Former Olympian preaches mental toughness to MSU

Sherry Winn has noticed an anomaly when talking to others in the coaching profession.

When Winn asks how important the mental approach is to their respective sports, coaches invariably say it’s a large percentage of the game. Yet when Winn asks how much practice time they use to teach mental toughness, they shrug.

Winn, a former Olympian and women’s college basketball coach, is visiting Minot this week to preach her philosophy to Minot State University athletes and coaches.

“(Mental toughness is) something that is teachable,” the 52-year-old said. “You can start focusing on controllable factors. You can control your reactions. You can control the flow of momentum by how you control your reactions.”

MSU women’s basketball coach Sheila Green Gerding played for Winn at Montana State University-Northern and arranged for her former coach to visit this week.

“I think she gave some very, very valuable tools to us as coaches,” Green Gerding said. “I think sometimes we just think that going out and pushing kids to practice hard is developing mental toughness, but she really has some key things that we can work on to develop those kids. That’s something you gotta work on. You can’t just take it for granted.”

Winn was on the United States’ Olympic handball team in 1984 and 1988, two of the four American teams to qualify for the Olympics. Her 23-year coaching career included stops at Minnesota-Morris, MSU-Northern, Southern Colorado and the University of Charleston (W. Va.), where she finished her basketball playing career after her first trip to the Olympics.

Among her coaching achievements are an NAIA national championship at Northern in 1993 and consecutive appearances in the Division II Elite 8 with Charleston in 2005 and 2006.

Winn said her success as an athlete and coach carries weight with student-athletes, but the message is the most important.

“I think the Olympic label and that I’ve been a successful coach as well, I think when I start talking about things they wanna listen,” Winn said. “And then also you have to present the message in a way they wanna hear it. You could be whoever you wanna be, but if you don’t present a good message, it doesn’t matter.”

Daniel Allar covers Minot State University athletics. Follow him on Twitter @DAllar_MDN.