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The 6 Habits of Highly Successful Olympic Athletes

Success doesn’t happen accidentally. Mental preparation and execution tips from an expert that every rider can use.

©FEI/Richard Juilliart
©FEI/Richard Juilliart

Sure, I had my focus on the athletes that I coached throughout the Olympic Games. But Rio was also a great case study for the habits of highly successful athletes that ever competitor can use.

1. Successful athletes have purpose and commitment

Michaels-Beerbaum Meredith (GER) and Fibonacci 17 at the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio ©FEI/Hippo Foto - Dirk Caremans
Michaels-Beerbaum Meredith (GER) and Fibonacci 17 at the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio ©FEI/Hippo Foto – Dirk Caremans

Purpose doesn’t come in form of a pill. No, I am not talking about doping. Purpose is what drives an athlete to spend hours in the gym, travel to competitions, bounce back after defeat or injuries. Purpose comes from clarity. Clarity comes from your legacy. I coach athletes in my MasterPlan program how to write their personal legacy statements. Commitment is easier with a blueprint in your hand.

2. Successful athletes prepare for success

©FEI/Eric KNOLL. Olympic Games Rio 2016. Jumping
©FEI/Eric KNOLL. Olympic Games Rio 2016. Jumping

Competing in a state of alert presence can be learned by every athlete. This state is also called being “in the zone.” When the moment arrives and opportunity knocks at your door (e.g., you are selected for the Olympic team and finally at the start line), athletes must be prepared and ready to deliver. Unprepared athletes have a much smaller chance of finding success.

The preparation process can take many years—it is well structured and follows clear principles. Some athletes are already preparing for the 2020 Games.

3. Successful athletes trust their intuition

Phillip Dutton ©FEI/Richard Juillart
Individual bronze medalist Phillip Dutton (USA) ©FEI/Richard Juillart

Olympic Games are unique situations. Unique situations require a unique response from athletes and coaches. If the textbooks don’t teach you about unique situations, you are lost—unless you trust your intuition. Your gut feeling is the only direction you want to follow when split second decisions must be made. Preparation teaches and programs you to respond appropriately to unique situations.

4. Successful athletes care less and perform better

Laghouag Karim Florent and Team France at the Olympic Games Rio 2016 ©Hippo Foto - Dirk Caremans
Karim Laghouag and Team France at the 2016 Rio Games. ©FEI/Hippo Foto – Dirk Caremans

Elite athletes don’t to sweat the small stuff. They avoid getting absorbed in the endless distractions that inevitably come up at a championship event. Whether it’s unique athlete’s village circumstances, different food choices, social requirements, or media interviews, they know it’s just small stuff and don’t let it distract them from achieving their goals.

5. Successful athletes have confidence

Dressage Training Day 2 Rio Olympic Games GBR Charlotte Dujardin Photo Richard Juilliart
Charlotte Dujardin training at the Rio Games ©FEI/Richard Juilliart

The intense training before a championship event can seem boring to the outsider. Successful athletes avoid new stimuli unless they are experienced enough and know how their body adapts to it. They focus on the process that they know, stay in their comfort zone, and continue to train and build confidence. Unpredictable physical or mental responses to something new must be avoided under all circumstances or it will risk their confidence. Elite athletes know that they can build their performance on their confidence level.

6. Successful athletes never ever stop before the finish line

©FEI/Richard Juillart
©FEI/Richard Juillart

They don’t give other athletes an edge by decelerating when the goal is in sight. It’s a common mistake to try and reserve energy in a pre-qualifier, heat, or the pre-final round at high level competitions.

As one coach once told me, “You can only be sure to have won the game when the other team sits in the bus and is on their way back to the hotel.” Start strong into your competition, remain strong, and always finish strong. You have everything to gain with this attitude. It’s the champion’s attitude.

Dirk Stroda’s flagship coaching program MasterPlan is coming to Australia and New Zealand, November 18–20, 2016. Find out more and enroll at dirkstroda.com.


Dirk Stroda
About the Author

Dirk Stroda coaches Canada’s dressage, eventing, and para-dressage teams as well as several of the top show jumpers in North America. His perspective as a former competitor, successful entrepreneur, physiotherapist, and mental coach uniquely qualifies him to understand the physical and non-physical (mental) aspects that go into a championship performance.

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