Daring Greatly

As the climax of another four-year summer Olympic cycle is rapidly approaching, intensity levels rise, and emotions are charged as dreams will be made and dreams will be crushed. There is a sense of urgency in the air as the time remaining to make the team or the Olympic standard is running out with each passing day.

As an athlete you may feel as if there is constant pressure – to beat the other(s), to impress, to please your supporters, to win the ultimate prize. With all the hard work you’ve put in there can be the fear of losing, coming up short, or failing to make the goal you’ve been striving towards for so long.

On the other side of fear and pressure is courage. In sport there are no guarantees. But choosing to go for it is to dare greatly. It is choosing to put your self out there, give it everything you’ve got and risk falling on your face, sometimes literally. As I watched the women’s most recent cross-country mountain bike World Cup race this past weekend in Albstadt, Germany, the eventual second place women’s finisher took a huge crash on her face at high-speed early on in the race, before shaking if off, getting going again, and coming back strong. Whether falling down literally or not, such moments can knock the wind out of our sails.

Overcoming the falls takes bravery and courage to get back up with pure grit, determination and resolve to find out what your potential really is? Even though failures are unwanted along the way, they are a time to pause and reflect; a time to embrace the emotional consequences and discomfort. In the moment of racing, it is the time to focus on simply doing the best you can. In the end there is no learning and a lot less self-discovery without accepting failures along the way. It means saying, no matter how far you get or how much you may feel is left undone, you can say, “I am enough”.

While most people spend their life on the couch, be proud to be one of the few that dares to step into the “arena”.

“It is not the critic who counts, not the man who points out how the strong man stumbled, or where the doer of deeds could have done better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena; whose face is marred by the dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs and comes short again and again; who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions and spends himself in a worthy course; who at the best, knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who, at worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly; so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory or defeat.”

-Thomas Jefferson (epigraph from 1910 “Man in the Arena” speech)

What do you do with athletes?!

I often get asked what exactly I, and others in the field of applied sport psychology, do with athletes. For anyone who is curious, here is my answer.

First let me be clear as to who typically works in the field of applied sport psychology as a professional practitioner. In Canada professionals trained in sport psychology who work with athletes, coaches, and teams are called Mental Performance Consultants (MPCs) and are certified through the Canadian Sport Psychology Association. As in most other countries, there are minimum requirements for educational and academic coursework being at least a master’s degree, completion of supervised practicum, and a code of ethics to adhere to as a certified Consultant. In addition, a certified consultant may also have further training and be a certified clinical counselor or registered psychologist. Just like professionals in other fields (e.g. doctors, lawyers, accountants, teachers), years of studying to gain professional knowledge and experience are required. Consequently informed, ethical and effective interventions, guidance and education can be provided to athletes, coaches, parents, and support staff as clients in the world of sport.

Within my current scope of practice here is a simple list of what I personally do and don’t do when working with athletes:


  • Collaborate and strategize with athletes’ around mental preparation and planning
  • Address performance concerns such as improving focus, emotional management, stress, injuries, anxiety and dealing with performance pressure
  • Ask questions that enhance self-awareness through reflection
  • Encourage athletes to do more of what is already working
  • Listen more than talk
  • Advocate that small steps can lead to larger changes and desired results
  • Look for exceptions to any current problems in athlete’s real-life experiences
  • Focus on a language of solutions = positive, hopeful, and future-focused
  • Draw upon athlete’s existing strengths and resiliencies
  • Help athletes to expand options and consider different directions to take
  • Keep everything discussed in one-on-one sessions strictly confidential
  • Provide resources and mental training tools/techniques for athletes, coaches, or parents
  • Co-create clear, concrete, and specific goals for athletes to work on between sessions
  • Work with athletes in their daily training environments when possible to experiment with and apply mental skills


  • Intervene or interfere with what is already working well for athletes
  • Clinically diagnose, label, or pathologize
  • Promise quick fixes or mental miracles

If you are interested in finding a qualified sport psychology consultant near you in Canada click here and for the United States click here.





What my parents taught me about raising healthy, happy and self-motivated athletes

At 40 years old I’m scaling back my racing focus for the first time and the lifestyle of my most recent sport, that of a Professional off-road triathlete – although I love training and racing too much to ever “retire”. Meanwhile my 3 x Olympian brother continues to race his mountain bike after 22 years and counting with in his words, a motivation of “increasing complexity”.

