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.
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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),

Injured? It’s an opportunity to do a new challenge: The Welsh Indoor Rowing Championships.

Sometimes running injuries happen and you need to cut down on your miles or stop for a while. Rather than get frustrated because you can’t run like you did before, your approach should be “this is a great time to have a different challenge.” One of the challenges my husband set was to go in the Welsh Indoor Rowing Champions.

Entering in an event gave us an added reason to go to the gym. Indoor Rowing is becoming more popular too. There are Online Rowing groups for support that have weekly challenges and you submit you photo’s. You Tube video’s on techniques are also excellent. For me, I don’t take it seriously or do much training but it’s nice to do something different. Because there was only 3 people in my age group I got a Bronze Medal. 😂 My husband trained hard and beat other Rowers to gain a Bronze Medal.

The good thing about visiting Wales was that we could run another parkrun. We did Grangemoor parkrun. It was a lovely parkrun but as soon as we finished we walked back in time to ‘Weigh In’ and Row. It was a great day.

I ran a Marathon with the help of a Sport Psychologist

No one gets a place in the Virgin London Marathon through the Ballot, do they? So obviously I was gobsmacked, when I came home to find the “You’re In” magazine. Disbelief was the first emotion I felt followed by Fear. I had only ever ran a 5km ‘parkrun’. I wanted to do it but I was overweight, so that made running quite hard. My husband had brought me a gym membership the previous Christmas with some Personal Training Sessions but I hated those sessions and only went to Pilates (Pie’s & Latte’s sounded perfect).

By the time Christmas came I hadn’t trained any more than 8km in any one session. I found it difficult to go for a run and my eating habits were shocking. Even the fear and uncertainty surrounding the Marathon still didn’t spur me into training. Then something came that worked, my husband’s present to me on Christmas Day. It was, 8 Sessions of Sport Psychologist Support for the Marathon via “Skype” or “What App”.

I started the first session on January 1st 2018. A new year, new beginnings. The Sport Psychologist started by listening to my fears, anxieties and lack of motivation. He taught me strategies to help control my emotions, get me motivation and manage the discomfort of running. He guided my training. He broke the process into stages and told me what I should do between now and our next session in two weeks time. After every two weeks I fedback how it went. I never had to think more than two weeks ahead. I couldn’t believe how quick my self confidence grew. I managed to have a more balanced approach to everything. Training didn’t seem hard and each time I went for a run I though about what I had been told and I knew that I would be reporting back. Everyday wasn’t perfect e.g., when the ‘Beast from the East’ came I had to revert to treadmill sessions, solutions were always found for any problems.

I decided to shared my runs from Strava privately with my Sport Psychologist. My Sport Psychologist would look over my Strava runs and discuss them each session. In my case we also talked about my unhealthy eating habits, especially since I was overweight and I tended to overeat on unhealthy food when I was stressed, sad or bored. Together we identified personal strategies to help me eat healthier foods and reduce episodes of unhealthy by identifying triggers.

The training continued not only did I run a Half Marathon Event but also a 20 mile Event as well. I never would of expected I could do either. I ran all of the Half Marathon and in the 20 mile Race I only walked up a few hill. I was amazed by the positive change in myself. I was confident and proud of my training achievements. My parkrun PB was now down to 27.04. I could do a full plank for 2 minutes. I had lost almost 2 stone just from healthy eating and running. I had one final session just before the Marathon, where my Sport Psychologist took my mind though the final preparations e.g., accommodation, meals, reviewing my multiple goals, talking about my very own personal “if, then” plans e.g., “If I want to stop, then, just repeat to myself put one foot in front of another and think of my husband’s face.” If I’m feeling tired, then, I may be dehydrated so drink at the next water station.”

The Marathon finally came. I could type so much about that hot, hot day, but to sum it up….it was hot, very hard and my Sport’s Psychologist words were in my head the whole time. I couldn’t of been more happy with my performance.

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£350 for this Marathon Package of 8 session (one session free).