Coaches, parents, runners – who needs mental game training more?

I’ve seen a lot over my years of coaching youth runners, directing running camps, working with parents and other coaches. I have indeed seen the proverbial good, the bad and the ugly. In almost every case there is no malice or evil intent. But we (coaches, parents) tend to repeat what we’ve seen, been taught or experienced in life – effective or not. And so it is with coaching and managing youth runners and their mental game.

Coaches and parents often give lip service to mental game training (mental toughness training, applied sports psychology – choose your term); more conversationally it’s hidden in the terms: motivation, discipline, confidence, focus, social comparison, composure under pressure, persistence, team building (and many more). Ask any coach, parent or athlete and they will most often state that athletics are 30%, 50%, 80% or more mental. If in fact it is this important, why isn’t 30, 50 or 80 percent of all training integrate mental game training as well? One issue is that some coaches and parents perceive mental toughness as you either have it or you don’t …which is completely untrue. My perception is that mental game skills are great to talk about but practical integration into any program is an afterthought if any thought at all.


 

Sometimes you need data to support what you think you know. Over the past year I spent time analyzing and quantifying results from hundreds of mental game assessments (from youth runners) that I have amassed.

The results were more striking than I originally thought. The data clearly supports a need for mental game training and integration for youth runners (all sports for that matter). The question is how do we get this to happen!

Want a copy of my white paper on the mental game and youth runners? Drop me a line. I’ll email a copy to you. I’d love to hear your comments and observations on the topic.

Want to see where you stack up on mental game skills? For the next month I’ll process your assessment and report for only $150 (regularly $250).

Drop me a line. I’ll send you my proprietary assessment (M4PAASS) and then produce a comprehensive personalized report for you with your game plan to fortify your own mental game. 

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I perform well when…

How often do you say something like the following:

  • I do better when I’m the underdog.
  • I do better when I come from behind.
  • I do better when no one expects me to do well.
  • I do better when I lead.
  • I do better when it’s a tough course.
  • I do better in cold/hot/wet/dry (you name the conditions).

Corollaries:

  • I don’t do well on wet surfaces.
  • I don’t do well on courses with lots of turns.
  • I don’t do well performing on the road.
  • I don’t do well on loop courses.

On one hand it is good to know your strengths. On the other hand, it opens the door to mental game weaknesses. And here is why.

Anytime your self talk, self labels and self descriptions indicate that you can only do your best under certain conditions then by default it also defines when you believe that you do not do well. This becomes an expectation (consciously or subconsciously) about your ability to perform.

The goal is to be able to do your best regardless of the conditions or situation. Let’s be clear, doing your “best” doesn’t mean setting personal records. It means you give 100% from start to finish regardless of the situation. You do not let the circumstances seep into your psyche and adversely effect your performance – promoting that possibility of a let down or anything less than a 100% effort sans doubts.

What we tell ourselves (even if never spoken to others) is powerful. Often these things become self-fulfilling prophecies. Countering these beliefs starts in training. You must integrate mental and physical training. Address your weaknesses by doing what you don’t do well in practice. If you don’t like loop courses and you know your big race is on a loop course then practice running on a loop course. While doing this, rehearse your mental game plan (what do you tell yourself on loop #1, #2…; what specifically do you do to stay fully in the moment and not thinking of multiple loops; how do you mentally break up the course into chunks to handle it best).

Need help attacking your limiting beliefs? Why continue to limit your performance potential? Drop me a line. It only takes 2-3 sessions – we’ll master it! 

Posted in Challenge, focus, Goal Setting, Marathon, Mental Game, Mental Toughness, Pacing & Running, Running, Sports Psychology | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Mental or Physical Training First?

When athletes and parents come to me to help them with their mental game; I often get the question “when is the best time to start mental game training”. Should you get in shape first and then add mental game training to polish it off or should you start with mental game training to lay the foundation to proper and consistent physical training?

Let’s start with a basic truth: Mental game training (mental toughness or whatever else you wish to call it) does not replace physical training. It cannot make you do something you have not trained to do. It cannot make you something you are not. There is no such thing as being able to somehow get 110% out of you. 100% is all there is and only if you have a strong mental game can you come close to your 100%. An athlete must do everything they can to maximize their physical preparation to complete. Therefore, you can start with a foundation of physical fitness and add mental game aspect later. You will not “win” without physical preparation.

