In Search of the Winner's edge:  Mental Toughness & Teamwork

The "beep" goes off before your routine...suddenly you draw a blank...ohmygod...  howdoIstart.   The tension rises in your body, your legs feel numb and you just want to get to the end of the music already.  This isn't how practice was.  Everybody's watching. Your legs are burning now.  Will this ever end?

Sound familiar?  Most of us want to believe that lots of lessons and practice will make us great skaters.  It's certainly what everybody else says.  But what is it that sets outstanding skaters apart from the skaters who struggle through their performances?  It's called mental toughness, or put in other words, grace under pressure.  Too often unless these traits are already integrated into the personality, the skater does not learn them from their scheduled lesson time.  Truth is, anyone can learn these skills with the right input and the right attitude.

99% of our lives is in our minds. It's the thoughts we hold and the mental "self talk" we engage in.  We've known this for a long time.  We also know that what we dwell on grows in our reality; i.e., if we dwell on failure, we fail.  So why aren't more of us successful in our endeavors?  There are several reasons:

  1. We don't realize how powerful our minds are.  We allow the media and our peers shape our thoughts, so we become slaves to our outer worlds.
  2. Most of our skating pros aren't equipped or trained to integrate mental toughness into our lessons; and many of them don't place as high a value on it compared to teaching the nuts and bolts of skills (that is not to say that this is "right" or "wrong"; it just is).
  3. We don't know  how to reprogram our conscious thoughts.  We just think that  these thoughts that break down our confidence and esteems just "appear".
  4. The vast majority of us have limited visions and expectations of ourselves and actually may believe on a subconscious level, that we don't deserve to be winners.  This comes from subtle messages during our upbringing and negative social conditioning.             

So how is this expressed by the skater?  The classic example is called "tanking", or withdrawing  from the negative emotions when faced with failure.  The skater stops taking risks, as winning isn't important enough to give his or her best.  You know them.  They're the whiners, the complainers and the blamers...who inspired the skater's excuse T-shirt.  Another example is simply anger.  Anger is fear of the unknown or fear of being out of control and it excuses you from doing well.  "Choking" is another maladaptive way we deal with pressure.  The skater is overwhelmed with nerves and vulnerable, which causes blank minds and frozen body positions.  It is also characterized by those who conveniently get sick or suffer an injury the day before the meet.

Mental toughness is an acquired skill in the area of balancing the emotions.  It requires positive thinking and positive emotions.  It really comes down to how well the skater can recognize and control their feelings and emotions.  The good news is that physiological and psychological components can be learned and can help the skater to perform at their best, even when under pressure.

But there's even more than mental toughness.  One needs to consider that they are not only a single competitor, but they are also a team member; an integral part of a skating club that, as a unit, represents and supports our skating endeavors.  And yet there are so few clubs that, as a group, understand the elements of team building, cohesion and the dynamics of group support .  Does your club?  Team behaviors are the result of sharing a common direction with people and working off of each other's supportive energy.  The common focus of the group becomes as important as the individual's personal needs and gains in the realm of competition and performance.  Like mental toughness, these are learned skills that require knowledge and practice.

I believe that dynamic sports events start with dynamic people.  When we open ourselves to the knowledge and skills that could change our self perceptions and raise our self esteems, there is an abundance of energy and self confidence that emerges.  And you can bet that the skater's performance out there will change for the better. 

Would you like to see roller skating reach new levels?  Are you interested an elevating your level of achievement out there on the floor (as well as in life)?  Can you imagine a skating club that really has its priorities in order?  There are people and companies
in existence today that specialize in offering this kind of education to skating clubs all over the world, with notable results.  Have someone ( or you!) in your club look into some of these programs and see which ones could benefit you and your skating club.  Then see what a difference it makes  in everyone's performance, both on and off the floor! 
     Go for it.   

Luanne Pennesi is a  professional public speaker who was a competitive dance skater in the early 70's and throughout the 1980's.  A registered nurse and wholistic practitioner, she is the Executive Director of Wholistic Nursing Networks, an organization dedicated to  expanding people's awareness of themselves and their health.  Luanne speaks throughout the United States on topics related to stress management, esteem building, mental toughness, communication skills and natural approaches to health.  She remains a loyal advocate of roller skating and can be found at 516-921-8475 or write to:
Wholistic Nursing Networks, PO Box 1222 Syosset, NY  11791