Sport Psychology - Monitor Your Control Panel During Endurance Sports
Endurance sports like distance running and swimming often wear down competitors mentally as much as physically. Particularly when a race is 1/2 to 2/3 complete, many athletes get a slight panic attack. They think "Geez, I'm tired already, and I still have so far to go." They become discouraged, lose confidence, and fail to push themselves as hard as they could.Here are some mental tricks to keep your long-distance athletes from hitting that mental "wall."EXPECT IT TO HAPPENFirst of all, be sure your athletes realize that this mental dip is common, and will probably occur at the 1/2-2/3 point in the race. If they realize it's coming and is something they can push through, they won't become discouraged.Be sure to tell your athletes that races are often won or lost in these middle stages, where contact with the lead group can be lost due to lack of confidence. Regardless of how tired they think they are, almost everyone can mount a strong finish once it's time to kick, so the key to many races is that third of the race just before the final stage.BREAK THE RACE INTO INCREMENTSFeeling tired and thinking about running another two miles can be very discouraging. However, thinking about running another quarter mile isn't so daunting.So have your athletes break the remaining race distance into smaller increments and focus on each of those increments one at a time. For example, in cross-country have them think, "OK, I'll just get myself to that tree." Once there, they focus on, "Now, just run to that bend in the trail."
On the track or in the pool, have them think, "Ok, let's just swim well for this lap." Then another lap, and another. As they get near the end of the race, have them focus on the small increments of distance that are left and compare that to intervals they regularly perform in practice. "OK, just two laps to go, I do that all the time in practice."MONITOR THE CONTROL PANELTo keep the mind occupied while maintaining relaxation and technique, have your athletes imagine they're monitoring their body's control panel-like a big switchboard with all their body's functions controlled by big dials and gauges. Have them go through each of their body's switches and monitor their functions one at a time, turning up the relaxation and/or tempo as the race progresses. For example, have them monitor their jaw for teeth-clenching, shoulders for scrunching, fists for tightening, etc.If your athletes have difficulty remembering to do this on a constant basis, have them pre-select certain points on the race course at which they must check their control panel. For example, in a track race, this could be at the start lines for the 400, 1500, 200 and 100m races on each lap.PRACTICEFinally, these techniques should be regularly practiced in workouts and not left only to race day. Mental training is a skill that only become effective with constant practice.