Winning the Olympic Mind Games

08/05/2012 08:48 EDT | Updated 10/04/2012 05:12 EDT

Listen carefully and you'll notice the barrage of comments referencing the monumental role mental state has on the performances of athletes competing in the Olympic Games. If I've said it once, I've said it a thousand times before - often the difference between a podium performance and going home empty-handed is the difference in one's mental state.

It's an interesting phenomenon. Most athletes will spend countless hours meticulously mastering a technique, watching film, understanding their opponents' weaknesses and strengths, and how to read plays. The gym will bear witness to an insane level of intense, hard, and aggressive training, where giving into muscle pain is not an option. Nutrition and sleep are strictly regimented.

There is no question -- everything is taken care of to ensure the body is ready to perform on the grand stage of the Olympic Games... Well, almost everything. Too often the one area coaches and athletes seem to overlook is psychological skills training. With SO MUCH invested, I wonder why coaches and athletes still leave mental training to chance. It has to be included in training just as much as physical training is.

Part of the problem rests in the belief that mental toughness is an innate trait -- either you are born with it or you are not. To work on mental prowess must mean one is mentally weak, or a headcase. Or does it?

As a consultant in sports psychology, too often I will have athletes approach me for help only when there is a problem and a major championship is quickly approaching. I call this "looking for a Band-Aid." Not enough time to really solve the problem, but in the meantime we can work on something to get you through the competition. This is like never running before and asking for help to run faster in time for the Olympic Games happening in two weeks. Training the mind is just as important as training the body.

In fact, confidence just might be the cornerstone behind any and every great performance. As Henry Ford once said, "Whether you think you can or think you can't, you are right." Confidence can allow an athlete to achieve the impossible, while lack of it can provide a gateway for doubt to enter, resulting in a lesser performances. Great mental training preparation should include learning how to build and control confidence in spite of a poor past performance or the performances competitors are posting. Additionally, imagery, simulation training, distraction control, and goal strategizing implemented in a periodization training plan are just a few ways mental training can be used to improve performances.

Now, there are some athletes and coaches who get this right. For example, Michael Phelps' coach, Bob Bowman, has discussed his various attempts to train the mind, creating conditions for Phelps to prepare for the unexpected, attributing much of his success in the 2008 Olympic Games to it. Likewise, Rosie Maclennan, Canada's first gold medalist at the 2012 Olympic Games has discussed her use of mental training for preparation at a major games. I'd hazard a guess that most Olympic Champions will attribute much of their success to their mental acuity, while many who fall short of their goals will reference deficiency in their mental state as a contributing factor. Indeed, the mind is a powerful muscle!

Whether you are an athlete or not, the power of one's mind should never be underestimated. It is the difference between good and great.

Citius, Altius, Fortius,