Friday, May 27, 2011

Sports Psychology

Today’s post is brought to you by my partner in Dr. Pereles-stalking-crime, the fabulous Amy Reinink!  
I'm not a professional athlete. When I sign up for a 5K, I can say with almost absolute certainty that I'm the only person on earth who gives a crap about my time. I will never win prize money in a race. And while the sense of accomplishment upon crossing the finish line is always nice, it's not necessarily enough to keep me going on 20-mile training runs or 7K training swims. 
So why do we bother racing, anyway?
If you're a regular reader of Katie's blog, you know that she's faced some obstacles in her training, including some injuries that have made her wonder: Why is it so much harder for me than for other people? Having struggled through my own share of injuries, I've asked the same question myself. But I believe that getting past that question, and simply accepting our journeys for what they are, is the real reason we race. 
I sign up for marathons and open-water swims and other crazy challenges because I value the mental toughness I develop from getting past the tough parts of a race and crossing the finish line. When life gets rough, I want to be able to course-correct by simply telling myself: "It's OK," the same way Katie did during the swim portion of her half-Ironman earlier this month. 
With that in mind, I'd like to share some tips I originally posted on my blog at amyreinink.com. They're from top sports psychologists, and amazingly, they work. 

1. Identify negative or distorted thinking. Sports psychologist Alison Arnold says negative thoughts can be sneaky. We know better than to tell ourselves we’re about to have a crappy workout. We’re more likely to make definitive statements about our performance: “I always get tired around this point,” or “I always get hurt in the winter,” Arnold says.
Letting your mind focus on pain that might be quite real – “My knee is killing me” – counts, too.

2. Substitute positive thoughts – or at least neutral ones. Arnold says not to sweat it if positive, sunny thoughts don’t ring true at first, and suggests taking “one step up on the feel-good scale.” So it's less about saying, "My knee feels great!" and more about saying, "I guess today's my day to chill out and enjoy the scenery." Or even just: "It's OK," which is a powerful mantra in and of itself.

3. Channel your passion. Every runner should have a long-term goal they’re passionate about and should remind themselves of that goal often. A runner training for Race for the Cure might repeat “cure” during speed workouts. A runner training for a marathon might hang a course map on the refrigerator, tape a motivational quote to the bathroom mirror or create a billboard with inspirational magazine cutouts and photos.

4. Find a mantra. While we were fighting, wheezing and gasping our way up a killer hill at the end of the Earth Day 5K a couple weeks ago, Katie managed to stop wheezing for a few moments to share this lovely one: "Your heart is a weapon the size of your fist.
I couldn't stop wheezing for long enough to thank her, but I've been repeating it to myself ever since. 
5. Express gratitude. Sports psychologist Kay Porter suggests thanking your body as if it’s a separate person. Give your body constant shout-outs during hard workouts and races. Promise it an ice bath, a protein shake, a good dinner out, a post-race massage. It can also be helpful to maintain a genuine sense of gratitude for every step—which is one thing we injured runners do quite well. 

Give one of these a try before your next run. Once you've mastered them in your training, try applying them to your life—which is what it's all about anyway, right?

7 comments:

  1. This might be one of my favorite posts (and favorite set of pictures) ever. Thanks for sharing!

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  2. Great post! I can def use this to help me during my injury as well!

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  3. Love this- thanks so much for the friday mojo! So agree with everything!

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  4. It's definitely hard to avoid the negative thoughts, particularly during a not so great workout, and I'm sure that contributes to the downward cycle. Thanks for sharing these tips for getting through the rough spots!

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  5. I totally agree with Amy. AWESOME post and Awesome pics! I really loved these tips. Thanks so much for sharing. I'll put them to good use.

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  6. Sports psychologists includes different techniques to increase sports performance. Some opt to teach at the university level, while others work directly with athletes to increase motivation and enhance performance. Other options are also included like client counseling, scientific research and athletic consulting. Thanks a lot.

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