Mental Strength, Positive Reinforcement Important for Biathlete's Wellbeing

Mental Strength, Positive Reinforcement Important for Biathlete's Wellbeing

Although the daily physical training is crucial to biathlon success, a strong mind that can withstand the pressure of competition, intense physical training, success and disappointment are just as important.

Today, World Mental Health Day, is a day that since 1992, celebrates “global mental health education, awareness and advocacy against social stigma” while being observed world-wide through the World Federation of Mental Health. It is a good day to remember that the mental strength and positive reinforcement from coaches, administrators and family contribute to both the athlete’s wellbeing and their sporting success.

Mental Strength, Positive Reinforcement Important for Biathlete's Wellbeing

Fillon Maillet: Finding Strength in Girlfriend’s Cancer Battle
Quentin Fillon Maillet has been a promising new star for the French team since his 2015 photo-finish second place in the Ruhpolding mass start. Yet he struggled between that milestone and last season. Then in the summer of 2018, new coaching strategies added to his physical strength, but there was also a big turnaround in his mental state. The previous season, he was troubled by his girlfriend’s cancer diagnosis. Fillon Maillet commented, “When you have problems, you think and stress a lot about it. I was very concerned about my girlfriend. This was a huge problem. After she was better, I realized that things like biathlon troubles are small problems and nothing to worry about. She gave me some strength because she fought so hard every day for six months. That was a huge inspiration for me.”

Mental Strength, Positive Reinforcement Important for Biathlete's Wellbeing

Positive Attitude
Accordingly, Fillon Maillet entered the 2018-19 season much stronger mentally, with a very positive attitude. “I went into the season with the attitude that I had everything to win and nothing to lose. I was happy to ski every day, making my passion my job. With that attitude I was able to make some good results (3rd in the WC Total Score, 2 wins and 9 podiums).”

Mental Strength, Positive Reinforcement Important for Biathlete's Wellbeing

Jakov Fak: Winning Personality
Personality is important. Some athletes are just naturally stronger mentally and that helps them become champions, yet they still need support. Jakov Fak came back from several seasons of illness and injury to claim a Silver medal in Pyeongchang, Getting that medal was no easy task, but Fak has an important mental characteristic according to Coach Uros Velepec. “Winning that Olympic medal was the hardest work that Jakov ever did. He was not in the best shape at the Olympics, as he had been early in the season. However, he had the right head. You are a winner or you are not a winner. This is something you cannot learn. He is the kind of guy that goes to win.”

Mental Strength, Positive Reinforcement Important for Biathlete's Wellbeing

“Few Small Words Can Make Difference”
Velepec added the importance of talking, especially in a relaxed positive manner that can mean the difference between success and failure in competition.  “My work is to make that (success) possible; everyone needs a coach, because it is easier to share the responsibility. I self-coached for 10 years when I competed and this is really hard. After a bad race, there was no one to put the finger on except you; no one to talk to and no one to help find the solution. It is not always the big things, but a few small words at lunchtime can make the difference.”

Mental Strength, Positive Reinforcement Important for Biathlete's Wellbeing

Mental Toughness from Pichler
Self-belief and self-confidence are hallmarks of champions. Building that confidence is always a part of the training plan for the now retired Swedish Coach Wolfgang Pichler. Great Britain’s Amanda Lightfoot trained under Pichler, with his Swedish team for several years. She commented, “Working with Wolfie can be difficult at times, but he gets the best out of every athlete. He always pushed everyone to their limits…I learned that it takes a hell of lot to be on  top and you literally have to dedicate your life to biathlon…If he told me to run through that wall, I would do it… The mental toughness that he created was phenomenal.”

Mental Strength, Positive Reinforcement Important for Biathlete's Wellbeing

Always the meticulous planner, the experienced coach took a young Swedish team that delivered in an unprecedented manner to Pyeongchang OWG: two individual medals (Gold for Hanna Oeberg and Silver for Sebastian Samuelsson) and two relay medals (Gold for the women and Silver for the men). Besides a focused training plan, Pichler and his staff focused on the mental aspects for his young team. Pichler said, “We did everything right, preparing them mentally with our own psychologist. No one could know how they would react since it was their first Olympics (except for Fredrik Lindstrom).”

Mental Strength, Positive Reinforcement Important for Biathlete's Wellbeing

Team Spirit
Team spirit and positive reinforcement kept the team fighting until the last competition. “It was really important that we held our spirit together until the end of these Games, when we won this (relay) Gold medal. My main job then was to hold up the spirit; we said we would fight until the last minutes. We had Sebastian’s Silver medal and Hanna’s Gold medal. Normally every team would be satisfied with that. I pushed them so hard; I said, “You have the chance of your life. You are in super shape, have super skis; take every race for a big possibility.”

Mental Strength, Positive Reinforcement Important for Biathlete's Wellbeing

Key Component, “Positive Mental Attitude”
Mental support like this is now an important part of the training plan for many teams. US Biathlon CEO Max Cobb admitted, “This is a big change from 20 years ago. We have recognized over the years that a positive mental attitude is a key component of happiness and life satisfaction. For years, we always sought the perfect training system. Now we have a more balanced approach which is a big shift.”

Mental Strength, Positive Reinforcement Important for Biathlete's Wellbeing

Little Things
He continued, “We try to do little things to improve life in camps, like having a nutritionist create special meals during a training camp to break the monotony. It is trying to do little things that help keep the athletes feeling good mentally. At the same time, our women’s coach Armin Auchentaller is skilled at keeping a good mood while working hard to achieve the sporting goals.” Additional support also comes from US Olympic resources in the form of USOC psychologist Sean McCann at competitions, as well as an on-site support at the Olympic Training Center in Lake Placid where we are based. The most important thing is that we try to help our athletes have a happy balanced life.”

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