In order to optimize your physical training you need the right mindset. A mindset that gets you through the tough workouts, bad days, aches and pains. It promotes persistence in the face of barriers. It promotes consistency in training. It’s about possessing the mindset that makes each workout purposeful and focused. Learning mental game techniques and honing these skills lays the foundation to be able to maximize your physical training. So there is no time like the present to learn and practice your mental skills. Don’t wait until you are training (I emphasize this for injured and rehabbing athletes!).

If you read between the lines it becomes obvious that physical and mental preparation go hand-in-hand. If an athlete wants to optimize their potential then you marry the two. They should not be treated as an either-or proposition and trained separately. The ideal approach is to integrate mental game training and techniques all along the physical training route. By the way, there are even well established models for phases of mental game training just like phases of physical training. Mental toughness is a year round pursuit of incremental improvement.

Don’t wait for some arbitrary time to be “ready” to incorporate mental game training. The time is now.

**I’ve designed a special package for runners. A complete assessment, comprehensive game plan, and 4 one-on-one coaching sessions. Drop a line if you are interested in kick starting your mental game for the new year.

Posted in Goal Setting, Mental Game, Mental Toughness, Running, Sports Psychology, Training Effectiveness | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Last Best

Personal Records (PR) or Personal Bests (PB) are the best you have ever run at a particular distance, race, or course. Here’s your question:

When did you realize that you would never run faster than your PR?

Logic, physiology and statistics all clearly indicate that humans cannot continue to improve indefinitely. Somewhere along the way we stop improving. Many age group runners when faced with this prospect move to new distances and for awhile may set some PRs in the new distances. Data and common belief suggests that  most runners will not continue to improve after about 7 years of dedicated training. [My perspective is to only start counting those years during college age.] Take some years off and maybe you skew the time frame. The basic question remains.

Of course we can set age group PRs. But, if you think about it, you’re never the same age as you once were so every single day and every single run could be a PR. Good for motivation perhaps but it avoids the core question.

When did you realize you were never going to run faster?

Whenever we run a PR it is faster than we have ever gone before. Most runners will tell you in the wake of these performances that they think they can run faster yet. Even runners who set world records (their own PR of course) commonly state that they can go faster. And so the cycle is set. Higher goals. Better training. Improved consistency. Optimal cross-training. We just know we can go faster.

And then it happens. Somewhere along the way we look back and realize, that was it. That was the day we ran our fastest. We are never going to run faster.

As I look back at my PRs I never thought those would be it. I have all my races and running logs (57134 miles now documented since high school.) I always thought I could go faster. I see workouts and patterns that indicate I could’ve run faster yet; but never did. Throughout my 30s I believed I could run faster than in college. Even at 40 years old I was pursuing PRs. In my early 40s I was not pursuing age group wins but outright victories. (I have just a little bit of a competitive streak.) I clung to the belief that I could do it. I could still set records. It is only in retrospect that I can see and know what I do now.

For me, the essence of life is in the pursuit of something (AKA the journey). I love great outcomes (PRs) but the excitement, self limit testing, and thrill of competition were the payoff. PRs are a bonus.

Bonus Questions

Had you known at the time that you would never run that fast again – how would you react? What would you do next? Would you change anything?

Posted in Challenge, Goal Setting, Mental Game, Motivation, Running, Sports Psychology, The Running Life - Philosophy | Tagged , , , , , | 3 Comments

Finishing Last

“I’ll be the slowest one out there.”

“I’ll be last.”

In every race, someone has to finish last. True. And no one actually has it as a goal to finish last. Like Jennifer’s friend in this article I have often said “Chances are, that’s not going to happen.” I mean, come on, if there are 1000 runners in the race it is a 1:1000 chance right?

There are many runners at many levels who have expressed that fear to me. Beginning runners fear being last. Freshman college and freshman high school runners fear finishing last at their new competition level. Many runners racing a new (i.e. longer) distance fear being last. Runners coming out to a new running club fear being the slowest (aka “last”) in workouts. Masters runners (40+ years old) dropping down into an open track meet fear being last against all those young ones.

