Psychological Skills can help you perform better

Athletes need interventions that improve performance. Finding an intervention that works could involve working with a professional sports scientist or following a self-help package. Recent years has seen a rapid growth in the popularity in self-help interventions. Andy Lane offers guidance on how to use self-help interventions to improve performance.Self-help intervention can successfully manage anxiety, develop interventions to help people manage cravings when following diets and successfully led to runners not only experiencing more pleasant emotions but also performing better.

So how do I develop an effective self-help package?

The question an individual following a self-help intervention should ask her or himself is; “how do I identify where gains can be made”? A training diary can be a very effective way of identifying which variables to target for intervention work. The diary needs to capture important variables that influence performance and be open to the possibility that you are not assessing the right information. make sense of it. When deciding what data to record, you should also consider what you will do with it. If you record time spent training then presumably you will use this information to gauge whether it was useful in helping you achieve your goal? If you believe that running long periods of time, or completing certain distances, will help you achieve your marathon goal, then seeing that you are running for longer is likely to improve your confidence. However, if confidence is also influenced by the relative intensity of each run, and you realise that you are running for longer but at a lower intensity your confidence to be able to run at the high intensity on race day may not necessarily be increased. In the example above, the athlete should reflect on whether distance covered is truly a marker of progress with a suggestion that speed needs to be considered and recorded. The key point here is to have a strategy on how you will analyse data and how this will relate to the relative achievement of your goals.Keeping a training diary could be an intervention itself, particularly for helping manage unwanted emotions. Expressive writing is proposed to help process information better, and help restructure information from these experiences in a way that if such a situation arises next time, then they are better coped to deal with it.

Record how you feel in the diary; e.g.

I have been really lethargic today and just really sluggish. It’s the last day of a few days hard training, and I know I should have toughed it out before the rest day, which made me feel guilty and depressed. I’m also worried that this will affect my performance.

Recording your mood is also helpful, just rate these from 1 = not at all to 5 = very much so. Anxious, Calm, Happy, Sad, Still, Dejected, Energetic, Fatigued and Excited.

By exploring the likely cause of unwanted emotions, you also begin to develop a blueprint that helps you recognisesituations which bring these and therefore provide opportunities through which to choose a different path to act in the future. For example, if speaking to competitors on the start line gets you particularly nervous, or their banter evokes anger which in turn affects your race strategy, then recognising this to be the case might help change your decision on where to warm-up. You could warm-up alone or rather than warming up near your competitors, and if situational factors prevent this, then listening to music via headphone can serve to block out their conversations.From recording in the diary over a period of time you can learn strategies such as Imagery, Positive Self-Talk and If-then plans which I will leave to another time.

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Consultant Sport Psychologists Andy Lane


Sport psychology: train your mind to take control

Endurance performance is mentally tough; the best athletes can push themselves to sustain physical fatigue and remain psychologically positive over long distances and durations. But according to Professor Andy Lane, this doesn’t happen by chance; endurance athletes can train the mind to develop emotional control which will lead to improved performance.

In an article published in Peak Performance, the focus was on preparing for the Marathon des Sables, a six-day event that involves distances of approximately a marathon per day. The event  involves coping with searing heat, extreme foot blisters, huge sand dunes and having to carry your own supplies – not for the faint-hearted.

Research by Professor Lane showed it’s normal to experience intense emotions before competition. On intense emotion is anxiety and rarely do athletes get all of these things right and they should expect to feel anxious to some degree. However, they should try to interpret these feelings to mean that they are excited; sport performance is by its very nature uncertain, and even the most confident athletes still have a degree of anticipation regarding how things will turn out. It is possible to feel anxious but to interpret these feelings in a motivational way as being ready to perform. Anxiety can be a good thing.

Endurance athletes experience a mixture of emotional states during bouts of long, intense exercise. Those who cope successfully tend to feel fatigue and happiness simultaneously, whereas athletes who do not cope very well tend to feel fatigued, depressed and angry at the same time. As vigour and fatigue fluctuate during repeated bouts of hard exercise during an endurance event, athletes should expect to feel intense fatigue and learn strategies to cope.

