Becoming an Olympian is no small feat. Gabby Douglas, Dominique Dawes, and famed veterans like Mary Lou Retton invested years of their life, and thousands of dollars, reaching for a goal not many reaches. Though reaching the Olympics is a dream for most, the act of training hard can teach valuable life lessons in commitment, perseverance, and follow-through.
In sports and life, the sooner you work towards accomplishing your daily chores/goals/workouts (homework), the sooner your environments will respond and the more free time you’ll have. Sometimes worry leads us to putting off a certain task because we’re afraid we won’t be good enough at it. Instead, attack new challenges head on and get them out of the way.
This goes for new routines at the gym, a homework assignment that feels too big and too overwhelming, and even dealing with those uncomfortable relationships that have been bugging you. Have a friend who doesn’t treat you well? Don’t ride it out and wait for the problem to go away, speak your mind now and clear the air, leaving mental space for you to get back to training.
This one is huge and often overlooked. Sleep and a training schedule can be hard to combine, especially after a school day that has loaded you with homework.
Don’t skip out on priorities like school and your routine, but do turn off social media, the television and any outside electronic stimulation at least an hour before bedtime, maybe more. If you’re a teen this may mean skipping the catch-up on Snap Chat or Instagram and instead, work on winding down for sleep.
Do you have a gymnast who has trouble winding down at the end of the day? Here are some solid strategies to help them get much-needed rest:
- Try Dr. Andrew Weil’s “4-7-8” technique for adaptive yoga breathing to help anyone fall asleep. This technique can also be used in the car to help you wind down on your busy day.
- Cool down the house: Turn down the thermostat and warm up beds with more blankets or heating pads. A cool room will help you sleep better.
- Remove all electronics from the bedroom – and skip using them at least an hour before sleep.
Vary your exercise
Gymnastics uses lots of muscle groups to accomplish great dynamic feats. As much as “practice, practice, practice” will get you to the perfect finish, your body needs alternating forms of exercise to get in peak form – and your brain does too. Switching up your routine will keep your body and muscles actively working to learn.
Ever feel like you’ve hit a plateau? That’s probably because your body (and brain) have gotten bored and aren’t working to overcome new challenges. Beyond this, any good athlete will tell you that diversity in your week can help keep you agile. Consider adding running, walking, or swimming to your routine to help your mind flex more than just the usual muscles.
Hydration & Diet
This seems like a no-brainer, but so many of us are guilty of getting caught up in a busy schedule and skipping out on our eight glasses of water a day. Your gymnast needs just as much hydration, if not more, and sugary sodas, juice, and sports drinks aren’t the same as pure, clean H2O.
As tempting as a treat after your workout is, you should use every calorie to build a strong and healthy body and brain. If you load up on processed foods and sugars, it’s unlikely your machine will get in gear for big competitions.
If you’re not already into fruits and vegetables, consider that Olympians would eat them for their amazing fuel without hesitation. Maybe you can teach yourself the power of food too, and learn to eat them to support your goal. This is a lifelong habit worth keeping.
Know your limits
This is the time in your life to practice saying NO. Watch how much you take on in your daily and weekly schedule and consider how that will affect your training. I know it’s hard to let down a friend or feel like you’re not part of what everyone else is doing, but unless you are getting real joy from an event, or a person, let yourself put YOU first.
This goes for gymnasts and their families alike. Athletes and successful people from all walks of life set limits and stick to them. They also focus on what drives them spiritually and mentally and steer clear of people and things that drain them, limiting their success. You can do this too, and you can make gymnastics your reason. If there comes a time when gymnastics no longer is the center of your world (but of course still a treasured part of it), you can use your self-training to harness limits in other parts of your life.
The final and most important element of being your absolute is Discipline. This is the little voice in your head that tells you not to hit the snooze button. This is that whisper in your ear that says “It’s time to train,” this is the sound of your coach echoing about in your brain “one more time”. Discipline is the act of going to work, at whatever your work is, come rain or shine, exhaustion or distraction. It’s the drive to be consistent even when easier options present themselves, and it will lead to great things for you in your career.
Gymnast Dominique Dawes speaks about her success harnessing her inner drive to new generations of gymnasts. She recommends finding what it is about gymnastics that you love to help get you to the top. Maybe it’s the thrill of competition, maybe it’s working on a team, or maybe it’s just the act of using your body on the floor. Whatever your drive, lock onto that. “There are many times in your career that you won’t be able to see your goal just around the corner; there’s going to be uncertainties in your way… You go back to your inner drive “ Says Dawes on her personal website. She also recommends coming up with a motto to remind you of your goals when times are challenging. She chose “D3”, standing for Determination, Dedication, & Desire. What will yours be?
Know this, you are as much a star human as any Olympian for committing to something you love and giving it your all. Carry that with you throughout your life and you will be a champion – it’s guaranteed.