For top athletes, mental skills training is essential to dealing with the pressure of competition. Can the strategies Olympians use improve performance in any field?
An August article in the New York Times features a handful of top “psychological consultants” who work with world class athletes, counseling them on “…how to avoid choking under pressure, how to tune out media chatter and how to quell stomach butterflies.” Pressures arise in any profession on those days when it’s imperative to perform and keep cool, even if the spotlight is not quite as intense as it is during the Olympic Games. What do mental coaches have to say that we can apply to our own life?
1. Use Your Imagination
When Colleen Hacker worked with the 2018 women’s Olympic ice hockey team, she asked them to imagine the moves they would perform in competition. In many cases, the repeated use of such sensory-based imagery improves performance as much as a similar amount of actual practice. Try it on your tennis backhand.
2. Stress Out – With Intention
Find ways to boost your stress level as you prepare for a presentation or difficult conversation. How? Role-play with friends or practice in front of colleagues who might toss out provocative remarks as you learn to stay calm and collected.
3. Loose Up, Laugh It Off
Crack a joke, watch an SNL sketch, or dance around the office supply room. Laughter or horsing around with others can break the loop of negative thoughts and escalating tension.
We can take a tip from Julie Foudy, Olympic gold medalist, who says. “It’s like, OK, come on, laugh about it. And then let’s go win.”
Source: Svoboda, Elizabeth, “An Athletic Coach for the Mind,” New York Times, August 2021,