To enjoy repeated bouts of hard exercise during competition you need to have experienced repeated bouts of fatigue. In the same way you train your body to cope with the demands of training, you also train your mind to think positively about the experience.

How to Develop Emotional Control:

  • Know how emotions change, it can be extremely useful in understanding how behaviour can change. One way to get started is to think back to some of your recent performances and rate how you felt before a few races where you performed well (in relation to your own expectations) and a few races where you performed poorly (again in relation to your own expectations). Once you have a profile associated with successful and unsuccessful performance, a psychological skills programme can be tailored for your specific needs.
  • Imagery is effective because it can be used to replay situations. The emotions experienced during those situations can be changed from dysfunctional to functional. Imagery is a good way to do this as the situation can be replayed and aspects of it can be changed. Imagery to help athletes cope with difficult situations. You should try to anticipate a difficult situation and see yourself coping with it successfully. An important part of this process is to imagine successfully tackling a number of the factors that make the task difficult; never underestimate the difficulty of the task as this can create a false sense of self-confidence.
  • For example, imagine yourself coping through the toughest part of the race, when your body feels exhausted. Imagine yourself coping successfully with this fatigue, feeling anger and depression starting to build up as you sense your physical fitness not being able to match the standard of performance you have set as a goal.
    During imagery sessions you should rehearse the psyche-up strategies that would be used to raise vigour. For ultra-endurance events such as the Marathon des Sables, you should imagine how you will feel at the start of a difficult stage. This could be three days into a multi-day event when you have residual fatigue. Imagine how you talk yourself into feeling ready, downplaying feelings of soreness. Imagine yourself as a runner of the course; focus on each step, on the small details, and go through how attainable each part is when broken down in to simple steps. What this can do is to develop effective coping strategies for successfully dealing with unpleasant emotions experienced in competition.
  • Positive Self Talk can turn negative thoughts to positive thoughts. Think back to those runs when you felt tired. Think of what you said to yourself. Write it down. The next step is to change the negative self-statements into positive self-statements., for example, consider the negative self-statement, ‘My legs have gone. I will have to stop’. This relationship between feeling tired and what to do about these feelings is clearly terminal for performance. We need to change both parts of this self-statement. Rather than saying ‘my legs have gone’ we need to change this to a transient statement such as ‘my legs are tired’. This is more likely to be true in any case. Tiredness tends to come in waves during endurance running and intense feelings of physical tiredness can pass. Develop self-talk scripts to change negative scenarios to positive ones. Use a combination of imagery and self-talk to create situations in which you experience unpleasant emotions, and see yourself deal successfully with these situations, using positive self-talk to control the inner voice in your head that can be negative.

To conclude before an ultra-endurance event, prepare mentally and physically. Expect to feel fatigue and have your own personal strategies to cope with this. Expect also to feel anxious before the event but try to interpret these feelings as excitement.

Source: Sports psychology: train your mind to take control

The use of a Psychologist in managing eating behaviours and weight loss: A case study

