Mental Strength at the Olympics

physical strength does not outweigh your mental strength

Practice for Finals

Mental strength is never more necessary than in adverse conditions. From the first run of practice onwards it was a day of adjustments. The wind was inconsistent, some practice runs I could boost and sometimes I felt like I was barely getting above the lip. About mid way through practice I decided to abandon the switch right dub 10 in favor of the switch right 9 in the interest of speed for the rest of my run. I put a run together with my left 1620 lead stale grab in it and knew that it was a good run for the conditions. 

Olympic Finals
Getting ready to Drop into Finals at the 2022 Winter Olympics, in Beijing.

Finals Run 1

If anything the wind got worse between the last run of practice and first run of finals. I watched the first four runs and talked strategy with my coaches, Mike Riddle, and Jeremie Livingston, and decided that a solid run with the switch left dub 10 and both left and right dub 12s might actually do well on this day even though it was significantly lower difficulty than what I was hoping for. 

Experience is a priceless commodity

The ability to read the conditions and my fellow competitors paid off on my first run. Making changes to your run on competition day is difficult. Doing the same run repetitively is the easiest way to do it well in competition. It builds muscle memory and requires less brainpower mid-competition. Many halfpipe riders have a qualifiers run and a finals run that they train all season long and only make small adjustments to. The Achilles heel of this strategy is that some tricks or combinations simply won’t work in bad conditions. Most of the difficult tricks that I do require a lot of amplitude, or height out of the pipe. Amplitude takes a big hit in heavy snowfall or wind. In this situation I was able to draw on my arsenal of competition experience and come up with a run with some of my technical tricks. My goal on run one was to go bigger with slightly lower difficulty tricks.

Gambling with 1260s

Every mental move that I make on competition day is a bit of a gamble. Some days I go for my hardest run right out of the gate because I know that I will have three chances to land it. I rarely do a “safety” run; an easier run with a higher chance of landing. When I’m competing, some part of me needs to feel like I am going for it, giving it everything I have. Safety runs don’t feel to me like going for it, in spite of the fact that they are sometimes a good strategy. The Beijing halfpipe was one of the best halfpipes ever built. Without the wind the run I won silver with would have been considered a safety run. Experience paid off because I was able to recognize that the wind conditions were severe enough to warrant an easier run. Because the tricks I was doing in my run were “easier” I shifted my mental focus toward amplitude and grabs and fortunately the judges rewarded me for it.

Right 1080 tail grab. Photo: Mike Dawsy

Finals Run 2

It was cold and I cracked a binding piece under my heel on my first run.  It was a minor crack and those skis were running fast so I decided to stick with them for run 2. I had significantly less speed on my second run and popped too hard on my second hit, maybe without the crack in my binding my ski would have stayed on… I will never know. 

The Post Competition Battle in the Mind

There is a mental deconstruction I go through after every contest, no matter how well I do. I am a strategist, which means I’m always looking for ways to improve. At the end of every competition I take time to process the event as a whole. Then, I go through it systematically. Skiing is not the only place in my life this is applicable. I believe you can find value in assessing yourself in your own workplace. Moreover, I believe it is important to evaluate ourselves on a human level. How we interact with the world around us, and conduct ourselves in our relationships matters. I hope we can all agree, in humility, that we are wrong and have areas in our life that we need to grow and change. I challenge you to take a look into your own life, business and personal, and discover ways that you can improve or weakness that you can strengthen.


This isn’t everyones style. My teammate and friend, Birk Irving, revealed his personal strategy with Alex Ferreira and I during some down time at the Olympics this year. His approach to skiing and competing was totally different from mine. Birk’s strategy works well for Birk. I sincerely respect him as a skier, and as a competitor. With that being said, I want to clarify that I don’t have it all figured out. Often, I admit to my wife, “I have no idea what I’m doing in this situation.”

