Tag: motivation

A rhythmic pulse of two-hundred tightly laced shoes flies through the dense woods of the DuPage River Park Forest Preserve. A grassy beaten path lay before us, punctured by the spikes of previous runners. My teammates and I are just finishing up the casual 3 mile loop that will soon be the judge, jury, and prosecutor for which of us are free to compete in regionals and a chance to cling to the dream of carrying on to sectionals, or even greater, state. Our coach, Mr. Iverson, stands with his legs wide apart, arms crossed with a concentrated gaze rested upon us as we jog toward him at the soon to be finish line. He nods for us to continue toward a shaded patch of grass where the two assistant coaches are waiting.

He instructs us to take a seat wherever we like and to make sure there is plenty of room between us. The team curiously does as instructed but a low rumble of conversation vibrates between us. Iverson lets it die down before he continues. He explains that that he wants to do an exercise with imagery and that we need to keep our minds open. This comes from a man who has surpassed all expectations by having his cross country team successfully compete every year at state for the past 30-some years; it’s hard not to trust what he says.

We gladly lie down in the cool grass and close our eyes, as instructed. Iverson begins by drawing our attention to our breathing and position in the grass. As he speaks, I follow his deep calming voice into a trance like state; my breathing slows and my body feels as if it is melting into the ground. His words lead me back to the course we have just finished, except it is now altered. There are eight colored tents: each representing a different competing team. Distant cheers from another race mix together with the heightened buzz of conversation among the athletes. He tells us to take note of the excitement, the energy, the fear, and to let it fuel us, but not distract us. In our minds, he leads us on a confident walk toward our tent and directs us to concentrate on beginning a strong warm-up. I envision myself taking perfect strides: arms at my waist, straightened back and a leg raising high while the other simultaneously rips the dirt beneath me. The image plants pre-race jitters in my heart and it starts to accelerate.

Iverson brings our imagination to the jog toward the starting line. As he speaks, I feel my heart hammering in my chest and a coldness fall over me. My blood is quickly rushing in anticipation and my hands start to tremble. Even with the race still another day away in reality, I feel everything the same way I would as if it were just mere minutes away. There is a moment of anxious silence before he speaks again. We’re told to pause a moment and breathe. Iverson explains that whether we run our best or worst, either way we are still going to be running three miles. He adds that we have nothing to fear because our best is good enough and no one can be disappointed in someone who puts themselves out there for a chance to be great. He tells us to feel our melted bodies on the ground and to remember this feeling as we are on our way to the starting line. He says that there is nothing to fear and to slow our breathing–the race has not yet begun, and until we reach that finish line, we still have the opportunity to improve. We’re instructed to use the strength we’ve built each and every practice and reminded once more that it’s just another 3 mile race.

With a renewed energy we line up at the start line and strongly sprint out 100 meters before returning to our positions. The scene is so familiar, but somehow different. I don’t fear the race. I don’t fear the pain or mental fatigue I am about to endure. Instead, it invigorates me.  I know what I am capable of as Iverson drives our minds through the course we race, and I feel powerful. When he brings us to the finish line, I see myself put in every last bit of effort to pass every color I can. Mentally crossing the finish line is exhilarating. Again, he takes us to our cool down and stretches where we lay down to finish them. As our bodies soften into the ground, they take shape in reality.

We keep our eyes closed in complete silence, contemplating what we have just experienced. I replay the ideas in my head. Run the race without fear. Slow my breathing. Tap into my potential. Hold nothing back. Be free.

With that final thought, I open my eyes.

Megan Kalmoe competes at the elite level in rowing and does everything she can in order to prepare for her racing opportunities. Athletes like Megan have to ask themselves questions about how well they are fueling their bodies or if they are working harder than their competitors each and every day. But, once Megan Kalmoe is on the starting line, there are no more questions. During a recent interview, I asked Megan about getting in her zone during races. She said that it’s difficult to articulate because going fast is something that doesn’t require much thinking; it just happens. For her, what happens after the start is simple: she just goes. She trusts in her physiology and in all of the intense training that has allowed her lungs and body to function so efficiently during races. However, the preparation that enables her success amongst the best athletes in the world does not only require tremendous physical training. Megan Kalmoe also uses mental preparation in order to be entirely equipped on the starting line.

Megan uses her brain as a muscle and makes sure that she is mentally strong in order to coordinate her arms and legs during races. This combination contributes to her speed and dominance. Her brain is especially involved in her race preparation in different ways during visualization and imagery. When Megan is racing with one other person, her pair partner, they walk through the race out loud together and discuss their plan of action. They decide on which key words they will use (such as “commit”, or “together”) and they know that these specific cues will allow them to focus on the same thing. With this, they accomplish fluency and power together in order to pass competitors or get even further ahead. They also involve multiple senses while practicing imagery. Being able to actually see the course going by, and walking through the same race several times allows them to be mentally prepared and confident that their plan and focus cues will fuel them to success.

