Like many of you, for the past two weeks I was glued to the television watching with tremendous admiration athletes of all races, from both third world and first world countries, share the stage in performing extraordinary athletic feats under intense pressure and competition at the 2016 Rio Olympic Games.
Savoring this fleeting glimpse into the accomplishments of these world class athletes, my hope was that their dedication, commitment, and drive would become a source of motivation that would propel me forward to new heights and personal bests.
- what drives Katie Ledecky to break her own world record in the 800 freestyle and become the first woman to win the 200, 400, 800 meter races since 1968?
- what makes Kerri Walsh Jennings, three-time gold medalist, mother of 3 children with 5 shoulder surgeries, still have the passion to compete for her 5th olympic medal and become the oldest female beach volleyball player in history?
- How does 19-year-old Simone Biles come away with winning four consecutive national titles, something that hasn’t been done in 42 years, and then go on to win four gold medals and one bronze in the Rio Games?
If you listen to Bruce Gemmell, Katie Ledecky’s coach, it’s clear that becoming a world-class athlete goes beyond natural talent. According to Gemmell, Katie didn’t particularly have a good “feel for the water”, was only slightly better than average at kicking, and doesn’t consider her to be naturally athletic. So how did this “average” swimmer become a gold medalist?
We all know that becoming an elite athlete requires intense training loads and focused skill development.
But what does the research say about the Olympian mindset independent of nationality, gender, or type of sport?
In our personal quests toward excellence and success, here are some scientific findings behind the Olympian mindset.
7 New Habit Nuggets:
1. Set goals and then commit 100% to achieving them.
Usain Bolt, the fastest sprint runner in the world from Jamaica, says “You have to set goals, and you have to set goals that are hard to get to if you want to be the best. I try to set the highest standard that I can for myself.”
- Olympians have a 4-year horizon line. Do you have long-term goals?
- How committed are you to your long-term goals? 99% or 100%? That 1% makes a difference
- Do you break up your long-term goals into smaller goals and winnow them down to daily goals, skill goals, and other types of goals?
2. Develop your unique competitive advantage.
World-class athletes are intense and driven to win. Gremmell comments that one of the qualities that set Becky Ledecky apart from other swimmers is that she is fiercely competitive. Motivation to beat her own time and beat others on her swim team is her key motivational driver and competitive advantage.
In training for the Rio Olympics, Kerri Walsh Jennings added new components to her routine that included pilates and mental training to up her game and give her an edge.
- What is your unique competitive advantage?
- How can you maximize it to ensure your success in this competitive world?
3. Receive feedback.
Coaches play a vital role in lives of elite athletes. They establish training routines, influence performance outcomes, facilitate team morale, and manage the barrage of distractions placed on athletes at competitive events. They provide important feedback to the growth and learning of their athletes.
In addition to individual coaching, Olympic athletes typically train with a team or have partners. Training as part of a group provides a competitive environment and allows athletes to benchmark their abilities with each other.
Fundamental to an athlete’s success is the ability to listen, learn and apply feedback; in other words, “to be coachable.”
- How do you respond to feedback?
- Do you seek feedback from peers, mentors or a coach?
- Are you coachable?
- Are you willing to try new habits, techniques or tools to achieve your goals?
4. Build your confidence and self-esteem.
Confidence is the feeling you get when you know you have the skills and capabilities to achieve your goals. Many elite athletes strive for perfection in practice which helps build confidence in their athletic prowess, hence the saying,”practice makes perfect.”
Self-esteem is slightly different and refers to our feelings of self-worth. A strong sense of self can help buffer anxiety and stress related to the intense pressure associated with high stakes competition and the pursuit of perfectionism.
- How would rate your confidence on a scale of 1 to 10?
- Are you willing to practice repeatedly the skills you need to be successful?
- How would you rate your self-esteem on a scale of 1 to 10?
- Are you able to tame your inner critic?
- Are you able to focus on personal accomplishments without comparing yourself to others?
6. Cultivate optimism.
Kerry Walsh Jennings is dubbed “six-feet of sunshine.” She exudes confidence and optimism in her athletic goals. Simone Biles is known for her bubbly and gregarious personality which contributes not only to team morale, but also to her ability to bounce back quickly from any mistakes or setbacks.
“The optimists believe defeat is not their fault: Circumstances, bad luck, or other people brought it about. Such people are unfazed by defeat. Confronted by a bad situation, they perceive it as a challenge and try harder.” Martin Seligman, Learned Optimism: How to Change Your Mind and Your Life
- How would you rate your level of optimism?
- Do you give yourself credit for accomplishments you have achieved?
- Do you look at life with the glass half full?
- Try this optimism survey
7. Have passion.
Practicing drills and skills can make for a mundane life experience. A drive toward success needs to include intrinsic motivators like passion and purpose.
Simone Biles says, “ I am always having so much fun.”
“Make sure that you love what you do,” Elizabeth Beisel said, a 2012 silver and bronze medalist. “If you’re going to be coming to practice upwards of 10 hours a day, giving your entire day to whatever it is, you’re going to need to love it and you’re going to have to do it with purpose.”
- Do your goals bring you joy?
- Where do you find passion and purpose in your life?
- Are you having fun?
The will to win, the desire to succeed, the urge to reach your full potential… these are the keys that will unlock the door to personal excellence. Confucius