Find your own Vibe

Everyone has their own style that works for them, I encourage you to find yours. If I can help you discover something that helps you, I’m honored. Likewise, if there is something that is not applicable to you, simply move on. However, I challenge you to give everything at least one try. Over the years I have explored a multitude of alternative training styles, diets, visualization techniques, etc in the search to be more effective at what I do. Less than 10% of them stand the test of time and make it into my routine, but I wouldn’t know if they were effective or not if I wasn’t bold enough to try them.

mental strength competition
US Freeski Photo: Mike Dawsy

Who totally nailed it today? Celebrate them.

It’s not all about you. You’re not the only one who failed or succeeded today. Does someone around you need to be acknowledged, validated, and known? Take time to see them and their efforts. Many times in skiing, I’ve found that the individuals most qualified for congratulations were not on the podium. In my opinion that’s because I find more honorable character in how they handle their loss, than the tricks they stomped. The world will praise the trophy winners. Who is in the shadows doing an exceptional job?

Losing with grace

I learn a lot from watching my competitors quietly. When they own 4th and 5th place with grace and determination to continue, they gain mental giant points in my book. This is something that I have always struggled with so it always impresses me when I see highly competitive people lose with grace. When I am disappointed with my results it reveals something about me. It shows me that I am trying not to lose rather than skiing my absolute best on that day.

Celebrate the Outliers

There is something uniquely amazing about everyone around you. Take a moment to be proud of them. Personally, I am an introverted individual so I rarely communicate these praises directly. If you are like me, that’s okay. Thanking God for them/ sending them positive energy, in your own spirit is a good start. Currently, I’m working on getting out of my comfort zone and trying to make the effort to tell them personally. As you can, work up to that goal.

What went wrong?

Whether you crushed it this week in the office, or landed your first sale; there is always room to improve. Humble yourself at the apex of your career. Don’t become stagnant just because you reached one goal. Keep moving, and improving, always looking to the next goal. A lot of potential is wasted due to complacency and comfortability.

mental strength in practice
Amplitude feels GOOD. Photo; Mike Dawsy

Where am I weak?

Start with admitting what you messed up, as small as it may seem. Humility is at the core of all great leaders. If you are not willing to admit failure, how can you expect those following you to own up to theirs? As humans we all have a bad habit of relying on our strengths too often. Meanwhile, our weaknesses only get weaker. When I was recovering from a shattered femur, the primary muscles like my quads, hamstrings and glutes came back to full strength quickly. The minor hip muscles that are vital to balance remained atrophied for a long time. Within six months I could match my previous best on the leg press, but I couldn’t execute any of my tricks with anything even approaching finesse. If I had just been satisfied with the quad strength and not spent countless hours on the weak spots, there would have been no third Olympics to even write a blog post about.

Don’t skip mental leg day

We all know a strong looking dude that clearly skips leg day, how effective is he going to be in the zombie apocalypse? Don’t skip leg day in your mental approach either. It’s vital to all leadership that we acknowledge where we are weak so that we can spend time strengthening those areas. It may not be obvious to you right away. Not every leader has a visible crack in their binding that causes a ski to come off. Sometimes they have to be very introspective and honest with themself to understand what went wrong. So if you are struggling to locate your weaknesses, ask a close friend or family member you trust to let you know where you need to improve. As a business person, ask your employees or coworkers how they feel about you and how you can improve in working with them.

Who’s your workout buddy?

I’m fortunate in the fact that I can ask my wife where I am going wrong and I know she will answer truthfully, but not vindictively. It is important to surround yourself with truth speakers who aren’t afraid to tell you hard things. If you are surrounded by people who only praise you when you succeed, but stay quiet when you fail, you are skipping mental leg day. Ask questions. Be ready for answers that you might not like. Those answers will grow you into a better human.

making friends with mental strength
Photo: Mike Dawys

How can I Strengthen my weaknesses?

Don’t be a victim

This isn’t a pity party. Spending time beating yourself up and calling yourself names doesn’t help. There is always a solution to the problem you are facing, or caused. For example: repent, apologize, take ownership of what you did wrong. This is a simple solution that is often overlooked for many common problems. Most people like to be right, and often our pride gets in the way of really seeing how we contributed to the problem. It is much easier to see how someone else went wrong that how we did. Reconciling relationships in the workplace, and in your personal life is a great tool to regain strength in weak areas. I have found that seeking justice, proving to myself I was right, was actually just preventing me from moving on from what could have been an obsolete problem.

