Mental Preparation of Elite Athletes

The Olympics start this Friday and one can only imagine what’s going through the athletes’ heads in preparation for such a high-profile event. At any sporting event, but particularly events at this elite level, it’s not only about physical ability, but also about handling the mental aspect of competition.

In the Dana Foundation’s latest briefing paper, “The Mental Preparation of High-Level Athletes,” decorated Olympic gymnast Shannon Miller says, “The physical aspect of the sport can only take you so far. The mental aspect has to kick in, especially when you’re talking about the best of the best. In the Olympic Games, everyone is talented. Everyone trains hard. Everyone does the work. What separates the gold medalists from the silver medalists is simply the mental game.”

So how do athletes prepare for this mental game? In the paper, Miller and “Magnificent Seven” teammate Dominique Moceanu discuss their most reliable techniques for remaining calm and focused during competition, and neuroscientists with expertise in attention, brain development, action representation, and stress look into the science behind their success.

–Ann L. Whitman

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