The physical training you have been doing is important, but mental training for endurance athletes is just as important. The mind and body are connected. You could be a well-trained athlete, but if you lack confidence or are anxious, then your training and racing will not reach the potential you are capable of reaching.
Here are some ways you can work on the mental side of sport:
Goals give you direction and something to strive for. When setting goals, set both Outcome and Process goals.
Outcome goals are measureable, like finishing a race or finishing within a certain time or place. But being too focused on outcome goals can lead to burnout. This is why it’s important to also have Process goals, which are goals you have along the way. When you’re feeling unmotivated or burnt out, process goals help by making you feel accomplished.
When setting goals, you want them to be:
• Realistic & challenging
They should push you to work hard and extend yourself in order to meet those goals. By being challenging, they are also more satisfying when attained.
• Specific & observable, not general
• Have a time frame
• Short-term and long-term
• Positive, not negative
Worrying about a goal time or finishing a race can make athletes feel very anxious. Anxiety is normal and shows you care about what you’re doing, but too much anxiety is counterproductive.
Some things you can do to manage your anxiety pre-race are:
• Get a good night’s sleep a few days before the race.
• Get everything you need ready the night before the race.
• Put yourself on autopilot on race day. Do your usual warm-up and everything you would normally do before training so that race morning feels like any other day.
• Give yourself plenty of time, don’t rush.
Bad races aren’t really a bad thing. We learn more from our bad races than our good races.
When you have a disappointing race, think back to the race and training and what may have led to the results.
When you start to lose confidence while training or racing, stop negative thoughts and replace them with positive ones.
Remember this quote by Henry Ford:
“Whether you think you can or think you can’t, you’re probably right”
Visualization is an important and strong tool. Use it to see yourself training and racing successfully and to picture what you would do in unexpected situations during a race (how would you carry out plan B?).
Visualization helps with:
• Learning new skills
• Improving existing skills
• Being able to handle unexpected situations during a race
• Improve focus
• Reduce anxiety & stress
Some points to remember while visualizing:
• Use all of your senses (sight, hearing, smell, touch, taste & feel) and also include emotion.
• Don’t just watch, as if it were a movie, but see everything from your point of view
• Put some time aside to visualize. If you find it hard to visualize, don’t give up. Practicing it will help.
Be In The Moment
The only thing you can control & be responsible for is what you’re doing right now.
Worried about what you have to do tomorrow? It may not happen.
Thinking about mistakes you made yesterday? The past is done, you can’t change it.
What you can change is what you’re doing right now. Staying focused will help you complete your task at hand and complete it well.
While you could start out doing all the above, keep in mind that every little bit helps. So even one part of mental training will help you improve. If you’re new to mental training, don’t feel pressured to have to do it all at once. Some athletes find it easier than others. Be patient with yourself and try one thing at a time.