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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
“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.
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.