What makes an Olympic athlete? Of course amazing athletic talent, but one thing I think many fail to acknowledge is the extreme level of mental toughness that is required. Athletic talent can only take one so far. It’s the mental game that takes someone all the way.
Following a fifth-place finish in the men’s gymnastics team all-around, team member Alex Naddour told NBC, “Fifth in the world. It’s still pretty good.” Overall the team was disappointed in their finish.
The U.S. men’s Olympic gymnastics team is a perfect example of mental toughness. After finishing fifth at the 2012 London Games, the men felt they had much to prove in Rio. Unfortunately mistakes cost the team from making the medal stand, and they placed fifth once again.
Although disappointed, there was still plenty of gymnastics left, and the men’s mental toughness would decide how the remainder of the games would go. Two nights after the team all-around, team captain Chris Brooks and Sam Mikulak returned to the arena for the men’s individual all-around, where they finished 14th and seventh, respectively, out of a field of 24. The individual event finals still remain. There really is a lot of gymnastics left.
Watching the Olympics one can see the mental toughness of these athletes in every event. In volleyball a team gives up a set — will players be strong enough to win it back or will they let the woes of one set determine the overall outcome?
The pool has been another great avenue for mental toughness. America’s Missy Franklin, a breakout star in 2012, almost didn’t make the team for Rio, and many don’t have high expectations for her now that she is there. But despite a rough last three years in the pool, Franklin continues to be praised for her steadfast positivity, and she won’t be leaving the games empty-handed. She helped the women’s 4×200-meter relay team win gold and has a chance of making the podium in the 200-meter backstroke.
For as long as these athletes have been molding and perfecting their athletic talents, they have been doing the same to their brains. Obsession. It’s a word that holds a negative connotation, but it is what is required to make the Olympic stage. Mental toughness starts with the ability to wake up every morning and not skip a workout, knowing that if you do you are taking a step away from accomplishing your dream.
That mental toughness continues to grow with every competition. Not all of these Olympians were stars straight out of the gate. Some of them failed time and time again, but unlike some who turned their backs on the sport thinking they didn’t have the talent, Olympians persevere.
We can see this mental toughness with great athletes around the world, and it is this mental toughness that professional athlete hopefuls should be taking note of. If you can’t drop the baton in the 4×100-meter relay and get back on the track to win the 200-meter dash, the Olympics are not for you.
“Never give up,” is a saying used in all aspects of life, but sports have adopted it as their own moniker. We learn the greatest perseverance through sports. There is always going to be a winner and a loser, but what are you willing to give up, what are you willing to do, to ensure that winning is a possibility?
Just take it from the dominant Simone Biles.
“If you ever have a mistake, you try to just kind of forget about it because if you carry that with you for the rest of the routine then the rest of your routine might not go as planned,” she said. “So you just kind of shake it off and you just continue your routine like you didn’t fall.”