“It’s not the load that weighs you down, it’s HOW you carry it.” - Lou Holtz
I remember as a teenager, feeling overwhelmed by the demands of school and the unending list of assignments that my teachers piled on each week. As a young student-athlete with big goals, big sacrifices and hard work were required to see those dreams become a reality. But if I’m honest, at times, the fears of not meeting my expectations or not being good enough were part of the package too. I remember moments throughout my athletic career where these heightened demands sparked tenacity and ambition to overcome them but there were also those moments when anxiety and worry got the better of me. Was it possible to deal with these stressors in a positive way? Was it possible for me to RISE above my fears and thrive amid the increasing demands of life as a student athlete?
Fast-forward to 15 years of growing through the highs and lows of sport and life, not much has changed about the journey, but navigating the unavoidable stressors and adversities along the way changed my perspective incredibly. Sport has taught me that stress is a lot of things - uncomfortable, stretching, taxing, but being bad is not one of them. Challenges may at times stir up some unpleasant feelings or painful physical responses but the difference between thriving with the load vs being broken down by it, is in HOW the load is carried. How we carry the load is primarily controlled by our perspective.
As a retired teen but a current student-athlete, I’m connecting with the coaches, parents and young athletes who also understand the importance of developing athletes pushing through pain and resistance. How we navigate the pressure applied at school or how we tackle the challenge of our workouts has alot to do with our perspective of the situation. I used to complain about the ridiculous amount of homework that my teacher gave each week. Seriously, 10 math problems would have been much more manageable than the 30 algebra problems due in 24hrs. Didn’t my teacher know that I needed my rest so that I could wake up for morning practice? Certain periods of the academic year can be just plain brutal but as I stuck with it; practicing the problems over and over again, I began to notice the improvement in my problem-solving technique. Looking back now, those moments were taxing but as I grappled with the material and opened up to the process of learning, I reaped the reward of success in my exams and mathematical knowledge that I could utilize in other areas of life. It would be so great if we could understand the purpose / benefits before the pressure is applied but most times, we just have to exercise trust in the person who is applying the pressure; a teacher, a coach, or even God above. As the load gets heavier, one of the most powerful tools we have is the willpower to choose our perspective. We can choose to look for the benefits of the pain. This mental move then makes a ripple effect in how we carry the load and how it affects us.
Another mental tool that each of us were born with is mindfulness. When demands are tall and the stakes are high, how we carry the pressure that accompanies momentous experiences becomes crucial to our success. Our ability to be aware of what we are thinking about is a valuable component in RISing and thriving in life. As I progressed in my career from winning national titles to regional titles and competing at collegiate, World and Olympic levels, the expectations that I had for myself and from others, escalated as well. There were times that I competed with huge amounts of uneasiness and worry about these expectations and my capabilities- especially after injury or a past failure. At competitions, this mental burden resulted in tense muscles, unfocused racing and ultimately sub-par performances.
After working with mental coaches, I learnt to better use this tool of mindfulness. I learnt to sort through my thoughts and feelings, to then choose my perspective and strategy. My challenge in dealing with the pressure was not something that I could just push though physically but rather it first had to be addressed mentally in order to have a different physical outcome.
Stress- both physical and mental- is triggered by external circumstances but managed by internal perspective. It is therefore not the load that breaks you down but how you carry it. I hope that you won’t be fooled this April into thinking that stress is bad but depending on your perspective and how well you utilize your innate tools of willpower and mindfulness, you too can RISE and thrive through any season of life.
Written by: Cherelle Thompson, OLY RISE MindPower Coach
RISE Athletes is a Mindset Development Program for teen athletes, led by Olympic, Professional, and Elite Athlete Mentors. Learn more at rise-athletes.com
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