During my tenure on the US Ski team I had a counselor. Or if you want to sound fancy, you could say a “Sports Psychologist.” Everyone on the girls’ team did and they still do. Mine was a woman by the name of “Pam Lemons” and wow, was she spunky. She drove a red mini cooper, always had eccentric nails, and shared the aura and energy of a mom, an aunt, a coach, and a confidant. She reminded me of Mrs. Frizz from the Magic School Bus book series only Pam was a heck of a lot better listener than I’d imagine Mrs. Frizz to be.
The US Ski Team and the US Olympic Committee have people like Pam around to address the mental side of sport and athletic competition. Counselors help set goals, manage emotions, and build confidence and resilience. In my personal experience we anticipated scenarios I might encounter on the course while racing and we planned potential outcomes so I could be flexible and adaptive. We learned communication skills, discussed team dynamics and designed what I call a “sustainability” or “happiness” plan for (in my case) living and traveling on the World Cup for 4.5 solid months in Europe.
Beyond sport Pam and I would tackle future plans and talk about boys, babies, health, and dreams beyond sport. Pam was whatever I needed her to be at the moment. Because I knew everything we discussed was 100% confidential I never feared retribution or judgement. She was never consulted to pick Olympic rosters or World Cup relays. During our sessions she was there for me and me only. She provided a valuable ear whenever I needed her and after talking to Pam I always left with a plan or a sense of relief – or more often than not, both.
I sincerely believe that the mental side of sport is severely under-utilized and under-trained. How much time do you spend lifting weights or bounding uphill only have your mind or negative self-talk unravel your performance in a race? I don’t think it’s always the strongest athlete that wins the race but the athlete who uses a combination of mind and body.
That said, here are a few things to consider and think about when approaching the upcoming ski season:
- Create specific, measurable goals for your season and write them down! Putting a pen to paper makes them real and sharing them with people you trust keep you accountable. Goals should be outcome and process based.
- Find methods to control your anxiety if you experience pre-race nerves. It is normal!! Look into diaphragmatic breathing or “grounding techniques” to calm yourself and settle your parasympathetic nervous system. One of my favorite tactics has always been to apply glitter on my face or the faces of willing teammates. Yes, we did that at the Olympics too….
- Create a “purpose map” and know why you are doing what you do. Your goals should propel yourself towards what motivates you – not your teammate or your parents. Are you skiing to win state or simply to have fun and be healthy? Your daily actions, dedication, drive and sacrifices should match your purpose map. (For the record, it is absolutely possible to have fun and desire top results simultaneously!)
Pam’s unconditional support and the integration of mental training was key to my career. I’m convinced it allowed me to do things I would have previously thought athletically impossible for my abilities. Beyond that, her role in my life provided a model for what I wanted to become; I want to be someone’s Pam. I am excited to combine my near-decade work as a coach with my time as a professional Olympic skier and my academic credentials to provide this support to athletes and individuals in the State of Alaska and beyond. This past August I launched Holly Brooks LLC Counseling, Consulting and Coaching which focuses on the mental side of sports. Using a strengths-based, positive psychology model I am working with individuals on a multitude of topics including getting to the next step, performance anxiety, team dynamics, the mental side of injury, disordered eating, transition, and more. If you are curious about my services please check out my website and do not hesitate to give me a call!