Where's your head at?

Psychology and performance, especially in sport go hand in hand [Check out this blog hereabout how we work alongside psychologists for the very best for the athletes in sport and life]. Here Sorrel talks about some great tips and ideas to implement in your sporting toolkit.

As a coach, there are sometimes occasions when I have post-race conversations with athletes where things haven't gone according to plan.

There are two types of athlete in this situation; ones that cope well with unexpected changes and ones that don't.

It isn't related to personality types, genders, race distance or even experience...the difference is those that spend time training their mind to work with them, rather than against them.

I am fairly sure that every athlete arrives at the start line to do their best - however, certain things can occur throughout the course of the race that can knock people off their balance.  The question is how to remain calm and level headed and cope with whatever it is that has happened or is happening.

There are a number of strategies that can be used to help plan and prepare for the unknown - I realise that planning for the unknown is quite a challenge because if you know something is going to happen, then it isn't unknown!

However, here are a number of strategies that may be useful to make sure you stay cool, calm and collected on race day.

The 'What If' scenario

Spend some weeks in the run up to your race thinking of things that might throw you off course or that you are nervous/worried about.  Then take that 'what if' and provide your brain with a sensible response to the situation.  The more you go through your 'what if' list, the more you will be able to cope with it if it becomes a reality.

For example, w

hat if

 I can't find my spot in transition?

 That's ok, 

all the racks are numbered and I have my number plastered all over my body, I just need to look down and find the number and follow the racking numbers.

I've swum in worse.....

What if

 the sea swim is really rough? 

That's ok

, I remember back to the time I practised swimming in rough water and it wasn't so bad.

          Don't be grumpy - you've practised this!

What if

 I get a puncture on the bike? 

That's ok,

 I have practised replacing a tube lots of times and I can do it.

For the things that you are concerned about, sit down quietly and go through the 

what if's

 that are troubling you.  It may help to enlist a friend/training buddy/partner to help you as they may notice something that you hadn't considered.  Once complete, then keep the list and refresh your mind with what you will do 


 it happens - and add to the list, or take things away.

Note:  'What if my Garmin comes off in the swim?  That's ok, I didn't wear it to start off with' is the acceptable response here....wearing a spare in the swim is not!

The 'So What' response

This one is similar to the 

What if

 scenario, but covers those eventualities that you hadn't thought of. Getting into the mindset of 

so what

 is quite easy....repeat the sentence that has entered your head and follow it up with a 

so what


For example; the start line is further back than I thought it would be - 

so what

?  Nothing really, it's further back - end of conversation.

There should be a feed station at 3km in the run and my Garmin has gone off and it isn't here - 

so what

?  So keep running until you get to it, they're hardly going to move it after you indignantly stand there and insist that there should be a feed station there!

That person over there has a better bike than me - 

so what

?  They have a better bike than you....and?

Staying in the moment

It's important to concentrate on the task at hand, not the task that is coming up.  During the swim the focus should be on your swimming.  Nothing else.  Thinking of all those things you have been practising and improving...swimming with rhythm, finishing off your stroke, sighting well.  This isn't the time to be thinking about the bike, the run, or transition.  The time to move on from swimming is when you haul yourself up out of the lake/run up the beach/jump out of the pool and run to transition.  Then you can think about something else, and it should be transition...going through the mantra in your head of the things you have practiced (if you want some tips, have a look at the 'From zero to hero' transition blog 


), once through transition, you can think about the bike and so on.

Unhelpful chatter

It's not unusual for your mind to start nagging at you when the going gets tough.  A common one is a little voice in your head that says 'this is hard, this hurts...let's slow down or better still; stop'.   The trick here is to recognise when your mind is becoming destructive and to actively do something about it.  Imagining you have two dials in your head; one with a big + sign on it, and one with a big - sign on it, visualising the turning down of the negative talk and turning up the positive talk is one way of coping with this.

Distract Pessimistic Pete in your head by thinking of something else; it's well known that Paula Radcliffe would count in her head when running a marathon.  I know from personal experience that when I need to be distracted from negative thoughts and more focused, counting to 200 on the run = 1km.  Bonus!

Positive self talk

Once the negative dial has been turned down, the positive phrases can come to the forefront of your mind.  It's worth practising these in your training sessions to see which ones work for you; 'I can do this' might work better if replaced with 'Look at me, I am doing this', or 'I am a powerful swimmer' with the word powerful to coincide with the propulsion part of your stroke.  Lyrics from songs can also be very powerful, not only because they have a little tune attached to them, but they often mean something very personal to you


Be careful though, you also need to stay in the moment, so don't get so distracted that you wander off course or forget to hold good form.  Counting breaths, arm strokes, pedal strokes are all good ways of distraction but also staying in the moment and having a calming effect on your mind.

These are by no means the definitive list of things to help with the mental aspect of training and racing, watch out for further blogs on this topic, but in the meantime have a practice at the above and hopefully they will help you to remain focused on the task at hand to result in a more successful and enjoyable race.