Gold Medal Mindset: Competing with confidence
By Greg Bach
Two-time Olympic gold medalist Natasha Hastings remembers the nerves that would accompany her youth track meets.
Turns out they have been with her every very fast step of her decorated career across the globe, too.
“I have been running for well over 20 years and I still get nervous,” says Hastings, who won Olympic gold in Rio in 2016 and Beijing in 2008 as a member of the U.S. women’s 4 x 400 relay team. “So, the first thing I say to kids is embrace the nerves. The fact that you are even nervous is the first sign that you care.”
Those nerves don’t rattle confidence – when athletes know they are fully prepared to compete.
“I always make the comparison to an exam,” Hastings says. “If you studied for the exam and you know your material, then when you walk in for the exam you are pretty confident. So, it’s the same thing with training and competing. If you know you’ve done everything that you possibly can up to that point you have no reason not to be confident going into the event.”
That’s a terrific message for coaches to deliver to teams and athletes before games and competitions.
Hastings also points out how crucial it is for athletes to be focused on positive self-talk, and not allow their thoughts to wander into areas that can sabotage performances.
“It’s incredibly important how you speak to yourself,” she says. “If you go into an event looking at the competitors, looking at the things that are out of your control, or telling yourself that you can’t do this, then everything else that I just said goes out the window. So believing in yourself is just as important as putting in that work and being prepared for those moments.”
ENERGY + ENTHUSIASM = PRODUCTION
No matter the sport, the more energy and passion coaches bring to practices, the more engaged athletes of all ages and abilities will be.
And that leads to increased enjoyment and that coveted development everyone craves.
“Truthfully, I’ve had the luxury of working with coaches that were enthusiastic about working with me,” Hastings says. “When I choose an environment that I am going to be working in I want it to be something that we are both enthusiastic about – coming to work and getting the job done together.”
Competing against the best in the world requires a fierce work ethic, and enduring practice sessions that can be brutal at times.
Amid all the hard work Hastings puts in, she stresses the importance of finding ways to squeeze fun out of the process as often as possible.
While distance workouts don’t typically move the fun needle for her, other aspects of her training do.
“I love the weight room and the sprints, and I especially love competing against the guys,” she says. “It’s having that competitive edge that keeps it fun.”
EMPOWER, INSPIRE, UPLIFT
When Hastings reflects on her journey through the sport, she’s thankful for all the special friendships that were forged along the way. And all the life lessons that have helped shape a caring and outstanding role model for today’s youth.
“The friends I made when I was 13 and 14 when we were competing on a junior team together, those are still my friends today,” she says. “And then there were all the things that I learned through sports: the self-love, the determination, the resilience, and being able to bounce back from failure.”
It’s those attributes, among so many others, that Hastings now works hard to share with young girls through the wonderful work she does through The Natasha Hastings Foundation.
“Some of the things that I like to impress upon kids is that when they see athletes on TV there is this superhero notion about those people and I share with them that we actually go through some of the same things that they do,” Hastings says. “I tell people that I have been self-conscious about my body over the years and how my body developed differently from the rest of the girls when I was in middle school and high school. Even to this day sometimes I’ll look in the mirror and kind of wish I could do something about that and everyone else kind of looks at me like ‘what are you talking about?’ Your body is great.’ So no matter what, we always want what we don’t have. Or we’re going through a struggle that a lot of times just takes having a conversation for you to realize that the person setting next to you may not be going through the exact same thing but something similar enough that you can relate to and help each other get through. So I think those were the major inspirations behind wanting to create my foundation and getting out there and hitting the pavement with young girls.”
One of her initiatives is Tea Time With Tasha, where she speaks with girls ages 12-18 on a variety of topics to help them navigate the challenging adolescent years. “These are what I like to call the ‘safe spaces” where we open the floor for any kind of conversations,” she says.
Hastings has enjoyed great success on the track – and is changing young lives away from it.
“As an adult and as a professional my why is always changing,” she says. “First and foremost, there’s always that goal that we are going after, like the Olympics and World Championships, and going after those personal bests. But I would say from my late 20s to now it’s really having a full understanding for not only my performance on the track but my voice and the example that I am setting. That why is a little bit deeper than just going out there and going after medals.”
It’s truly a golden example she has set.
Track and Field
Two-time Olympic Gold Medalist and World Cup Champion Briana Scurry, author of MY GREATEST SAVE, on managing challenging moments and what young athletes in all sports can do to navigate them and stay focused on the present
Ryan Gareis, former University of South Carolina standout and current forward for the Houston Dash in the National Women’s Soccer League, on bringing energy, enthusiasm and a team-first mentality at all times
Orlando Pride midfielder Chelsee Washington, founder of 90/10 Performance Co., on helping young players manage mindsets and build confidence from within to perform at their best
Erica Suter, former soccer standout at Johns Hopkins University and author of THE STRONG FEMALE ATHLETE, on helping female athletes enhance confidence, reduce injuries, and boost performance