In the recent World Cup Championships, Megan Kalmoe raced in a larger boat – the eight – allowing her to experience a different type of visualization with more of her teammates. Her coxswain talked the eight rowers through the entire length of the race, simulating the intensity and feelings that the boat would experience on the water in France. Megan and her teammates trusted in each other’s ability to take the lead together, and ultimately prevailed during this race. Their race execution and victory over the other countries shows the strength of their physical fitness and psychological mindset. Kalmoe and her teammates raced in the pair event only a few hours before, where she also medaled. Her focus allowed her to be successful in both of these races because she was able to transition between the two events and stay in the present moment. She maintained concentration on the things that she was able to control and stayed motivated and confident; she gave everything she had in both of her races.

I am thankful that I had the chance to talk to Megan about these races and what it takes not only to be an Olympian, but a world-class rower. Megan Kalmoe’s incredible physical strength is admirable, and her confidence, motivation, and drive are techniques that I want to use in my own races at the collegiate level. Sport Psychology has been beneficial to me as an athlete by allowing me to strengthen the mental skills that are involved with techniques such as maintaining focus and visualization. Strengthening these mental skills is useful to Olympians like Megan Kalmoe, and can be used at any sport or performance level to give athletes a mental edge and competitive advantage.

On July 1st, 2014, at arguably the greatest venue in all of tennis, two men stepped onto Centre Court at Wimbledon. One of these men proceeded to hit 37 aces, a total of 70 winners, and won in four sets. The other was Rafael Nadal. In what has already been proclaimed one of the biggest upsets in recent tennis history, 19-year-old wildcard Nick Kyrgios defeated Rafael Nadal in just the quarterfinals of the tournament. The win was no fluke, either–Kyrgios won with authority.

Dominating nearly the whole match, Kyrgios set the tone early, opening the first game with an ace. He would ride his nearly untouchable serve, breaching 122 mph at times, all the way through the match until he fittingly ended the game on another ace that seemed all too familiar to the first. And it was not as though Nadal played poorly or rolled over for Krygios to come storming through. While he had some tough shots that created opportunities for Krygios, the story of the day was Krygios’ talent rather than Nadal’s implosion.

Motivated, he said, primarily by the doubt his mother expressed prior to the match’s start, Kyrgios played the whole match with one purpose: enjoy the game. Smiling throughout nearly the whole competition, and even sprinkling happy dances in after particularly important points, Kyrgios had the positive mindset, self-concept, and confidence necessary to accomplish something pretty special. On July 1st, that just so happened to mean defeating the world’s #1 seed, despite sitting at #144 himself.

Nadal was not the only man to see his Wimbledon hopes come to a halt uncharacteristically early. Defending champion Andy Murray, the #3 seed of the tournament, lost to Grigor Dimitrov in the quarterfinals. And while the result for the two tennis greats was the same, seeing the early exit, the circumstances of their losses were quite different.

Simply put: Nadal was outplayed. Kyrgios did what he needed to in order to win. Murray, on the other hand, was guilty of blunder after blunder before succumbing to Dimitrov in straight sets. Finishing the game with a pair of double-faults, Murray appeared to be a shadow of his former self–certainly nothing like the man who had surged past Novak Djokovic in the final the year before. Murray’s body language gave away the true story of the match. Fighting added pains from a back surgery in September of 2013, Murray was down on himself and his abilities from the start. Never once did he seem confident in what he was doing. While he never said outright if something in particular was bothering him–or what it was–he seemed to be waging an inner-war against his own thoughts and confidence, taking himself away from what was happening on the court. This culminated in him collapsing disconsolately into his chair following the match. He rose minutes later only to pay his respects to his hometown fans.

What is there to takeaway then, from these two matches? There seems to be one clear theme: how big a role the mental game can play. We saw it at its best as Kyrgios fought his way to the match of his life, mentally strong and confident through and through. We also saw it at its worst, with Murray collapsing in under the pressure of his own thoughts and ruminations, paving the way for his defeat.

So no matter the stage–Wimbledon or your local tennis courts–keep in mind how significant mental strength is and the impact that it can have on your performance. Practice it each and every day, giving it the same kind of attention you would your physical training. Work to maintain your focus on the task at hand while playing, staying positive each and every step along the way. You never know what might happen. Maybe you will be the next big star breaking onto the scene.



Al-Samarrai, R. (2014, July 1). Rafael Nadal sensationally knocked out by Australian teenager Nick Kyrgios in Wimbledon 2014 fourth round. Retrieved July 3, 2014, from http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sport/tennis/article-2676959/Rafael-Nadal-sensationally-knocked-Australian-teenager-Nick-Kyrgios-Wimbledon-fourth-round.html

Andy Murray Loses Wimbledon 2014 Quarter-Final To Grigor Dimitrov. (2014, July 2). The Huffington Post UK. Retrieved July 3, 2014, from http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/2014/07/02/wimbledon-andy-murray-loses_n_5551383.html