22 Olympic Medals: 9 Back-to-School Lessons We All Could Use

The lessons from the Olympics live on, and the skills of visualization and the power of imagination can be adapted to many areas of life.
09/10/2012 11:05 am ET Updated Nov 10, 2012
LONDON, ENGLAND - AUGUST 03:  Gold medallist Michael Phelps of the United States poses on the podium during the medal ceremon
LONDON, ENGLAND - AUGUST 03: Gold medallist Michael Phelps of the United States poses on the podium during the medal ceremony for the Men's 100m Butterfly Final on Day 7 of the London 2012 Olympic Games at the Aquatics Centre on August 3, 2012 in London, England. (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)

Recently there was a fabulous video touting the accolades of imagery and mental visualization in the Washington Post. Not surprisingly, the feature was with Michael Phelps -- the most decorated Olympian ever with 22 medals -- and his long-term coach Bob Bowman.

As the school year is starting, I'd like to offer some simple ideas that stood out so you can share them with the kids in your life. Perhaps they will inspire them to have a very successful year not only in sports, but also on the academic and friendship fronts. The lessons from the Olympics live on, and the skills of visualization and the power of imagination can be adapted to many areas of life. I've learned this from the kids and families I work with as a child educational psychologist and it's a philosophy I teach around the globe.

Lesson 1: Be persistent.

Lesson 2: Visualize.

Bob Bowman, Michael's coach, shared: "He's the best I've ever seen, and may be the best EVER in terms of visualization. I've never seen him be discouraged by anything."

Lesson 3: It's never too early to start.

Lesson 4: It's never too late -- start today.

Michael Phelps offered that at a very young age (he started swimming at age 6), he prepared himself to be ready for anything, and that he extensively trains by visualizing and planning for both good and bad outcomes..

Lesson 5: Imagine perfection.

Lesson 6: Look from all angles.

Lesson 7: Prepare for the worst -- and how to handle it.

Bob, his coach continued: "He will see exactly the perfect race. He will see it as if he's in the stands and he'll see it as if he's in the water, and then he'll go through scenarios what if things don't go well."

For example, Michael said that if his suit ripped or his goggles broke, he knows exactly what he will do -- because he's already visualized it -- over and over again.

Lesson 8: Practice to program your brain.

What's so amazing is that Michael has all these responses in his brain's database because of all of his visualization practice. His coach relayed that "when he swims the races, he's already programmed his nervous system to do one of those scenarios -- if everything is perfect, he'll go with the perfect one, and if he has to make a change, he's got it in there."

As the reporter noted, "the added benefit of visualizing all of these different scenarios is the confidence gained knowing he has a plan for everything."

Lesson 9: Work = Physical Practice + Mental Rehearsal.

His coach concluded, "The thing that got him great was the work." The work, if it isn't already clear, is the actual practice plus mental rehearsal / visualization.

Read about how to help the kids you know with these skills in Chapter 11: Gold For The Gold - Celebrate The Bronze in The Power of Your Child's Imagination.

Watch the entire Washington Post video HERE.

For more information, visit www.ImageryForKids.com, or email creznick@ucla.edu.