I love the Olympics.
It’s inspiring to watch people who have worked their entire lives for a single moment on the world stage. When it comes to performance improvement, these athletes leave no stone unturned in their pursuit of excellence. The best training, coaching, nutrition and of course, mental preparation all have their place.
It’s also a chance to see how world-class performers operate under pressure. Watching the 10K Biathlon event (cross-country skiing + shooting) this week we saw an underdog, Germany’s Arnd Peiffer, claim the gold. The post-race interview (which I’m not able to find online yet) was revealing. Peiffer emphasized that his key to victory was not his technique, training or nutrition….it was….relaxation!
Having a lackluster year competing meant his expectations were modest. His stress was low heading into the Games. As reported on Olympics.com:
“It’s my third Olympic Winter Games, and in the last two sprints, in Vancouver 2010 and Sochi 2014, I had two and three penalties because I put myself under so much pressure,” Peiffer explains. However, the German explained that those experiences may have helped him, as he felt under less pressure. “I was a bit more relaxed I think,” he added.
Red Gerard, 17-year old snowboarding phenom, was another excellent example of what happens when you approach high stakes situations with relaxation and ease. Red approached his first Olympic Games, not with the intent to dominate, but with the intention to merely have fun. The result was a gold medal in the Slopestyle Snowboarding event.
As told by his long-time friend to a Journalist this week: Red had the perfect mindset for this course. He was just here to have fun. He was open-minded. He looked at the course from another angle. He had no expectations. He was the underdog. He just wanted to land the run.
It’s a mistake to think that to perform our best that we need to feel super-motivated, overconfident and pumped up to win at all costs. It seems to me that there is a mindset with more potential and promise. This is a mindset of relaxation and openness, of low expectations and full embrace of the experience as it unfolds.