Many people use running as a means of clearing their head after a long or stressful day- letting the thoughts flow uninterrupted through their mind; but then there are those who run in a competitive arena- how are their thoughts affecting their performance?
In my work with runners (cross country and track), it is often the thoughts in their head that slow them down and cause them difficulties. When it comes to competing, in any sport, we want to get out of our heads and focus more on the process of what we are doing. So for these runners, the goal is to get them to stop over-thinking and help prevent them from becoming fearful, and instead assist them in learning to focus on their breathing, the way that their foot is hitting the ground, or their form.
Attention and focus is necessary in any sport, but we need to make sure that we are focusing our attention in the right areas if we want our performance to be in the optimal range. Ultimately, we want a narrow external frame of focus, which means we aren’t overanalyzing our performance, worrying about the outcome or competitor’s performance, or looking into the stands, but instead are focused on the factors that are going to impact performance. For example, if an opponent is challenging the runner, instead of worrying about the lack of energy they are experiencing and wondering how their opponent is still able to run with such drive, they want to use the runner as a cue to refocus their attention to the process.
Another issue that often causes runners difficulty is the habit of placing themselves behind competitors before the race even begins. Many times the runners are aware of their competitor’s reputation and possibly their best racing times. Even when my client has a better personal record, irrational thoughts that elevate their competitor’s abilities, while diminishing their skills, often causes them to give up mid race. Why are they ignoring the numbers? Why are they not running to the level that they run in practice? Why are they giving up? These are often the questions I get from the runners or their parents. Lack of confidence and fear!
Confidence is essential for optimal performance. When an athlete doesn’t believe in their abilities on the sports field, how can they expect to perform? In one of my famous quotes, “Whether we believe we can or can’t, we are right!” Even if we have to fake the confidence until our performance improves and we can then truly build up our confidence, we will notice an improvement in athletic performance. It is important to note that lack of confidence is not only dealt with by amateur athletes, because professionals can struggle with confidence issues as well.
Finally, fear. Many people wrongly assume that athletes can only fear failure; however, there are those athletes that are paralyzed by the fear of success. They become concerned with how their life on and even off the athletic field may be changed if they perform to the best of their ability. If an athlete is not performing to their expected level, fear must be explored so that they will be able to work through them so that they may compete at their highest potential.