Don’t be an accuser

Likewise, this is also not a blaming party to reveal all the ways someone else wronged you. Practice forgiving people, or situations that may have caused you to lose. There are a lot of moving pieces during a ski contest. It would be easy for me to sit in frustration about the weather, the judges, the equipment, poor sleep, a mediocre breakfast, etc.

Fight bitterness

Bitterness is actually the most natural response to situations that seem unfair, but it doesn’t get you anywhere. The healthier solution is to acknowledge the unfortunate situation. If something needs to be forgiven, forgive it. If something that you can fix needs to be fixed, fix it. Then, it’s time to move on. Don’t beat a dead horse. It’s true I have experienced some unfair treatment, in my own opinion. I have also been rewarded at times that I didn’t deserve it. Being able to acknowledge both forms of injustice, when you suffered and when you benefitted, is key. It takes the same amount of humility to admit that you don’t deserve everything that you have as it does to forgive injustice in the midst of crisis and move on.

Don’t be a savior

You might be overthinking it completely. You can’t solve the worlds problems, because you can’t even solve your own. Maybe you just need to surrender control. Accept the uncontrollable. Sometimes problems are unavoidable no matter how well you plan for the future. Learning how to accept the struggle may be your only way forward. Acknowledge how small you are in this universe. Ski some backcountry near avalanche terrain; stand by the ocean; look up at the stars, get lost in the wilderness backpacking. Feel the magnitude of the world around you. When you really think about it, how much do you actually control? I challenge you to find your higher power; mine is King Jesus, Creator of all. Submitting to his plan and authority is how I get past the nagging failures in my life. Don’t be the savior of the worlds problems, there already is one.

winning silver with mental strength technique
Photo: Mike Dawsy

Finish with gratitude.

The foundation of every mental giant is gratitude; it is the core of all my mental strength tools. Thankfulness is vital to mental strength. You can’t have one without the other. Without gratitude all this information is obsolete. If you can’t learn to be thankful for the climb, you won’t be able to fully appreciate the peak. For me, skiing is a form of worship. Skiing my absolute best is how I express gratitude to the God that created snow. You can practice gratitude regardless of your religious beliefs. Being thankful is a peaceful and enjoyable way to exist. Being a professional halfpipe skier is stressful and overwhelming at times. If I can’t be thankful for some of the stuff I have to endure to stay at the top, then I might as well give up.

Thankful for the small things

Maybe you’re finding yourself here in your current job. Find small things to be thankful for often. If you spend more time being consciously grateful, you will spend less time being unconsciously bitter. Find a space and place you can live in gratitude, even if it means taking a pay cut, moving to a smaller city, or leaving work early to enjoy your family or hobbies that evening. Life is too precious to squander on grumbling and problem solving. Find your joy again, and end your day in thanksgiving.

showing mental strength competing in halfpipe at the Olympics
Right 900 two handed tail. Photo: Mike Dawsy

Finals Run 3

For run 3 I switched to my backup skis. I took a run down the side of the pipe and they felt just as fast as my primaries so I decided to run with them rather than moving the bindings over to my primaries. As soon as I dropped in for run 3 I knew something wasn’t right. It turned out that I didn’t check my skis closely enough and they weren’t “detuned” on the tips and tails. We actually round the edges a little bit on the first 6 inches of the tips and tails, otherwise it can be too easy to catch an edge. Every halfpipe skier tunes and detunes their skis differently; it is a minute detail that makes a massive difference in how the skis feel. I felt like a fish out of water on run 3. 

