Digging Deep: Olympic great on squashing negative self-talk
By Greg Bach
In the months leading up to the 2004 Summer Olympics in Athens, Team USA volleyball great Lindsey Berg faced one of the biggest challenges of her spectacular career.
“I had a very consistent jump serve all through college,” says Berg, who starred at the University of Minnesota. “And with the national team I was being put in at critical times in matches when the score would be 23-23 or 24-23 and I kept missing my serve. That was a very important time for me because obviously if I kept missing, I was never going to play or make that team for the Olympics, so I had to figure it out.”
And fast, too.
“I had to dig deep and figure out that it was the way that I was speaking to myself in my head as I was going up to make the substitution,” she explains. “Initially, I was like ‘you can’t miss this serve’ or ‘don’t miss this serve, this is a really important time.’ It was always kind of a negative type of thought process instead of thinking ‘I’m going to rip this serve down the line’ or ‘I’m going to hit it to this player.’”
Those negative thoughts, sprouting at the most inopportune times, were wreaking havoc with her performance.
But once resolved, her play flourished.
“Why I kept missing my serve was all mental,” Berg says. “So that was a pretty big wake-up call.”
THE CUORE PROJECT
Athletes at all levels of play – even the world’s greatest players like Berg – encounter challenges, setbacks and struggles along the way.
And it is what players do in those tough moments that defines their character and path in the sport.
Berg didn’t give in or give up when adversity landed in her lap.
Instead, she dug in, figured out what needed to change in order to perform at her best, and committed to making those changes.
She went on to play for Team USA in two more Summer Olympics, winning silver medals in Beijing in 2008 and London in 2012.
And now the three-time Olympian is giving back to the sport she loves by helping young athletes through The Cuore Project, which she founded. Cuore is the Italian word for heart, and Berg was well-known during her career for playing with all heart to make up for her lack of stature on the court.
The Cuore Project features films, editorials, and podcasts with the mission of sharing stories and information to educate and inspire the next generation of female volleyball athletes. The site features powerful messages from Team USA players on dealing with slumps, staying confident, mental toughness, keeping a positive mindset, and more.
“I want this sport to grow,” Berg says. “I want every little girl out there to know all 12 names of the women that are competing for our country in the Olympics. I want kids to have as many references as they can on how to make their careers a little easier through our experiences.”
LIFETIME LOVE OF VOLLEYBALL
Berg was born and raised in Honolulu, Hawaii, a huge volleyball state.
Her dad played collegiately and later coached high school volleyball – and his influence on her was enormous.
“I think my dad did an incredible job of being a supportive parent,” she says.
Berg played a bunch of different sports throughout her childhood and teen years, but volleyball grabbed her heart early on and never let go.
“I just loved the game,” she says. “The skills are pretty intricate. And the vison that you have to have and the reaction time that you have to have is pretty special.”
As a young player she learned some key lessons that helped shape her career.
“I wasn’t the tallest or the most athletic so I had to be on point for the things that I could control,” she says. “And my mentality was something that I could control. I knew that we all were going to make mistakes and it’s whether you learn from that mistake or you dwell on that mistake and I always chose to learn. I asked myself why I made that mistake and how do I change it? If you’re not making mistakes you’re not going to get better.”
Young players can learn a lot from Berg’s journey, and other greats of the game who have shared their insights for The Cuore Project.
“Everyone has a story,” Berg says. “So that’s what my project is really all about is giving all these young girls an opportunity to hear these different stories that can inspire or change a life.”
Two-time Olympic Gold Medalist and World Cup Champion Briana Scurry, author of MY GREATEST SAVE, on managing challenging moments and what young athletes in all sports can do to navigate them and stay focused on the present
Ryan Gareis, former University of South Carolina standout and current forward for the Houston Dash in the National Women’s Soccer League, on bringing energy, enthusiasm and a team-first mentality at all times
Orlando Pride midfielder Chelsee Washington, founder of 90/10 Performance Co., on helping young players manage mindsets and build confidence from within to perform at their best
Erica Suter, former soccer standout at Johns Hopkins University and author of THE STRONG FEMALE ATHLETE, on helping female athletes enhance confidence, reduce injuries, and boost performance