BigO Tyres

GET MENTAL: Live from the London Olympics, Across the Pond! GET MENTAL: Live from the London Olympics, Across the Pond!
EDITOR’S NOTE: Erika Carlson is a practicing sports psychologist who has been a friend and contributor to SportStars for quite some time. She’s written columns... GET MENTAL: Live from the London Olympics, Across the Pond!

EDITOR’S NOTE: Erika Carlson is a practicing sports psychologist who has been a friend and contributor to SportStars for quite some time. She’s written columns for us which have run both in the magazine and online. When she told us she would be attending the London Olympics, we asked if we could come along – er.. if she could share some blog posts with us from across the pond! Here are her five animated entries, with the most recent at the top. Enjoy!

Wimbledon – Tennis

Last days from the London Olympics Assignment • Posted on August 6, 2012 by Erika

American bias, Maria Maria and a hot chocolate update!

Another day, another AMAZING venue! The “Get Mental” takeaway? Staying disciplined to your routines.

This time we arrived at Wimbledon for Olympic tennis. Here’s the weird world I’m living in at the moment. Wimbledon felt a bit anti-climatic.

Coming off of Beach Volleyball (AKA 4 hour dance party) just 12 hours ago, the subdued Tennis crowd felt…well…underwhelming.

We were at Wimbledon nonetheless, so we absorbed every ounce of this leg of our Olympic experience. We had tickets for Court 1, just next to Centre Court where you’ve seen the final matches on TV.

One dynamic I’ve become well aware of here on the worlds biggest stage, is that there is not much public support for American teams. Is it that people like to cheer for the underdogs?

Every time we’ve seen US teams, they’ve been the statistical favorite. This obviously isn’t the case in every sport but just so happens in the competitions we’ve attended.

Is it that the Eastern Europeans just have a stronger contingent here in at the London Olympics? Maybe.

Or is it my typical American bias (“We are the best, why are they not cheering for us?”).  Hard to say…due my strong American bias.   J

We had the privilege of watching the “Russian Maria’sSharapova and Kirilenko, battle it out.

There were many jokes during their match, “Go Maria!!!”  “Go Russia!!” Wimbledon humor…an unexpected surprise!

This was a great match to watch from a mental perspective.

Sharapova was slow to start. I am not familiar enough with her style of play to know if this is simply the way she plays or if she was a bit off early in the match. Regardless, she worked her way back (6-2, 6-3). This was a semi-final, so the winner would go on to face the Serena Williams in the final.

The biggest observable difference between the two Russian’s was how they managed between points.

Kirilenko quickly got back into position, either serve or serve-receive, and was on her toes, ready to go.

I wondered if this makes her competitors feel some urgency to get going, creating a good psychological advantage.

On the other hand, Sharapova looked very focused and purposeful in between points. She slowed down, she picked at her strings, turned her back to her opponent walking to the back of the court.

Once she turned around, she was ready. Again, it’s her consistency that stands out. Sharapova clearly is disciplined with her routine and in time, it paid off.

This is exactly the point that I am always trying to get across to my clients, routines create familiarity, regardless of conditions and staying disciplined to your routines will allow you to perform through anything. Excellent mental performance with results to match!

I wanted to take a moment to update those of you who are waiting on pins and needles wanting to know where Brittan’s best hot chocolate can be found. You’ll be happy to know that Ryan has been diligent in his research. He can identify a hot chocolate location from a mile away. And as his Research Supervisor, I am obliged to comply with each and every request.   Ryan rates each Hot Chocolate on 3 attributes:

  1. Temperature
  2. Chocolatiness
  3. Whipped Creaminess

Here’s what we can reveal so far; details make a difference. A touch of chocolate sauce drizzle, some sprinkles, and simply including whipped cream are a sure way to get top ratings.

