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Tara Lipinski on the Discipline to Be Great | Key Insights from Game Changers with Molly Fletcher

February 22, 2022 Deana LaFauci

“It comes down to the mental game and how competitive and gritty you are.” — Tara Lipinski

The 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing have ended, but throughout these Games, we were treated to incredible displays of determination, commitment and passion.

Among some of our favorite moments? Getting to experience the Olympics through the eyes of athletes who have traveled the same path. This year, viewers who tuned in to figure skating heard expert analysis from two former Olympians, Johnny Weir and Tara Lipinski, who have called the sport together since the 2014 Sochi Games.

Tara Lipinski catapulted onto the world stage at age 15, becoming the youngest individual gold medalist ever at the 1998 Winter Olympics. Tara recently sat down with trailblazing sports agent and author Molly Fletcher, host of the podcast Game Changers with Molly Fletcher, for a discussion about leadership and her journey as a champion athlete. In their conversation, Tara  discusses the sacrifice and immense discipline it takes to be elite and what it is like to perform under pressure.

Check out our key takeaways from their conversation, then download the full episode to listen now! And, be sure to subscribe for more updates from special guests, including top athletes and coaches, transformative CEOs, brilliant thought leaders, and entrepreneurs and trailblazers from around the world. Subscribe on iTunes, Google Play, Stitcher or Spotify.

1. Greatness is not just about talent. Never underestimate drive.

What does it take to make an Olympic champion? A great athlete? Tara emphasizes the hard work, and points out that, for her, it was discipline that allowed her to tap into her full potential and reach the heights of her sport. “To me, it doesn’t always come down to raw talent,” Tara explained.

“I was talented, but I didn’t have loads and loads of raw talent to fall back on,” Tara shared with Molly. “I looked at other skaters and thought, ‘Why does that come so easily to them?’ I worked so hard. And, by the time I went to the Olympics, there were no regrets.”

Tara identifies the motivation to continue as her key differentiator. As Molly explains, people overestimate talent, and underestimate discipline.

2. We need to shift out of a doubtful mindset to embrace the possibilities before us.

Professional athletes know a thing or two about pressure—and an athlete that falls into a habit of negative thinking allows doubt to erode their ability to perform.

Tara shared her tricks for shifting from a doubtful, negative mindset to an open mindset, including distraction techniques. Before performing, she would think of blue elephants, instead of a negative thought about an upcoming jump. She would also record herself talking herself through jumps and routines, giving her a boost of positive reinforcement.

Molly pointed out that in many other sports, you get a second shot—in figure skating, the single moment is the challenge.

“It’s a mental game,” agreed Tara. “All these skaters are at such an elite level, that it really comes down to the mental game and how competitive and gritty you are as an athlete. It’s 99% mental and 1% physical at this point.”

3. It’s time to start putting mental health first.

Last summer, Simone Biles showcased a distinctly new approach to leadership within her sport. At the very top of her game, and during her sport’s most prominent showcase, she realized she was not prepared to take to the sky. She knew her mental state could affect her performance—potentially leading to injury. She took a step back, empowering others on her team to take the lead and compete. Her ability to set healthy limits—even as the world watched, and the pressure was at its greatest—started a new conversation across all sports and empowered athletes to begin to prioritize their mental health in a new, bold way.

Molly asked Tara what that moment meant to her as an athlete. “It’s so great that someone like Simone came forward,” said Tara. “I bet if you asked all the athletes who came before her—either years or decades before—we probably all would have said, ‘Wow, I don’t know if I thought I had a choice.’ And thinking about that now, that’s really sad. I don’t think I thought I had a choice.

A high-profile athlete, at the height of her career, changed the conversation for athletes—introducing a new choice that, for many, simply hadn’t existed before: The Opt-Down.

“Thank goodness Simone came around and reminded us: This is you. This is your body. This is your life. It’s your job to keep yourself mentally and physically healthy. Just because you are an Olympic athlete and people think you should follow through on something, doesn’t mean you have to do that,” said Tara.

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