Most races for the 2020 season have officially been canceled. I know this leaves many sad, frustrated, and wondering what comes next. I know a lot of hours were spent training for upcoming races and I know how disappointing it is when something goes wrong and you aren’t able to run a race as planned.
While not everyone will have the same reaction to the news, a lot of athletes are wondering what they should be doing during this uncertain time. They could be focusing on physical strength and conditioning, to help them prepare to hit the ground running when races and other sporting events open back up for larger groups. Unfortunately, with how uncertain the timing of everything opening back up is, it’s hard to create a physical strength and conditioning program that doesn’t lead to burnout or peaking early.
Why not spend this time working on the mental side of the game? Does this mean giving up the physical side of training? No. It will look different for everyone and it might mean continuing to maintain your physical strength and endurance, while also allowing yourself the time to really dive into and expand your mental toolkit!
Have you ever heard the expression running is 90% mental and 10% physical? I have heard this many times and agree that a large part of training and racing come with mental barriers and anxieties. Working with a mental performance specialist can help:
Improve concentration and focus
Improve motivation and goal setting
Improve communication skills
Enhance confidence and belief in one’s ability to be successful
Enhance decision making skills
Create and maintain positive environments
Create and implement a plan for race day, including pre-performance routines
Improve recovery and regeneration
Regulate emotions, anxiety and stress
So why not put this time to good use by working with a mental performance specialist who can help teach mental skills that can be utilized when we return to sport?
With that said, I know there are a lot of misconceptions about working with a mental performance specialist, here are a few debunked:
Sports psychologists or mental performance specialists only work with athletes, specifically elite Olympic-level athletes.
Mental performance is not just specific to sport. A lot of the things listed above are all skills that can be applied to many areas of life. A public speaker for example, may work with a mental performance specialist to improve communication, create pre-performance routines, and decrease anxiety about getting on stage.
Mental performance specialists are what people would consider “therapists” that are only sought out when people have an issue or problem they need help fixing.
Sport psychology is more like strength and conditioning, it can be a proactive tool utilized to help learn how to better prepare if a problem does arise, instead of a reactive measure when something goes wrong.
Coaches can do mental performance work with their athlete’s so a sports psychologist is not needed.
While there are many good coaches who may have some experience or training around mental performance, it is best to work directly with an expert who has an extensive education and experience.
Some athletes may have concerns they aren’t ready to talk about with their coach and giving another option of someone else to go to could be a benefit.
It doesn’t work:
It does! There is a lot of research from all different sports and different levels of sports, that support working with a sports psychologist/mental performance specialist.
The most important thing is to find what works best for you by finding a practitioner and approach best suited to your needs.
In order to find someone who is going to be the best fit for you, it is important to do some research before choosing which mental performance provider to work with. There are mental performance specialists/consultants/coaches that may not be registered psychologists. Make sure the person you plan to work with has adequate education and training for what you are looking for!
If you are interested in learning more about sport psychology a great place to start is the Association for Applied Sports Psychology, here is a link to some of their resources:
I hope this brief look into mental performance and sport psychology has given new insight on what this time away from competing could be used for to benefit your training and performance in the long run.
Stay safe and healthy!!