Tips from a Sports Psychologist

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Josephine Perry – founder of Performance in Mind, a sports and psychology consultancy – kindly joined Fulham Running Club last week for a talk full of tips about running at your best, so I thought I’d share these with you today.

Josie works with both elite and amateur athletes and teaches them the skills they need to excel in their chosen sporting performance, whether they are a GB triathlete competing to qualify for Rio or a first time marathoner with a lucky ballot place for London (side note: London marathon ballot entries are now open for 2017!) She shared her top five techniques to help you perform at your best, from training to racing, and everything in between –

  1. Set effective goals – one of the main take-home messages from Josie’s talk was to be able to set a dream goal for yourself and then break this down into smaller goals all with the same objective – to achieve this to your full potential. One of the most common mistakes I feel people make is not setting a goal or setting the wrong goal. A goal can be anything from winning a race, beating a personal best or simply enjoying the atmosphere of a race, but the intention must be set prior to stepping on that start line. Even if you lack a competitive streak, always think about what you want to achieve in a race, and yes, enjoying every step and being happy at the finish line is a goal, it doesn’t always have to be about winning or breaking records. Goals are personal. 
  2. ‘What if’ planning – Josie gave us all a planning exercise to complete on the evening. We wrote down our own personal goal and then every element we feared or were apprehensive about. For each fear we would think of how we could avoid it and what would happen if the fear did evolve. This meant that come training run or race day, we would be prepared for each part that we were worried might go wrong and know how to prevent these or overcome them.
  3. Grow your confidence – a lack of self belief was a common theme in many people’s ‘what if’ planning, in that they simply didn’t believe that they could achieve their goal. Josie described the key elements of where confidence comes from – feeling fully prepared both mentally and physically, feeling that you’ve mastered the skills you need for the race, having previous achievements to draw upon and feeling supported by a coach, team mates or friends and family. All of these come together to make you feel as confident as possible on the start line of a race and positive that your goal is achievable.
  4. Develop a pre-race routine – confidence can also be boosted by developing and sticking to a strict routine in the build up to a race or event, putting you in full control of achieving your goal. The key elements you need to form a routine around are breakfast/fuelling by good nutrition, packing kit, travel plans, warm up and mental skills. Being comfortable with each of these will reduce any worries or doubts you may have before a race so that you can focus on you and your goal.
  5. Focus on your strengths – being mentally prepared for a race is a strong foundation to build your physical training on and Josie shared a few strategies that can ensure you feel comfortable and in control in a race situation so that you can perform to your maximum potential. The first is to remind yourself of your own motivation, and this is dependent on your goal setting in tip #1. The second is to create your own mantra, something short and snappy but also personal to you, that can motivate you when things get tough or your mind wanders from your goal. Josie shared some great examples of other athletes’ mantras – ‘Pain is temporary, quitting lasts forever’ and ‘Nothing worth having comes easy’ – and has written a great blog post about forming your own mantra on her website here, so go and have a look for more inspiration.

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Thank you to Josie for such an insightful and engaging talk, I know everyone from the club who came along went away with a few things to think about and each will hopefully implement some of these techniques in their upcoming races. Sports psychology is something that, as amateurs, is often neglected as training is at the forefront of our minds, but it was really useful to hear about some of the techniques we could use to make us stronger athletes, more confident in the training that we do and the races that we compete in.

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