The Olympics energize the athlete in all of us. Although most of us won’t make it to the Olympics ourselves, we are still inspired by the stamina, endurance and skill of Olympic athletes, no matter what the sport. We know that in order for them to have stepped foot on to the Olympic arena, they had to be the best in their sport. What I admire about Olympic athletes, is not that I am trying to emulate their behavior, rather I am trying to emulate their attitude and the mental state that they utilized to get them to the Olympics. I want to know all the details about what goes on in their minds, day in and day out, that allowed them to get to the elite level of their sport. Why? Because, I want to use the mental state of an Olympic athlete when I am engaged in my sport.
So in honor of the Olympics, this month I want to bring to awareness, the inner athlete in all of us.
I have two goals for you this month:
1. Start thinking of yourself as an athlete (if you are not already).
2. Start putting yourself in the center of your athletic endeavors.
BRINGING OUT THE INNER ATHLETE
We are going to be utilizing the athlete-centered sports model. According to Cox, The athlete centered sports model: “Proposes that sport must contribute to the overall development of the athlete physically, psychologically, and socially” (Cox, 2012). Let’s break that down a bit, in order to grasp what is being said. I think that we can all understand what it means to develop physically. But I want to use some examples as tangibles. We want to have the proper amount of rest, the proper amount of nutrition, the proper equipment needed for our athletic training, and finally we want our training program to be at an appropriate skill level based on our physical conditioning. This sounds easy enough. I think most of us are quite good at prepping our food, working out and getting the amount of sleep we personally need.
Now let’s discuss our social development. I will save psychological development for last since that is where the most area of opportunity lies. But, back to social. We want our social environment to be supportive of our goals. Now I understand we can’t just jump up and quit our jobs because Jane in the cubicle next to us won’t stop bringing donuts to work, and it is smelling up the entire office. However, there are elements that are within our control. We can make sure we socialize with supportive people. We can be sure when we workout, we are working out at a positive and uplifting gym. We can make sure that we frame our athletic endeavors to our friends and family that garners support rather than criticism. For example, we all know what family members do when we say we are on a diet. Reframe your goals in the context of being an athletic endeavor and that you are challenging your physical abilities.
Now, the meat and potatoes. (mmmm, potatoes) The psychological area gets a little grey. We want our psychological environment to be supportive, which includes our internal dialog. One area that I see that gets people into trouble is when they compare themselves to others. We all claim that we are competing against ourselves or for ourselves, but when we see people around us on different levels than us, we can tend to get discouraged and allow that to make us feel like failures. If we really are comparing us to us, we should be focused on doing the best we can at the level that is currently appropriate. For example, I know many people who come to me to get in shape. But, they don’t just want to get in shape, they want to compete. This is awesome! I am excited about this goal, and I love to help people reach it. However, sometimes, once someone sets their mind to this goal they start making what social psychologist call upward social comparisons. This means they look at the top athletes in that sport and compare themselves to those top athletes. This can be extremely discouraging and emotionally and psychologically draining. It is great to have role models, but we also must be cognizant of where we are personally and enjoy that experience of getting in great shape through the entire process. The focus of the athlete-centered sports model is to put the athlete first, in every way. We should be growing as a person and be better off as a result of participating in our sport. Let me say this another way, our sport should garner personal excellence, not just physical excellence! If you do not feel like your fitness journey is garnering personal excellence, then something needs to change, fast.
But don’t get discouraged. This is a great area of opportunity. In order to have personal excellence, we really need to think of ourselves as athletes. Whether the goal is to step on stage for a competition, or to lose weight and feel great about ourselves, we need to start treating our bodies and minds like Olympic athletes.
What we see at the Olympic event and at the figure and bikini competition, is simply the result of dedicated athletic effort over an extended period of time. If you will allow yourself to become an athlete and enjoy the process of the athletic event of your choice, the personal excellence will naturally unfold. Without being concerned about the end result, rather the athletic journey, we create a challenging and rewarding journey that ultimately leads to our personal podium.
Cox, R. (2012). Sport psychology concepts and applications. New York: McGraw Hill.