Let’s break this down a bit. Fears are borne out of illogical and disproportionate emphasis on the negative impact being last will have. Fears are also based on an emphasis on what “others might think”. And fears are about protecting our egos.

Think about this. If everyone gave into that fear then one by one the last person in a race would drop out to avoid finishing last. This would domino its way up the field until – there is just one person left – the leader of the race. Only one person can win. Only one person will be last.

To temper that fear of finishing last (however you define this) we need to change perspectives or reframe the situation. Stop. Take a deep breath. For a moment suspend your image of finishing last. Now reflect on the following questions.

  • Why do you run, for others or yourself?
  • What REALLY is the worst that would happen if you did finish last?
    • Do you really think you’ll be marked for life and everyone will point at you at Starbucks each morning whispering about how you were that last runner in this weekend’s race?
  • What would happen if you purposely finished last?
  • What do you gain – how do you grow – or what might you learn about yourself by racing (finishing last or otherwise)?
  • What if joining that running club/team (even if you are currently slower than others) is in fact the very thing you need to improve your running?
  • Is it possible that you will be seen as someone who dared; someone who dared to do something instead of sitting on the sidelines?
    • By fighting your fear you not only become your own inspiration but an inspiration to others as well.

It’s not a huge, unspeakable embarrassment. In fact, no one cares. Not one of the other runners remembers I was the one who finished last. And all my friends and family remember is I said I’d run a 5K and I did it… A couple of days after the 5K, when my aching legs felt better, I laced up my sneakers and went for a run. Because I’m a runner. And, fast or slow, runners run.- Jennifer Hudak

 

Posted in College Running, Excuses not to run, Goal Setting, Mental Game, Motivation, Running | Tagged , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Bargain Runs

Bargain runs aren’t something you seek out on Black Friday. You could have a bargain run any day.

Ever have a workout that you:

  1. Loathe doing but know you need it, or
  2. Fear doing because you may not complete it, or
  3. Are stretching yourself beyond your current conditioning, or
  4. Just do not feel like doing the workout.

Bargaining is a mental technique to try that might just get you through it and keep you on target for your goals. I find that it works especially good on out-and-back courses because if you commit to just one more segment then you have really doubled the outcome since you have to return.

How it works:

Establish your ideal workout outcome goal. I recommend doing so in tiers. I might set them like this:

  • Gold Medal – 6 mile run
  • Silver Medal – 5 mile run
  • Bronze Medal – 4 mile run
  • Honorable Mention – got out there and didn’t skip the workout entirely

The idea is to maximize make mental bargains with yourself breaking down your workout into what is most tolerable so that even on a bad day (regardless of reason – physical, mental, environmental) you get the most out of the workout.

  1. Put your workout outcome goal out of your mind. Sometimes it is just too much to focus on and too distant.
  2. Focus only on the current segment of the workout you think you can handle – right now. (i.e. next mile, next lap, next stop light, next intersection)
  3. Make a deal with yourself to finish this next segment that you can handle and then you will figure out what you will do next. It takes the form of: “If I can get “X” done, then I can turn back if I want or, I can see what I can handle next.” But no commitment is made to complete your entire workout.
  4. Your bargains can be in the form of rewards for yourself (“If I get through “X” I can take a break, slow down, turn back, have dessert, …”)
  5. Once you complete that segment, you strike your next deal in the same fashion. (Or head home.)
  6. The objective is to get you – one way or another – just to the next part of your workout, one step at a time.

How I Use It:

Getting back in shape after time off (forced or otherwise) is seldom fun. I notice that it takes at least a mile to even upgrade how I feel to crappy. Knowing this, I suspend thinking too much about how many miles I would really like to get in. At this point at least I want to move, burn some calories and loosen up – if nothing else than for tomorrow’s effort. Only then do I think about what I can handle for the day.

Recently, after about three weeks of running I planned on doing a “long” run. I figured that I could handle 4-5 miles. Secretly, I really wanted to go 6 miles (Gold Medal). I had run 4 miles already but had to stop several times and was not what I called fun.