While there are many factors that have kept both of us active and competitive since our first competitive beginnings in track and field club at the ages of 10 and 12, I would give a lot of credit to our parents and how we were raised.

After several years in the motivation lab at the University of Ottawa to complete my doctorate, and having worked with athletes over the past 10 years, I’ve heard about the pressures from parents often enough. Of course, the majority of parents have well-meaning intentions. But I can’t help reflect on a few things my parents definitely got right, which I believe have made a lasting and positive impact on sustaining our self-motivation, and I hope I can do the same with my children.

1. Our parents participated alongside us. On weekends growing up in the earlier days we did family runs. As our two border collies zig zagged in and out of the woods in front of us we ran several miles as a family on the roads and trails in Courtenay, B.C.. We cross-country skied together, did breakfast runs with the local running club together. My parents chaperoned the local kids to many track meets. My dad shot hoops with us, played soccer in the back yard. Both parents got into mountain biking well before I did when my brother started racing his bike.They are still mountain biking, xc skiing, hiking, swimming etc as they head into their seventies.

2. Give lots of free time to play. We were lucky to grow up on 10 acres of land with lots of forest to build forts in and climb trees. While of course there were some structured activities like swim lessons and soccer, my happiest memories are just free time play shooting hoops or running around the yard. My brother spent hours juggling the soccer ball or hopping over the picnic table on his bike. With plenty of playtime, there was room for self-discovery, curiosity, and creativity – all foundations of self-motivation. For one winter in high school I attempted to play club volleyball, high school basketball and continue my winter base training for running. It was all my own doing and after getting totally burnt out, I chose to drop the volleyball. It was a glimpse of how many over scheduled kids must feel all the time today!

3. Be more interested in the story than the outcome. Whatever sport we were doing, our parents took an avid interest. On top of participating with us, they were students of the sport and huge fans. They have always been most interested in the story of the day versus the end result. (e.g. How did it go? What was your workout today? How did you feel today? Not “Did you win?” or “Why didn’t you do better?!”). They’ve always known enough about our developmental stage, the sport, and the competition to understand what a truly good or off-day meant. I still appreciate that I can call up my Dad, say I smashed a track workout, tell him my times and he’ll get it.

4. Leave any “critiquing” out of the parent-child relationship. In contrast to the last point, I don’t recall my parents handing out any criticism or “coaching” type tips unless I specifically asked. Their unconditional support has primarily been through the role of being the patiently guiding, active listeners to let me express my feelings, and do all the problem solving on my own. All my choices in sport have been self-driven. As a female athlete I also need to give a big kudos to my mom. While many athletes struggle with body image to some degree or another for various reasons, I admire my mother in that she has not once put herself or her body down or once made ANY comment about mine. I cringe when I hear other female athletes say, “I’m so fat” or “Look at that girl, she is SO skinny”. I’ve even caught myself thinking or saying similar comments. I try to mindful of never making such remarks in front of my own daughter.

Thank you to my parents for continuing to lead by example, and for your continued support and unconditional love!

What drives you from the inside out?

Whether it be work, school, sport or any other arena in life where one needs to perform, the prevailing motivation view is typically, “reward me and I’ll work harder.” But is that how motivation really works? Not always, at least for the longer term for motivation sustainability. According to my favourite view of motivation, which is well grounded in science with an abundance of research around the globe, Self Determination Theory has demonstrated well that the psychology of motivation is innate, universal across cultures and evident for any age or developmental period.

When your motivation is self-determined, you have high levels of intrinsic motivation. And why is it important to pay attention and cultivate intrinsic motivation? As opposed to the other end of the motivation spectrum being extrinsic motivators, intrinsic motivation has proven to be associated with higher quality motivation, specifically better learning, more interest, greater effort, higher self-esteem, increased life satisfaction, and enhanced health. In sport, intrinsic motives also correlates to increased persistence and higher performance.

To cultivate your inner motivation, consider the three following types of intrinsic motivation below. If your motivation is wanes from time to time consider getting in touch again with any of these types of intrinsic motivators:

1. Knowledge. In the context of sport, what peaks your curiosity? What do you seek to understand better? (e.g. training science, nutrition, technology, new and innovative techniques?) What kinds of novelties and creative approaches to your life as an athlete keep your motivation fresh?

