Blog

Power in Mind

Sport Psychology News from Ceely Sports

By Michael Ceely 09 Oct, 2017

I was 15 when I met Tom Frueh, whose family hosted me at their home for the 1983 Pepsi-Lowenbrau Gran Prix, a seven day bicycle race in Central Wisconsin. Some of the best Junior riders (age 15-17) in the country were there.

The race organizers had a system where riders were randomly assigned to a host family. At the time, I didn't know how fortunate I was to be selected to stay at Tom's house.

Tom was a year older than me and a much better racer. My best finish all year was 10th place. I had never talked to him; only watched him beat me and my friends in races. What would he be like?

The shuttle bus slowed down and dropped me off. With my bags in one hand and my bike in the other, I awkwardly knocked on my host family's door.

Tom cheerfully greeted me at the door and asked if I wanted to go for a training ride before dinner. I accepted his offer, and off we rode into the humid Wisconsin afternoon.

Relaxed and confident, Tom rode no-handed and speculated about the next day’s opening stage: “It should be fast, Gordy Holterman is gonna be there.”

Gordy was probably the best Junior rider in the country at that time, but Tom’s tone of voice and was casual, almost over-confident. “I’m pretty fast too,” he said with a sly smile.

And fast he was. The next day, Tom ended up on the podium in 3rd place. Gordy won. I finished somewhere in the top 20.

As I watched the podium celebration, and Tom being interviewed by the local TV station, I was struck with the thought that maybe I could be up there too. After all, Tom was just a normal down-to-earth Wisconsin guy, you know... like me.

The next day, I warmed up on the race course with my usual group of friends. We had entered the Grand Prix with no aspirations, just hoping to finish respectably in this field of elite riders.

As we lined up on the start line, I looked around at the competition. Some of them I had only read about. In my head I thought about how good everyone else was.

The start pistol went off, and we rounded the first corner. Suddenly it got fast, really fast. Gordy took the lead, and pulled away from the field.

The field slowed and riders bunched together. Who was going to chase? Just then, Tom attacked up the side of the road. Another rider took off, then another.

But soon Tom and the others were reeled back in, their efforts to bridge up to Gordy had failed. Suddenly, Tom attacked again! “How is that possible?” I thought. He didn’t even have time to recover. I watched him ride away, his body writhing in pain.

Tom ended up on the podium again, in second place, with Gordy taking the victory. "So that's how Tom does it," I thought, “He creates the race himself.” Tom dictated the course of the race. He didn’t let pain stop him.

After the race, I hung out with Tom and Gordy and a few other racers who were "out of my league." We went swimming, went to Leon's Malt Shop in Oshkosh to get burgers, and basically laughed and had fun like teenagers do.

By Michael Ceely 05 Apr, 2017

Allow me to introduce Mikael Hanson of Enhance Sports based out of New York City.

In addition to his coaching company, he is the head coach of the NYU Cycling Team. He is also a champion duathlete, and represented the U.S. Team at the 2007, 2009, 2013, and 2015 Duathlon World Championships.

Mikael shares my interest and passion for coaching and sport performance. I have known Mikael for years, and am continually impressed by his work ethic and dedication to his athletes.

In this guest blog post, Mikael shares some sage advice on how to continue to enjoy sports as you get older:

Better with Age (or just smarter?)

by  Mikael Hanson

Like a fine red wine or collectable antique car, there is another thing that can improve with age - the endurance athlete. Whether we are talking about swimmer Dara Torres medaling in the 2008 Olympics at the age of 41 or Brett Favre throwing TD passes as a grandpa, athletes accomplish incredible things past the age of forty.

Take myself. Outside of bicycle racing, I've always been a very competitive multi-sport athlete, but I did not win my first race until I was forty-one and then did it again three more times when I was forty-two (and have managed to win at least 1 multi-sport race every year since). How-- By adapting my training as I got older.

Sure, when I was an elite category 1 cyclist in college I could ride 6 to 7 times a week, amassing hundreds and hundreds of miles in the process. I could stay out all night long and live on a diet of burgers, beer and cheese (a staple for one from Wisconsin). As my twenties became thirty-something and then the forties, my ability to recover changed. Gone are the days of being able to race daily for a two week cycling stage race. It now takes me a day or two even to feel normal after a 10k running race.

What adaptations does the older athlete need to make to stay competitive?

