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How meditation helped one man become an Olympic champion


My name is Etienne Stott and I am a canoe slalom athlete on the Great Britain team. Canoe slalom is a sport held on white water rapids where we race against the clock down a course. There’s lots of variables the white water is changing and we have to try to be calm. That is a big part of the long range skill of becoming a good canoe slalom athlete. We were always told a lot about, you know, what you should be thinking you know to be confident, you know, to have a good attitude to be focussed and all these things you know and I found it very, very difficult actually. I knew what I was supposed to be doing but I found it actually hard you know in big competitions when it really mattered to actually maintain that kind of correct mindset. I found a lot of my thoughts very difficult to deal with, you know very intense emotions, very intense thoughts, almost a bit scary. It probably held me back actually from getting the best out of my training and from learning my sport as quickly and as effectively and efficiently as possible. Over the years I’d come across this idea of meditation. When you say that word a lot of people think “mmm” you know that sort of thing you know and that is a little bit of a barrier. The very important distinction is that Headspace is not only meditation it’s actually mindfulness training. So this idea of actually learning to understand and accept your thoughts rather than kind of fighting them, that was a big difference for me. I often describe canoe slalom as a kind of a collection of narrowly avoided disasters. We have a line that we kind of plan out down the river we think this is the way we want to be and we want to be pointing here and going in this direction. But white water often doesn’t really play that game. So that idea of being present is absolutely key in canoe slalom and I think probably in a lot of sports. And so it was really cool to be presented with this new way of actually training my mind. So in the Olympics myself and my crew mate at the time Tim, you know we raced that run so hard, so clear, it was so close but yet thankfully and happily we got the gold medal that day. It was just an amazing experience for us. My perception of myself is that I’m not naturally talented at my sport. Everything I’ve learnt I have picked up and kind of ground into myself and my career as such has been a lot of ups and downs but challenges happen all the time. And I think you know Headspace has given me the ability to kind of weather and grow through these problems. To understand your thoughts are just thoughts, they’re not you, and the skill of mindfulness which you learn through meditation is actually the most valuable thing — and that is a great benefit to athletes and probably more generally a lot of people who kind of wish they could be a bit more mellow sometimes.

Jerry Heath

2 Comments

  1. Great video, keep it up guys. Appreciate seeing people from all walks of life speak about their experience.

  2. I plan to use elements of mindfulness in my sport psychology practice. Informative video that resonates with my past competitive experiences. Nice work.

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