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How Weekend Athletes Get Olympic Edge

Mental tricks used by Olympians can improve your athletic performance.

Strengthening the 'Focus Muscle'

"You need to work to strengthen your 'focus muscle' and figure out what is distracting you," Susser says. Some distractions are positive, she adds, but an athlete needs to determine what distracts him or her negatively and come up with a way to combat it -- whether by tying their focus to their breathing or to somebody else on the team.How can a person strengthen his focus muscle?

"If an athlete gets sidetracked by the crowd, I would work with the athlete on how to tune out the crowd and change their focus to the skates or the ice," she says. The goal is to "switch it to something that will improve your performance instead of distract you and decrease your performance."

Setting Goals

Goal setting is key, whether you are Michelle Kwan or just want to play some golf over the weekend, Susser says. "The No. 1 thing is to have a good, realistic goal," Susser tells WebMD. "You want it to be S-M-A-R-T." That stands for specific, measurable, action-oriented, realistic (but challenging) and time-sensitive. "A goal is a road map. It's also a slam dunk in setting yourself up for success," she says. "For the weekend warrior, goal setting and feedback-reward mechanisms that maintain motivation are important," Tripps agrees.

"Focus on process goals such as what you need to do to be proficient or what you need to do to have the desired outcome," he says. For example, "don't worry about wearing a size 12 instead of a size 16. Instead think about what you would need to do to wear a size 12," he says. That's a process goal.

Establishing Rewards

"Come up with things that tie in rewards to goals like an athlete would," he says, "For an athlete, awards are winning, medals, and newspaper coverage. But for the average person it can be a day at the movies with friends."

Expectation management is another important tool. "If you take a couple of minutes to mentally prepare yourself -- that can help," Susser says. "The killer piece for a weekend warrior is expectation. It's really hard to go back after 20 years and play a sport again … and people don't prepare for that and get disappointed," Susser says.

And you have to see it before you can do it, Ungerleider says. "If you are doing the luge, you have to understand the ice ahead of time," he says. "Weekend warriors can rehearse the tennis match or golf game or swimming competition in their mind. It works for everybody. It's about preparing and taking the time to do it."

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Reviewed on October 18, 2006

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