News

Olympian mind games everyone can play

Olympian mind games everyone can play

OLYMPICS FOR YOUR MIND: Anton Kushnir of Belarus jumps during men's freestyle skiing aerials qualifying at the Rosa Khutor Extreme Park, at the 2014 Winter Olympics, Monday, Feb. 17, in Krasnaya Polyana, Russia. Photo: Associated Press/Sergei Grits

By Dorene Internicola

NEW YORK (Reuters) – For everyday athletes hoping to glean more than vague inspiration from watching the elite compete at the Olympic Games in Sochi fitness experts say let the mind games begin.

With imaging techniques, meditation and biofeedback, sports psychologists, athletes and coaches say Olympians and top performers train as intensely mentally as they do physically.

Lauren Sesselmann, whose Canadian Olympic soccer team captured a bronze medal at the 2012 Summer Games in London, said while the physical prowess has to be there, a healthy mindset might play an even bigger part in success.

COMPLETE COVERAGE: 2014 Sochi Games

“We do a lot of mental training,” said Sesselmann. “You have to push yourself and to put goals before yourself every day.”

Motivation was never a problem for Sesselmann, 30. The creator of “Fit As a Pro” workout DVDs says she always relished hitting the field, playing against the boys and even driving two hours to play against the best high school in her state.

“I’ve always been a really competitive person, even if I’m playing a video game,” she said.

But Sesselmann credits the mental strategies learned in the team’s so-called “mind room” with helping her counter inevitable Olympic stressors from a bad practice day to a truncated personal life to being far away from family and friends.

“In one program, called Brain Paint, you put yourself into a state of relaxation and imagined yourself doing well for 20 minutes while a psychologist watched your brain waves,” she explained.

Another, called Heart Math, focused on breathing techniques. Sesselmann, who is in Vancouver preparing for the 2015 World Cup, said she regularly meditates before game time.

Sharon Chirban, a sports psychologist with Children’s Hospital Boston who has worked with Olympian skiers, hockey players and figure skaters, said along with talent, determination, and commitment, the elite athlete exhibits a high tolerance for frustration and challenge.

They’re just better at overcoming discomfort, she said.

“Whenever I go to the gym with my fiancé, who is a former Olympian bobsledder, I work out 20 percent harder than I do on my own,” Chirban said.

For people who excel, she explained, there’s always a bit more to do.

“They teach the average person that no one gets there without a lot of hard work,” she said. “Everyone’s looking for the magic bullet but there’s no short road.”

Gregory Chertok, a sports psychology coach and mental skills trainer with the American College of Sports Medicine, finds that elite athletes eagerly embrace the mental game, happily honing practice tools such as visualization and relaxation techniques to manage anxiety on the field.

“They’ll dedicate as much as 30 minutes every day to writing down goals, or imagery, or taking time to be mindful,” said Chertok, who has a hockey client at the Sochi games.

He added that sports psychology borrows much from the eastern philosophy of mindfulness and, although it has become mainstream in the past 25 to 30 years, is still in relative infancy compared to other branches of exercise science, such as strength training.

“It’s not about Buddha sitting cross-legged but about putting oneself in a relaxed position and training to be in the now,” he said. “The elite athlete will have this shelf of mental images that they can call on in times of boredom or laziness to keep moving forward.”

Chertok said he once asked a group of female cross-country runners what motivates them when they’re nearing the finish line with nothing left in the tank.

“One girl yelled, ‘Pasta!’ It was her favorite meal and her reward, but only if she gives all in her event,” he said. “That one vivid mental picture affected her breathing and her muscular level, and helped her perform better.”

(Editing by Patricia Reaney, Bernard Orr)

Recent Headlines

in National, World

Israel warns of long Gaza war as Palestinian fighters cross border

Israeli soldiers patrol outside the northern Gaza Strip on July 28, 2014.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu dashes any hopes of a swift end to the three-week conflict as Palestinian fighters launched an audacious cross-border raid.

in Sports

Only arguing remains in Sterling trail

FILE - In this Nov. 12, 2010, file photo, Shelly Sterling sits with her husband, Donald Sterling, right, during the Los Angeles Clippers' NBA basketball game against the Detroit Pistons in Los Angeles. With a $2 billion sale of the Clippers hanging in the balance, a judge is set to determine Monday, June 30, 2014, if the terms of a family trust alone are enough to confirm Donald Sterling was properly removed as trustee and allow his estranged wife to sell the team without his consent.

Only final arguments and a ruling remain in the trial to determine whether Donald Sterling's estranged wife can sell the Los Angeles Clippers for $2 billion.

in Lifestyle

Amazon offers 3D printing to customize products

A box from Amazon.com is pictured on the porch of a house in Golden, Colorado on July 28, 2008.

Amazon will offer 3D printing services that allow customers to customize and build earrings, bobble head toys and other items.

in Lifestyle

U.S. doctor contracts Ebola in Liberia

In this 2014 photo provided by the Samaritan's Purse aid organization, Dr. Kent Brantly, left, treats an Ebola patient at the Samaritan's Purse Ebola Case Management Center in Monrovia, Liberia. On Saturday, July 26, 2014, the North Carolina-based aid organization said Brantly tested positive for the disease and was being treated at a hospital in Monrovia.

American doctor, Kent Brantley, has tested positive for the tropical disease Ebola.

in Lifestyle

Pope Francis renews attack on mafia

Pope Francis waves as he leads a mass at the palace of Caserta, former residences of the Royal House of Bourbon, in Caserta, southern Italy on July 26, 2014.

Pope Francis called for nature to be protected from criminal abuse during a visit in the southern Italian town of Caserta, near Naples.