On August 1, 2012, at the London Olympic Games, Yutong Luo, a Chinese diving athlete, won his first Olympic gold medal in the three-meter springboard synchronized diving men's final. However, prior to this achievement, he had been silent in the Chinese diving “Dream Team” for over twelve years and had failed to qualify to represent China in the previous three Olympic Games. The truth was that he had been highly competitive at every competition, but it seemed luck was never on his side.
Eleven months before the London Olympic Games, the first author of this chapter was contacted and invited to work with Yutong. Yutong explained that his major problem over the years had been that he did not know how to deal with the overwhelming anxiety and stress, which had severely sabotaged his performance. By making use of some psychological skills (mainly relaxation techniques) to control his anxiety, he had managed to locate the source of his stressors and change his belief patterns. However, despite this, every time an important competition arrived, he was still unsuccessful in controlling his anxiety and the pressure he felt.
An alternative mindfulness-based training approach, as outlined in this chapter, was introduced to Yutong. This approach highlighted to him the importance of accepting and decentering from his anxieties rather than trying to control or change them. In addition to the formal mindfulness practice, he implemented a three-minute meditation technique to practice during his diving training. Since this mindfulness training, Yutong learned to embrace various experiences, which were also accompanied by positive feedback from his coaches.
A gold medal in hand, Yutong Luo finally realized his Olympic dream in London, resulting from the tough technical, physical, and mental preparation. As demonstrated by this example, mindfulness training is now being used as an alternative approach to enhance athletes’ performance and overall well-being (Gardner & Moore, 2004; Moore, 2009), compared to the traditional psychological skill training (PST) programs that are based on cognitive behavioral training models (Meichenbaum, 1977).
Traditional PST has dominated athletes’ mental training over the last thirty years (Harmison, 2011). The basic assumption of traditional PST is that athletes need to develop the capacity to control internal states for the purpose of achieving an optimal psychological state (Hardy, Jones, & Gould, 1996).