Coming up to Christmas and New Year with so much food around I though this might be helpful if you want to manage your own eating behaviour. Some people have a good relationship with food, some people only eat when they are hungry and eat a healthy diet, butI I would guess they are in the minority.
So often when people try to lose weight they put most of it back on because they don’t tackle the psychological aspect of eating. Emotional eating is a particular problem. There are so many reasons why we eat and it’s not just that we are hungry, usually they go back to childhood e..g., nice food like sweets and cakes are given to us to make us feel better or loved by our family and friends and so when we a sad, or angry maybe we binge on cakes and chocolate. There are also reasons why people turn to restricting their diet when very depressed.
  • A psychologist can use a short questionnaire (e.g.The Exercisers Eating Scale, TEES) to examine ‘eating behaviour’ (i.e., what we eat), ‘weight management techniques’, ‘dietary responses to emotions’, ‘emotional responses to diet’, & ‘body image’ has been developed (see Lane, 2007). The Psychologist then monitors progress with reassessment being done at regular intervals. Intervention are designed to change diet habits and improve self-regulatory behaviour around food. This client was a 39-year old male who previously competed at national level in his sport, but more recently exercised for health and fitness related reasons. (We screened the athlete for possible indicators of eating disorders first).
  • It is normal for many people, including exercisers to engage in dieting behaviours, but only a few are preoccupied by food or show bulimic tendencies. Our client reported similar scores to the average other than he engaged more in dieting behaviours. and experienced unpleasant emotions after eating, and tended to eat when experiencing unpleasant emotions such as depression and anxiety. He also had a poor body image believing himself to be overweight. Our intervention focused on the diet-emotion link.
  • First we asked him to keep a diary of when he was eating, what he was eating, and what emotions were being experienced. It is important for the individual to be aware of the factors associated with binge eating, particularly if they wish to curtail these behaviours. The process of recording a diary is important as it not only provides the consultant with valuable information, but also helps raise self-awareness of factors that lead to binge eating for the client. E.g., he recalled coming home from work after a bad day, went to gym then binged on a huge amount of food. The reason he binged was because he was unhappy over the incident at work. Now he had named the feelings and expressed where they came from strategies could be identified to help him.
  • We then asked the client to challenge, or question the belief that exercise allows an individual to eat as much as they like. Secondly, we sought to explore the strategies the client was using to regulate pleasant and unpleasant emotions. In this case, his exercise was a strategy to enhance emotions, as was eating unhealthy food. By using a food diary, it was possible to see the type of self-talk that the client was engaging in when deciding what to eat and how much to eat. Information in the diary helped develop self-talk scripts to help the client facing similar situations in the future. It is important for clients to realise that they are active in the decision-making process on whether to binge eat, and self-talk should be targeted at enhancing self-confidence and enabling the use of a different strategy.
  • We asked our client to think back to situations in which he made a decision to eat chocolate, and to explore what he said to himself. He then replayed the scenario and sought to remove the link between eating chocolate and improved mood choosing aa different strategy. e are a number of different strategies that could be used. For example, one method would be to tell someone (partner, friend, mother etc) what your day was like, and develop social support networks. It also helps if you can collate a list of things that work for you and which will help you deal with these emotions and prevent you from binge eating. For example, plan something to keep yourself busy; read a book, go on the computer, go for a walk, go to the movies, phone a friend and organise to meet etc. If you know you have a problem with your diet in the evening then plan to use these strategies at this time. However, it is important to recognise that the strategies people used to control their emotions are highly individualised – there’s no single strategy that can be universally applied. The second key aspect of the use of a diary is to recognise the process through which an individual can be confident enough to take control of decisions around food changes during the intervention.
  • It is important that success is positively reinforced and individuals should seek to reward themselves when they have made a good decision around food. However, this reward should not be linked with food. It is important for the consultant to closely monitor the food diary in the initial stages of the intervention, and encourage the individual to congratulate themselves on their achievements.
  • Over time confidence increases in their ability to make correct decisions around food, they also think less about weight management issues and engaging in dieting behaviours. Furthermore, once food is no longer seen as a primary strategy for emotional regulation, individuals tend to eat a far healthier diet. This trend is evidenced in our case study as depicted.
If you want further help from a Psychologist to help you.
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European Cross-Country Champion Face-Plants Across Finish Line

Jimmy Gressier’s attempt at a flashy finish to retain his U-23 crown went in a decidedly viral direction. (News from Runners World by Jacob Meschse)

Jimmy Gressier wanted to finish in style. And while he did cross the line in a memorable fashion, it was probably not quite in the way he intended.

The French runner had an eight second lead on his nearest challenger, Germany’s Samuel Fitwi, as he headed toward the finish line of the European Cross-Country Championships men’s U-23 race.

Gressier won the 8.3K race in 23:37, while fellow Frenchman Hugo Hay crossed the line just three seconds after Fitwi’s 23:45 to help the French hold on to the team title as well.

The European Cross Country Championships event is held each December in a different European city, and features men and women competing in junior, U-23, and open divisions. This year’s event, the 25th edition, was held in Tilburg, Netherlands this past weekend.

Athlete breaks record 1,800-mile run across New Zealand admits he hitched lifts in unsafe conditions.

