U.S. Olympian's 30-minute rule every young athlete should embrace
By Greg Bach
You can accomplish a lot in 30 minutes: grab lunch, walk the dog or zip through a show stashed on your DVR.
And in the case of U.S. Olympic skiing great Stacey Cook you can crush a disappointing performance before it has a chance to snowball and wreck confidence.
“I give myself 30 minutes to be mad and to be frustrated and to beat myself up,” says Cook, who is competing in her fourth Olympic Games in PyeongChang, South Korea. “And then I don’t let that negative behavior come into my mind after those 30 minutes.”
Now that’s something kids in all sports can be introduced to and make part of their competitive mindset so that problems don’t linger, and negative thoughts don’t fester.
“If you didn’t do as well as you thought you should or you let yourself down it’s ok to be mad about it,” Cook says. “But I put that time limit on it because in the end it doesn’t help anything. It doesn’t make you better and it doesn’t make you try harder. Really, the only outcome of being mad at yourself is that you bring yourself down. So, I give myself a 30-minute window and then I make myself get over it.”
LIFE IN THE FAST – AND PRESSURE-FILLED – LANE
There’s arguably no greater pressure in all of sports than at the Olympic Games. Athletes train for years and in the blink of an eye those dreams can blow up. That’s especially true in Cook’s sport of skiing, where an untimely wobble or even an unlucky bump on the slopes can spell disaster.
But she says grabbing confidence from preparation is the secret to cracking that pressure. It’s something youth coaches can talk to their athletes about too, before the big game: pointing out how well they did in practice during the week preparing and how that will fuel a strong performance.
“You have to trust your preparation and trust that even though the stage is bigger it’s still just you and the field of play – or for us the ski slope – and that part never changes,” Cook says. “It’s just when you kind of let the outside circumstances dictate what you are currently doing then that’s what kind of takes over your mind and inhibits your ability to perform. So, if you just realize the venue is the same and the sport is the same and all you have to do is everything that you prepared for, then that takes a lot of pressure off you.”
Like many great athletes, Cook’s childhood wasn’t draped in high expectations. In fact, the message delivered by her parents was pretty simple.
“My dad always said that he would support anything that we chose to do if we worked hard and had fun at it,” Cook says.
And on race days, that message of having fun was reinforced by her mom.
“She always said if I did well I could go to the Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory,” Cook says. “But I don’t remember us ever not going after a race, so obviously it was not result-based. So that was always kind of a special treat and memory that we shared together.”
Growing up Cook never dreamed of being a professional athlete, and certainly not competing in four Olympic Games. “I was never raised to be a professional athlete,” she says.
She simply fell in love with skiing. The speed. The challenge. The fun.
And it forever changed her life.
“Sports really changed me as a person,” she says. “I was very shy all the way through elementary and middle school and sports were my outlet and what brought me out and taught me to be a confident and trusting person. I don’t think I would have had those lessons if it wasn’t for sports and I just think it’s the best thing for kids to learn and grow.”
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