I’m not a judge, but I think that if I had landed my third run at the same amplitude as my first run with the left 1620 I might have had a chance to give Nico a run for his money and bring home a third Gold. This was a rookie mistake, and one that I take full ownership of. In PyeongChang I experienced enough equipment failure to cause me to bring six pairs of skis this time around. If I was more mindful of the fact that I might not be able to do all of my runs on my favorite skis, I would have taken practice runs on my backup skis. Even as I am writing this, it still seems outlandish to me that I made this mistake, but I did.

Learn from your mistakes

You’re never too old to learn a new thing. Experience, knowledge and strategy helped me win silver, but a rookie mistake cost me my shot at the gold.  That’s a mistake I hope to never make again. I could beat myself up about it for the next four years if I wanted to. Instead I am choosing to be thankful for the lesson.

mental strength success and failure
Photo: Mike Dawsy

Successful failure

Bowhunting is my favorite cross training for skiing because there are so many different ways to mess it up. If I’m too fast the animal I’m stalking will hear me and run away. Going too slow might make me miss my opportunity and the animal will walk away. Sometimes I get up wind of the animal it smells me and runs away. Many times, it sees me and runs away. Sometimes I do everything perfectly and something outside my control scares the animal off. Each time I pick the hunt apart and learn from my mistakes. I become successful by overcoming failures. My time bowhunting prepares me well for competition and life. Each time I fail is another opportunity to learn a lesson. The greatest mistake we can make in life is not learning from our mistakes.

Try One Mental Strength Technique This Week

I invite you to try it out for yourself. In this blog post, I’ve condensed eight years of mental strength experience at the Olympics. If you use just one of these mental strength tools, you’re off to a great start.

Embrace gratitude; surrender bitterness.

Make time to be introspective.

Surround yourself with truth speakers.

Own your mistakes; repent.

Practicing presence.

Success Under Pressure

finding contentment regardless of the outcome

Olympic Qualifiers || Beijing 2022

It’s hard to believe it has already been a month since qualifier day at the Olympics, February 16th 2022.  People often ask me if I feel nervous anymore when I’m competing.  The honest answer I give them is “Usually, no.”  Part of the reason that I’m able to consistently compete well is that I no longer have my identity tied to success in skiing.  When I was younger, I based my self worth on whether I won contests or not.  

Finding your Identity

Becoming a husband, father and developing passions outside of skiing has given me more balance.  I’m surrounded by people that I know love me for who I am, not what I can do on a pair of skis.  It gives me the confidence to do my best, and not stress about the results.  The feeling that I have before I drop in at contests is closer to excitement or anticipation than nerves or stress.

Success is not defined by a moment in time
Switch Right 7 Double Japan

Success is a State of Mind

The exception to this trend is qualifiers at the Olympics. Getting ready to drop in this time around I felt that familiar and dreaded nervous feeling.  Nerves can be crippling; they deteriorate performance.  If you watched much of the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing this year, you might have been surprised how many people crashed, made mistakes on some of their easiest tricks, or in some cases missed the podium completely even though they were favored.  Those are perfect examples of the stress Olympians face during this global event.  

Overcoming the Pressure

It’s hard not to let the hype and external pressure get to you.  Every Olympic athlete has been preparing for those runs for at least four years and for many of them it is their only opportunity in a lifetime to compete on that stage.  

Everyone from your sponsors and coaches to your mom and your first grade art teacher are cheering you on. It is hard not to feel like all of those people are depending on you.  

Both Success and Failure are temporary
Switch 7 Taipan

I constantly have to remind myself that even though those folks want me to do well, I’m the only one that can do these runs through the halfpipe.  If I’m carrying all those people with me while I’m competing, even if it’s just in my mind, I will crumple under the weight.  I usually take a moment to express gratitude to the creator and all of those people for getting me here, and then I focus in on the task at hand.

Mental Strength Technique

 I didn’t have to land the best run of my life to make finals at the Olympics; I just had to land a decent run.  An athlete in a similar situation might easily tell themself: “just don’t blow it”. However, that mentality often has a similar result to telling someone not to think about elephants.

