As a Sports Performance Consultant, Dr. Alan Goldberg works with endurance sport athletes of all kinds, helping them overcome performance fears & blocks and perform to their potential. He has worked with elite marathoners, world-class triathletes and open water swimmers. As a regular columnist USA Swimming's Splash Magazine, Dr. G writes on the subjects of mental toughness. He is the author of the revolutionary new book, "This Is Your Brain On Sports."
Does Your Head Prevent You From Racing to Your Potential?
What does it take for you to reach your potential as an athlete? The true challenge in triathlon, marathon, cycling and open water swimming is the competition between you and the course, you and the clock, but primarily between you and your mind. Success in these endurance sports is all about your mental ability to handle the pain and fatigue of oxygen debt, about your ability to master the limits that you think you have. The endurance sport athlete's most formidable opponent can be found in the mirror. You are both the problem and the solution!
Are you mentally tough as an athlete? Do you know how to consistently harness the power of your mind to lift the level of your performance? Or are you your own worst enemy out there? Are you the kind of athlete who beats him/herself well before the race's finish?
Perhaps one of the first mental demands that you must address in your sport has to do with motivation. Do you have the inner drive to do what's necessary to achieve success? Do you have a meaningful goal that helps keep you focused and moving forward through the brutal and sometimes monotonous grind of daily training? Without a "big enough why" or a personally compelling goal your motivation will stall out. You have to be able to ask yourself on a daily basis, "is what I want in the future important enough for me to sacrifice and hurt right now?" Far too many athletes trade what they want the most, for what they want right now.
Becoming a champion also demands that you consistently practice "pushing the envelope." You have to be willing to regularly bust your butt. That is, you must live the winner's creed, get comfortable being uncomfortable!" Your success demands that you continually move towards your physical and emotional limits. When you're tired and your body is screaming for mercy, you have to stay with the discomfort just a little more. When you don't like the training conditions, weather or course, you have to embrace them. Finding adverse conditions to train in is simply being smart! Sooner or later you'll have to compete in them. If it intimidates you to train with or compete against much better competition, seek them out! They are your ticket to the next level! Get comfortable being uncomfortable and you'll become successful. The only way to really excel in your sport and in life is to get in the everyday habit of pushing your envelope.
Becoming a winner also demands that you develop the ability to handle competitive pressure. Does pre-race nervousness sabotage all your hard work and good coaching? If you can't learn to control your nerves, then you'll never race to your potential. Staying cool in the clutch is a mental skill that you can easily master with a little practice. If pre-race jitters have gotten the better of you before, then with the use of several reliable relaxation strategies, even you can learn to consistently keep yourself at "good nervous."
Mastering pain and fatigue is another mental skill needed to achieve success in your sport. This means that you have to know two things: First, how to control your focus when you begin to hurt; Second, how to neutralize the negative thinking and self-doubts that almost always tag along with the pain. Much of your confidence comes from this latter mental skill. If you think you lack the confidence that you should have given your talent and success, then chances are good that you haven't been doing a good job controlling your negative self-talk. Training your "inner coach" is critical if you want to learn to feel good about yourself and believe in YOU!
Concentration is another master skill needed to achieve success in marathons, triathlons, bike races and open water swim challenges. You must develop the ability to focus on what's important and block out everything else. Your mental skills in this area directly affect your ability to effectively handle pressure. In fact, the wrong focus before and during your races is the #1 cause of choking and psych-outs. The great thing about concentration is that with a little practice, you can learn to excel in this mental area.
How about your ability to deal with adversity, setbacks and failure? Winners build their success on their failures. They learn from their mistakes and then leave them behind. What kind of "reboundability" do you have To the successful person, failure is something that you do to get to success. It is the ticket that allows you to reach your goals.
Finally, becoming a champion depends on how well you mentally prepare ahead of time. Do you know how to use imagery, mental rehearsal or visualization to maximize your chances of success? Did you know that mental rehearsal can significantly help you stay calm in the clutch and build your confidence? Are their points in your races where you always fall apart? Mental rehearsal can help you turn these weak spots into areas of strength.
Ever hear the story of Jim Dreyer? In my book, he's what you might call a mental toughness giant!. Jim had a near drowning when he was 3 years old, stayed away from the water until he was 12 when someone taught him to "doggy paddle." He did not progress beyond this level until three years ago when he started taking beginner's swim lessons in his 30's. In 1996 he got this strange idea in his head that he wanted to swim across Lake Michigan! Why? To prove he could do it and to raise money for the Big Brother & Big Sister programs.
How do you plan on swimming for 43.2 miles and 25 hours in sometimes dangerously cold water when you're quite recently terrified of the water? Jim got comfortable being uncomfortable! He moved towards his fears. He researched Lake Michigan's currents, weather, water temperatures and wave conditions to figure out exactly what he'd have to go up against. Then he began his "perfect practices." Knowing the exact conditions he would have to face, he began to simulate these in his training sessions. He swam 2-mile segments in 51-degree water. He did 28-mile loops in 6-foot waves. He stayed up for 30 consecutive hours and then went out in the middle of the night to swim several miles. It's not practice that makes perfect but "perfect" practice. Because Dreyer encountered some tough currents 10 miles from shore his planned 25 hour swim took 41 hours and 65 miles! 7 miles from shore the water temperature plummeted to 56 degrees. His eyes were swollen shut and he was mildly hallucinating yet he still kept going by reminding himself of why he was doing it and what was at stake for him. Dreyer clearly faced his demons and won. He met the physical and mental challenges and mastered them. How about you? Are you up to it? Is your mind and body in sync?
Are you in a performance slump? Do you get too nervous to race your best when it counts the most? Let me help you get your performance back on track with my One-on-One SKYPE consultation services. Call me today at (413) 549-1085.