For years, a behind-the-scenes team of human performance experts at Under Armour has pushed some of the world’s best athletes to their mental and physical limits — from snowshoeing Mount Hood at 12,000 feet to their latest plan, a camping excursion to Northern Alaska to test how bodies and minds react to sub-zero temperatures.
Their work, based on world-class scientific research and cutting-edge training techniques, shows that training athletes’ minds to overcome the turmoil inherent in the highest levels of sport is just as important as training their bodies to physically endure it.
“Mental strength enables athletes to maintain peak performance. Athleticism will come if you start with the mind,” said Paul Winsper, Under Armour’s vice president of human performance, science and research.
Winsper — and his more than 25 years of experience counseling championship athletes and international organizations on athletic performance — guides the team of accredited academics and globally recognized experts whose unconventional studies yield innovative insights for the company and its athletes.
Now, Under Armour is sharing its extensive mental strength training expertise to help athletes improve their mental strength and overall athletic performance.
Through the UA Performance Academy, a digital hub featuring mental strength training knowledge, exercises, and tools, the brand is making mental performance techniques used by the world’s top athletes available to all.
“We’re currently living in a world of high uncertainty anxiety. There is really no better time to invest in training your mind to support both high performance and mental wellness,” said Dr. Michael Gervais, a high-performance psychologist.
“From a psychological perspective, athletes are a great target group to learn these mental training practices from because they deal with uncertainty regularly, as the outcome of competition is uncertain.”Dr. Michael Gervais
Understanding the strengths of athletes’ minds comes from the broader belief that there are three key areas on which athletes can focus their training: the body, the craft, and the mind.
Athletes work with physical trainers to strengthen the body and coaches to refine the craft, but the mind is often left out of traditional training routines. With the UA Performance Academy, Under Armour aims to fill that instructional void.
UA Performance Academy mental strength training content is grounded in scientific research and based on decades of experience with the skills and behaviors that world champions, hall-of-famers and other elite athletes use to get ahead.
The digital exercises will vary in format (audio and/or visual), length, and subject matter, with performance areas such as visualizing success, building optimism, setting clear goals, and calming your mind.
The brand will also be tapping top UA athletes like Michael Phelps, Anthony Joshua, Bella Alarie and Zhu Ting to share their own mental training journeys. And as Under Armour continues to track athletes’ challenges and needs, the platform will evolve to support them.
But the UA Performance Academy is just one of the many Under Armour projects that are supported by the research and expertise of Winsper and the human performance team.
Their insights are used to inform everything from athlete development to product design, bringing an authentic, scientific perspective to activities across the company.
For example, one of the human performance team’s key areas of study is sleep — understanding the science of sleep, the different stages of sleep, and how sleep supports an athlete’s recovery in areas like muscle repair, brain health and skill acquisition.
Based on this knowledge, the team has worked with several UA athletes to create personalized sleep sanctuaries, or environments optimized for sleep. By adjusting variables like bedding, lighting, temperature, and nighttime habits, the team helps athletes get the most out of their training, day and night.
Given the lengths the human performance team goes to find solutions that yield peak performance, its work may seem extreme, but there is always a method to the madness.
“The industry hasn’t really caught up with our approach, so we have a unique point of view on holistic athlete development and using what we learn to benefit the brand,”
Winsper said. “When we conduct research at the highest level of sport, we’re driven by the idea of connecting what we do at the elite level to Under Armour’s global network of athletes who want to perform better.”