I can handle this! I can handle the PAIN! And then, I may find myself in a completely overwhelming situation.
For athletes, this can be very true. The athlete is not mentally prepared for the task at hand.
Yes, there are times the athlete is not physically prepared for the task at hand, but the focus today is the mental.
I am not a sports psychologist, and yet as a coach, I need to get inside an athlete's head.
What makes the athlete tick? What motivates? What gets the athlete to chase down goals?
As I am participating in continuing education, I have listened to a lecture by Carrie Cheadle on The Psychology of Suffering: How to Handle the Pain. Carrie is the author of the book, On Top of Your Game: Mental Skills to Maximize Your Athletic Performance.
DISCLAIMER: I have not yet read the book. I have only listened to her presentation, and would recommend the book based on this.
In her presentation Carrie discussed the reality that PAIN is a part of competing. Pain here is not the pain of an injury, but the fact that at times, racing can be uncomfortable.
She describes PAIN as a signal from the brain that there is something that we need to pay attention to. Keeping in mind that the BRAIN's job is to protect the body, how we address that pain will greatly influence our performance.
Five Mental Training Tools
1. Accept the PAIN. Acknowledge it. Understand there will be discomfort. And accept it. Do not be afraid of it.
2. Have a race goal. What is it you want to accomplish in this race? And what is the strategy to accomplish the goal?
3. RELAX! RELAX! RELAX!
4. Choose your focus.
5. Pain is Positive. Your perception of the pain, affects your tolerance.
In this, plan your race strategy. Similar to planning (and practicing) your physical race strategy, plan the mental. What are critical moments in your race? Identify these. What moments can create stress or pain or anxiety for you? Is it T1, is it getting on the bike, knowing when and how to fuel, or is it the run? And write these out. Write, not type.
When is the SITUATION? What moments arise during the race that can be troublesome?
Where is your FOCUS? Where are you mentally looking during this anxiety?
What is your CUE?
Using this exercise of writing out the critical moments, and developing a strategy to handle the moment as it arises, will help you plan for the race. Just like you may walk through a course to see the nuances of the race setting, planning for different Critial Moments will help you prepare for race day. This will provide you with many tools in your tool box to tap into.