I read about this amazing man from the Independent, by Peter Stubley. i understand totally why you would need to take lifts in certain sections of New Zealand as some roads are very, very dangerous. Perry Newburn, aged 64, attempted a record-breaking 1,800-mile run across the length of New Zealand but did admit he hitched lifts but only when faced with ‘totally unsafe’ conditions. Perry Newburn took 18 days and eight hours to travel the 1,800 miles from Cape Reinga in the north to the southern port of Bluff.

“There were parts of the run where road/bridge conditions were totally unsafe to run and therefore I made the call to be driven through these parts – these decisions were my decisions. “The traffic was the main culprit in these situations but there were some parts where road conditions were unsafe as well.”

He thanked everybody who sponsored his run and added: “Your support means the world to me. Take care all, stay well, keep exercising where possible and smile where able.”

Responses to the confession were overwhelmingly positive, with many praising his honesty and humility.

Sun 8th Dec 2018: Hackney Marsh parkrun & the British Indoor Rowing Championships

It’s always nice to pack in a lot in your day and have some variation in life. We parked our car near the Hackney Marsh parkrun and walked a mile to the Lee Valley Cycling Stadium which was where the Rowing was taking place. We weighted in as Lightweights and made our way back to Hackney Marsh parkrun. Our start time for our Indoor Rowing Race was 10.20am which meant we didn’t have time to hang about after the parkrun. Hackney Marsh parkrun is one of my favourite parkruns as it’s flat and fast and there are tree’s that protect you from the wind and rain. We ran around together and then walked back to the Velodrome.

We ran the parkrun together then walked back to the Velodrome Indoor Rowing. We did our 2km races which seem to take forever. We both only do it as a bit of fun but we enjoyed watching the good rowers and the atmosphere of the day.

Monday 26th of November: An evening with Jo Pavey.

Jo Pavey is a five-time Olympian, having represented Great Britain in every Olympic Games from 2000 to 2016. She is the only British runner and track event athlete to have competed in five games.[3] She is also the 2014 European Championship gold medallist in the 10,000 m and a two-time 5000 m medallist at the Commonwealth Games, winning silver in Melbourne 2006 and bronze in Glasgow 2014 and she got third in the 10,000 m at the 2007 World Championships.

Jo Pavey gave a Q & A session at the University of Wolverhampton City campus. It was a fantastic evening. It was an informal event where Jo Pavey with Dan Robinson sitting and chatting with the audience being invited to contribute to the discussion. What made this event so good was the relaxed feel, Jo is so welcoming and was interested in how the runners in the audience were getting on. Discussion ranged from a lot of areas; and a  former professional cyclist told of times when he was asked to take drugs and whether jo faced similar options. The openness and emotions Jo shared about the experience of competing when  know your rivals are getting help was a fascinating insight.

 Jo talked of her training,being a mum, coping with injury, difficult times, on PBs and challenges- throughout all of this, it was like having the 5 times Olympian in the pub or living room with you having a chat. Truly fantastic.

At the end Jo signed books and chatted with the audience before heading off to the train to Birmingham.

More nights like this please…

2nd December 2018: Free Public Talk and Q & A Session on the Psychology of Endurance Sport at Ulster University, Belfast.

There was a packed Lecture Theatre for this Event. This talk was a session where everyone from the general public could join in and ask questions. The talk discussed “why are there moments where we feel like we want to slow down when we do endurance sport?” and “what strategies can we use to overcome slowing down or stopping?” There were six academics/researchers, most who have had first hand experience of participating in endurance sport as well as two elite athletes, a marathon runner and a cyclist.

Below Gladys Ganiel (Marathon Runner)

It was interesting to hear the application of Sport Science Research to Sport. It gave an insight into the role of a Sport Psychologist and why they are invaluable when it comes to improving performance. It was also clear from the audience that they had a great deal of personal experience of Sport and had a lot to offer to academics and others in the room. This talk was very popular and prior to it, people on Social Media had express an interest in going to it, if it was closer to them. Perhaps it could go on Tour. Thank you to Dr Noel Brick (Marathon de Sable Ultra Runner),