setting goals and mental training

What You Can Learn from Olympic Athletes

Sports psychology and mental training from elite athletes can benefit everyone, and not just when exercising.

What You Can Learn from Olympic Athletes

Go for the gold: You don't have to be an Olympian to use the secrets that elite athletes know.

RODALE NEWS, EMMAUS, PA—The Vancouver Olympics have taught viewers a lot about what athletes are willing to go through to succeed in their sports, whether it was watching Joannie Rochette's bronze-medal-winning figure-skating performance four days after her mother passed away or seeing snowboarder and liver-transplant-recipient Chris Klug end a 27-year career in what will likely be his last Olympics. It could seem to the average person that these people have superhuman mental and physical abilities that allow them to be so successful, but really, the tricks they employ can be used by all of us.

"One thing I wouldn't want to suggest is that Olympic athletes are somehow different from the rest of us in terms of their emotional and psychological makeup," says Andrew Meyers, PhD, professor in the University of Memphis Department of Psychology faculty, who focuses on sports psychology. "They deal with the same trials and tribulations we all do."

Olympic athletes work hard, but their success depends heavily on goal setting and mental training. Here are a few things you can learn from them:

#1: Set ambitious goals then break them down. "I was always struck you see these relatively young people who are able to say 'Four years from now I want this thing to occur—for me to stand on a podium, and to have accomplished something special,'" says Meyers, who worked for a short time at an Olympic training center. "They have the ability to set a long-term goal but to make it real to themselves every day."

Obviously, determination is a key factor in getting through those four years, says Richard Suinn, PhD, professor emeritus of psychology at Colorado State University and a past team psychologist for U.S. Olympic athletes. But setting "subgoals," he adds, is what moves them forward. "Subgoals are concrete, observational steps that one aims to accomplish, as each step leads closer and closer to that end," he says. Whatever your final goal, whether it's losing weight, getting fit, spending less money, or finding more time for hobbies, set small achievable goals that you can track, for instance, to lose two pounds per week or eat out five fewer meals per month. "Once you can literally chart your progress—in pounds lost, in number of words written, in tasks completed—such information helps maintain the motivation to keep at it," says Suinn.

Read on for more mental tricks used by elite athletes.


Published on: March 1, 2010

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