With all things being equal, what is different about winning athletes? When elite athletes are competing, the gap in abilities between the first and last place athlete is relatively small. You’ll need to dig a little deeper to understand what separates the top 1% of elite athletes from all the rest.
Bryan Bennett, redshirt freshman quarterback for the University of Oregon Ducks, displayed the qualities of a great quarterback. He was given his chance to play in the game against Arizona State University after Darron Thomas, became injured. Many athletes have the physical ability, but it takes more than that to step into a close game and win. “I just tried to stay calm, cool and collected and go out there and play football and have fun,” Bennett said.
Proper training builds strength and endurance. Mindset strategies improve focus and build confidence. Both components, physical training combined with mental game strategies, are necessary for high performance.
Elite athletes view performance, and winning, from a different set of lenses. Where elite athletes place their focus and attention is different from average athletes.
1. Motivation – There is a burning desire to be the best you can be. Being good enough is not enough. Elite athletes possess a deep need to always improve, taking their performance to the next level.
2. Initiative – Driven athletes don’t wait to be given permission to do something. They are the leaders in all they do, setting the standard for excellence.
3. No Excuses – Full commitment is necessary to be the best. Instead of viewing obstacles as problems, elite athletes approach them as challenges to overcome. The goal is the primary focus.
4. Determination – All challenges have solutions. Elite athletes are actively looking for the opportunities to help them reach their goal. Failure is not an option.
5. Strengths Based Approach – Focus on strengths. Elite athletes know where they excel and use that to their advantage. Find the best approach based upon your strengths. Also develop the skills necessary to minimize weaknesses.
6. Extra mile – A strong commitment sets up elite athletes to go the extra mile. Even when no one is looking, they continue to push themselves to be the best they can.
7. Tough Minded - Athletes are expected to do things which stretch them all the time. Tough minded athletes acknowledge the discomfort, but don’t let it stop them. Taking risks, and pushing through their comfort zone, is part of the champion mindset.
A success mindset is more natural for some than for others. Fortunately, it is not a birthright. Similar to new techniques and skill sets, a champion mindset can be learned. It could have been easy for Bennett to panic, given the circumstances. It was a high pressure situation. When he stepped up to the challenge, his teammates positively responded to his confidence and ease.
The champion mindset focuses on the solutions, not the problems. Elite athletes are creative in their approach to challenges, willing to take a risk. Bennett was all about results. Focused attention on solutions, along with a positive mindset, affected his approach to a challenging game. He found opportunities to play his “A” game. Bennett’s champion mindset contributed to the Duck’s winning game.
“Success is how highyou bounce when you hit bottom.”General George Patton
Let’s face it, endurance eventsare painful. When it catches athletes off guard, their performance falters. Thesolution is to get beyond the pain, and to maintain focus in the present withthe goal in mind.
On race day Sam knew he had doneeverything possible to prepare for the century cycling event, a 100-mile bikerace. It was a confidence booster. He relished the rush of adrenaline coursingthrough his body in anticipation of the start.
About halfway into the raceduring a steep uphill climb Sam hit his wall of pain. With years of cyclingunder his belt he is familiar with the pain. Sam has inconsistent success toget beyond the wall. On this particular ride he suffered from the pain, unableto regain focus.
Thoughts about deserving,capabilities and doubt begin to surface. His inner critic distracted his focus.As he became keenly aware of the discomfort, his pain increased. For a fleetingmoment he considered falling with a fake injury to withdraw from the race.Anything to stop the discomfort. Sam, however, always continues forwarddetermined to break through the pain.
Only three options were availableto Sam once he slammed into his wall of pain. He could retreat, change his paceand drop back, or move forward pushing beyond the pain. The overbearing painled to him drop back. Cyclists he would normally have beaten began passing him.
His inconsistent response to painwas interfering with his high performance goals. He knew there had to be abetter way. Like most endurance athletes, Sam was persistent, curious about howto push his limits, face his fears, and learn from his mistakes. He possessed adaring spirit.
Sam’s initial reaction to painautomatically triggered specific thoughts. He developed this response overtime. It didn’t just happen overnight.
Sam’s goal was to create a newresponse to the pain. Instead of suffering through it, he was ready to meet ithead on. Once he determined his typical response, the next step was to detachfrom those thoughts, taking away their power.
The easiest approach was to usethe Emotional Freedom Techniques (EFT). EFT, like acupuncture, works on theenergy system within the body. The goal for Sam was to easily maintain highperformance instead of getting into a struggle. EFT helped Sam to emotionallydetach from the negativity in his story about pain. Once that was done he coulddevelop a new response.
Sam successfully used EFT todetach, changing his perception about pain. Next Sam explored strategies hecould easily use to remain focused. First off, his wall of pain was not animpassible brick wall anymore. Now he saw it as a paper thin wall which hecould easily ride through.
A game plan was developed for pushingthrough his pain threshold. He knew from experience when it would be likely tooccur. He created new positive thoughts to maintain focus, and identifiedseveral incremental goals to challenge himself along the course. Creating a strategychanged his perspective from reactive to active. Sam’s new response is to cyclethrough the paper wall, maintaining focus on his performance.
To shorten the learning curve,Sam began visualizing using his new response when the pain hit. First he wouldacknowledge the physiological response to pushing his body’s limit, then challengehimself to achieve shorter goals along the course. Choosing a new response wasliberating.
Becoming absorbed with thoughtsabout suffering is energy draining. Yes, the body sensations are very, veryreal. It is important to recognize that hitting a pain threshold does not haveto be a cue for your inner critic to take charge. Minimize the criticalthoughts telling you why you don’t deserve to race or what a poor decision youmade thinking you could compete. Fear and doubt tense your body which affectsperformance. Instead of allowing the negativity to take control, recognize itis possible to break through this mindset.
Activity: Athletes know they aregoing to face pain. It is part of the challenge. An abundance of strategiesexist for getting past your wall of pain. Acknowledging the pain withoutfeeding into it is necessary as you strive to improve your performance. Thepain, however, does not lessen. Work on improving your ability to work throughit, making it less of a distraction.
When are you most likely to hityour wall of pain? Consider your thoughts when this occurs. Now list newthoughts you would rather have. Keep them simple to one or two word phrases. Nextdecide how you would like to challenge yourself along the course, choosing tomaintain focus on performance instead of pain. When those tough moments hithaving smaller mile markers along the course helps to provide incrementalaccomplishments along the way.
When pain hits do you become yourown worst enemy? It is difficult to maintain high performance when you are in abattle with your inner critic, fighting the discomfort. Resilience is requiredto excel in endurance sports. It is important to increase your frustrationlevel and will power to cope with emotional pain.