My athletic story began as a small child dreaming of horses. I can remember riding the couch at four years old, and fastening “reins” to my bicycle handlebars. When my parents finally allowed me to take riding lessons, my week revolved around that precious half-hour of heaven. As I grew into a professional equestrian with clients, sponsors, and Olympic dreams, my relationship with my sport changed. I encountered challenges and conflcits that I never imagined as a horse crazy child. Time spent with a sport psychologist helped me navigate these unexpected encounters, and inspired me to learn more about a science that held such real-life applicability.
So many of us have stories like this. Your venue of striving may have been a soccer field, a baseball diamond, or a rubber running track. Some of you lived for snow in the winter, or spent hours underwater chasing your own “better than yesterday.”I feel deep gratitude for the life lessons learned through sport. Winning, losing, mastery, and pain; deep, dear friendships. We have sport to thank for these. Yet, for many of us, our relationships with our craft have grown more complex as we’ve matured. For many reading this, your life still revolves around athletic excellence, in love and struggle, and nuanced personal places in between.
Day in and out full-time athletes go to the edge of themselves in practice. Every possible emotion infuses fields, courts, and arenas. Much of the pleasure of sport is found in the pure way an athlete can give his or her best everyday. If you are an elite athlete no doubt you pride yourself in attending to every detail, and leaving no stone unturned in your quest for excellence. This quest involves attending to strength, speed, and flexibility; it requires careful nutrition, rest, and physical maintenance. And, although often neglected due to its intangible nature, it requires mastery of one’s own mental game.
Currently, very little separates the best on any given day from the fourth best. At the Beijing Olympics in 2008, the gold medal winning women’s rowing team beat the fourth place finishers by 1.1%. In a study involving 300 athletes from a recent Olympics, the only variable that was found to be related to athletes performing above, at, or below expectations was the presence of a structured mental preparation plan. Science is only just beginning to understand the power of the mind over the physical body. Separate studies have observed strength gains in weight lifters from visualization alone; marked running speed endurance improvement has been reported with the use of positive self-talk, and superior free throw accuracy in basetball players with reduced self-consciousness. At a time when differences in the physical capabilities of the best in the world is growing all the more narrow, the necessity of mental proficiency is becoming progressively paramount.
Of course, most of us are not full-time athletes. Yet progress in sport is meaningful. Performing at our best brings deep satisfaction and can be a major contributor to our well-being. Performance psychology is not just for the elite. It is for anyone who wants to feel more relaxed, more confident, optimistic, and courageous. All of these can be learned with commitment and practice. Whether you are a full time, or “sometimes” athlete, sports psychology skills can enhance your experience. Please feel free to reach out to me with your questions, hopes, struggles, and stories. From my personal experience and a comprehensive education I have seen the power of mental training. I’d be very happy to help you find the performance you are seeking.