With the 2012 London Olympics just around the corner, athletes the world over are entrenched in training mode. But as sports have become increasingly professional, technique and fitness is no longer the standout difference between winning gold or heading home empty handed.
Instead, it all comes down to mental toughness – the ability to make cool-headed decisions in heated moments and control things when they threaten to go astray.
Just look at some of the world’s top athletes – even Rafael Nadal credits his success to his strong mental resilience: “It is impossible to play great every time, but when I play so-so I’m still there mentally – the mental part is there 100%”.
Whether you’re an aspiring figure skater or cyclist, the mental resilience required to win gold in the greatest sports competition on Earth is the same. In a recent study, a team from Loughborough University spoke with 12 Olympic champions across a range of events and found they all possessed a unique mental toughness characterized by five unique attributes:
- Positive personality: Each gold medal-winning athlete had an openness to new experiences, was conscientious, competitive, optimistic and proactive.
- Motivation: Top athletes are motivated by multiple internal and external factors. While they have a passion for the sport, they’re driven to prove their worth so choose to compete at top level.
- Confidence: Their confidence is gained from a range of sources, from experience and self-awareness to visualization and coaches – this means a set-back in one area won’t hold them back.
- Focus: The ability to concentrate on the process rather than the outcome and self-reflect without distraction.
- Social support: They have a strong support network and believe high quality support, whether from family, coaches or teammates, is just a phone call away.