Hometown Heroes: Celebrating the Special People who Drive our Local Sports Community
By City of Ottawa Sports Commissioner Mathieu Fleury
I recently had the pleasure of chatting with mental performance coach Jean François Ménard, who is attending his fourth Olympic Games this month (having previously been to the 2016 Games in Rio, the 2018 Games in PyeongChang and Tokyo’s 2020 Games).
Ménard, a highly sought out motivational speaker, has worked with some of our countries’ top athletes including Damian Warner, Scott Moir, Tessa Virtue and Laurent Duvernay Tardif.
At the 2022 Beijing Games, he is working with 7 athletes in 5 sports, including mogul skier Mikaël Kingsbury and snowboarder Max Parrot.
As a mental performance coach, his role is essentially to take care of athletes’ brains, to make sure they can perform at their best. Ménard makes sure his athletes are ready to deal with the pressure, to put their focus on the right thing at the right time.
“I am a big believer that every Olympic athlete shows up at the Olympics ready physically and ready technically,” says Ménard. “They’re all strong, they’re all powerful, but in the end, the ones who typically perform their best at the Olympic Games are the ones who can manage the moment.”
Ménard stresses that Olympic medals are not won by chance. He teaches his athletes to put their focus on the right thing at the right time. He ensures that when they get to the Olympics, they have the necessary toolbox and are equipped to deal with any stresses and anxieties.
As he heads off to Beijing, he is celebrating the release of a new book, Train Your Brain Like an Olympian.
Whether an athlete or not, the brain is the motor to performance. Ménard suggests that when the brain is strong, it is impressive how you can perform up to your potential on a regular basis.
He saw a strong link between some of the mental skills he teaches in the sports world that are transferable and useful to business professionals, public servants, decision makers, business professionals and people in the workplace.
Before an athlete skis down a mountain at 140 km an hour, they will use mindful breathing to stay calm and in control. They use this technique to make sure it is the smart part of their brain that is operating, so that they can expertly execute the way they planned to ski on the course. Mindful breathing could be as practical for a corporate leader who is about to give an important presentation. They can ensure they go into that situation having the smart part of their brain firing and that they are calm and in control.
The idea of the book is to make people understand that you don’t need to be an elite athlete to train your brain. The book is written in first person, so it’s like Ménard is coaching you.
As he and the athletes he is currently coaching have been preparing for these Games, they have had to deal with additional challenges brought on by living and training in COVID times.
Ménard says the big challenge with COVID is not what they will have to deal with at the Games, but the protocols leading up to their departure. There are so many screenings before departing Canada, that he is confident anyone going to the Games should not have the virus. The big challenge is to get on the plane to China. Most Olympians will now say that their number one goal is not to get COVID.
Canadian athletes have been living in very strict protocols in this country over the past few years and Ménard thinks the rigid rules in place at the 2022 Olympics relating to the pandemic will not be unfamiliar or distracting.
We will be cheering our Canadian Olympic team on from Ottawa and look forward to seeing great things from Ménard and his talented Olympians.