I did not feel especially strong or fresh and knowing that first mile really does not feel good, I made a bargain to just get the first mile done and if I had to, I’d stop stretch and then assess what I could handle for the day – maybe even just head home. At the end of that mile two things happened. First, I was already a mile from home so at least I automatically was going to be able to slug out a 2-mile run (Honorable Mention goal but at least my journey to getting back in shape was still moving forward – albeit slowly). And second, approaching the mile mark I actually felt looser and my breathing was fairly comfortable. Onward I went.

I shifted my focus to my next goal. If I could just relax and go out one more mile I could stop and regroup at that time and I would be guaranteed a 4 mile run (Bronze Medal goal; or two miles plus a very long walk home to dwell on things).

By mile two I was surprisingly fresher than in past days. But I didn’t want to jump too far ahead. I knew that my conditioning was fragile and at any moment I could crash and burn. So I felt like another half-mile was reasonable and it would make for a 5-miler (Nice Silver Medal goal). Deal – I’ll only commit to another half-mile.

As I approached the traffic light at that 2.5-mile mark on my run I was fatiguing but it was manageable and I looked up in the distance to see the 3-mile mark traffic light. Ok, if I make it to three then I could just go four and walk home but I’d have a decent run and a nice cool down. Deal.

Turning at the midway mark I then felt buoyed by my success. I figured I could do this. At four miles I was fatiguing and decided to change my route so that I would pass closer to home. If my body wouldn’t carry me to 6 at least I would have a solid 5 under my belt. But motivation to get my Gold Medal workout kicked in. Nearing the turn-off to my house, about 4.5 miles in, I realized I didn’t feel all that bad and if I just ran this loop around my neighborhood I could get my 6th mile in. Once in the neighborhood I could even just back off on my pace and jog easily to get it in. Deal.

I averted doing the 5-miler (which would have been my longest run anyway) and completed the six. It also demonstrated that it was as much mental as it was physical in pushing forward in my comeback.

Bargaining doesn’t always get you the gold, but it will certainly get you farther along your journey, one step at a time.

 

Posted in Challenge, Goal Setting, Mental Game, Mental Toughness, Motivation, Running, Sports Psychology | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

A Real Challenge

I really think people take on the wrong challenge.

You’ve heard someone say he/she wants to run a certain race for the challenge of it? They love the challenge. Right? It’s actually an interesting claim and one that is misplaced. Follow me for a moment.

  1. If you love a challenge then you enjoy things that are difficult not easy (comparatively) to attain. Right?
  2. The bigger the challenge the more gratifying it is to pursue. Right?
  3. If you can make that challenge even more challenging than the reward is even greater. Right?
  4. So, stop training. Enter your race. Just go for it. Now you have optimized your challenge and increased your pay off. (Not to mention you saved a bunch of time you would otherwise waste on training.)

It is in the everyday challenge that people fail.

The irony of course is that the challenge of some race is not the real challenge for most people. I meet many people in my business who love setting a “challenging” goal. (Some whom are in fact urged to do so by so-called motivation gurus or in seminars.) But they completely miss the boat. Why? Because they are not willing to take on the real challenge.

  • The challenge is in fact doing the training.
  • The challenge is in following a training program and not skipping workouts.
  • The challenge is in maintaining sound nutrition through out your training program.
  • The challenge is in doing your exercises, drills, and cross training to stay healthy along the way.
  • The challenge is in not making excuses.
  • The challenge is in finding ways to get everything done that will optimize your conditioning for race day.

And if you are pursuing the challenge of running PRs, winning age groups and the like, you aren’t exempt!

  • The challenge is in doing the workouts you need instead of enjoy.
  • The challenge is in doing all the things to stay uninjured for continuity of training and progress.

It is in the everyday challenge that people fail. It is this challenge that we should embrace. The race should be graduation day. The race should be a celebration of taking on all the challenges along the way to arrive at the starting line fully ready to take on the race and be successful.

Need help with overcoming the REAL challenge? Trouble committing to doing what you need to do to reach your goal? Drop me a line. I can help.

Posted in Challenge, Excuses not to run, Goal Setting, Mental Game, Mental Toughness, Motivation, The Running Life - Philosophy | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment