Wise, Giaccio Build Mental Strength
Athletes at the highest level of sport confront challenges that are difficult to comprehend for the average Joe. They juggle training, competition, sponsorship obligations, media requests, time with family, and the more obvious physical challenges that come along with competing against the best athletes in the world.
However, one of the most taxing elements elite athletes face involves the mental side of the sport. U.S. Freeski Halfpipe Team member and double-Olympic gold medalist David Wise is no stranger to the mental strength required to achieve greatness.
“My career, for better or for worse, can only be described as tumultuous,” said David. “I have had the opportunity to stand on the peak of all peaks and been dragged through the lowest of lows. Along the way, I’ve learned that while we can’t control what happens to us, we can control how we think and even feel about it. If we can control how we think and feel about a situation, we can control how we react to it. If we can maintain control of our actions in the midst of difficult situations, our chances at a favorable outcome drastically increase.”
Most recently, David has been working to pass on his knowledge, strategy, and perspective to other athletes as part of his newly formed Mental Giants program.
“I saw both a need and an opportunity to help up and coming athletes with mental strength because of my history as a competitor,” said David. “Over the years, I learned tips and tactics that develop mental strength. I learned how to be in a relaxed state of mind in the midst of chaos. I knew that if I could help other athletes overcome mental hurdles and be the best athletes they could be, that it would be worth it. It has become one of the most rewarding things that I do. I love watching people do their absolute best when it counts.”
Most recently David has been working with U.S. Moguls Team athlete and Columbia University student Olivia Giaccio. Olivia discovered a post from David on social media that really resonated with her personal situation. She took it upon herself to reach out to David and they have been working together ever since.
“I initially got involved with the Mental Giants program through David's Instagram,” Olivia reflected. “At the very end of 2019 and the beginning of 2020, David posted a series of photos with lengthy captions reflecting upon the past decade. His commentary felt eerily similar to what I was going through at that exact moment, which was wild to read. Especially from a skier that I had initially followed due to his success at the Olympics and X Games. When I was reading his posts, I was one day away from getting ACL surgery. I direct-messaged David to say that his posts were incredibly inspiring and to see if he had any particular sports psychologists that he'd recommend. I woke up to his response on the morning of my surgery, and I was honestly pretty stunned. Not only by the fact that he had actually responded, but also to hear that he was actually developing a mental program of his own and would be willing to work with me. I jumped at the opportunity and we got started immediately.”
So, how does a moguls and halfpipe skier work together? Their sports are not the same and they are both very different people, yet they still have the ability to relate and learn from each other. Olivia outlined exactly how they were able to successfully connect.
“We’ve both put way too much pressure on ourselves in the past,” she said. “We both find it exciting to push the sport in new ways. Both of our identities have been centered around skiing, even though we’ve also learned to ground ourselves in other ways. In short, I think we’ve learned a bunch of the same lessons, particularly those that he experienced early on in his competitive career.”
David and Olivia have spoken about once a month and have regularly communicated by email and text since that first direct message on Instagram. However, the new COVID-19 landscape has proved challenging and most of their conversations have shifted to the digital arena. This hasn’t slowed down their pace at all with Olivia sending David weekly emails detailing her progress both within and outside the sport. David’s initial focus with Olivia has been rooted in goal setting.
“Most people set goals based around external things like podiums or dollar figures or likes or followers, but that is not mentally tough goal setting. For example, If I approach any given competition with the goal of winning, I could land the best run that has ever been done, but if the judges don’t like my skiing on that particular day, I will be dissatisfied because I didn’t win. However, if I set a goal of doing my best run on that day, I will still be satisfied and joyful when I land a good run. Even if I am slightly disappointed that the judges didn’t see it the same way. It’s about not giving people or circumstances power over you. I like to start slow and have an athlete focus on what parts of their sport they enjoy right now and why they are doing what they do. That way when the competition gets more intense, they can stay tied to the moment and enjoy the ride.”
Olivia has taken David’s lessons to heart. Although she has dreamed of taking home Olympic gold, today she understands that there is much more to it. It will be a beautiful journey as Olivia’s physical talent and mental toughness pave the way for future success.
“Since I was 10, I’ve always said that Olympic Gold is the biggest goal of mine, so who better to help me achieve it than a two-time Olympic Gold medalist? But, as cheesy as it sounds, I want to strive to become the best version of myself as an athlete, competitor, and individual each and every day. I like to think that I’m open to learning in order to foster self-improvement in whatever way I can, and while David’s help isn’t the only way I’m improving my mental game, I’m incredibly grateful for his vital role in my journey thus far.”