What motivates you to keep going when everything is telling you to stop?
You haven’t experienced hot until you have stood on astro turf in 105-degree weather. Hoping to find shelter from the sweltering sun, the BU field hockey team huddled at half time in the parking garage under New Balance field. Ice towels hung off every player’s neck while we tried to recover physically from the first half of the game against Ohio State University. The heat was radiating so violently through my body that I felt my pulse in my face and my burning feet were screaming for an ice bath. All throughout the first half my brain was telling my body “STOP! It hurts". My brain screaming at my body “What are we doing? This can't be healthy.” I knew there were substitutes on the sideline, but that was never really an option for me. Why? For the past 5 years I have been training to start and play 70 minutes on this field. I am now down to my last 10-15 college games and the desire to compete trumps all. It’s easy for any player to perform on a nice partly cloudy, 65-degree day…but it takes something special for a player to perform and persevere in extreme conditions.
Until 1984, the Olympic marathon was limited to male participation only. There was much controversy around the decision, as many believed women could not endure such a torturous event. Swedish marathon runner, Gabriela Anderson-Schiess, qualified for the summer games in Los Angeles and knew she had something to prove. With the temperature hitting nearly 90-degrees, Anderson-Schiess started to show signs of heat exhaustion. With her torso twisted, her left arm limp, and her right leg seizing, she waved off the medical personnel in the last 400m knowing if they touched her she would be disqualified. Her mental strength and perseverance brought her to the finish line, even when her body was deteriorating. What kept Anderson-Schiess going when so many athletes would have given up already?
What humans tend to misunderstand is the mind-body connection. The properly trained human body is able to withstand so much more than most people realize. The human brain is our control center. It is sending signals to protect our bodies all the time - eat more, eat less, slow down, flee, fight, etc. Reaching next level peak performance requires mental training along with rigorous physical training to overcome those early signals that are usually accompanied by PAIN. The foundation of Navy SEAL training is mental toughness. Many believe it takes a lot of physical toughness, which it does, but the mental training is tremendously important. SEAL training is designed to push you mentally to the brink, over and over again until you are habituated. It's simply mind over matter. The same ability separates the good athletes from the great – Tiger Woods, Kobe Bryant, Michael Jordan. It’s the ability to dig deep and find something within yourself to fuel you to keep going.
My advice to all athletes aspiring to play at a higher level –
Mental toughness is something that you can’t practice as a team; it is something you develop individually through your own experiences. In your training, push yourself to the point of exhaustion, to the point where you can’t physically hold your body up. If you have proper nutrition and hydration, there is nothing to fear. Teach your mind that stopping is not an option. You will be put through physically demanding tasks at the next level and training yourself to be mentally tough now will only aid in your success later. Cultivating mental resilience provides an incredible advantage in all aspects of life.
How did I make it through that game? I dug deep and found the desire to compete, the desire to not let the Buckeye next to me get the ball. I knew I couldn’t let my team down and I had to do my job despite the signals my brain was sending.
Trust your body – it can handle more than you think.