1.  Listen to your body and understand the importance of REST!
This will likely mean LESS high intensity workouts during the week, LESS racing and more recovery time. In my twenties recovery came easy and rest days, well those were for the weak minded. In my forties it is not uncommon for me to string together back to back recovery days. I am also now much more in tune with my body.  I take my resting heart rate and check my body weight every morning, looking for the early warning signs of not being properly recovered (perhaps bordering on obsessive-compulsive behavior). I used to become overcome with guilt for skipping a training day (even when I was sick) and lived by the mantra that somewhere someone is training and when you meet them in competition, they will beat you. Being older and wiser, I no longer feel guilty for missing an occasional workout, and realize that some of my best performances have come after a period of forced rest. 

2.  Learn from your own body of knowledge .
After over 30 years of endurance racing at nearly every level, I tend to think I know what works in my own training and what doesn’t. As a cyclist, I know that I respond best from longer, medium tempo rides than a ton of high intensity workouts.   However, this approach does not work for me as a runner. I have found that I need a few more structured intensity workouts to help me find my form. This is where keeping a detailed training log you can refer back to is key (mine go back 20 yrs). Had a particularly good race last fall? What did your training look like leading up to it? Were you heavier or lighter? How many hours of sleep were you getting (or not getting)?

3.  Get back into the gym .
The gym used to be a place I would only visit on the off-season when weather prohibited you from comfortably training outside. Never would I venture into the confines of a gym during those warm summer months, not when I could be logging miles outside on the bike! But as one gets older, less flexible, your muscles shrink. If you want to stay competitive, strength training needs to become an integral part of your year-round fitness routine. Yes, you will spend less time strength training in the heart of the racing season, but it should not be ignored. Devise a routine that can be done without elaborate gym equipment such as sit-ups, planks, push-ups, wall squats, etc. All you need is 20-30 mins a few times a week during the racing season to keep you on top of your game.

4.  Watch the diet.
As endurance athletes we like to think we can eat what ever we want - just look at the diet of Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps. As a twenty-something, this might be true, but as we get older and the metabolism slows it becomes even more important to watch what you eat. A proper diet of lean meats, fruits, vegetables and the right mix of carbs to protein will not only speed up the recovery process, it can also elevate your own performance.

5.  Buy that incremental performance. 
There is a reason the average age of a triathlete is in the mid-30s and their median income level is in the low six figures. Some endurance sports like triathlon and cycling can get prohibitively expensive when compared to others (such as running or swimming). Carbon fiber frames and wheels, wetsuits, running and cycling shoes, biomechanical insoles, aerodynamic helmets, and race entry fees (approaching $100 for some Ironman events) can add up.   But, if you have the means, many of these items can lead to improved performance. A lighter more aero frame or wheel set, a professional bike fit, a compu-trainer to ride indoors, portable altitude tents or even performance testing can enhance your own performance. 

6.  And finally - Keep it FUN!
For most of us, we do these endurance sports not because we are getting paid or it is our full time job, but because we crave the thrill of competition. Find ways to include your family in your racing. Look for a destination race at a location your family would enjoy. Several years ago, duathlon national championships were held outside of Tuscon, Arizona and both my wife and son made the trip with me. We made the trip a week long vacation, tacking some extra days on after the race. Gotta tell you, having your own cheering section at an out of town event is the best motivation to race well!

As I approach 50 I still refuse to use AGE as an excuse and hope I am able to still compete at a high level for years to come. Just a few years back I competed in a duathlon versus a field of over 300 athletes, including a small platoon of lean West Point cadets who were part of the Army triathlon team. For myself, there was no better gratification than finishing ahead of nearly all of them – save a lone cadet half my age who managed to beat me by a mere six seconds. To me, that was quite a feeling of accomplishment and, as they say, priceless!

To read more posts from Mikael Hanson's blog Click here

By Michael Ceely 15 Mar, 2017

In Part One of this post, we learned how an athlete's belief system can influence their performance. We also began learning about self-talk.

Remember the exercise in Part One? You chose an error from a recent athletic performance, and wrote down the first words that came to mind. Then you made a list of positive words of encouragement about the error, much like a coach giving a pep talk.

By reviewing these positive words every night for a week, you began a process of conditioning your brain to focus on the positive.

Creating the Connection

Now imagine you are a basketball player who associates the word “terrible" with missing a shot.  Without your awareness, this negative word unconsciously reinforces feelings of frustration. This is what you DON'T want!

What you DO want is to condition yourself so that missing a shot doesn't get you down. You want to link words of encouragement to the mistake. "Keep moving" or "good effort" will keep your head in the game more than words like "terrible."

Where and When to Practice

You don't have time to practice self-talk while competing, and you don't want to be distracted trying to remember complex phrases during your event.

