There is little to separate the best crossfitters in the world. Not only are they all physical freaks, but they have the same access to equipment, nutrition, supplements and training plans. Each time they do a rep, they are pulling on the same bar as everyone else.
“So, on the day of a competition, what separates the winners from the also-rans? Those other factors being equal, it must be what goes on between the ears” writes, Jim Taylor, PhD sports physiologist, in his book Train Your Mind for Athletic Success.
And it’s for this reason CrossFit athletes around the world should be shaking in their boots at the prospect of a confident Sara Sigmundsdóttir. The Icelander has been among the fittest on earth for years, and has proved herself by winning the Open three times (2018, 2019 and 2020), but she is yet to be named The Fittest on Earth by winning the Games.
That could change. She has already qualified for the 2020 Games via the Open, and then, in November, won the first of the season’s Sanctionals in Ireland in dominant fashion. Sigmundsdóttir’s performance even surprised her, as she was using the Sanctional as a test to see where she was in her season’s progression and did not expect herself to be so far along.
What was the difference? Was it more training? Heavier weights? A new diet or a different cardio programme?
No. It was her mind. “I’ve just been trying to believe in myself a little bit more and slowly proving to myself that I can [do it],” she said.
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The role of the brain in sport is tough to measure. But there is no doubt that confidence plays a huge role in performance. And now that Sigmundsdóttir’s is armed with a new attitude, the sky’s the limit for the CrossFit superstar.
When the heat is on at the Games, it’s the intangible mental toughness that separates the winner from the other physical specimens. But no one is born mentally tough.
In their 2018 paper Mental toughness latent profiles in endurance athletes, Joanna and Robert Zeiger hypothesise that confidence and self-belief were two of seven factors that contributed to mental toughness in endurance athletes.
The two PhD statisticians point out that mental toughness is “flexible” and therefore can be trained. Of the seven factors that make up mental toughness – confidence, constancy, control, determination, visualisation, positive cognition, self-belief – self-belief had the highest effect on improving mental toughness.
Confidence and self-belief is a feedback loop. Sigmundsdóttir’s new-found belief helped her win in Ireland and the Open, and now those results will have reinforced her new mindset and given her more belief.
She is heading to Dubai next week for another Sanctional. The snowball is rolling and if she puts in another performance her confidence and self-belief will grow further. Who knows where it will end, but maybe on top of the CrossFit Games podium.