Dump Distractions: Olympic gold medalist on control and focus
By Greg Bach
Olympic bobsled gold medalist Curt Tomasevicz knows all about facing – and stomping – fears.
When you’re wedged into a four-man bobsled hurtling down icy tracks at speeds reaching 80 and 90 mph, with excruciating five Gs of force punishing your body, you’ve got no choice but to learn fast.
“Everybody is scared of something,” says Tomasevicz, who won gold at the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver and bronze at the 2014 Games in Sochi. “Maybe it’s the pressure, a fear of change, or a teenage athlete afraid of letting their parents down.”
When a young athlete comes face-to-face with a fear, if it’s not addressed and allowed to linger their experience is compromised.
And their development sputters.
“I compare that to standing at the top of a bobsled track and looking over the cliff and kind of realizing that there is a lot of unknown that can happen in front of you,” Tomasevicz says. “And you can only control certain things. If I don’t focus on what I can control, and I’m worried about being scared and I have this fear kind of hovering over me, I’m never going to be the best that I can be. So, I have to face my fear. I have to find a way to put it out of my mind, or at least overcome my fear, so I can focus on what I have to do.”
TOUGH LESSONS TO LEARN
It’s not an easy lesson for youngsters to grasp and requires some guidance from coaches to make happen.
It took Tomasevicz some time – and he competed in sports at levels most never attain. Besides playing a variety of sports growing up he played college football at the University of Nebraska.
“It definitely took me a little while to understand,” he says. “I played 10 years of tackle football, from seventh grade all the way through college, and into my first couple years of bobsled is when I finally learned that the best mental approach is to absolutely come back to the fact that you can only control certain things.”
If kids are directing all their attention to those things they can’t control, their mind becomes cluttered and their ability to perform at their best is compromised.
“What a college recruiter thinks about your game is out of your control,” he says. “Your parents in the stands aren’t going to help you. All you can do is focus in the moment and be the best athlete you can be in that moment. It’s easy to say, but it took me a number of years and I was competing at the very elite level by the time I was actually able to put that into practice. I think that’s one of the biggest lessons that I can take away from sports is that you can only control so many things and outside of that it’s out of your hands so that’s how I learned to deal with pressure is to focus on the things that I could control.”
Tomasevicz encourages coaches to help their young athletes dial into the moment with the mindset that they are prepared to give their best effort.
Nothing else matters.
“It’s focusing on the moment,” Tomasevicz says. “That’s going to eliminate pressure from parents and it’s going to eliminate pressure from teammates. If a kid can walk up to the plate or walk to the line of scrimmage and just have confidence that they’re going to give their best, and if they are prepared to give their best, they should be able to compete. Are they going to win every line of scrimmage battle or get a base hit every time? Probably not. But being realistic with confidence is the best thing a coach can instill in a kid.”
And when kids give their best effort that’s really what’s it all about.
Tomasevicz didn’t win every race he competed in, but he savored the journey and the pursuit of getting better.
“The process should be the most enjoyable part,” he says.
Curt Tomasevicz does speaking engagements where he shares these and other messages from his career as a world class athlete. To schedule him to speak, or for more information, visit his website.
A conversation during recess between fifth-graders playing soccer sparked an incredible series of events that changed lives forever
Tammy Sutton-Brown, Olympian and WNBA champion, encourages young basketball players to grab those coveted playing time minutes by embracing all aspects of the game
Olympic track great Dr. Rochelle Stevens enjoyed a golden career thanks to talent, hard work and learning how to overcome adversity. Your young athletes can learn from her approach, too
Johnny Quinn, one of only three athletes to play in the NFL and compete in the Winter Olympics, on the importance of being great listeners to help the team perform at its best