Lindsey Vonn: The Epitome of Mental Toughness

18 02 2010

Congratulations to Lindsey Vonn who demonstrated the epitome of mental toughness by winning the gold medal in women’s downhill at the Vancouver Olympics. Mental toughness is defined as being able to perform at the top range of your abilities, on command, regardless of the situation. Her win demonstrated how she is not only a great athlete and fierce competitor, but was able to compete despite overwhelming media attention, medal expectations, critics, a painful shin injury, conspiracy theorists who claimed her shin injury was fabricated to diffuse expectations, and academicians with a critical perspective.

Mental toughness is a psychological skill that can be taught and developed, and mentally dealing with and tolerating pain is an essential element to successful and consistent performance. On the men’s side snowboarder Shaun White, who similarly won a gold medal in the men’s halfpipe would also exemplify mental toughness.

Many of my sport psychology colleagues work closely with the USOC, and are currently at the Olympics helping to increase the likelihood of optimal performance for Team USA. To learn more about mental toughness, psychological skills training and the field of sport psychology, there are numerous sites you can visit including:

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Some Thoughts on Personal Renewal

8 12 2009

I just read “Personal Renewal” by John Gardner. To learn more about John Gardner, click here.

I found so many parts of his speech enlightening. I hope you will take the time to read it. To give you a sense of what it encompasses, I’ve included a few of my favorite quotes below:

  • It’s what you learn after you know it all that counts.
  • You come to understand that most people are neither for you nor against you, they are thinking about themselves.
  • There are some things you can’t learn from others. You have to pass through the fire.
  • At the end of every road you meet yourself.
  • We want to believe that there is a point at which we can feel that we have arrived. We want a scoring system that tells us when we’ve piled up enough points to count ourselves successful.
  • The nature of one’s personal commitments is a powerful element in renewal.
  • You have to build meaning into your life, and you build it through your commitments.
  • People of every age need commitments beyond the self, need the meaning that commitments provide. Self-preoccupation is a prison, as every self-absorbed person finally knows. Commitments to larger purposes can get you out of prison.
  • Failure is simply a reason to strengthen resolve.
  • Meaning is not something you stumble across, like the answer to a riddle or the prize in a treasure hunt. Meaning is something you build into your life.

I find this piece applicable to every context, whether it be personal renewal, striving for optimal sport performance, or career transitions. What is your favorite quote and what does it mean to you?

Picture from here.





Tweets during sport events: A sport psychology perspective

30 05 2009

Carolyn Bivens,the LPGA Tour Commissioner recently stated in an interview, “I’d love it if players Twittered during the middle of a round,” and “encourages” players to use hand held devices to post content on social-media Web sites such as Twitter or Facebook during tournaments, even if it runs counter to golf etiquette. The LPGA is not the first professional women’s sport to enter the world of social media. The WPS has dabbled with tweets during games, and many female athletes, leagues, and coaches have Twitter pages (To see them all visit the Twitter Lounge at Women Talk Sports). sport psychology image 2While the effectiveness of Twitter in marketing and promoting women’s sport is still rages, I’d like to offer a sport psychology perspective on tweeting during competition.

Psychological skills in sport include (but are not limited to) managing energy and anxiety, self-talk, visualization, goal setting, and attentional control. Perhaps tweeting between holes, during halftime or between periods, or if a player is on the bench, might be a good idea but even that is stretching it. If an athlete is tweeting (to interact with fans, give fans what they want, make athletes accessible, make the sport more appealing…or for whatever purpose it is supposed to accomplish), even on the bench, she is not paying attention to relevant information in the game that she might need when called upon. I can see it now…

basketballCoach: “Why did you miss that defensive coverage? She has been doing that same move all night long? I sent you in there for your defense, you’re our stopper!!!”
Athlete:“Sorry Coach, I’ve been busy tweeting while on the bench so that more fans will come watch our games and the league is ‘encouraging’ us do it”
Coach: “No one will come if we are losing games because players off the bench have no clue what is going on!…give me that IPhone!”

In golf, a player must maintain mental focus the entire round. One errant shot, wrong club, mis-read can be the difference between making the cut and making travel plans to the next tournament. Some athletes do have the ability to refocus attention quickly, but some do not. Why take the chance?

golf puttCoach: “What happened on the back nine? All you had to do was to make par all the way in to make the cut!”
Athlete: “On hole 14 I stopped to tweet how I was doing to my tweeples, and then I was rushed for my shot and had to go through my ritual quickly. I lost focus and before I knew it, my second shot was in the water which made me so mad because I knew it was because I had lost focus, which made me more unfocused and angry at myself and it spiraled from there.”

Athletes that are mentally tough (the ability to perform on command regardless of the situation), have developed psychological skills which include highly detailed and systematic rituals that are practiced. These rituals increase the likelihood of optimal performance. Will competitive rituals now include tweeting?

Athlete:(golfer through pre-shot routine) Assess yardage, wind direction and lie. Pick club, take practice swings, repeat cue words, address ball, take a deep breath, see self hitting ball perfectly, see ball flying on right trajectory, exhale, relax shoulders, loosen grip on the club, hit it. Pick up phone to tweet result. Repeat.

Tweeting during competition has nothing to do with optimal performance. Energy and attention focus are limited quantities. The more energy and focus that goes into tweets, the less the athlete has for performing well. If I saw an opponent tweeting during a competition, I would be elated! The excitement around Twitter during games seems to driven by “what the fans want” rather than “what is best for the athletes”. After all, professional athletes are there to compete and perform the best they can on any given day–anything that distracts them from doing so is a bad idea.