Mindset Management: Olympian's keys to being positive and intentional
By Greg Bach
During these difficult days draped in uncertainty, U.S. Olympian Whitney Ashley’s approach is one that can serve young athletes well now.
And propel them to be at their best when the sports they love to play resume.
“My favorite quote is to blossom where you are planted,” says Ashley, who competed for Team USA in the discus at the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio and was the 2012 NCAA champion in the event. “And when you can’t control things you have to learn to step back and ask yourself ‘What can I control right now?’ And the best thing right now is the mental side.”
That means keeping those thoughts positive and purposeful during these unprecedented times.
“Every day it’s being intentional,” Ashley says. “It’s envisioning when you start competing again what do you want to see? You have to start manifesting things and not focusing on what isn’t open or what you can’t do right now. Focus on what you can do.”
TRUST THE TRAINING
In individual sports young athletes can often waste precious energy and lose focus worrying about what could go wrong with their performance.
Or directing too much attention on what others are doing instead of being dialed in to what they need to execute to perform at their best.
Ashley leans on what she’s done in her practices in the weeks and months leading up to competitions, filling her with confidence and that all-important self-belief.
“I trust my training,” she says. “I can’t be worried about whether things are going to go wrong today when I’ve done so many things right in practice.”
Along the way she has also learned the mighty valuable lesson of capitalizing on her strengths and attributes rather than trying to follow in the footsteps of how another athlete competes.
“I feel that young athletes often pick someone they like and they want to mimic them,” she says. “But you have to figure out what makes you stand out and what makes you special and use that to your advantage. A lot of discus throwers are tall and they have crazy numbers in the weight room and honestly, I lack in both of those areas. I’m 5-foot-9 and I’m decent in the weight room but I’m not the strongest girl out there.”
But that hasn’t stopped her from becoming one of the best discus throwers on the planet.
“I’m really fast and I learned early on that my speed and my leverage is a great combination,” she says. “That’s what makes me special so I have to use those things to my advantage. So my message to young athletes is to figure out what makes you special and use that to your advantage.”
JOURNEY OF JOY
Growing up, Ashley was a terrific basketball player. But once the season ended and spring rolled around, she had to participate in track and field.
It was not an option in her household – because her mom was the coach.
“She was my ride home so I couldn’t tell her no,” she says with a laugh.
She got very good very fast, too. At age 12 she took her first trip to Omaha, Nebraska for the Junior Olympics in the shot put.
“I don’t remember how I did but it was so amazing,” she says.
That trip opened her eyes to what sports could provide and ever since she has cherished all the moments along the way.
She’s been to more than 30 countries and stepped foot on five continents. And competed among the best athletes in the world.
“I’ve been to places people dream about to essentially throw a metal Frisbee, is what I call it,” she says. “I’ve thrown it far enough to see the world.”
And along the way she’s developed a powerful perspective that young athletes of all sports should wrap their arms around.
It’s about appreciating the moment.
Always working hard and doing your best.
And accepting that there will be both great and forgettable performances along the way.
“Just give it a chance and be positive,” Ashley says. “You have to be positive or you won’t grow.”
Use these tips from U.S. women’s volleyball great Kelsey Robinson to help your young athletes navigate the all-important mental side of competing
Olympic gold medalist Jordyn Wieber, head gymnastics coach at the University of Arkansas, on the importance of young athletes experiencing failure and developing that all-important resilience to excel in sports and life
Former University of Michigan All-American gymnast Olivia Karas and her father Jim share what parents and young athletes need to know to help them navigate their athletic journey in their new book CONFESSIONS OF A DIVISION-1 ATHLETE: A DAD AND DAUGHTER'S GUIDE TO SURVIVAL
Former University of Louisville volleyball player Courtney Robison-Dixon, author of the new book LIVING IN REAL TIME, on helping young girls navigate the intense pressures imposed by social media and flourish on and off the court