close on his shoulder his internal talk is ‘Whatever. I feel positive, I know I’ve trained well’. Mo Farah, Olympic Gold Medalist, European Champion, IAAF World Champion.
In addition, it’s important to remind athletes that their time in the village are times to relish. It’s an occasion for them to enjoy the camaraderie and make new friends. These connections will build on those feelings of joy on the occasion.
4. It’s about doing your best, not being the best
Athletes must focus on their plan and their own goals. It’s possible to get distracted when stood in the next lane across from Usain Bolt perhaps, but any athlete wishing to perform at their best must set themselves realistic targets. This is where knowing the different types of goals become important. Goals may be outcome, performance and process ones. Outcome is all about the winning, being the best rather than your best. Performance goals are about working to reduce a time run in performance or to reach a certain target on a first serve percentage as a tennis player for example. Process goals are all about the detail. For the athletes in Rio this will include packing their kit bags, practicing their pre-race or game routines, eating the right meals before competition, getting enough rest and sleep, finding support from the people in their team and staying hydrated.
5. Mistakes are a foundation for improvement
‘I’ve missed more than 9000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. Twenty six times I have been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over again in my life-and that is why I succeed’. Michael Jordan, winner of six NBA Championships.
Athletes will make errors just like any of us. But how they then deal with these failures and errors is key to their future success. I tell athletes to learn from these situations. The winning mindset is about being able to review what worked well and what went wrong, acknowledge the pain associated with an error or failure, accept the emotions and disappointment, and then refocus on the plan and breathe. These experiences will be the foundation for moving forward. The feedback allows athletes to make adjustments, learn and commit to being their best.