That's why you need to practice self-talk outside of competition. Set aside specific practice times to work on it.  You want to condition yourself enough so that when you are competing, you automatically have a positive attitude.

Finding Your Mantra

Let's take the example of basketball again. Why is it that some players, even in the NBA, can't make a free throw? Remember Shaquille O'Neal? Shaq on the Line

If you want to harness the power of self-talk, the free throw is a great example of an activity to practice. For golf, maybe it's putting. For endurance sports like cycling, maybe it's hill climbing. Whatever your sport, choose something you want to improve.

For now though, pretend you are practicing a free throw. Choose a word - just one word - that encapsulates the mental state you want to be in. You are now honing your self-talk down to what we call a mantra. A mantra is three words maximum, preferably one. It is a "command" designed to focus you.

Picture yourself about to shoot your free throw. You might choose a mantra like "smooth" or "focus," whatever works for you. Then breathe, say your mantra, and shoot the ball.

You don't have to say your mantra out loud, just think it. Or visualize the word in your head. When you make the shot, repeat your mantra several more times. This will help link the mantra to positive expectations.

If you missed the shot, choose a different mantra. Choose a simple word or two of encouragement, like "keep going" or "practice makes perfect." Repeat this mantra several times after missing a shot.

Believe to Achieve

As you can see, we're not working on shooting mechanics here. We're working on your responses to success or failure. You are training yourself to respond in an encouraging way to both events. Practice this enough, and come game time, you won't let a missed shot get you down.

It's important that your self-talk is applied to a realistic situation. A long three-point shot that you can barely make is not a good place to practice self-talk. It will be a waste of time because you won't be getting the encouraging repetition of successful shots.

My Self-Talk Discovery

I wanted to share the story of how I discovered the power of self-talk. My sport is bicycle racing.

Back when I was racing a lot, I used to get dropped on any significant hill. I became frustrated, and of course this had a downward spiral effect: the more nervous I was before a climb, the faster I got dropped by the other racers.

One day after a race, my friend Matt Sarna, a very talented racer, pulled me aside and gave me some advice.

Matt said to me: "you need to relax... really relax." "Before a climb, everyone's nervous," he continued. "You need to conserve your energy." What struck me most was what he said next: "Tell yourself something to calm you."

During training that next week, I worked on calming myself before hills by repeating the word “relax.” I began to notice my climbing becoming more relaxed and focused. 

During my next race, as the first climb appeared, I noticed my anxiety rise. But because I had practiced Matt’s technique, I was able to shift fairly quickly into a relaxed state.

My mantra, "relax," began to work: I was able to stay with the lead group of climbers much longer than normal. This result gave me confidence, and I began to really work on my climbing, and got better and better results in hilly races. 

For the Tool Belt

Self-talk is just one tool you can use to improve your sport performance. Like any technique, it takes practice. You won't see results right away. But stick with it, and you should begin to see a positive change. Of course, when learning any new sport technique, it's best to consult with your coach before trying it on your own. 

My hope is that this article piques your interest about the power of your mind, and inspires you to learn more about sport psychology.

Like this article? Feel free to share or leave a comment!

By Michael Ceely 02 Mar, 2017
That's right, your own belief system (BS) could be holding you back! Beliefs can serve us, or they can defeat us.

Imagine an athlete who learned early in life that he needs to dominate others in order to survive. He may have come from a tough home situation where this belief served him well. He learned to "win at all costs." Let's say this belief serves him today as a competitive runner: he vanquishes his opponents with ruthless intensity.

But what happens when this runner encounters someone who beats him? If he can't win naturally, what might his belief system tell him to do? His win-at-all-costs attitude may lead him to use performance-enhancing drugs.

Let’s take the example of a gymnast who demands perfection. Maybe her first coach taught her that mistakes were unacceptable. Because of this, her belief system is “people won't like me if I make mistakes." So, instead of using mistakes as a learning experience, she is terrified of imperfection, and never strives to reach the next level.

The gymnast's perfectionism and the runner's desire to win at all costs may garner some impressive results, but eventually their beliefs will limit their potential. Worse, their beliefs may cause stress, burnout, and even cheating.

Changing belief systems is difficult because we may have "believed our beliefs" for so long that we don't even question them.

The key to changing your beliefs is to listen to your language. There is something in sport psychology called self-talk. It is the language - often subconscious - that we use to evaluate ourselves.

Listen to your self-talk, and you'll begin to uncover your belief system. If you have a bad game or a bad race, do you find yourself saying things like "I always miss that shot" or "I'll never get better?"

While it might not seem like a big deal, this kind of negative self-talk can be very damaging. If repeated enough, you will lose motivation and confidence.