2. Accomplishment: Do you take pleasure in surpassing your previous self and personal bests in training or competition? Do you enjoy the ongoing challenge of mastering all the skills essential to your chosen sport? Can you take pleasure in the journey of becoming more and more competent at what you do?

3. Stimulation: Anyone who has ever called themselves an athlete, knows sport can be full or highs and lows. Intrinsic motivation for stimulation means focusing on that drive to experience excitement, the adrenaline rush of pushing our comfort zones, the challenge of putting it all together for a peak performance, and experiencing the optimal challenge-skills balance of being in “flow”.

Intrinsic motivation is experienced in those moments when you are simply enjoying the pleasure and satisfaction of doing your sport. Getting in touch with your intrinsic motivation means connecting with those moments of pure enjoyment, embracing the challenge, cultivating what is interesting and exciting, letting go of any fears of failure and doing your sport simply because it feels good!

Ready, Set, Stop? Preparation Beyond Life as an Athlete

What does it really mean for an athlete to “retire”? Does it mean not competing anymore? Does it mean not participating in one’s sport ever again? Can you only retire from something you call an “athletic career” if you’ve been successful at it and/or made financial gains from it? Of course these questions can depend on the sport and competitive level. In any case “retirement” from a sport can be forced (e.g. injury or team cuts) or chosen. I’ve been thinking about it quite a lot lately and how athletes can what I’d prefer to call “transition” successfully, and in stages, for life beyond their sport….Never mind the fact that I’m pushing 40 and starting to move my training and racing goals and little farther down the priority list, or that my college sport psychology class just wrote some fantastic journal entries on athlete transitions, or that I was recently at a social gathering with much joking going on around the subject of athlete retirement.

What follows is a large dose of my personal opinion and a smattering of my interest in and knowledge base of sport psychology. Here are some thoughts on how athletes of any age or level could assess if they are positively set up for an athletic transition, whether forced or chosen:

1. What are you other than a(n) [insert your sport here] athlete? If you haven’t taken time to nurture and invest in other aspects of your identity such as family member, friend, student, mother, father, daughter, son, or any other endless list of interests, hobbies, ways you prefer to spend your time that you identify with etc, then take some time to do so! Recognize that you have many other important aspects of your identity. What other possible sources of achievement and satisfaction do you have in your life if “athlete” were to be taken out of the equation?

2. Don’t wait until your athlete career comes to a halt to think about and ask yourself, what’s next? Always be dabbling in other things to at least explore what else you want and value in life? If you don’t know how you feel about post-secondary education, having a relationship, starting a family, starting a career, or everything else in life that transcends sport by say, right now – then think about it. You can’t set yourself up very well for the things you want most in life if you haven’t at least had a few deep thoughts about where you ideally would like to be 10, 20, 30 years down the road from now.

3. Continually reassess whether you’re continuing in your sport for positive reasons. If you are presently doing your sport simply because you don’t know what else to do, because you feel others (e.g. parents, coaches, teammates) expect you to, or you are scared to experience what might happen to you if you stopped, then refer back to point number 2. Start at least exploring other things, experiences, people, interests, or even other sports and be open to what you might discover.

4. Sport participation has so many positive benefits, but be aware of the line between healthy habits and negative dependency. If you are so dependent on your sport, that a) missing out on your sport disrupts your daily functioning in other areas of you life such as relationships, school, and work, b) that you would do it even when you are injured or sick, or c) that you experience withdrawal symptoms like depression, anxiety, guilt, headaches, loss of sleep or appetite when deprived of your sport then please seek some support to equip you to better handle the possibility of forced time away or even life without your sport. For example, in Canada a program has recently launched for carded athletes called Game Plan with the mission of supporting and empowering high performance athletes to pursue excellence during and beyond their sporting careers.

