Head Games

By Kris Swarthout USAT Level II Coach

As a coach I learned a long time ago never to take credit for an athletes accomplishments because then you must take responsibility for their failures. Training someone to be at his or her peak fitness for a race is most of the times the easy part. Making sure they are mentally primed is the big X factor. Blocking out pain and negative thoughts has long been seen as a key to breaking through personal barriers and achieving goals.

Recently I have watched as two of my athletes have played this game with positive results. One used the belief in his abilities to overcome two opponents and have a breakthrough result; the other ignored what was normally a negative indicator on race morning and won her event. Both believed whole-heartedly in their strengths and abilities and knew the only thing that could beat them that day was themselves.

The idea is to think positively and believe in your own abilities. It is one thing for me to know an athlete can run a 36-minute 10k in at an Olympic triathlon, it’s another thing to empower that athlete to do it. So how does one make themselves mentally strong and motivated? This is going to be a personal issue and what works for one, may not work for you, so be prepared for some trial and error. Here are some of the basic tactics to try:

Self visualization — Before your race, close your eyes and envision yourself moving through the course at your goal speeds and executing the perfect race. By seeing yourself achieve your goals in your mind, you are more likely to reach them on the course.

Self motivation — Write down a motivating note on your hand or arm that reminds you of what or why you want to go this hard. Look at it throughout your race to keep you going.

Eliminate negativity — Do not allow anyone or anything to bring you down. Isolate yourself before that big race and stay focused on your strengths. Listen to music or find a quiet tree to sit under.

Positive reinforcement — Create a saying or mantra to repeat over and over in your head or have people stationed around the course that can give you positive, preplanned feedback. This will help you push through the pain. Remember, the body can take ten times more than the mind thinks it can.

Implementing these mental strategies into your next race is by no means a guaranteed PR, but it is one more thing you should add to your triathlon toolbox. You have a plan for your equipment, nutrition, why not your head?

Good luck and good training,

Coach Kris

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