Success is a state of mind it can look like Excitement and pure joy
Success is a state of mind

To combat nerves and pressure at the Olympics I go through the same process as every other competition.  I remind myself what I’m thankful for.  I tell myself that I don’t HAVE to do this, I GET TO do it. Then I focus on one thing, on every hit of that five hit pipe, that I can improve on.  It keeps me tied to the moment and not thinking about the future or the past. it’s one of my best mental strength tools; practicing the presence.

Success begins with practicing presence
Lost is a sea of thoughts, you must find the present moment to find success.

Practicing Presence

No matter what stresses are in your life currently, you can center your thoughts around this exact moment. If you are familiar with meditation, it’s the same thing. It can take as little as one minute so don’t let the excuse of time prevent you from implementing this powerful mental strength tool into your regular routine. The biggest mistake I see people make is the assumption that they will use healthy coping mechanisms during stressful situations without any practice. This is False. In order to properly apply meditation when you feel pressured, you must practice it often. Don’t make the mistake of assuming you will remember to breathe in chaos if you have never trained yourself to breath in a normal, peaceful moment before.

“Yesterday’s the past, Tomorrow’s the future, but today is a gift. That’s why they call it the present.”

Bill Keane

Give it a Try

First, settle into a comfortable and stable position in a safe place, preferably quiet- but not everyone is so fortunate.

Close your eyes and focus on your breathing.

Pay attention to all five of your senses.

Listen to the sounds around you.

Take notice of how your body feels from head to toe.

As you breathe notice what you smell.

Can you taste anything? What does your tongue feel like against the roof of your mouth? Relax your jaw.

Open your eyes and notice your surroundings. Without any judgment, try your best to be thankful for what you see.

Continue to focus on your breathing. Deep breaths in through your nose and out through your mouth. Sometimes I visualize exhaling negativity or stress.

Try not to think about anything outside of what is happening right now, in this moment.

Keep Practicing

When you catch your mind wandering, gently bring your attention back to the present moment. You can count your breaths in and out to help your mind focus on the present. It is important that you are gracious and gentle with yourself. This practice is hard and takes time to learn. Be patient. When you have a wandering thought, acknowledge it and then let it go as you replace the thought with your breathing, the sounds and smells around you, the physical feelings in and on your body.

Photo: Mike Dawsy

Taking Ownership

“Okay, I admit it. I am stressed out.”

In Beijing I had to admit to myself that I was feeling nerves, and attack them at their source.  It is important to acknowledge your emotional feelings to practice the present moment. If you are in denial about your feelings, it will come out in a negative way- eventually. For example, in the lead up to the Olympics I repeatedly denied that I was stressed out until it manifested itself in a bad case of shingles on my face in September, 2021. I finally had to face the fact that I was overwhelmed and make some changes in my life and mental strategy.


Emotions have a lot less power over you when you acknowledge them. It is natural to want to hide strong emotions or feelings. Sometimes I catch myself hiding feelings from myself, because I judge that particular thought or feeling as negative. But when I acknowledge the way I am feeling, the path forward always seems more clear. Shine a light on those feelings and you might find that they are less ugly than you thought.

“What is the root cause of my anxiety?”

Subconsciously we all allow outside influences to impact our thoughts at times. They are not harmful until we internalize them and take ownership of them. This typically manifests itself through warning signs such as: a sustained elevated heart rate, restlessness or inability to stand still, brain fog, auxiliary muscle tension (clenched jaw, fists, furrowed brow). As soon as you recognize these warning signs you can begin your meditation practice and then proceed to interview yourself.

 Mental Strength Success
The power of success is found in your mental strength.

Interview yourself

During Qualifiers, I discovered a relapse to an old way of thinking. I had fallen into the old habit of telling myself “I have to land these runs or four years of preparation will be a waste.” Instead, I reflected on the journey to get to this moment. Reminding myself that the story I was a part of was a beautiful thing whether I landed a run or not gave me the confidence I needed to let the tension go. I took ownership of what I had control over and I let go of the rest. By the time I dropped in for my first run the pressure had faded and I was in the flow state. I finished the day in fourth place, which is all I needed on that day. I made it through to finals.

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