Dan Vitchoff Coaches Glenn Eller and Vincent Hancock to Develop a Gold Medal Mindset

U.S. Olympic Gold Medalists, Walton Glenn Eller and Vincent Hancock are featured in the new Sports Illustrated dated August 25, 2008

FORGET THE millions that Michael Phelps will make from wearing a certain watch, playing a particular video game or munching a marketable energy bar. Never mind the extra zero on the end of Kobe's shoe contract after these Games. And so what if Usain Bolt's appearance fee now includes two cars and a small island for every 10 seconds of sprinting. Glenn Eller is going to be a homeowner. Eller's gold medal in double trap last week was among the six medals won in Beijing by eagle-eyed U.S. marksmen, who hadn't shot this well at an Olympics since 1984. It may sound excessively mercenary to measure Olympic success by dollar signs, but the performance bonuses for the successful sharpshooters arguably rewarded athletes who could most use the benefits. Before the Games, USA Shooting set up a unique incentive plan which increased the rewards for individual medals by a factor of how many medals the team won. Because the team hit its maximum projected haul of six, the spoils were large for athletes who must generally hold down regular jobs that still allow them time for extensive practice sessions. "One of the things we identified that could make us better was teamwork, getting good vibes," said Matt Emmons, a silver medalist in the 50-meter prone. "We set it up so everyone would pull for each other." It's easy to pull for Eller, a 26-year-old Army specialist at Fort Benning, Ga., who earns $800 per biweekly paycheck. He picked up an $80,000 bonus from USA Shooting for his gold and $25,000 from the USOC, which he says will allow him to move out of the spare room he rents from a friend and into his first house. "I have no idea what I'm going to do with the rest," says Eller, who failed to win a medal at his previous two Olympics. "I never thought I'd see this much. I didn't know everyone would do so well." Another gold medal winner, in skeet, was Vincent Hancock, the precocious 19-year-old private, first class, who is also stationed at Fort Benning. Named world shooter of the year at 16, Hancock is also known for his habit of pacing between rounds rather than seeking the meditative calm favored by most shooters. Kim Rhode, 29, a veterinary student from El Monte, Calif., had won three Olympic medals in double trap, but when the women's event was eliminated this year, she switched to women's skeet and won a silver. Jason Turner, 33, from Rochester, N.Y., won a bronze in 10-meter air pistol after North Korea's Kim Jong Su, the original third-place finisher, failed a doping test. Corey Cogdell, a 21-year-old Alaskan hunter who began shooting in national competitions only two years ago, took bronze in the women's trap. All will share the riches with Eller, whose father, Butch, watched the 1996 Atlanta Games with him from the stands and told him he would win the Olympics someday, even if there was no money to be made at it. Half of his prediction was on target.

Coach targets mental game in high-pressure sport

Peter Fimrite, Chronicle Staff Writer Sunday, August 17, 2008
Vincent Hancock is a nervous person, who by his own admission simply cannot keep still. How does a jittery 19-year-old kid from Georgia keep cool under the intense pressure of an Olympic final when everyone around him is sweating bricks? That's where Daniel Vitchoff steps in. "I specialize in hypnosis," said Vitchoff, a performance coach and sports psychologist hired to work with the U.S. shooting team. "When you are shooting in the Olympics, it comes down to who can best perform under extreme pressure. Out there, everybody is as good as the next person. It's not a physical thing anymore. The difference between the best and the rest is the mental game." Shooters must control their emotions yet still maintain their intensity and concentration. It is especially hard because there is no physical outlet for all the adrenaline that is building. It is a recipe for the yips. "There are guys who shoot perfect scores in practice and then they fall apart in the competition," Vitchoff said. "It's like having a phobia. It gets into their head and tears them apart. A lot of what I do is teach them to let it go." That's where the hypnosis comes in. The idea, Vitchoff said, is to put the athletes into a meditative state by lowering their blood pressure and heart rate, sometimes with music. Vitchoff then uses what is essentially the power of suggestion to reinforce positive thoughts. He said he goes over the relaxation techniques repeatedly until his subjects are able to reach what he calls the "zone." "Look at Michael Jordon. When he played, his tongue was out, his jaw was relaxed. He was in a zone," Vitchoff said. Another technique is called modeling, in which he takes something the athlete is struggling with and has him or her watch video over and over of that particular thing being done successfully. "In our business, we always say success has a structure," Vitchoff said. "If you watch success, you can duplicate it." Eating right and proper exercise are crucial parts of such a regimen, Vitchoff said. For shooters, he recommends more protein - because carbohydrates hype you up and then make you crash - and repetitive exercise like running and biking. "The stronger your heart, the slower it beats, so if I have to pull the trigger between heartbeats, I want to work on slowing it down," Vitchoff said. This article appeared on page C - 12 of the San Francisco Chronicle.

