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Success in sport is not all about what occurs with the body, it’s also about what’s going on in the mind. Here some of our 2XU Athletes reflect on the best pieces of sports psychology they’ve learned and how they put them to use.
“Embracing The Suck” is a term that I first heard about in Chris McCormack’s book, I’m Here To Win. I’d practiced the concept in my own training, but I never really had a term for it. To me, Embracing The Suck is all about pushing your body in training further than your mind will let it without the stimulus from a competitive environment. Of course, suffering with others is more fun, but that is what racing is for and I leave that for race day.
It is about knowing that I will not only go out there and do it, but I will almost salivate over it because I know there is no way on Earth anyone else can suffer this much by themselves. Some might just be sadistic and actually love the pain in masochistic way. Others might use a reward system to get through it – they’ll make X session easy or they’ll treat themselves to Y. When I feel that nobody else can suffer like me, I almost see it as a trump card that makes the session much easier and more rewarding. It doesn’t mean that I embrace the pain and suffering, it means that I I create an environment in my mind that makes it alright. The reward is an incredible mental high with greater physical adaptions.
I’ve done a great job of this on the bike and by doing my hardest sessions by myself – no-one would want to come for those sessions! This winter I took this concept to the pool – something I never did before. I started by finding swim partners who were much faster than I was, because I had to really understand what suffering meant. I went into the swims rested and well-fed, but sometimes on paper there was no way I could complete the swim. I never mentioned this to my partners, I just suffered like a dog and never gave up. Then I began to make my own touches, as I had on the bike. I went out by myself and swam even harder than I did in the group swims.
Now my easier swims are with the group, and my hard swims, well…there is no-one on Earth who would want to do those swim sets. This is where your mental toughness grows. Sure, you can thrive in a competitive environment – that is what competitive environments are for – but they reduce your mental toughness and you don’t push by yourself. You forget how to embrace the suck.
― THOMAS GERLACH, TRIATHLETE
I was lucky to be given the book The Chimp Paradox, which suggests that we have a “chimp” brain and a “human” brain. The chimp brain is the one that can get quite emotional and behave erratically – it’s the one that gets all narky and angry if someone jumps in front of us in a queue, even though in the big scheme of things there are bigger issues. The chimp brain helps to explain why we get nervous, why we get angry and upset. The human brain is the rational one, the one that makes decisions based on fact rather than emotion.
This book helped me better identify those times where my chimp brain was taking over and see that I wasn’t in the best state to make decisions. When I get really nervous now, I acknowledge that this is a natural reaction to a pressure situation. Then I focus on what it is I need to do, rather than indulging the fears and emotions of my chimp!
― KIM CROW, ROWER
I’ve learnt to focus on enjoying my sport and not take it too seriously. This has made me able to relax more, and my racing has improved because I’ve been able to train better. If I enjoy what I’m doing, then I’ll be successful. One of the ways I enjoy training is to take each session one at a time – I train better and enjoy it more if I’m not thinking about the next hard session I have to do.
― EMMA MCKEON, SWIMMER
Sometimes in my short career psychology has played a bigger part than any technical or physical aspect of my game. For example, I was playing well at The British Open, my first major. After the first day I was only one shot off the lead and I’d comfortably made the cut after the second. Then I signed for an incorrect scorecard. I was disqualified – simple as that. I cried for two days straight and I really didn’t want to go to Spain the following week for a European Tour event. I had to pick myself up. I had to keep reminding myself that I was playing well, plus I had to come to grips with everyone on the tour talking about me. Some things I did that helped were:
Now I try to recreate that feeling I had when my expectations were at their lowest.
― STACEY KEATING, GOLFER
In my rowing career I’ve been through so many obstacles and over time I got used to knocking them over by myself. The closer I got to the top end of the sport, the harder these barriers became and the pressure that built up was huge. My crewmates, family and friends will attest that it wasn’t good to be around me at these times.
With the help of a sports psychologist, I found out just how big, important and effective the support network I have around me is, and how to use it. Offloading, unwinding and sharing my difficulties has allowed me to find better ways to tackle the issues I face, which has helped me immensely on and off the water.
If you give a chance to your coach, team members, friends, family by sharing what’s on your mind then listen to what they have to say, you might be surprised at the support you’ll receive.
― PETE TAYLOR, ROWER