How To Build a Champion’s Mindset With Katie Zaferes


Photography by: Tommy Zaferes

Chasing your best doesn’t just mean training hard, it means building your mental performance muscle too. Two-time Olympian and Tokyo 2021 triathlon bronze medallist Katie Zaferes shares her strategies for cultivating the mindset of a champion.

Build yourself a toolbox

When I was younger I used to think that working on my mental fortitude meant that I wasn’t mentally strong to begin with. However, over the years I’ve realized how incorrect that was. Mental skills are something that take time to develop and require as much diligence as physical training. The goal is to find what mental skills work the best for you and do this by practicing them in training and racing. Something I read that really impacted me was from Deena Kastor’s book when she explains it’s not just about having one skill you rely on, it’s about having a toolbox of mental skills that you can shift through to find the one that serves you best in each moment. Now, after really focusing on my mental skills both with a sports psychologist and on my own, I’ve been able to build up a toolbox of skills that give me options in training and on race day to get the most out of myself no matter what the physical sensations are.

Develop an Explorative Mindset

It’s easy to see racing and training as tests that you need to pass. However, what I’ve found is that when I go into a race with a “let’s see what I can do” mindset rather than a “this is what I have to do” mindset I tend to exceed whatever expectations I would have had for myself and have a lot more fun in the process.

Learn to Love Nerves

Learn to have a better relationship with your nerves during training and racing. Rather than resisting them try using a different internal dialogue. “Nerves mean I am ready” or “Nerves mean I care.” Just because they are uncomfortable doesn’t mean they can’t benefit you.

Photography by: Tommy Zaferes

Make Visualisation Work for You

I used to think that in order to visualize it had to be something so specific, so defined and so perfect that it scared me away from doing visualizations at all. When I learned that visualizations can vary greatly in purpose and length of time they became much less scary and are now implemented quite often in my training. Usually my visualizations will last between 10-15 minutes… but even 5 minutes has value!

I like to visualize myself completing my process goals that I have set for myself in training and racing. Meaning very specific goals, the same ones that I write down on my pre-race checklist. Sometimes if I’m having a hard time concentrating and guiding my brain before a race I actually end up writing out the race as I would like it to happen.

Another trick I use is writing a bullet point list of things I want to achieve in the race and feelings that I know I will feel or might cause me anxiety — I do a play by play of the lead up to the race, the race and the end of the race, adding as much of the 5 senses within that I can. Then I ask my sports psychologist to prepare a guided visualization for me, however a friend or family member could do the same! Sometimes by having the guide it allows me to visualize more successfully to prevent my thoughts from wandering, or falling asleep!

Don’t Let Your Feelings Define Your Outcome

Feelings arise towards training, racing and life in general all the time that can lead us into a flurry of unproductive thoughts and negative moods. A great practice is learning how to be aware of those thoughts without letting them control your mind’s destiny. So notice the thought without resisting it, say a quick hello to it and then focus your mind on something more productive and beneficial to you in that moment.

Journaling Works, Seriously

Start keeping a notebook of things that you are grateful for each day. As you prioritize reflection on all the great aspects of your day (big and small) that will be what your mind is trained to focus on.

Photography by: Tommy Zaferes

Race Hard, but Most Of All Have Fun

Before each race I received this text from my dad, “Race hard, but most of all have fun!” It was such a good reminder to me when the nerves were high, that actually what I needed to do was quite simple: Do my best, and enjoy doing it.

Get Yourself a Kickass Mantra

“I may not FEEL strong, but I AM strong”

One of the things I’ve learned since Rio is to make sure that come race day I don’t let all the things I wish I was better at detract from all the strengths that I have. For training sessions and races I often actually feel the worst. Sometimes leading into the race and sometimes during the race. However, by using this mantra it gives me power in knowing that feelings can be misleading and my strength is abundant and present no matter how I feel.

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