With all of the above said, it is important to recognize that time away from sport can leave anyone feeling a little lost and down, and that is completely normal. After all, pursuing goals in sport naturally aligns with many positives: structure, discipline, focus, time management, a healthy body, eating and recovering well, camaraderie, persistence, and the highs of overcoming challenges, to name a few. What athletes can fail to realize is that they have developed many skills through athletic pursuits that are transferable to anything else in life. As a reminder, just take a reread of the incredibly popular article from about a year ago on http://www.forbes.com entitled, “Why You Should Fill Your Company With Athletes”

Timeless Mental Tips for Mountain Bike Racing

While cleaning out my office the other day, I came across an excerpt of interview tips from my M.A. thesis. While studying at the University of Ottawa over the summer of 2000, I conducted interviews with ten of the best cross-country mountain bike racers in Canada at the time. The bikes may have evolved big time in the last 14 years, but I believe their advice and mental strategies are timeless. All of the athletes (men and women) were Canadian National Team Members at the time with several years of experience at the international level including World Cup and World Championship races. Four of the athletes are Olympians.Some have moved on from mountain biking, most are still enjoying the sport in one form or another, and one in particular is still racing strong at the top of the sport. Can you guess who? 🙂 To read the full published article, entitled “Focusing for Excellence: Lessons from Elite Mountain Bike Racers” click here.

Plate #23 at the tender age of 23 - Geoff at the 2000 Sydney Olympics where he placed 9th Credit: Tom Hanson (www.olympic.ca)

Plate #23 at the tender age of 23 – Geoff at the 2000 Sydney Olympics where he placed 9th Credit: Tom Hanson (www.olympic.ca)

1. Focus in Mountain Biking

“Focusing to me would mean concentrating upon the race coming up in the immediate future and just picturing yourself having a good performance. For me, positive thinking helps quite a bit”

“Focus to me is pretty general. If you’re focusing on an upcoming mountain bike race, you try to get your rest, you try to eat well, try and check out the course, work on any difficulties you are having with the course”

2. Staying Positive in Races

“I find that to help focus it is good to have key words that you remember. By using them in training it helps you to remember them during the race so you can key on a word that helps you to spin, reminds you to attack, that you are strong, that you love to climb, these kinds of things”

“As the race goes on, in the technical I’m trying to just relax. I talk to myself all the time, ‘relax’, ‘look ahead’, and ‘let it go’. I say these things to myself all the time”

3. Using Mental Imagery

“I visualize whenever I am just sitting around. I think about all the different parts of the course and how I’m going to ride them, go through the feelings I’m going to have before the race and at the start. Like just picturing staying relaxed and not getting upset if things are not going the way I want them to. I try to see how I’m going to start knowing and that its going to be harder at the end of the race and so I get ready for that”

“I visualize the first lap if I know the course, if I know what it looks like, just to visualize myself (doing it) ahead of time so its not like an alien situation that I’m suddenly in and it becomes stressful”

4. Race Focus Plans

“When I’m pre-riding the course usually I decide what areas are good for attacking, standing up, sitting down, doing certain things with the bike, going smooth, all these things. And then it’s just a matter of reminding myself before the race starts and then remembering that during the race. And even different strategies per lap, how hard I’m going to push, deciding what the goal of the first lap is going to be, second, third, fourth, and following through on that”

5. Refocusing

Flat Tire: “What I’ve learned is that you have to start back slowly, not to go crazy right off the bat getting your legs huge and full of lactate. So you just start easy again and try to be relaxed about it. Okay, I’ve lost so many positions but hopefully I can come back. You have to try and look at it in a positive way like I just got a rest, I had something to drink, stretched out, I don’t know. No there’s really no positive way to look at getting a flat tire but you can try”

Crashes: “I think you expect to fall especially in some muddy races and that’s usually not a problem. Its only the unexpected crashes which just kind of catch you by surprise which can kind of knock the wind out of you. But normally I’m so focused on keeping going that you can just bounce back up and get right back into it. Its only if you knock the wind out of yourself, or hurt yourself really badly for the first couple of minutes it’s a little harder to keep pressing forward. You just kind of have to keep your rhythm going until you start feeling normal again. And then you can get back into pushing harder”

6. Post-Race Evaluation

“After the race I think it’s important to look back on your race. If you had a really good race it’s really important to look back and see what you did well. Even if you did do well (had a good result), maybe you performed poorly and everyone else performed even worse. Even if you won, you still may have been able to improve on things. And then if you didn’t do well in the race, (it’s important to think about) your perception that things went badly, why was it that you didn’t do well. Was it your focus? Was it what you ate? Was it the course? Maybe the course wasn’t right. Were you too excited? Things like that. Or maybe it was just that you did have a good ride but your placing was really bad. There are so many things involved. I think it’s important to go back and look at it. But I also think that has to be done quickly and then to move on. Get information from it and use it but move on”

