Dutchwoman Ireen Wust shattered Canada’s confident hopes of an Olympic gold medal in the women’s 1500m speed skating on Sunday, adding the title to the 3000m she collected in Torino.
Kristina Groves took silver for Canada with Martina Sablikova, the 3000m champion, of the Czech Republic claiming bronze.
But it was a disappointing day for home hope Christine Nesbitt who had started as favourite having set the season’s fastest time of 1min 52.77sec and was lying second in the World Cup standings.
It is all in your mind
It is the difference between success and failure. Arnold talked about it in Pumping Iron (You just go on and go on… and say, ‘I don’t care what happens.’). It’s your last line of defense against being called a candy ass.
Mental toughness can be defined as the ability to maintain the focus and determination to complete a course of action despite difficulty or consequences—to never quit, period. To many athletes and coaches, it’s a quality that can’t be trained. Mental toughness is usually something you’re born with or develop very early in life due to your surroundings, a performance-enhancement coach who’s trained top athletes from more than 20 different sports. It’s hard to take a wuss and make him a hardcore no matter what you do—unless you throw him in prison. Still, it’s fair to assume that anyone can improve his tolerance, patience, and concentration, just as anyone can get bigger, leaner, or better educated.
The root of mental toughness lies in motivation. People who are intrinsically motivated are self- starters, willing to push themselves to the brink for the love of their sport or activity. They need little encouragement to give their best effort, and they often do well setting goals for themselves.
Those who are dominated by the motivation to succeed are, predictably, people who gather their energies best when they feel a great opportunity lies ahead for them. Even if the probability of that success seems uncertain, they believe if they bust their butts, they can achieve it.
The other side of that is what’s known as the motivation to avoid failure. These folks only get going in response to challenges that threaten their egos. Calling a person who’s motivated to avoid failure a pantywaist if she doesn’t get 10 reps on her next set of squats makes her feel under attack and that she’d better prove her detractor wrong or suffer humiliation. Knowing this, it makes sense that people who focus situations in which success seems easy to achieve. If the task seems uncomplicated, their confidence is high. But if an obstacle is perceived as an extreme challenge, they’re just as likely to cop out, believing there’s no way they could overcome it.
Sound familiar? Understanding which of these two traits is more dominant in your personality is the key to helping you train yourself to become tougher—and endure more. Most coaches report that players who are motivated by success don’t need as much instruction or cajoling when the chips are down in a game—they see it as an opportunity to turn things around and be heroes.
World-class endurance athletes respond to the stress of a race with a reduction in brain-wave activity that’s similar to meditation. The average person responds to race stress with an increase in brain-wave activity that borders on panic. This is a prime example of how getting into the “zone” athletes talk about—the cool-headed state that allows a per- son to perform optimally even under high-pressure conditions—can make all the difference in your performance. Achieving this state and holding on to it despite distractions, pain, and your own instincts to give in for the sake of self-preservation is the essence of mental toughness.
The best athletes train their brains to be as tough as their bodies, using techniques like these:
BE POSITIVE. The number one thing you have to do is believe in yourself, or no one else will. Believing is knowing.
Every day, there is a dialogue going on in your mind, these thoughts are usually a mixture of outside stimuli and your own beliefs about yourself.” The world will bomb your with negative thoughts and images about yourself and succeeding. You may even have some old ways of thinking and feeling about yourself that need to be realeased and re-imaged. Take out that old tape and replace it with a new one. Listen to motivating speakers or speeches or readings everyday to counteract the negative ones. To be successful, you must focus on the ones that make you feel better about yourself. You must believe.
An easy way to stay in a positive frame of mind is to create a mission statement that gets you pumped up. Take the time to consider your reason for running a marathon, competing in a particular contest, whatever your goal. If you have a powerful reason why, you can get through anything. Make this ‘why’ your mission statement and repeat it to yourself during your training. Anytime you catch yourself slacking, questioning your motivation, or feeling like you want to quit, repeat your mission statement
TALK TO YOURSELF. You should be your own coach. Learning to talk positively to yourself when the going gets tough takes practice, but you’ll get better at it. Then, on race day (or whatever your particular challenge is), you’ll be able to talk yourself into a second wind.
VISUALIZE. Before you even step under the bar for a squat or pick up a dumbbell, your set should be mentally done. Imagine the steps you’ll take to get into position and the way your body will look performing the movement, and rehearse each repetition in your mind. Think about how all that will feel to you. “Because it’s already been done in your mind, all you have to do is repeat it with your body.
MEDITATE. Various forms of meditation have been used for thousands of years for almost any purpose you can fathom, including reduction of stress, enhanced mental clarity, and simple relaxation. Just focus on clearing your mind of extraneous thoughts and mentally preparing yourself for the upcoming contest or confrontation.
GET UNCOMFORTABLE. You can’t settle into a routine and expect to make progress. If you’re trying to be a tougher runner, then a couple of times a month you need to practice running a little longer or faster than you’re used to. These workouts should be at random—put your running shoes on one day and decide you’re going to take it to the limit. Just as progression is an important part of training, applying any challenging stimulus to your life will give you a greater ability to handle stress of all kinds. It teaches you problem-solving skills and critical thinking, both of which can help you tough out any number of situations.
BE PREPARED. Endurance athletes have a saying: “Nothing new on race day.” Meaning if you’ve prepared your- self for everything, you’ll be ready for anything. You should know well ahead of a race what you are going to eat, wear, and even think about that day. Naturally, you can’t be prepared for every eventuality, but try to be anyway. Anticipate any problems that could arise, and have a solution in mind. When it comes to the event you are training for, you can go into it with peace of mind. Once you have that, you’ll be surprised by just how far you can go.
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