Ryan has rated everything from the run of the mill (yet highly rated) Starbuck’s Hot Chocolate to the one-of-a-kind, home made hot cocoas of Northern Scotland. He wants to keep the results secret until his research is complete. Feel free to send him some encouragement and support to continue on his path to great hot chocolate!!!

Battling the Negative Spiral in Beach Volleyball

Posted on August 6, 2012 by Erika from the London Olympics

Hopefully you’ve had a chance to watch some Olympic Beach Volleyball on TV. I finally caught a few matches here on the BBC after attending several matches in London.

It’s pretty obvious on TV that this event is energetic and fun, but really doesn’t completely capture the energy of Horse Guards Parade live.

This venue is ON FIRE!

The Mall and Downing StreetFirst of all, the location is iconic. The Prime Ministers residence overlooks the venue, which is also flanked by the The Mall and Downing Street. Truly, a one-of-kind venue.

The event planners did an amazing job of bringing the beach to the city. The upbeat music was blasting and much of the event felt more like a dance party (complete with Horse Guards Parade Dancers!) than an Olympic competition…but there was competition…Excellent competition!

I am huge fan of Volleyball. It is the first sport I worked with as a professional in my career and I love the mix of power, athleticism and communication required to succeed.

Volleyball is very much momentum sport.

One of the key mental components to momentum sports is letting go of mistakes quickly. Not letting negative emotion take over.

The women’s match we saw between Great Britain and Austria exemplified this phenomenon well.

The GB ladies certainly had the “home court advantage, the crowd was really behind them. But, they did make common mental mistakes. And following technical mistakes, their body language changed.

They looked down (a tell-tail sign that an athlete is over thinking), their feet slowed down, and their frustration began to show.  

Once a team gets sucked into the negative spiral (negative thinking=negative emotion=poor performance=more negative thinking) it’s very tough to stop.

How can you stop a negative spiral?

  1.  Learning to recognize negative thinking has started is key.

Negative thinking, in its early stages often takes two forms.

  •  Focusing on past events, usually a mistake, which creates feelings of frustration and anger
  •  Focusing on future events, “what ifs” which tend to create nervousness and anxiety.

Stop it! This is one of those “easier-said-than-done” skills. Practice and discipline are required to become consistently successful.

Here are a couple of useful skills:

  1. Stick to instructions. What is your job, right now? “Look.”  “Explode.”
  2. Ask yourself, “Does thinking this way help me play my best?”

If not, change it (back to instructions) and get to the present.

The Austrian’s remained strong, consistent and seemed to get mentally tougher as the competition went on, ending in victory for the Schwaiger sisters.

In contrast to the Brits, they looked relaxed, focused and seemed to be enjoying the whole experience. While you could argue that their body language reflected the fact that they were winning, it was a close match so the score was up and down.

I would argue that they were winning because of their champion-like body language.

They never mentally let down.

They worked point by point, slowly, but consistently.

Their eyes stayed up, their feet kept moving. By they way, both of those behaviors are completely in your control. I encourage you to identify the times you find yourself battling negative spirals and practice staying disciplined in your present thinking, keep your eyes up and feet moving.

London Olympics Event #2 – Weightlifting

Posted on August 2, 2012 by Erika

The Olympic Spirit in Sport and Religion

This was my first experience watching weightlifting live.

Walking into the Excel Arena, I wasn’t really sure what to expect as a spectator, however, I did acknowledge that each and every competitor was achieving a huge milestone in their life, competing in the Olympics!

Luckily, I attended with a good friend and experienced lifter who was able to give lots of insight into how incredibly technical this sport is.

I, like so many, assumed that weightlifting was about who was the strongest. I couldn’t have been more wrong.

This sport is about technical precision, strength and mental performance. I would highly recommend watching this sport for several reasons:

1)   Fun! Weightlifting was really fun to watch! The crowd was VERY involved in every lift and cheering seemed to make a big difference. There was dramatic music that played while the athlete approached and completed the lift. Successful lifts were followed with a burst of upbeat dance music! This was not passive spectatorship.