7. Improving Mental Focus/Confidence

“I think you’re always trying to work on your confidence. There’s always a bit of doubt coming into races whether you feel like you’re going to do well or not. I’m not sure how you work on that all the time. Another part you can always work on is just maintaining focus throughout the middle of the race. There’s always a time in the middle of the race where’s there’s a little bit of a lull. You sometimes let down a little bit and start thinking about how much longer the race is and thinking I’m not feeling too well, and working on being able to just focus on pushing through that and being confident right until the end. I don’t think it (confidence) is something you can consciously work on during a race. I think you can work on just getting ready, visualizing, knowing that you’re going to have those kind of feelings during the race. Just recognizing that it is going to happen, and coming into a race with confidence is fairly….confidence can be a very fragile thing. Its just comes with experience, having confidence that you’ve been training well and have taken care of your preparation, and other things”



Handling Olympic Sized Pressure?

Every four years the World pays attention to who is who at the Olympic Games. It has been four years since Vancouver but how many of us in Canada have really followed our 2010 stars such as Alex Bilodeau, Charles Hamelin, Christine Nesbitt, Maëlle Ricker etc through the incredible ups and downs of their 2011, 2012, and 2013 seasons? We see them as defending champions like it was yesterday but a lot can happen in four years. Winning a Gold medal is tough. Winning after winning can be even tougher. We often hear it is those who can merely survive the pressure that will come out on top when it counts.

Most of us can’t even begin to imagine the pressure some athletes feel while competing at the Olympics, especially as we sit, screaming at the TV with a beer in hand on our comfortable couch at home. However, in my humble opinion the ones that thrive rather than merely surviving are mentally aware and prepared for the following three factors:

1. Respect for the Luck factor! The best athletes prepare their best and take care of everything that is in their control. But as we can observe everyday in Sochi right now, sometimes equipment fails, or another athlete crashes someone out, the conditions can deteriorate, a body just doesn’t respond physiologically…the list goes on. Just watch our Short Track athletes for a little while and you’ll understand that luck is part of the game AND the excitement of it. Those that get angry and frustrated at every unlucky moment won’t have much mental stamina and toughness over the long haul!

2. Focusing on the Process. This is easier said then done but despite all the hoopla and distractions, the athletes that can stay focused on the simple, and previously well practiced, step by step routines of their performance – all the things that are in their control –  will give themselves the best chance of doing their personal best. They race for themselves, they compete and fight to the end by staying in every moment. I’ve often asked athletes to answer two questions in relation to a big performance goal: What is the worst thing that can happen? What is the best thing that can happen? If you can answer both and be prepared to face and accept both then you can be freer to just perform and enjoy the opportunity.

3. A Lasting Love. This may sound cheesy but the best performances often exude a real love and joy for the sport that transcends extra pressure and high expectations. Think of figure skaters who draw us in to their performance through their passion and joy of skating versus those going more mechanically through the motions. The former athletes have developed a perspective that their life in sport is a long journey and every moment is another opportunity to challenge themselves and grow. They handle the Olympic sized moments with the same attitude as any others – I love my sport, I’m glad you’re watching, and I can’t wait to show you what I can do today!

Perhaps ironically, those athletes that decide to define success in sport only by their Olympic moments, by winning or “losing” an Olympic medal, will only add undue pressure to themselves.

Finally, consider the wise words of Commander Chris Hatfield as he was interviewed as asked about his advice for athletes by Peter Mansbridge on CBC on January 20, 2014:

There are very, very, very few people who win Gold at the Olympics. If you say, “If I don’t win Gold than I’m a failure, or I’m letting somebody down or whatever”, then what if you win Silver? What if you win Bronze? What if you’re binding comes apart? What if Lufthansa doesn’t bring you gear? What if one of all those millions of things that happen in life happen? And only a few of the people who go there are going to win Gold….It is a very rare, singular moment in time (an event) in the continuum of life. You need to honour the highs, and the peak moments, you need to prepare your life for them. But recognize the fact that the preparation for those moments is your life. And in fact that is the richness of your life. And anybody who goes to these Olympics, shouldn’t just say, “Hey, I was at the Sochi Olylmpics” I would much rather hear them say, I prepared for the Sochi Olympics for twenty years and these are the things that happened and these are the things that I learned. And when I got to Sochi it was great and I did my race. And I placed 8th or 1st or 92nd. The challenge that we set for each other and the way that we shape ourselves to rise to that challenge is life. 

