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Mental Tenacity and Olympic Champions

As the first week of the Beijing Olympics came to a conclusion, it became more obvious to me than ever about the importance of mental preparation. In my opinion, Michael Phelps performance was perhaps the single most amazing athletic feat in modern history. Phelps won an incredible eight gold medals. Five came in individual events and three in relays. He set seven world records and one Olympic record. All of this came as he swam 17 races in eight days. Physically, he was in tremendous condition, as were all of the competitors he faced in the finals of each event . However, I believe his superior training not only involved his physical endurance, but also his ability to be prepared for any situation he faced in the pool. Phelps had to be ready to deal with close races, as he had in the 100 meter butterfly, which he won by one one hundredth of a second. He had to be prepared to swim the final 50 meters of the 200 butterfly with his goggles filled with water. Yet, he still won the race in world record time, even though he was disappointed he didn’t swim it faster.

Natalie Coughlin won six medals, more than any other American woman in any sport at one Olympics. Dara Torres, at age 41, won three silver medals and proved to all of her naysayers that you should not use age as a limit to your dreams. Nastia Liukin won four medals and Shawn Johnson three in women’s gymnastics. Both women were shown numerous times visualizing their events while waiting for their turn to compete in their events. Numerous athletes in both gymnastics and swimming were quoted after events about how their mental preparation helped them handle the pressure of Olympic competition.

So are Olympic champions the only athletes who can benefit from mental preparation? Of course not. I always like to say you can have two athletes of equal skill and physical make-up, but the one with the stronger mind will come out on top. All of the previously mentioned athletes have spent countless hours preparing for competition at the Olympic level. Although they spend countless hours in the pool or in the gym training and training for hours on end, they also spend a significant amount of time mentally going over their events. Part of this training involves preparing for all the situations they can imagine prior to and during their events. I always encourage athletes to make a “What If” list. In this list, they write out every kind of scenario they can imagine that could occur prior to, or during their competitions. Michael Phelps WAS prepared for his goggles filling up with water and he WAS prepared for the 100 butterfly where he was dead even coming to the wall. Nastia Liukin and Shawn Johnson had practiced thousands of times in their minds what would happen if…….

Research has found that athletes who visualize have a significantly greater chance of success compared to athletes who don’t. So it does not matter if you are a weekend warrior, a little league baseball player or an athlete with Olympic aspirations, take the time to mentally prepare for your event. It may be the difference between your success or failure at reaching your goals.

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