2)   Mental Skills. Weightlifters do an EXCELLENT job of going through their pre-lift mental routines. Prior to each lift the athletes used their own unique combination of imagery, breathing, progressive relaxation and intensity building. These are the skills I teach day in and day out. I am always encouraging my athletes to look for these very specific behaviors in other athletes on TV or anytime they are observing sporting events. Weightlifting will now be on my ‘recommended list’ of must see TV.

3)   Athleticism. Chances are you’ve done a few squats in your life. Chances are you have not completed a full (butt to the floor) squat with an overhead lift, AKA, a Snatch. So much blood is required in the legs, one the competitors stumbled off the stage twice feeling light-headed… not enough blood to go around!

One of the lifters really stood out to me. Not only was she a great lifter, (she was sitting second after today’s preliminary) but she was a Muslim woman, Ghada Hassine of Tunsia.

The Olympic rules had very recently been amended to allow her to wear a full body suit, so she and other Muslim women could maintain their religious beliefs and still compete. This is a great example of the Olympic spirit at work and is a big reason why I love the Olympics so much!

So many questions went through my head. How did she get started in weightlifting?

Did she have family and community support for her sport participation?

Had she experienced “push back” from her community while pursuing her sport?

Just this spring I was asking myself the same questions, only this time I was surfing in Orange County. There in the surf zone was another Muslim girl, again, completely covered from head to toe teaching herself to surf! I was so impressed!

And to add to the scene, standing there on beach cheering her on was her father and brothers! She was very determined to “pop up” and she did just that… a few times!! Keeping with the culture of women who surf, I cheered her on.

I do love to see women who are determined to go after what they want, despite any obstacles (real or perceived) whether it’s trying to stand up on a wave or win an Olympic gold medal!

July 28th, 2012

London Olympics Continued by Erika

Saturday the 28th, we arrived in the hustle and bustle of London, a welcomed contrast to the serene countryside.

We hit the ground running, getting to our first event Sunday morning, Eventing Dressage. I have been an equestrian almost my entire life (3rd generation in my family) so attending an Olympic Equestrian event is something that I have dreamed about ever since 1984.

My equestrian discipline is show jumping which is still to come. The equestrian events take place in Greenwich Park, with Queen Elizabeth’s home overlooking the venue. My second Royal encounter happened while walking through Greenwich Village. We were stopped on a corner while an entourage of police passed by with a black Range Rover following behind.

There she is again, Princess Anne!

Greenwich Park was an exciting place to be! There were people from so many different countries there to support their countrymen and women. The Dutch happened to settle right in front of us. Orange shirts, pants, shoes, handbags and, of course, orange cowboy hats.

If you’ve ever been to a major sporting event where the Dutch are involved, you cannot miss their orange pride.  So through the sea of orange, I do manage to have a great view of the arena.  Certainly one of the most pristine dressage courts I’ve ever seen.

A little fact for you, equestrian sports are the only sports where men and women compete directly against each other.  And, while the horse is often regarded as the athlete in equestrian sports, believe me when I tell you that riders are top-notch athletes themselves.  The art of equestrian sports is making it look easy.  It’s not.

Dressage is a sport of precision and elegance. Horse and rider must perform a standard test on which they are scored by 3 judges and those scores are averaged. This is only the first day score, as this is 3-Day Eventing.

Day 2 is the very tough Cross-Country and day 3 is the Show Jumping phase. Eventing is the horse-rider equivalent of a triathlon.

The ride of the day was easy for me to choose.

I am always trying to find mental toughness in action.

Not too hard to do at the Olympics, however, I still want to see someone’s performance that stands above the rest. And not just because they earned the best score, but because they competed exceptionally well.

That ride, in my opinion, was by Kristina Cooke of Great Britain and her horse, Frolic.

What made her ride stand out?

