WHAT SEPARATES THE BEST FROM THE REST? There are several mental qualities that you can find in very successful athletes which distinguish them from all of their competition. However, one of the key ones is how they respond to adversity. When the proverbial garbage hits the fan, when things start going very wrong, real champions seem to take all of this in stride. They have the uncanny ability to not let the bad calls, mistakes and bad breaks knock them off center. As a result, they are able to quickly and seamlessly bounce back and return their performance to a high level. How do they do that?
This calm response to adversity is actually practiced! It comes out of an understanding that THE PROBLEM ISN’T THE PROBLEM: THE PROBLEM IS HOW YOU REACT TO THE PROBLEM! So champions know that there are a variety of things that happen both before and during a competition that are directly out of their control. They also know that these uncontrollable events are upsetting and distracting. However, what they have figured out is that it’s not the event itself that hurts the athlete and knocks him/her off track as much as it is the athlete’s response to that event! So while you can’t control the uncontrollables, you can learn to control your response to them!
Case in point: Michael Phelps, the most decorated Olympic athlete ever was taught mental rehearsal at a very young age by his long time coach, Bob Bowman. He was taught to mentally practice “performing” exactly the way he would like to. However, Phelps did something additional with his mental practice. He would systematically imagine things going wrong both before or during his performances and then “practice” successfully coping with each thing that went wrong. In this way he not only taught himself to expect the unexpected, but to know how to calmly handle these events.
You have two choices whenever things go south in your performances: You can see what is happening right now as a DISASTER! “This is awful! Why did this have to happen to me? I can’t believe this! How can I possibly do my best with THIS CRAP going on?” or you can see this unexpected and upsetting occurence as a CHALLENGE and figure out effective ways of handling it.
When you see things as a DISASTER, then you will get nervous and emotionally upset, lose your focus and self-confidence and then fall apart performance-wise! However, when you view things as a CHALLENGE and look for positive solutions to cover anything that could possibly go wrong, then you will go into your competitions with a new found sense of confidence, which will then help you stay calm and composed when the unexpected does indeed happen!
In 2008, Michael Phelps was on the doorstep of Olympic history. He had just won 7 gold medals tieing him with swimmer Mark Spitz and he had one race remaining, the 200 Meter Butterfly. With the world watching and untold pressure on him, Phelps dove in at the start and discovered that his goggles were leaking! By the time he turned into the last 50, his goggles were completely full of water leaving him virtually blind. Phelps didn’t panic, didn’t slow down, didn’t miss a beat! He simply switched his focus from the DISASTER to the CHALLENGE. He focused on counting his strokes for the last 50, knowing exactly how many he needed to get across the pool at the right speed! Of course, the rest is history as he won that race and became the first athlete ever to win 8 gold medals in one Olympiad!
When things go badly for you, you have a choice! You can freak out if you want…..or EXPECT THE UNEXPECTED! Know how you’ll handle it when it happens and then mentally practice doing this over and over again! This is how to think and perform like a champion!