Almost every mainstream sport, and some not so mainstream, are in the winter or summer Olympics. That means almost every sport has one or more Olympic champions. If you can find a video of that champion's winning performance, you've got a guidebook for improving your results in your own sport.

Start by searching online for a video clip of your sport's medal winner. It may not be an individual you are looking for, but a team. If so, look for a team from a winning country. While NFL football is not an Olympic sport, rugby is, and it's a similar sport.

You don't have to be a competitive athlete to learn from a gold medalist. Even if you're only a weekend warrior or just enjoy doing your sport on your own, you'll enjoy it much more if you improve your skills, whether that involves snow riding, playing basketball for fun or using a bike for commuting.

Pyeongchang Olympics Cross Country Women

Kikkan Randall of the United States wins her heat in women's team sprint freestyle cross-country skiing at the Winter Olympics in South Korea. (AP Photo/Kirsty Wigglesworth)

To use an elite athlete to build your own performance, start by focusing on how that athlete moves. Do they hold their head forward or back? Analyze tiny details. If the athlete's chin is ahead of his or her chest, the head is forward. If the back of the head is in a straight line with the spine, the head is centered. If the chin tilts upward, the head is back.

The head is a major indicator of moves in a sport because where the eyes go, the body follows. That's why ski racers look several gates in front of them as they make their way down a race course, or an elite mountain biker turns his or her head to look at the trail in front, never looking down at the part of the trail over which the biker is riding.

Look at how the athlete you are learning from positions major joints. Knees may be held side by side, or one knee may be behind the other, or bent sideways to make a more supportive angle.

Look at the shoulders. Are they level, or does one shoulder dip when making a particular move? Analyze how they turn their core. In most winter sports, the legs and feet may be pointing in one direction while the upper body is turned to a different direction. This is especially true in hockey and ski racing.

Pyeongchang Olympics Alpine Skiing

The United States' Mikaela Shiffrin competes in the women's combined slalom at the 2018 Winter Olympics in South Korea. (AP Photo/Luca Bruno)

For summer sports like cycling, examine where the head is held in relation to the knees and the toes.

Once you've analyzed major movements that are obvious, look for subtler moves. For example, if basketball is your sport and you're watching athletes on a pro team play, look to see whether arms come up at the same time the feet leave the floor, or whether the shoulders lift first before the feet leave the floor. If cycling or another kind of bike riding is your game, examine the position of the leg coming up on the back pedal. Look at the muscles; is that leg helping to pull up the pedal?

Don't try to learn everything about your chosen Olympian's entire position at once. You'll never be able to put all that information into your practice. Select one particular detail, then go out and practice it.

What you should be doing is something called "focused practice." Let's say you've been holding your elbows close to your body in the game, but you've realized that elite athletes and Olympians in the sport hold their elbows spread out more. So train and practice your sport as usual, but focus constantly on extending your elbows away from your body, rather than close to your sides.

It takes a skilled eye to notice small and subtle details in the moves of the athlete (or athletes) you want to emulate, but the skill of observation will also come with practice. As you note each detail and perform focused practice to concentrate on placing the move in your muscle memory, your sporting skills will expand and turn you into a much better athlete.


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Wina Sturgeon is the editor of the online magazine Adventure Sports Weekly, which offers the latest training, diet and athletic information.