One Month Out From The Olympics: Why Trust Will be Key for our Athletes
It's hard to put yourself in the shoes of an athlete and imagine what they're thinking, feeling and experiencing in the lead up to an Olympic Games.
Many will have dedicated almost every waking moment of the last 5, 9 or even 12 years to prepare for the moment that lies ahead - readying themselves to perform under pressure, with many feeling the weight of a nation on their shoulders. It's not easy to process and then deliver...I'm not going to lie!
For me, trust was integral at this point. I had actually broken both my ankles 6 weeks out from the 2002 Winter Olympics, so I really only had two choices - emotionally/mentally throw in the towel or choose to trust in my mind and body. I knew I had done all the right training and accumulated just enough positive competition experiences, so I held onto that tightly. I focused on what I had, not what I didn't/wouldn't have. I leant into my team, did additional visualisation and scenario planning, and then reminded myself that 'no medals are given out until after the event is over'.
Every athletes journey to an Olympics is bumpy, no one has a perfect ride, so believing that you are in with a chance or good enough to win, is a choice. But it's not about clutching at straws (note: desperation is toxic) or simply hoping for the best, it's about gathering all the positive evidence at your disposal and then flooding yourself with it. You need to embody that belief and trust.
The science behind this comes back to our brain, which operates in either a state of threat or reward. When we're feeling anxious, vulnerable or threatened, our body almost shuts down - cortisol is released, our heart rate increases, our immune system is suppressed and our ability to problem solve or be creative diminishes (just to name a few things). Interestingly, the brain cannot differentiate between real or perceived threat, which means feeling a loss of control, facing ambiguity or a potential loss of status can trigger a threat response in our brain. It's important for athletes to recognise and then neutralise these symptoms quickly. Doing so, is a skill that you learn and then practise.
I encourage athletes I work with, to get 'into their bubble'. To block out all the noise and surround themselves with positive people, thinking and language. To use schedules and routines to create certainty, and to flood themselves with positivity evidence of things they are doing well everyday. Athletes watch a lot of video of their very best training so that is what's wired into their brain, and then perhaps most importantly, they must remember that their friends and family love them no matter what. Actions such as these, encourage the brain to release dopamine which elevates your feelings of calm and confidence. They help you feel safe, open and ready to be courageous in the moment.
It's amazing to watch 'threat and reward' play out in other environments. Reflect on how you felt (in both mind and body) the last time you made a mistake in the workplace, or felt uncomfortable in a social setting. Triggers such as these close us down, but just like our Olympic athletes, each and every one of us can use reframing, positive self talk and gather positive evidence to neutralise the threat internally and more calmly work through the challenge at hand.
It can be tricky to master our brains and control our innate response to different situations. But as with all things worth having, it just takes practise, and that's exactly what our athletes are doing right now!
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