The Psychology of Self-Awareness for Peak Performance

In the world of triathlon, it’s a pretty big time of year, 70.3 Worlds have just passed, Ironman World Championship is next weekend and the Xterra World Championship is just three weeks away. When the big one is approaching, most of the work is done but there are definitely some key workouts left to do for some final fine tuning. A little time is left to get every last ounce out of yourself for race day. And how to do this right for YOU is such an art! An art that some athletes craft through much trial and error. Or perhaps an art learned through an accelerated learning curve due to a higher internal monitoring – physical, psychological, social, tactical, technical, emotional; a higher all around self-awareness.

In my work as a mental performance consultant a big part of my philosophy is helping guide an athlete to higher levels of self-awareness for all the factors that help them perform at their best in order to do so more consistently. Some athletes have developed and use their self-awareness to their advantage better than others. Here are a few key reasons, in my personal opinion, as to why high self-awareness connects so closely to peak performance:

1. Progress is monitored more against previous self than others. This seems like a no brainer but so many athletes in my observations get stuck on comparing themselves to others in their training group, with their closest competitors, or with the champions in their sport. While there are many positives to learning from others and striving to emulate the best in your sport, greater emphasis on what is needed to reach YOUR peak potential will be more productive for day-to-day training. This means using your strengths and tackling your weaknesses head on and learning what helps you improve the most, not copying someone else’s success formula. It also means listening to your coach, listening to yourself, going hard when its time to go hard, and truly resting when it is time to recover.

2. High trust in coach and high belief in training program. For some reason, highly self-aware athletes seem to communicate better with their coaches and have a greater trust in their training. (again only my personal opinion here!). While of course there is some solid physiological science behind a great training program and coach, an athlete’s relationship with that coach, and belief in them can be equally, if not even more important, to building that self-awareness as a coach-athlete team as to what works best for reaching peak performances. The great coach-athlete relationships that I have seen involve a constant dialogue between coach,(e.g “how did that feel?”) and athlete (e.g. “I think maybe we should try X or change Y because…what do you think?”). When an athlete has the freedom to have such an open relationship with a coach, self-awareness as to what works best can be achieved much sooner!

3. High awareness of personal signs of fatigue = smart recovery. As related to the above two points, highly self-aware athletes know what they can handle, recognize the first signs of dangerous fatigue levels, and get better and better at taking proper recovery as soon as needed, even when unplanned. Secondly, such athletes don’t waste much energy comparing themselves to what others are doing. They listen to their own bodies, and stay confident in their “path to the podium” 🙂

4. Respect for the influence of all other “life factors”. With awareness of all the life factors that can impact training and competition for good or for bad, highly self-aware athletes are quicker and more confident to adjust accordingly when needed. When work, family, school, or any other life stressors (positive or negative) become more demanding, smart or aware athletes scale back training or modify as needed to stay healthy and keep moving forward as much as possible.

5. Know how to keep thyself motivated! Finally highly self-aware athletes are truly in tune with what motivates them. They can clearly answer why they are pursuing their sport? Why they love it? What kind of changes they make when their motivation starts to slump? How they keep things fresh, creative and fun while also consistently working hard towards their goals? They understand the purpose of each training session and how it fits in to the long-term plan, with a perspective on how it all fits together with the rest of LIFE!

Okay, after falling off the blog wagon for a while, that’s my two cents on something other than a race report in a while. Hope you enjoyed if you made it this far!

Athletic Intelligence?

We’ve all heard of IQ, most of us have heard the term “emotional intelligence”, and in the sport world, the term “physical literacy” is often used to describe the foundation of athleticism necessary for any sport.  Physical literacy is developed best when an athlete is exposed to a healthy variation of physical skills during their athletic development such as gymnastics, skiing, swimming, and soccer, skills which cover the four fundamentals: agility, balance, coordination, and speed.

