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Sports Psychology - Improve Your Performance

“Baseball is ninety percent mental  - the other half is physical”. – Yogi Berra

mental side of training imageWhat Yogi was saying, in his usual humorous way, was that the mental side of baseball is extremely important for success. Today, sports psychology is a key component of most training programs for elite athletes and pro-sports teams.

We can also use these same basic principles to help us train for, and perform better in our own sport. Motivation, focus, and visualization are some of the areas where the mental aspect is important to your performance. 

In this article I will use the example of marathon training, but the principles can apply to any sport like cycling, swimming, triathlon, and general exercise.

Focus and goal-setting

The ability to stay focused can mean the difference between a mediocre performance or a really great one. In marathon training you need to set goals (short and long term) and frequently remind yourself of those goals. For example: 

Motivation

It can be very hard to stay motivated through the complete training period which can be 16 weeks or more in the case of marathon training. Just getting yourself out of the door in bad weather to tackle a 10 mile training run can be a challenge in itself.

Some things you can do to keep motivated are:

  • Train with a friend or join a marathon training group

  • Think, “I’ll do it today so I won’t have to worry about it tomorrow”

  • Read articles or books about marathon running

  • Focus on achieving your goals

Visualization

This powerful technique is used by many successful athletes. It involves mentally seeing a picture of yourself succeeding at key points in the event. In the marathon you could for example:

  • Picture yourself at the halfway point feeling good.

  • Visualize yourself feeling an energy decrease around mile 18 but working through it.

  • Picking up the pace at mile 23!

  • Reaching the 26.2 mile finish

You will be surprised how this can help when these moments actually happen. In effect, you have trained you mind to experience the physical event.

Try This Visualization Experiment

Have you ever thrown a piece of crumpled paper at the trash bucket - and missed?

Here's a simple way to improve your accuracy. Instead of aiming directly at the trashcan, imagine an arc going from yourself to the center of the target. Now throw the paper to the top this imaginary arc – you will find that it goes right into the middle of the can.

That’s how powerful this can technique be.

 Use Your Mind

When it comes to the marathon or any aerobic sport, we need to use our minds to have the best possible race we can on that specific day. There are many physical factors that can impact our performance. We need to recognize these and deal with them pro-actively. Some of these factors are

  • The weather

  • The course

  • Our conditioning

Mental Stamina

How do some athletes push beyond their physical limits?

Now before we answer this question remember - we are walking (running!) a fine line between success and injury. So how far you want to push yourself is up to you.

Use visualization to take your mind off the pain. Don’t listen to others. In my first marathon at NY I was running along chatting with a fellow runner. We were both slowing down so when he suggested walking I readily agreed. In retrospect though I could have carried on running for another mile or so.

However,  talking with a fellow runner helps distract your mind from focusing on your aches and pains.

Another simple technique that works really well is to consciously adjust your form. Straighten up, (how many marathon runners are slumped over, head down and shuffling along by mile 22?) lift your head up and look around at where you are. Take an interest in your surroundings. The feeling of fatigue (and the pain!) will diminish.

Sports psychology is a complex topic but I hope this article had given you something to think about and apply to your next event.

*** Get the edge - become a mentalist ***

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