Tag: World Cup Championship

Six Traits of Mentally Tough Athletes — Including the U.S. Soccer Team

By: Premier Intern Staff

 

All eyes will be on Vancouver this Sunday as the U.S. Women’s soccer team takes on Japan in their second consecutive World Cup Championship game. In order to reach the finals for two straight tournaments, we know the athletes have not only incredible physical strength, but also extraordinary mental strength. Midfielder Megan Rapinoe spoke with NPR before the World Cup began about what distinguishes the U.S. team: “I think traditionally, we’ve always been very fit and fast and physical, and we have that sort of physical element that we can just outlast teams,” she said. “And we have that grit and that mentality that we’re never going to quit.” That grit is an integral part of what has led to the team’s success—and is also an integral part of being mentally tough.

In their book, The Mental Game Plan: Getting Psyched for Sport, Drs. Stephen J. Bull, John G. Albinson, and Christopher J. Shambrook outline six characteristics of mentally tough athletes:

Strong desire to succeed

Stay positive in the face of challenge and pressure

Control the controllables

High commitment with a balanced attitude

High level of self-belief

Positive body language

From Rapinoe’s quote alone, it is easy to see that the U.S. team embodies these characteristics. The team’s determination and refusal to quit aligns with characteristics 1-5 (and if you look at pictures of the team in action, you’ll see No. 6 as well).

So how can you embrace these six skills and be mentally tough like the U.S. women? What do they really mean?

Strong desire to succeed – Why are you playing your sport? We imagine it’s because you love it and have fun while playing! Your No. 1 priority should be to enjoy what you’re doing. Then, that love for the game will transfer over to your desire to keep getting better. “Succeeding” does not necessarily mean winning the championship or being the best player on the team; rather, it’s about setting your mind to a few, tangible goals and working hard to attain them. These are progress-oriented goals—like taking a few deep breaths before you make your next pitch or becoming 5% stronger over the next two weeks. The real success is when you achieve these progress-goals throughout the year!

Stay positive in the face of challenge and pressure – Athletes of any sport, especially at high levels of competition, endure a lot of stress. Making excuses and complaining won’t help you get any better. Mentally tough athletes challenge stress head on by staying positive throughout their competition.

Control the controllables – In order to be mentally tough, you need to recognize that there are some things you can’t do anything about. The refs, the weather, the past—recognizing that there are aspects of the game out of your control will help you become more aware of what you can control. You can control your effort in practice, your attitude when you miss a rebound, and what you’re doing at the current moment, to name a few. When you focus on what you can control, you put more conscious effort into making those aspects of your game better instead of worrying about what’s out of your hands.

High commitment with a balanced attitude – Having a balanced attitude means that you need to be dedicated to your sport while also being dedicated to other aspects of your life like school, family, and friends. Enjoy your sport while you’re playing, but if something bad happens during a game or practice, don’t let that negatively affect your mood when you leave the field. Mentally tough athletes recognize that they need to focus on sports while training, but they need to be engaged with other parts of their life as well.

High level of self-belief – We all know that we won’t make every basket or catch every pass from the quarterback, but that’s ok! If you stay focused on the present moment—on the basket you’re about to shoot or the pass the quarterback is throwing right now and you say to yourself over and over that you can do this and you will make the basket/pass, then more often than not you will make the shot. If you believe in yourself, you will be able to turn those thoughts into actions.

Positive body language – When you swing at a pitch outside of the zone, do you slam your bat down in frustration or do you take a deep breath and tell yourself that you’ll get it next time? Standing upright with confidence will in fact make you more confident. Everyone makes mistakes, but it’s those who realize that they can be better next time that are mentally tough and successful.

Mental training takes time just as physical training—you can’t get better overnight. Next time when you’re skating around the rink, take a few deep breaths, remember what you can and cannot control, and believe in yourself. Those quick mental skills will put you steps above your opponent—as evident by the U.S. women’s soccer team only one step away from a World Cup Championship!

 

Interview with Megan Kalmoe: Two-Time United States Olympic Rower

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.

Sara Scarbro, University of Minnesota Rower