Becoming an Olympic medalist takes athleticism, hard work, and determination, but it also takes a great deal of a skill that we often forget Olympic athletes train for – resiliency.
Many times we think of resiliency as a quality that people discover or develop when they are put into a situation where they are forced to, whether that be overcoming an obstacle, persevering through a chaotic situation, or carrying on after a tragedy. Olympic athletes, however, choose to put themselves into situations where their determination to overcome challenges is necessary. Olympic athletes receive extensive physical, mental, and emotional training to get them to the podium. In an article featured on Psychology Today, titled “Olympic Gold Medalists and Raising Resilient Kids”, David Fletcher and Mustafa Sarkar describe Olympic athletes as those who “actively seek to engage with challenging situations that present opportunities for them to raise their performance level.” In some cases athletes receiving a medal are not those with the absolute greatest potential of athleticism. They are not the crowd favorite, or the person predicted to win, but rather they are the ones who have demonstrated the greatest resiliency in the face of the adversity.
Not everyone gets to choose when they need to exhibit resiliency. For many of us, situations are thrust upon us that require us to suddenly become resilient, but Olympic athletes serve as a model to us. They exemplify to us that we can train ourselves to be resilient and that resiliency is something that can be obtained through practice and coaching.
Fletcher and Mustafa highlight five ways that gold medalists succeed at keeping themselves psychologically resilient, the first being; “The advantages of setbacks”. This means that failure in small doses allows for people to be challenged and grow. When failure is never experienced, people are unable to develop resiliency and learn important coping mechanisms. The second mechanism includes the “advantages of getting control over one’s thinking.” “Also known as meta-cognitions, elite athletes control their thinking. There has been an enormous amount of focus on mindfulness training to help people with mental health problems think about how they are behaving in order to help them control those behaviors. It’s like an observer floating above us, watching what we think and do. Elite athletes control their self-talk, know what their goals are, and notice when they are talking themselves out of being able to win.” This takes a great deal of practice. Of the 558 emotion words in the dictionary, 62% of them are negative and only 38% of them are positive. And, of the most common emotion words that people use, 70% of them are negative.
These are natural human tendencies that people must work hard at to overcome. The fourth key component focuses on self-confidence. In order for our self-confidence to grow, it is important for others to believe in us. Human’s desire social support, and many times, we require some sort of support system to overcome adversity. “Being resilient is not something that is necessarily reliant on individual qualities alone but can be awakened by a supportive environment.” The last key component to resiliency is to strive for optimal performance, and to not solely focus on the medal. Success should not be realized based only on the reward, but rather the effort and determination. “[Athletes] focus on doing their absolute best, exploiting every ounce of their energy and passion. That’s what is satisfying. That is what convinces them they are truly worthy of the prizes they win.”
As the Olympic games come to a close, the stories that have touched our spirits can also be ones that change our lives. Through the practice of resiliency, we can overcome small scale daily obstacles and we will be better equipped for occurrences that are beyond our control. Click here to read the full story on “Olympic Gold Medalists and Raising Resilient Kids”.