California High grad had hand in bringing home two shooting golds

By Ron Paglia, For the Herald-Standard 08/19/2008
A California High School graduate had a hand in bringing home the gold from the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing. Dan Vitchoff trained two American Olympic athletes who won gold medals. Walton Glenn Eller, a member of the U.S. Army Marksmanship Unit (USAMU) made Olympic history when he won the gold medal in Men's Double Trap Shooting, and Vincent Hancock of the U.S. Army Marksmanship Unit won a Gold Medal in skeet shooting. Daniel S. Vitchoff, MS Ed, CHT and a 1978 graduate of California Area High School, is a mental training and performance coach. He worked for months with Eller, Hancock and other members of the U.S. Army Marksmanship Unit at Fort Benning, Ga., in preparation for the Games. Hancock, 19, set a new Olympic record by hitting 121 of 125 targets in the qualifying rounds. Eller, a native of Houston, Texas, won the Men's Double Trap competition last week and set two Olympic records in the process. In doing so, he brought home the gold for the United States for the first time in 24 years. The third time proved to be the proverbial "charm" for Eller, who finished 12th in the 2000 Olympics and 17th in 2004. His first qualifying score of 145 in Beijing set an Olympic record and then total score of 190 established another standard, breaking the previous mark of 189 set by Ahmed Almaktoun of United Arab Emirates in 2004. Jeffrey Holquin, another American who trained with Vitchoff, finished fourth. Vitchoff, owner of the Pennsylvania Hypnosis Center in Pittsburgh, works with members of the USAMU and other athletes to enhance their intense focus and concentration under pressure in competition. A graduate of Point Park University in Pittsburgh, he has worked as a hypnotherapist, performance coach and psychotherapist. Vitchoff became affiliated with the U.S. team in 2005 when he met them at a charity shooting event, Hunters Share the Harvest, at Rolling Rock Country Club in Ligonier. "I did some work with them up there and they liked what they saw," Vitchoff recalled. "I talked with them about different types of mental training they do and showed them techniques by which anyone can learn to master a skill through mental training and hypnosis." Vitchoff said his work with the marksmanship crew is based on the same concept he uses in helping other athletes improve their skills. "Those involved in such individual competition sports as shooting, tennis and golf understand what needs to be done," he said. "They train to get to the zone state even before competing. In doing so, they learn to completely clear their minds, reframe their thoughts to focus on the competition ahead. It's not like a team sport where players can rely on each other. Here, the individuals are on their own. They alone can succeed or fail." Eller, 26, built a strong lead during qualifying and clinched the Gold Medal by hitting 45 of 50 targets in the final round. He led by four shots entering the final, meaning a 47 would have clinched the top medal even if every other competitor posted perfect scores. He missed the first two targets in the final but recovered and clinched the Gold Medal by hitting both targets in the next to last pair.

North Hills man helps Olympic shooters in Beijing

By Chris Buckley TRIBUNE-REVIEW NEWS SERVICE Saturday, August 23, 2008 Many athletes dream of Olympic glory. California native and 1978 California Area High School graduate Dan Vitchoff helped three shooters visualize that goal, prepare mentally and then watched them "go for the gold." Vitchoff, who owns Pennsylvania Hypnosis Center in the North Hills, is a sports psychologist. His recent first Olympic experience turned out golden. In Beijing, he used his own "33 Method," which he kept under wraps until after the competition was complete. An all-encompassing program, it includes a combination of programs used in performance coaching, including hypnosis, NLP, visualization, breathing exercises and nutrition. Brain wave activity was monitored. The athletes also listen to music that manipulates and calms down the brain Sports psychology is nothing new, but Vitchoff has taken it to the edge. At Beijing, Vitchoff worked with three shooters. Vince Hancock won the gold in the men's skeet shoot while Walton "Glenn" Eller won the gold medal in the men's double trap. Both set Olympic record scores in the process. Jeff Holguin finished fourth in the men's double trap. "Shooting is very mental," Vitchoff said. "Everybody who makes the Olympics could win on any given day. The winners are ones who are able to perform under pressure." Vitchoff was introduced to shooters during an event at Ligonier in 2005. His involvement with the U.S. Army Marksmanship Unit and U.S. Shooting began shortly after that. This was Vitchoff's first Olympic experience. "It was one of the most incredible experiences I've ever seen," Vitchoff said. "It was one of the most incredible displays of poise and talent I've seen." The experience opened other possible doors for Vitchoff. He received inquiries from other countries. "But I'm committed to these guys and to our country," Vitchoff said. "Seeing our flag go up that pole was truly inspiring." Within the next couple weeks, Vitchoff will switch gears and seasons. Vitchoff also works with golfers, hockey and football players, wrestlers and gymnasts. He is also working on a program to help basketball players improve their free throw shooting. Because there is a certain amount of confidentiality with athletes, Vitchoff declined to identify other clients. Vitchoff said he saw parallels between Beijing and the Mid-Mon Valley. "One morning I got up to jog at 6 a.m.," Vitchoff said. "I thought, 'Hey, this looks a lot like the Mon Valley with people going to the steel mills.' "It reminded me of the Mon Valley. The people were very friendly and so accommodating. When I grew up, the people did not make excuses; they just got things done." Chris Buckley can be reached at cbuckley@tribweb.com or 724-684-2642.

Other articles in the News

U.S. Soldiers Win Olympic Gold
Glenn Eller article with ESPN
Vinny Hancock article with Atlanta Journal

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