Recently I was told a story of a young girl participating in the high jump during the 2017 track season. As the young girl approached the high jump bar, she would stop, turn around, and approach it again, only to repeat this action until time was up, leading to a scratch. Three scratches later and she had a "no height" beside her name. She left the event, walked to the infield, sat down, and began crying.
Fast forward to last week where a runner from Whisper inquired about performance nerves, wondering how to remain focused under pressure. A multisport athlete, her confidence wanes as intimidation grows as events and games near. Admittedly, this runner “got a little mental” thus inhibiting full potential in performance.
Stories and events such as these quickly remind me that our kids are kids, and as talented as they are, they are also human, filled with feelings, thoughts, emotions, and passion. These factors can easily be overlooked by focusing only on the physical aspect of training, meanwhile ignoring the human element within training and performance.
There are several ways we can work though these sorts of performance anxieies. Over the last couple of weeks at practice, we have talked about focus, concentration, and goals, which can help provide a centered-focus during practice interval work, and ultimately, racing. Last Saturday, we did a brief meditation session, focusing on breathing and Progressive Relaxation Training exercises. Another strategy regularly discussed at practice is the use of “flushing the toilet,” which is an idea cultivated by Ken Ravizza, a Sport Psychologist at Cal State Fullerton. Ravizza’s flush enables one to flush out negative thinking, only to then bring in fresh, concentrated thinking for the present task, i.e., the present interval. It’s a concentration/focus strategy that encourages rational, goal-centered thinking in the present moment.
Like most things in life, these strategies are actual skills one can acquire and practice over time, being sure to take a baby-step approach toward skill confidence. The first step is creating a goal, and as previously stated, we have worked heavily on the skill of Goal Setting. If your child has not yet set a goal for the 2018 track season, be sure to check out the Winter Training Sport Psych Implementation blog, which provides a summary of the first six weeks of training, as well as a brief discussion and example of what Goal Setting looks like through the lens of Coach Dave. Every runner has their own lens, so the example on the blog can be modified to fit ones goals and personality.