Friday, August 6, 2004 - Athlete Perspective
Haywood Report: Perspective

By: Becky Laakso

This month our team had the privilege of meeting and working with exercise psychologist Cal Botterill. Cal has an impressive list of accomplishments, including consulting for five NHL teams and being a part of the Canadian team at seven different Olympic games. He is also the author and co-author of many books, including "Perspective: The Key to Life" and "Human Potential." After coming to the Haig glacier to watch us train, Cal met with us in Canmore and gave us some team coaching on the importance of having a good perspective on life and sport.

I believe that one of the keys to being successful as an athlete (as well as in other areas of life) is learning how to be happy with who you are, what you're doing, and where you are. Sometimes you may not be living where you'd like to be living, are far away the people you love for months at a time, or you may feel as though you are missing out on things that your high school friends or other people your age are doing. It is important to be able to maintain perspective in the long-term to continue racing in a sport like skiing, where it may take years of dedication to achieve the success you desire. A few of the things that Cal mentioned in his talks with us that I am convinced can contribute to an athlete's happiness and performance are team dynamics, having the proper type of recovery, and having certain characteristics common to many great athletes.

Even though cross-country skiing is essentially an individual sport, team dynamics can be crucial to building a successful environment in which to grow as an athlete, especially when you are spending extended lengths of time travelling and racing together. In my past two years of racing I was fortunate to be racing with what Cal would call a "real team" (as opposed to a "pseudo team", in which athletes are forced to come together into a team environment, but never really learn to work together as a team). Even when competing against each other we would cheer on our teammates, creating "positive rivalries", and as a result we all grew stronger together. As in any relationship, open, honest communication is key. Real teams need to relate in a genuine manner. Building a "real team" is hard to do, but as Cal said, "so is trying to increase your VO2max or strength - but it is worth the effort". Having supportive teammates can help make you happier. And if you are happy, it can't help but affect your fellow teammates and those around you. Even if you don't particularly like your competitors, you need them - otherwise there would be no competition. So learn to value your competitors and respect them. Cal suggests asking yourself "What do I need from this group?" and "What do I bring to the team to make it better?" He adds, "even the strongest individuals are affected by others - you need to decide who you want to be affected by".

I personally have learned a lot about rest and recovery in the past year. After trying to fit ski training in around 40 hour work weeks for the last few years I was convinced that by working less, I'd have a lot more time for resting and therefore be able to train harder. But our feelings and our thinking also affect recovery and energy levels. One thing that Cal said that I have found to be true is that recovery is not just sitting on the coach, loafing. A large part of recovery is being with the people you love and doing the things you love to do. These are the things that help you to regain energy. Take time out for yourself every day to revitalize and re-energize. To energize, Botterill advocates relaxation techniques, setting aside feelings of distraction and fatigue, staying expressive and assertive, using positive communication, showers and massages, music and videotapes, focusing on something else, as well as exercise itself. "For some, rock climbing, kayaking, skydiving, cycling, snorkelling, hiking, cross-country skiing to mountain summits, etc. are exhilarating perspective-builders. Coming to know oneself, one's friends and nature through activities like these can be immensely valuable." (Botterill & Patrick, 2003).

Another thing that can have a strong influence on your happiness and perspective as an athlete are the values and psychological characteristics you possess. From studies of certain characteristics shared by great athletes, here are three things that were common to most:

1. A strong sense of identity. They know who they are (as more than an athlete), and are happy with that identity. They are multi-dimensional people.

2. Top athletes know where their support is coming from, and have people they can turn to for unconditional support at any time. "Our support must be unconditional, caring and trustworthy if it is to contribute positively to our perspective" (Botterill & Patrick, 2003).

3. They know what they value. Instead of asking athletes how they want to feel at the moment when they have achieved their goal, Cal asks "how do you want to feel a month after winning that gold medal (or whatever the goal may be)?" This should help give you an idea as to what is important to you during your journey to the top.

It seems a paradox that once you finally achieve what you have worked for years to achieve, you realize that this achievement cannot make you truly happy, nor does it necessarily define who you are as a person. Having a good perspective on what is truly important in life helps to prevent from becoming disillusioned, and can ultimately keep you at the top of your game for the long run. "...for I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content." - Phil. 4:11.

Botterill, C., & Patrick, T. (2003). Perspective. Winnipeg, Manitoba: Lifeskills, Inc.

Botterill, C., Patrick, T., & Sawatzky, M. (1996). Human Potential. Winnipeg, Manitoba: Lifeskills, Inc

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Source: Cross Country Canada

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