It was the conditions under which she had to test. While the beginning of the day was blue skies, light wind and comfortably warm, when Kristina and Frolic entered the arena, black clouds, thunder, wind and driving rain, suddenly appeared.

However, this is the Olympics and the show must go on. While I was tempted to run for cover myself to escape the cold and rain (I was in shorts!), I reminded myself that she was competing in the Olympics. This was her moment.

If she could compete in these conditions, surely I could sit and watch. And, now I’m very curious to see how she and Frolic will handle this very British weather.

Had she practiced and planned for driving rain, wind and flying plastic shields in the court?

Could she stay composed and keep her horses attention on the test?

Would she become distracted by the poor weather conditions that seemed to greet her the moment she stepped into the arena? 

NOT ONE LITTLE BIT!  She rode with focus, precision and grace.

In equestrian sports, the horses behavior is often is a strong indicator of what the rider is thinking and feeling. Frolic had every reason to spook (or run away … horses have very strong ‘flight’ instincts) yet he stayed focused on his job, performing the movements very well, responding to her aids without hesitation. And, because they are a GB team members, you could feel the tension in the air as the crowd held their collective breath, hoping for the best.

Following their final halt, the crowd BURST into a roar of excitement!! Frolic pranced off… horses know when they have done a good job. Both horse and rider swelled with pride!

The weather, in any outdoor sport, is the ultimate uncontrollable.

Heat, cold, wind, rain, hail. You simply must play through.

Your attitude about the weather will have a lot to do with how well you cope with bad conditions. You could argue the Kristina and Frolic had the ‘home field advantage’ in yesterdays competition. They are British, after all.

Are they used to these conditions? Have they practiced in driving down pours and wind swept arenas? I don’t know.

In practice you often have a choice; Do you stay and work on getting comfortable in uncomfortable conditions or do you wait it out and hope in 20 minutes the sun will be out and you can practice more comfortably then?

It certainly looks as though Kristina and Frolic have trained well, they were ready for anything.

Often times when we show up to compete, we think we are battling the other team or other competitor. We practice our test, our offense, or our defense.

Controlling the Uncontrollables

Too often we forget that we need to practice for uncontrollables, and it’s often those who are prepared to face any conditions that can rise above the rest. Mental toughness is often about excelling despite uncontrollables and not wishing for the “easy” route.

Homework – What weather conditions might your face in your next competition? How can you prepare for those?

Be ready for anything.

Hello From the London Olympics!

Posted on July 18, 2012

Erika Carlson, SportStars INSIDER and Mental Trainer reporting in. I’m here to experience my first Olympic Games.

This is something I’ve dreamed of since I was 12 years old. I’ve been trying for 28 years to understand why my mom didn’t take me to the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles. After all, we were only  hours away and sports, especially the Olympics, were always a big deal in our house.

For our journey to these London Olympics, I’ve brought along my son, Ryan. He is 12 years old and has taken on the job of identifying the best hot chocolate in all of Britain. I’ll keep you posted on where to find it. His research, so far, is quite thorough.

My journey began in Scotland attending the pre-Olympic sports medicine conference, International Conference for Science, Education, Medicine in Sport (ICSEMIS) in Glasgow.

My first Royal encounter was with Anne, The Princess Royal (and Olympic Equestrian) who officially opened the conference.  The conference was a fantastic experience. I always enjoy keeping up to date on research and broadening my network of fellow sports medicine professionals.

Following the conference we spent several days traveling all over Scotland – a truly an amazingly beautiful and friendly country. We ate, drank, saw the sights, met many new many new friends and decompressed a bit from our very busy lives.

Follow along with my (and Ryan’s) journey as we take in the Olympics, live from London!

Mental Training, Strategy, Planning With Purpose Produces Positives. Sports Training.

Erika Westhoff

Erika Westhoff is the CEO and certified mental trainer at EW Performance in Pleasanton, CA. She has been a contributing author to SportStars since 2010.

No comments so far.

Be first to leave comment below.

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *