Recently I listened to a TriTalk podcast and the main interview discussed sports psychology. The main topic was how it is becoming more important, not only for the pros but also for us amateurs. The doctor discussed approaching the race, as well as every workout, in specific ways to maximize your overall performance. She emphasized the "practice how you race" concept for your mind as well as your body. And that got me to thinking about how long I’ve been exposed to some of these basic precepts and what it has done for me.
The first thing I can remember being exposed to in sports psychology is the concept of visualization: seeing yourself, mentally, doing a task and doing it the properly. I was a high jumper in high school and college (DIII) in the late 80’s and early 90’s. I did not have the best vertical leap in the world (a little better than Larry Bird, but not much!), so I had to rely on my technical ability to clear the bar. Believe me when I say there is much more to jumping over the bar than just "jumping over the bar." My coaches had the brilliant idea to videotape my workouts and meets, as well as having me watch professionals on video. This gave me a reference point for how I actually looked compared to how I should look when jumping.
Because of their influence, I was able to perform significantly better than I would have had I not been exposed to this technique. Now don’t get me wrong, I never won state. Heck, I only qualified once. However, because of that, I was actually able to clear 6’6" in a meet and consistently compete and place in meets. Why? Because before each jump, I would visualize the entire jump. The preparation. The run up approach. The jump. The arch over the bar. Even the landing on the pad and the exit off the other side. I would do this every single time I did a jump. Even when I was training, I would visualize how I was supposed to look doing that workout. By having that routine, I was able to reduce the amount of stress I would have before and during a meet.
So now I try to use that same concept for triathlons. When I swim, I see, in my mind’s eye, how I should look, arm entering the water, sighting in open water, breathing properly. When I run, I mentally visualize my form, foot strike, and posture. When I bike, I think about all I’ve learned in pedal strokes and how to maintain an aerodynamic form in the saddle. I have yet to actually videotape myself, and ideally have it analyzed, but still, based on what I have watched on TV, I have an idea of how I should look when doing each sport.
And interestingly enough, it has helped. In 2007, my first year of triathlons, I did five sprints. And for each one, I spent the week prior to the race preparing my body and my mind. I pored over the maps, especially the bike maps, to become familiar with the routes. Even without knowing where and what the transition areas looked like, I would continually go through my T1/T2 routines, from entry to exit. I would do this, and more, all the way up to the sound of the starting horn.
I truly believe it has made a world of difference. Without this routine, I would probably be a bundle of nerves before each race. Without this visualization, I might have DNF’d the Spirit of Racine swim (check out my race report to understand more). Without my mind’s eye, I might have been so discouraged after my first race (Sullivan Triathlon) that I would have given up triathlons all together. My mind’s eye sees me doing something I love to do, and helps me do it as well as I can.
Triathlons(duh), Sports in general (Soccer, football, baseball, College b-ball), my garden, science (microbiology because of work), and my favorite microbrewry (Flossmoor Station).