Power Statements: Olympian insights on using them to bolster mindsets
By Greg Bach
During Courtney Frerichs’ spectacular run in the steeplechase during a race in Monaco in the summer of 2018 she focused on a hand-picked phrase to help propel her to the finish line and post the fastest time run by an American in the event – ever.
“The quote that I came up with for myself for that season was let yourself run,” Frerichs says. “It was simple, and it reminded me that ‘you know what to do, don’t overthink this, just run.’ That was going through my head the entire last 300 meters of that race when I finally looked at the clock and realized that I was really close to running something really awesome.”
That blazing time of 9:00.85 was indeed awesome, an applicable word for describing her career, too.
The 2016 NCAA champion in the steeplechase, she earned a spot on Team USA and competed in Rio at the 2016 Summer Olympics.
And in 2017 she placed second at the World Championships.
The lung-searing steeplechase – a 3,000 meter race with 35 barriers to clear, seven of which include a water pit – requires runners to be at their best both physically and mentally.
“I really try to practice the mindset that I want to have in those races beforehand,” Frerichs says. “Oftentimes during a season I’ll have different mantras or power statements that I am telling myself to really get me in the zone and help me to focus on positive energy versus acknowledging how nervous I am.”
At the World Championships in London in 2017 she went with a temporary tattoo on her wrist with the word fearless. “I was telling myself the quote ‘be fearless in the pursuit of what sets your soul on fire,’” she says. “That’s what was going through my head and that really kind of centered me and helped me to know what my goal was. That day being fearless really was an important part of attacking that race.”
Coaches and parents of young athletes – in all sports – can grab golden nuggets from Frerichs’ approach to the mental side of competing and help teach them the value of reciting powerful phrases of positivity that can help infuse confidence and bolster performances.
TRIO OF TIPS FOR YOUNG ATHLETES
Embrace YOU: “I think the biggest thing that I learned from my youth experiences that I am really proud of is that my journey doesn’t look like other peoples,” Frerichs says. “And I think that’s really important to remember at any age you are at. I was participating in six sports as a kid and I went into college without some of the track times that other kids had that I was trying to race, but it didn’t stop me from putting myself out there. You don’t have to fit into a certain mold. Your journey is unique because you are unique. As long as you are pursuing your passion, you’ll find success and you will reach your goals your own way.”
Value of diversity: Frerichs is another classic example of a world-class athlete who benefited from participating in multiple sports as a young athlete rather than specializing in one. For much of her childhood balance beams and vaults held her attention. “For years gymnastics was my passion,” she says. “The steeplechase allowed me to use my running talents, but also use these skills I had learned through years of gymnastics. And so it was sort of like this perfect melting pot of my passions.”
Overcoming setbacks: Those dreaded bad performances strike all athletes, at all levels. But it’s all about the response that truly defines the experience. “I try to adhere to the 24-hour rule,” Frerichs says. “When you put a lot of work into something and you really care about it, it’s OK to be upset because if you’re not then maybe you’re not doing the right thing or you could put a little bit more care into it. But at the same time, you can’t let those negative emotions start spilling into future practices and future races.”
Those aren’t easy lessons to grasp, either. “That’s something I’ve had to work on,” she says. “If I have a bad workout to not automatically assume the next one is going to be bad also just because of one bad workout. So I try to let myself have that day or have that night to be upset, then I make myself turn around and reassess: What could I have done better? Because we’re all going to have bad races and we can’t avoid them, what am I learning from this? So I try to focus more on it being a learning opportunity than just dwelling on the bad things.”
Great athletes like Frerichs are never content; they’re always seeking to learn more to help them on the never-ending quest for improvement.
For example, she learned how U.S. Olympic gymnast Laurie Hernandez would say to herself ‘I’ve got this’ before she began her balance beam routine.
“I do that in my practices too, telling myself that I’ve got this,” Frerichs says. “It’s just a small little thing but I think because I am using them in practice it feels natural then to do it right before a race.”
Where they have helped produce some big results.
You can follow Courtney Frerichs on the road to Tokyo and the 2021 Summer Olympics on Twitter @courtfrerichs8 and Instagram @courtneyfrerichs.
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