5 Keys to Manage Stress Like an Olympian

Have you ever thought about how to manage stress like an Olympian?

It would be a good skill to have throughout the work day? Or, during a highly competitive game.

manage stress like an olympian






The NY Times has a wonderful article up about biathlete Clare Egan and how she manages to balances the physical output and incredible calm required to succeed at her sport. It’s an incredibly demanding sport physically–you are racing others on skis–and demanding mentally–you have to stop and calmly shoot a target.

It’s hard!

It reminds  me of this time I was at a party right after the 2011 World Cup finals. One of the guests was incredulous that any soccer player would miss a penalty kick even in the World Cup Finals.

After all she made her penalty kicks all the time.

On the other hand, she probably doesn’t compete for 120 minutes against a great team and then have to calm herself down to execute the skill. In front of 60,000 live fans and millions watching on tv at home.

In the biggest event in her sport.

But still “how could you miss?”

The article does a great job of addressing the intensity of the moment and the incredible physical and mental skill required.

The incredible preparation.

The biathlete trains for this rigorous dichotomy all the time.

Here are Clare Egan’s 5 Keys to manage stress like an Olympian:
Be prepared

Egan checks out the course the day before any race so she understands it well.  In particular she looks for markers on the race that indicate it is time to  switch from racing to shooting.

I bet you do the same yourself  at times. Like before giving a big speech I always try to check out the room and the  lighting. I want to know what it will feel  like to speak so that I can get through jitters at the beginning quicker.

Work on your breathing

“Mindful breathing” can help transition from a high intensity experience to the more focused skill of shooting. It can also help all of us in a stressful moment when we need to be able  to respond.

In a New York Times article on the benefits of breathing author Belisa Vranich explains,

“Breathing is massively practical,” says Belisa Vranich, a psychologist and author of the book “Breathe,” to be published in December. “It’s meditation for people who can’t meditate.”

Be mindful

Like Ellen Langer the Harvard professor who specializes in mindfulness, Egan equates mindfulness with paying attention to what is going on around you.

Train yourself to notice things. Simply take note of changes or variables.

She then takes it a step further.

Use mindfulness to accept the distractions and then shut them out.

Mindfulness practices have taught her to accept the distractions.
“For shooting, you need to remove any kind of emotion from what you’re doing,” she says. “There’s my target, here’s my trigger, this is my process, now I’m going to make the shot.”
Focus on the task not the results

Process, process,process. This is what you can control, not the outcome.

She uses “cue words” that help  her focus on the process. Like “follow through” or “breathe.”

“You have to eliminate all of that noise in your mind,” Egan says. “I have to use some kind of process-oriented word about how to shoot well.”
“Even if you’ve only done mini-golf, you can understand the concept of following through,” she says.
Compete against yourself nobody else

I love this. Just compete to be your best.

You will always find  people better and worse than you if you get into the comparison game.

That can be motivating, but also demotivating at times.  It can distract you,and subtly turn your focus to the result, which in turn reduces focus on your process.

“I think such a big part of this is focusing on what you are doing. You have to let go of how everyone else is doing, and focus on your own work.”
“If you can do that,” she adds, “you’re going to have a performance you can be proud of, whether it’s giving a presentation at work or a piano recital or biathlon.”


Be a great coach

Related Adopting An Olympian’s Mindset from Positive Coaching Alliance

Four Keys to Building Positive Coach Athlete Relationships

Recently I was watching a game on television and there was a controversial call made.  At half-time they cut to the commentators, one of whom opined, “I have always thought players win games, coaches lose games and referees ruin games.”

Ouch. Well OK then.

If you guessed he was a former player you guessed right.  I won’t address the referee issue here although c’mon they are important and deserve our respect.

As for coaches, I am of the opinion that they matter very much.

So, I was happy to see a recent study published by a Canadian Sport Psychologist, Penny Werthner, which gives credence to the importance of effective coaching.

The research  which presents the four keys to building positive coach athlete relationships.  She conducted following the Beijing Olympics, but published this summer prior to the 2012 HrLondon Olympic Games.

Here Are Werthner’s Four Keys To Building Positive Coach Athlete Relationships
Technical Knowledge.

This is crucial and essential to working with the elite athlete who relies on the coach for information and great teaching. There is evidence that the ability to teach is the most important factor in the success of a boss or a coach. Certainly at the highest level technical knowledge is essential to the teaching process.

 Care and Trust.

Effective coaches care about the athletes they coach. An Olympic athlete is  under tremendous pressure and needs to trust that her coach has her best interest in mind. I think this is true of any age and any level of athlete, but the more intense the pressure–whatever the source–the more crucial that the athlete believes in her coach’s compassion. Therefore it is crucial that a coach have the ability to communicate that care.

Werthner includes the ability to listen as a crucial skill for communicating care and compassion as a coach working with the elite athlete. This requires a coach provide time and patience. One example she cites

“As Émilie said of Yi Hua, “She gives me 100 per cent.” Each of these coaches has built trust with her athletes and the coaches they work with. They built that trust with patience, recognizing that it takes time, and with skilful communication.”

This bears out in the research on adult learning as well.  Listening is a sure sign of respect; a crucial factor when working with the high performer.

 Clear Communication.

Clarity in communication impacts both a coaches ability to teach and to demonstrate care and compassion. The examples that Wertner gave indicates that the communication is direct and honest. It is received well because the athlete trusts the coach and the coach delivers the message in order to get the most out of the athlete.

 “As Xiuli said, “I was straight with Clara. I told her the truth.And then she helped Clara make the technical changes by getting on the ice and showing her correct technique. Being able to clearly and concisely communicate what technical changes are necessary in a sport is a crucial skill in coaching. Being able to demonstrate the changes is an additional skill. These coaches are skilled in being honest and caring at the same time. As Melody said, “I want them each to succeed.”

She also indicates that communication is a dialogue. Again, listening plays a role, as does the ability to problem solve together and come to solutions. This takes confidence from a coach, but at the same time it builds confidence in an athlete when they are part of providing the solution.

An Individualized Approach. 

Treat each athlete fairly but not the same. Even coaches working with a team sport recognize that they need to differentiate their approach to each athlete in order to get the best out of them. Incidentally this is also a key to providing powerful adult education in the workplace.

The pressure on athletes at the highest level to perform can be immense. Coaches can have a powerful impact on these elite athletes. The four keys to building positive coach athlete relationships can go a long way. A competent and caring coach can be the difference between an athlete earning a medal and going home empty handed.