What does it take to be a champion or to just get to the next level?
The role that reading (yes, reading!) has played in my fencing career’s growth and my mental development as an athlete (It’s been huge!) has been critical to my success. We spend hours and hours working out and practicing to get our bodies ready, but an athlete’s mental state is even more important than the physical one and how many people truly set aside the ample time needed work on that?
There are plenty of amazingly physically gifted athletes, but the ones I know that reach the top do so because of their mental strength. The use of sports psychologists is growing and while I haven’t gone that route (yet), I have spent many hours working on my mental abilities and reading has been a major tool for me, especially books on self-development and the study of success. Here is a compilation of the books that helped me to achieve my Olympic dreams…(I’ve also included links to more extensive synopsis if you’d like to learn more)
1) 7 Habits of Highly Successful People
By Stephen Covey
This book was recommended to me by my friend Melea Nallia few years ago and I’m eternally grateful that she brought it to my attention! A really awesome book about how to operate effectively with some great exercises for reflecting on your life as well as some good organizational tools. I especially love the parts about time-management and how to spend your time more focused on long-term goals each day versus getting caught up in the urgency of day-to-day things that might not be as critical.
2) Good to Great
by Jim CollinsGreat business book, but the idea of finding your “hedgehog” was a really useful idea that helped me in my fencing career in 2006 before I made my big international breakthrough. The idea goes: A fox is clever and can do many things well, but the hedgehog always wins against the fox even though the hedgehog only does one thing… the catch is that the hedgehog does its one thing better than anyone else.(It curls up into a ball and it’s impenetrable to the fox!) At the time, I was fencing matches using a very large variety of actions that I did well, but it got me thinking about what moves are actually my best and which I might be able to develop to be the strongest in the world. As a result, I spent more time working on my defense which I realized was bringing me more touches and might be my strongest mastery area. The next competition I made my first world cup final in Tunis!
3) Now, Discover Your Strengths
by Markus Buckingham & Donald Clifton I used to spend all my time at thinking about and working on the things I couldn’t do well. I never really spent time thinking about my strengths. After reading this book, I began to spend more time working on what I did well, to do it even better, while continuing to work on weakness areas, but without that being the focal point of every practice. Having a strengths based mindset is really helpful and this book has a great test to help you figure out what your strengths in life might be and how to best use them as well!
4) Awaken the Giant Within
by Anthony RobbinsMy most recent read. Re-enforces what I believe that the first and most important thing to do is set big goals and go for them even if you aren’t sure exactly how you will get there when you set them. When I first set the goal to make an Olympic team, I wasn’t even ranked in top-16 in the USA and I was already in college and “old” and most people said I woudln’t be able to do it. There are some great mental exercises to start to shift your mental states and I love how ihetalks about controlling the emotional state you’re in versus letting the external environment control you. This is so important when you are competing to get yourself into a strong and familiar mental state each time regardless of what else is happening.
5) Confidence: How winning streaks and losing streaks begin and end
By Rosabeth Moss Kanter
This is an interesting read about how momentum of winning and losing can be a perpetual cycle if you let it be and how to break losing streaks. Book also talks about the idea from Duke Coach Mike K about having a mental “baseline”. It goes, no matter how bad or good a play his team made, he always wanted to them to come back to a familiar and “baseline” mental state so that they would always be operating in a familiar zone. To this day, I will tell myself “reset” and “baseline” as a mental trigger to bring myself back to a grounded mental state no matter if I have scored a big touch or had a big touch or bad break go against me.
6) Outliers: The Story of Success
by Malcolm Gladwell
This is a great book that examines who becomes successful and who doesn’t. A lot of his findings challenge what we think about who becomes successful and who doesn’t and that circumstances do play a huge role. However, he talks a lot about the 10,000 hours rule. This rules basically states that it takes 10,000 hours of practice to master an activity and that essentially, the idea of innate ability is flawed and that the reality is that the amount of practice actually makes the biggest difference! Yeah, for hard work! I would also recommend Gladwell’s other books Tipping Point and Blink.