But what about intelligence when it comes to the mental skills side of sport? I’d like to call this athletic intelligence. Why? Because most of us can think of at least an athlete or two who has all the physical ability in the world but for some reason their “mental literacy” may be preventing them from reaching their physical potential. On the other side of the coin, we may know an athlete who by most accounts is far from being the most gifted; the strongest, fastest, most coordinated or technically proficient in his or her sport, but due to mental strengths overcomes and performs up to or beyond their predicted physical potential. Perhaps this can be attributed to a higher degree of “athletic intelligence”.

So what defines athletic intelligence? Are you born with it? Or can you develop it with a strong work ethic? Like most things, it is likely a combination of nature and nurture. Regardless, I would define athletes with a high degree of athletic intelligence as having most of the following abilities:

  1. The ability to be a true performer on the athletic stage; whether projected through a quiet confidence or a cocky swagger, they carry themselves with poise and composure through all the highs and lows of sport. Whether they feel like it or not, they know how to act like a champion summoning the right thoughts, emotions, and body language needed to perform their best on any given day. True performers also genuinely love to compete and “put on a show” for any audience that is interested!
  2. The ability to stick to the optimum pre-performance strategy, as well as quickly refocus positively on the next best strategy mid-performance if needed.
  3. A high “coachability”; such athletes learn quickly and implement new skills from a coach’s instruction, as well as demonstrating a high self-awareness and ability to effectively communicate important feedback to a coach. Highly “coachable” athletes maximize their interdependence with others and get the most out of training and/or competing with others.
  4. The ability to focus on intrinsic motivation to continually self-improve (whether they are a developing athletes or World Champions) versus focusing solely on achieving results. This is done by focusing primarily on improving personal skills, competing against the clock and/or course and skills needed to master the most current challenge.
  5. The ability and understanding that mental toughness is built through hard and persistent day-to-day training. There are no magic formulas for competition day other than knowing you’ve prepared your very best.

All of the above may be summed up by the following quote:

Don’t aim at success-the more you aim at it and make it a target, the more you are going to miss it. For success, like happiness, cannot be pursued; it must ensue…as the unintended side-effect of one’s personal dedication to a course greater than onself.” (Viktor Frankl)

Its not WHAT you do but HOW you do it!

As part of my “active recovery” over the past few months I’ve regularly been joining upwards of 40 other people in a room heated to 105 degrees farenheit (40 degrees C) for 90 minutes of, as the teacher calls it, “eyes wide open meditation”, otherwise known as Bikram Yoga.

Within minutes the sweat is pouring off as we breathe, stretch, balance and bend through 26 different postures….concentrate, meditate….. Between postures we are to be still and take 20 second shavasanas (lying down on your back)…..Practice stillness….breathe through your nose…

Most of my athletic life has involved pushing my body’s limits and pounding my muscles in the pursuit of longer, faster, stronger. Bikram yoga feels like the opposite of competition. It is all about and for you, comparing how deep you can go with others is completely irrelevant. It is a chance to rejuvenate the physical body while growing mental focus and stamina at the same time. As sweat runs off my body like a waterfall, thoughts of “I’m SO HOT!” and “Am I going to make it through this?” are common in this practice and if I don’t bring myself right back to the here and now it will be a struggle to get through….let any thoughts just pass through your mind and drift away….

And so I have been reminded of this: you can practice the same things over and over, such as the same 26 postures and 2 breathing exercises done in every Bikram yoga class, but HOW you do it will determine what you get out of it in the end and over time. If you enter a room of 40 degrees and view it as 90 minutes of torture and wish your were somewhere else the entire time you won’t be present, balanced (literally), focused and mindful of what you’re doing.

We can go through the motions in life or practice being more mindful and present in everything we do. We live in a culture that praises the ability to multitask. As moms we sometimes think we can do it all – make dinner, answer emails, and be tuned in to our kids needs all at the same time. Personally, these moments don’t work out too well for anyone in my experience. Just as workouts and races turn out much better when I’m fully present and focused only on the present task I need to be doing.

We often forget the simplest sounding things sometimes take the most practice such as remembering to breathe deeply, just do one thing at a time and do it well!

Focus on one point in front of you…