Mental training critical for Olympians

Competing at the Olympic level requires superior physical training and skill. Today, mental training has become a huge component in preparing for competition at this level.
One obstacle to performing at the highest level is anxiety. Performance anxiety is the result of a malfunction in a complex neurologic system.
The human brain is organized into two basic structures. The diencephalon is the reflex portion. Some examples of these reflexes include breathing or removing an extremity from a painful surface. The telencephalon is the thinking portion that controls cognitive activity.
The “fight or flight” response is a reflex that includes a wave of adrenaline resulting in increased heart rate, rapid breathing and tremors. This response is typically brought on by fear. When this reflex redirects the thinking portion of the brain, havoc can ensue.
If the “fight or flight” response can be channeled by the cognitive regions, the energy produced can result in a phenomenal performance. It is the goal of sports psychologists to provide the necessary tools for athletes to harness this energy and direct it appropriately.
Similar to physical training, this is accomplished by practice. Mental and physical repetition of a skill or presentation makes the process more automatic and smooth.
A basic approach involves identifying a goal, visualizing the goal and then blocking out distractions.
“The mental side of sport is actually the mental side of preparation. Many athletes work hard but they don’t work with purpose. One principal aspect of sports psychology is learning how to integrate the mental side with physical preparation,” states Dr. Douglas Gardner, a sports psychologist who works with many amateur and professional athletes.
Application of this approach to training for any endeavor can result in new levels of success.