Wednesday, January 26, 2005

“You can work on mentality”

On October 7th, 2004, Pieter van den Hoogenband held a keynote speech at the Faculty of Accountancy in Den Bosch, The Netherlands, about peak performances.

“The more pressure, the better I perform. I live for it.”

The Olympic Champion was invited to speak at a workshop on 'motivation and mentality’, organized by accountancy firm Ernst & Young, sponsor of Van den Hoogenband. The students absorbed every word listening to Van den Hoogenband while he told them about the legendary 100 metre free style race in Athens where he won the gold for the second consecutive time.

“I was behind, but I didn’t panic. I knew I would still win the race. When I finished I hit the board so hard, my fingers were still sore when I was holding a bottle of water long after the race.”

Only later he realized how many people watched his race. “It’s a great thing that so many people get so much fun out of watching your performance.”

Motivation is an essential factor in a performance at this level. Van den Hoogenband spends six days a week at the pool and he works out on dryland. “You set a goal for yourself. Each training is another step to a peak performance. Of course it’s hard sometimes, especially when your muscles ache. But when you focus on that one goal, the Olympic title, you just go for it.”

Mentality is also the drive for his success. “Some so-called top athletes are on cruise-control. They go through the motions of their training program and don’t focus on improving themselves. You have to be aware of your goals.”

That mentality doesn’t come out of the blue. It’s a process. According to Van den Hoogenband, this is something you can work on. “As a child, I had a lot of talent. It was easy for me. When I trained, I really went for it. But if I didn’t feel like it, I just skipped a training. I noticed that other swimmers who were less talented achieved almost the same results through hard work. That was the turning point for me. I figured I could get really far with my talent if I would just put in the extra hours. It’s essential to figure this out yourself. Only then you can improve your mentality.”

One of the students asked him if he gets nervous before a race like the 100m finals in Athens. “It’s a kind of addiction. I’m not nervous, but I enjoy it to the fullest. It’s the highest achievable in my sport.” He does admit being alert on things he can’t control, like a goggle filling up with water or a swim suit not being tight enough. As a 12-year old he once had an embarrassing experience when he hadn’t tightened the cord in his swim suit tight enough. “I had to pull up my trunks every two strokes.”

Also read other background articles related to Pieter van den Hoogenband:

- Finding new sponsors

- Tom Dolan analyses Van den Hoogenband

- “Winning the gold three consecutive times will be a mission impossible”

- A trainer can also peak


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