Mind of an Olympian: Getting that Mental Edge
Kids don’t need sports psychologists, personal athletic trainers or controversial Speedos to get a confidence boost and mental edge similar to that of an Olympic athlete. High-quality mental training comes from a lot of different places – you just need to know where to look.
The Mental Edge
Olympic athletes spend years trying to get it. Hundreds of books have been written on it. And coaches often say it’s the difference between winning and losing. It is the mental edge — having the mental and emotional skills needed to excel.
These skills generally include: concentration, focus, attention, goal setting, energy management, self-confidence, commitment, poise under pressure and visualization.
Olympic athletes spend years honing these skills, and go to great lengths: The U.S. Olympic women’s softball team has performed Navy SEAL training. The Chinese swim team practices yoga, is learning English and spends hours in group problem-solving sessions. Others commit to biofeedback, hypnosis and extremely strict routines to try to get mentally tough. However, the mental edge can come from a lot more common outlets.
It was Karate, that Judy Maddox turned to 20 years ago, after a doctor diagnosed her three boys with ADHD. “He told me to get them into a program that would help with focus and attention, and Karate helped immediately,” Maddox says. “It motivated them, they started paying attention, burning energy, and gaining confidence and self-control.”
Maddox joined her boys in training, earned her black belt four years later, then opened her own Universal Kempo Karate center. Since then, she’s trained thousands of people and says she sees daily how martial arts help people build mental skills. “They learn how to visualize and imagine success. It teaches discipline, respect, focus. They’re learning how to control themselves, how to keep on task and ignore distractions. And it’s not just on the mat. Those skills spread to their home life, school, relationships and sports.”
Hunter Milner got a surprising boost in sports while building his mental skills for academic growth. His mother Maria says she saw the changes almost immediately. “It not only helped him academically, but it also helped him in sports,” says Milner. “He’s a better basketball player now because of the training.”
Hunter’s brain training was through LearningRx, a cognitive skills training company that specializes in building mental skills to make people smarter.
“Our brain training absolutely helps in all areas of life,” says Amanda Duplantis of Denver's LearningRx brain training center. “We use it to improve focus, attention, memory, visual and auditory processing skills and even hand-eye coordination. Basically, our training builds better, faster more efficient brains, permanently. Of course that will help people become better athletes.”
“Another nearly universal side effect of our brain training is an extreme boost in self-confidence,” says Tanya Mitchell, LearningRx Vice-President of Research. “That obviously will help athletes get the mental boost they need to thrive. Any Olympic athlete will tell you, confidence is key.”
High school football coach Monte Gutowski agrees. “Positive thinking, having confidence in yourself, believing in your team’s ability to accomplish something, that’s half the battle,” says the new head coach.
He relies on visualization and relaxation techniques and may occasionally turn to the school district psychologist for help in teaching those skills. “So much of any sport is mental,” Gutowski says. “Anything you can do to boost those abilities will help you become a better athlete.”
So if you want to be a better athlete, or help you child improve by getting that mental edge, but you just can’t justify the sports hypnotist, brain scans, or military training, look around. Great opportunities may be closer than you think!