10 Oct How the Mindset of an Olympian Can Be Developed and Used by Any Athlete at Any Level


How the Mindset of an Olympian Can Be Developed and Used by Any Athlete at Any Level

I recently read an article by Dr. Colleen Hacker on how to develop the mindset of an Olympian. Dr. Hacker specializes in Sport and Exercise Psychology and was on the coaching staff for six Olympic teams in three different sports (Soccer, Field Hockey and Ice Hockey).

Dr. Hacker contends that Olympians aren’t just born, they are “developed through passion, perseverance, practice and purposeful action.”

She believes the same principles and techniques we cultivate to achieve excellence in the Olympic Games can be mastered and adopted by athletes and teams at any level and in any sport.

That said, let me share with you Dr. Hacker’s 5 mindset principles of Olympians, the fundamentals of this mindset take place every day at Susquehannock…


1. You don’t have to finish first to be a winner
We challenge our athletes to carry themselves as champions regardless of the score or outcome both in practice and in competition. Athletes can exhibit integrity and positive character in all aspects of sport and in life. They don’t depend on winning to maintain confidence, a passion for playing and practicing, joy in being with their teammates and a commitment to becoming a better version of themselves as athletes, as teammates and as people.

2. Control the Controllables
Each sport is comprised of four pillars: technical components (skills unique to that sport), tactical components (team strategy, offense, and defensive sets, etc.), physiological components (strength, endurance, speed, flexibility, anaerobic power, etc.) and psychological components (mental toughness, imagery, focus, confidence, action plans, etc.).

Just like Olympians, athletes at every level should be actively practicing and targeting improvements in each of the four pillars daily. However, not all aspects of sport are completely under an athlete’s control. Athletes cannot control their opponents, the officials, the weather, or the score (and countless other competitive variables), but they can control many factors. Focusing on and targeting the variables under their control can help athletes improve, enjoy the process, maximize their potential and play like champions. So, when we ask athletes to “Control the Controllables,”we emphasize things like attitude, work rate, effort, their response to errors, bench behavior, good sporting behavior, being a good teammate, positive body language and productive actions to name a few.

3. Understand the Power of “New Math” which we represent with the equation 1+1=3
We remind our team that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. We are stronger together. We challenge our athletes to make a teammate look good, play for something bigger than themselves, adopt a team-first attitude and celebrate and recognize a range of important team behaviors much broader than simply talent on the field, court or ice.

4. Play in the NOW!
There are only three points in time; the past, the future and NOW. Only one of those time frames is under your control, and that is playing in the now. It’s so easy to get caught up in the future: if we score, or don’t / if I make the team or don’t / if we win the gold medal, or don’t and on and on and on. Equally likely is the temptation to dwell on the past: thinking about a mistake you made, the “bad” call from the official or the time the coach corrected you in public. However, only when you focus on the now – the present – this moment, this play, this puck, this defensive stop, only then are you really in control as an athlete.

5. Adopt a Beginner’s Mindset
We challenge our athletes to expect to learn something new each day. When you expect to learn, you do! Have a spirit of openness and cultivate a growth mindset. Be coachable. Take responsibility to share knowledge and experience and insight as often as you ask for help, guidance, and correction. Appreciate small improvements in any of the four pillars and understand that big things come from the smallest changes.

When you watch Olympians, take the opportunity to look for examples of these five Mindset Principles. You will see countless moments of excellence in which athletes and teams displayed these techniques regardless of the sport or outcome. Often, you will see that being an inner winner is a common feature for every Olympic athlete and team.


I hope you enjoyed this bit of information. Once again, members of Team USA will be joining us at Susquehannock next summer in hopes of passing on these principles to the campers.

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