The 2014 Winter Olympic Games began a day before the opening ceremonies in Sochi Russia, which may have posed a challenge for some Olympians and their ability to prepare mentally.
This seemed to be the case for Team USA’s first Olympic Figure Skating Team specifically, men’s short program skater, Jeremy Abbott and pairs short program skaters Marissa Castelli/Simon Shnapir.
The opening ceremonies provide athletes with that “game time” moment where they make the transition from celebrities and individuals in training to world-class athletes and our top competitors. It is an opportunity for athletes to release some of the nerves and pressure leading up to the event and fully immerse into the moment and what it means to be an Olympian.
Jeremy Abbott kicked off the 2014 Olympics for the United States with a disappointing performance. The 28 year old four-time U.S. national champion let nerves take over his opening performance scoring only 65.65 and putting Team USA Figure Staking at a vast disadvantage moving forward.
Abbott is known for having difficulty performing up to his potential on the world stage. He struggles with extreme nerves and as a result, he has never had the success he is capable of at the international level. Abbott has yet to reach the podium in the World Championships (0-4) and placed 9th in the 2010 Winter Olympics, a performance that may have been haunting him tonight.
Abbott has the physical ability and talent to be an Olympic champion but he lacks the key component separating Olympic participants from Olympic Medalists. Mental Toughness!
Mentally tough Olympians have the mental skills needed to top the podium which include confidence, focus, trust, mental preparation, and composure. Historically, Abbott has struggled with nerves on the big stage. Another contributing factor may have been the solid performance by Russian skater Yevengy Plushenko (91.39) prior to Abbott.
His mental barriers become evident during his warm-ups. With each mistake in warm-ups you could see his frustration turn to doubt and doubt turn to a lack of confidence.
Abbott seemed to beat himself before it was time to perform. It was obviously rattled in the warm ups and could not pull it together. Once he fell early in his routine his doubts were confirmed eliminating any chances for him to recover.
The downfall to Abbotts approach was twofold. First, involves his mental preparation or lack thereof. He let the frustration and doubt from his warm-ups transfer over into his performance.
Second was his inability to regroup after falling early in his routine. His routine from then on lacked a sense of urgency, which was clear when he went for a Triple Axel and could only land a single, costing him 8 points.
Luckily, Abbott has one more event to go in the 2014 Winter Olympics. One more opportunity to reach the Olympic podium before retiring at the end of the year.
He had a flawless performance at the National Championship just weeks ago, so the talent and ability to succeed is there. However, given his opening performance and the mental barriers that limit his performance on the big stage; Abbott must bring his A-Game mentally.
In order to reach the podium Abbott must:
1. Recognize that he was not prepared mentally, rather than criticize the physical aspects of his performance.
2. Put his performance in the team event behind him and move forward. Dwelling on the event, his score and the mistakes he made last night or in past performances will not help him focus on the task at hand, which is prepare mentally for the next event.
3. Use the opening ceremony to separate himself from his last performance and make the transition from Jeremy Abbott who chokes on nerves to Jeremy Abbott the National Champion and US men’s top figure skater. Fully immerse into the mindset of an Olympic athlete during the opening ceremony. This includes high levels of confidence and a game plan.
4. In the days leading up to the event write out all the reasons he has to be confident in his ability to reach the podium. For example, what earned him the opportunity to compete for gold? He should talk to the people who support him and concentrate on building a game plan around his strengths.
5. View the event just like any other event. There is no difference except for the perceived significance of the event. Same song, same routine, same skates, same ice.
6. Relax and embrace the nerves. Nerves are a natural response that helps athletes prepare for the game. At extreme levels they have a negative effect. When you get those butterflies it is your mind telling your body its game time!
7. Finally, leave it all on the ice. This is your last opportunity at the Olympic podium but do not let that discourage you. Use it to give 100% from start to finish. That is all you can ask of yourself.
Our team at Mental Edge Athletics wishes Jeremy Abbott and the rest of the 2014 USA Winter Olympic team the best of luck… Bring home the gold!