Your Inner Athlete column: How to think like an alpine ski racing champion
Why is it that athletes with the same physical strength and technical ability achieve different levels of performance? When all else is equal, the ski racers competing at the 2015 FIS Alpine World Ski Championship have a unique mindset that allows them to endure the intense conditions, cope with the enormous pressure and become the best in the world at their sport. Were they born mentally tough or is it a skill that can be enhanced just like anything else?
Sport psychology is coined the “science of success” because it studies what top athletes do to perform at their peak.
Here are three mental toughness strategies that give alpine ski racers the best shot at the gold.
1. Want success more than you fear anything else
What could possibly be scary about the Birds of Prey downhill? At over 80 miles per hour, just imagine the many G-forces building up as these racers go into those steep technical turns. There are also the numerous crashes that are constant reminders of what could happen. Even so, the competitors learn to prioritize their fears. The love they have for their sport, and their deep desire to perform their best, takes precedence over any fear. Alpine ski racers develop the mental discipline to mute their fears and focus all of their energy on executing their race plan.
2. Choose offensive play
Top alpine ski racers answer two questions when they inspect the racecourse:
• With my strengths, where can I gain a competitive advantage?
• How will I overcome the challenges?
These questions create a strategic plan that takes into account the racecourse, but is based on the athlete’s skiing. This sets up the athletes for offensive play (i.e. “here I come over the pitch”) compared to reactive play (i.e. “here comes the pitch”). When ski racers believe they are in control, it’s like consuming a mental toughness cocktail full of motivation, confidence and focus that is optimal for peak performance.
3. Embrace true competition
Even though alpine ski racing is an individual sport, there is a level of competitive cooperation (aka co-opetition). The best alpine ski racers understand the value of competing with well-matched athletes. They view their opponents as partners, instead of enemies, working together to bring out each other’s best efforts. When you watch the racers interact and listen to them talk, they appreciate and respect each other. That is the essence of true competition and creates the greatest opportunity for high performance.
With a Ph.D. in sport and exercise psychology, Haley Perlus is an expert at empowering athletes to achieve peak results. She is an adjunct professor at the University of Colorado, an international speaker, a former alpine ski racer, appointed industry leader for IHRSA.org and author. For more information and free chapters of her soon-to-be-released books, visit her website at http://www.DrHaleyPerlus.com.