A few short months ago, runners taking part in the Summer Training session lied down on the dance room floor and took part in what, for many, was their first experience at quieting the mind to focus on breathing, followed by a session of seeing with the mind’s eye. We spent two cross-training practices performing this exercise called Visualization, all for the sake of learning how to relax on cue, seeing the field, and mentally rehearsing a future performance.
Fast forward to the present, with many runners nearing their seasons end and possibly competing in post-season races, seemingly right around the corner. As the season crescendos to an end, we may find our stress levels heightening as well. During these times of heightened anxiety, it’s important to find comfort and confidence in knowing how to quiet the mind, mentally rehearse a future performance, and emotionally harness our energy, saving that energy for our next race.
The past few Whisper practices we have spent a fair amount of time practicing work in the starting box. We’ve covered how to alternate runners so everyone gets a turn completing their strides while others save the starting box. We’ve discussed varying intensities of the pre-race strides and how to form a strong front to assure everyone has their space. One of the most important preparation discussions we have consistently had at recent practices is the importance of seeing the field. Too often, young runners are unsure of what to do at the starting line, so many find themselves standing around getting cold, becoming intimidated, or side tracked with non-running related fidgets. Instead of falling victim to these pitfalls, providing young runners with consistent activities that continue to prepare them for the event ahead can help reduce any perceived anxiety, harness their energy, and provide them with controllable actions to help prepare for what's to come.
In short, we divide in half with one group dashing from the starting line to perform their stride, then jogging back to the start and saving the box while the second group then performs a stride of their own. Between the time everyone has completed one to two strides, until the starting official asks runners to line up at the start, lies the time of the unknown. This is the space where I ask the runners to insert a degree of Visualization while scaling back the intensity of their strides to a mild, ankling pace. Whether they stand at the front of the box or perform anklings, they're asked to imagine various points of the race, specifically imagining and rehearsing how they want to feel from the ground, up - foot strike, hip height, back posture, relaxed shoulders, etc.
Parents may recall the movie Legend of Bagger Vance, starring Will Smith, Matt Damon, and Charlize Theron. Plot aside, this movie provides excellent examples of Visualization and Focus Management. The discussion around "seeing the field" and watching the final put illuminate along the green are my personal favorites, and they serve as clips that I share with my Sport Psychology classes. To continue the teaching and learning of Visualization, check-out the videos and then share with your children if you feel it might help put their minds prior to the start of their performance. With that said, it's important to practice anything prior to meets. To do this, provide this activity as something they can choose to do at practice before interval repetitions to assure they are practicing this mental strategy, rather than winging it at the start of a big performance. Most importantly, have fun with these mental tools.