How often have you heard the phrase 'we wanted it more' or 'our head wasn't in the game' during a post-game interview? Both are examples of how psychology has played a role in the outcome of a sporting event. Athlete psychology is an often overlooked vital area of performance on race day. This article aims to give you some basic information to improve your mental game and, thus, performance.
Having a brutal climb or long stage ahead of you can often leave you wondering, 'how will I complete this monumental task?'. This sense of being overwhelmed can affect motivation and increase anxiety levels, leading to reduced performance. Thankfully there's a technique to help you overcome this obstacle; chunking.
Chunking refers to breaking down large tasks into smaller, more manageable 'chunks'. In the above example, you may break the stage into several sections before focusing on each smaller 'chunk', one step at a time. For instance, you could break the stage down into a series of climbs, descents and valley roads, each with a specific target. These goals should focus on what is within your control. An example may be, 'on the first climb, focus on my pacing, being conservative'.
Another technique to help you stay on track during the event is mindfulness. This technique has gained momentum in recent years because of its positive effects on mental health. This in itself could have a positive impact on performance by reducing anxiety. The technique can also be applied to a sporting environment, helping you tune in to your body's intrinsic feedback and focus on the task at hand; the latter is sometimes referred to as 'flow'. If you are new to mindfulness, several apps are available to get you started; I recommend Headspace. Begin by practising using the app somewhere quiet and distraction-free before gradually transitioning it into the sporting environment.
During your intervals, have you ever heard that little voice telling you to stop or slow down? This is called negative self-talk; however, it has a positive sibling, positive self-talk. This final technique can also increase your performance. You may have experienced something similar when friends or family cheered you on during the final minutes of exhaustive competition. The good news is that you can achieve something similar by yourself. By having a phrase book of positive statements that you can reel off to yourself during difficult phases of the race, you can maintain your wattage that little bit longer. How you refer to yourself is also important. Speaking to yourself in the third person seems to be more effective. An example could be, 'Come on, Steve! You've been here before; you can do this!'.
Just like physical training, the techniques outlined here must be practised routinly. Think about incorporating these strategies into your training, so everything is rehearsed and refined come race day.
Liam Holohan is a former professional cyclist, turned high-level performance coach and founder of Holohan Coaching. He currently serves as a coach for pro-team, Israel - Premier Tech.
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