What kind of beliefs would an athlete have to have in order to use negative self-talk such as, "I'll never get better?" Well, they might believe that it's simply too difficult to get better.

But if we drill down even deeper, a more basic belief may be uncovered. "I'll never get better" might really mean "I'm afraid to push myself to the next level because if I fail, then I'm a failure as a person."

Talking to a sport psychologist or counselor can help uncover core beliefs. But not all athletes want to do this, or even need to.

Certainly anxiety, depression, and destructive behavior merit a referral to a counselor. But most athletes can counter negative beliefs by simply changing their self-talk.

Stop using negative self-talk, and start using positive self-talk. This is the "outside-in” approach. Tell yourself something long enough, and you start to believe it.

Instead of saying "I'll never get better" say, "I want to get better." The more you stop negative self-talk in its tracks and switch to positive self-talk, the quicker you will start to shift your belief system.

Note that positive self-talk must be realistic. Saying "I will win" when you're up against tough competition is not smart. Instead say something positive and unconditional like, "strong" or "smooth."

The challenge in noticing self-talk is that it's often unspoken, or whispered under our breath.

One way to bring your self-talk into awareness is by writing it down.

After your next competition, pick something that bothered you – maybe an error you made – and write it down. Next, write the first words that come to mind about the error you made. Some colorful adjectives might come to mind. Or it may be a phrase beginning with "I should have."

If you are like most athletes, you may notice that you are hard on yourself. You may have written down some negative appraisals.

The next step is to write down a list of positive adjectives or phrases regarding the error you made.

One way to do this is to imagine a coach giving you positive words of encouragement. If you missed a shot in basketball, would a good coach say, "what's wrong with you... you always miss that shot!” Of course not, they would say something like, "let's practice that shot so you'll get it next time."

Force yourself to write down an equal amount of positive, encouraging self-talk or “coaching talk.” Look at the positive words. Let them soak in.

Every night for a week, before going to bed, look at your positive list. Visualize yourself as your own "good coach" encouraging you. Then go to bed and let the subconscious reprogramming begin!

More and more, start to notice the language you use to evaluate yourself. If it's negative or judgmental, you're in good company, many athletes are hard on themselves. But there is a difference between pushing yourself toward excellence, and berating yourself. The latter helps no one.

Next week, in Part Two , we'll learn more about the power of self-talk. Stay tuned!
By Michael Ceely 02 Feb, 2017

Super Bowl LI is this Sunday. The Patriots and Falcons will battle it out, and quarterbacks Tom Brady and Matt Ryan will be under intense pressure. How each of these athletes manages their anxiety during key moments of the game is of paramount importance. Panic... or grace under pressure.

Sport psychologists talk about something called optimum anxiety. An athlete needs to be keyed up and alert, but not so much that they are overcome with anxiety. Some anxiety is good, but too much will hurt an athlete's performance.

Studies have shown that complex decision-making abilities plummet under high levels of stress. So you can imagine how important anxiety management is for a quarterback.

That's why I was shocked to recently discover that three-time Super Bowl champion Steve Young suffered throughout his career from debilitating anxiety. Early in his career, his anxiety almost got the better of him, and he almost quit football. Who knew? Certainly not 49ers fans.

In 1993, before a game against the Atlanta Falcons, Young was so nervous he didn't sleep for two days, and vomited numerous times. He was a wreck. He started the game anyway, and led the 49ers to a 37-30 win over the Falcons. It was shortly after this that Young knew he needed help. He sought counseling.

Counseling helped, but Young still kept his struggles with anxiety a secret. It wasn't until last year that Young finally broke his silence, and revealed his inner struggles to the world.

I recently heard an inspiring interview on San Francisco's KQED radio where Young recounts his battle with anxiety. It shows that even superstar athletes we think "have it all together" are human and struggle with their emotions. It also gives athletes permission to seek help, especially if one of their heroes says it's okay.  

Click the link below to listen to the interview:

How Hall of Fame Quarterback Steve Young Tackled His Anxiety

By Michael Ceely 02 Jan, 2017

2017 marks the launch of CeelySports, a coaching system different from the rest. The focus is on psychology, the driving force in sport performance.

My mission is to empower athletes to find a deeper purpose for the sport they love. Once this happens, passion flows, and performance naturally improves.

Stay tuned for more news, and scroll down to sign up for my Monthly Newsletter!
By Michael Ceely 09 Oct, 2017

I was 15 when I met Tom Frueh, whose family hosted me at their home for the 1983 Pepsi-Lowenbrau Gran Prix, a seven day bicycle race in Central Wisconsin. Some of the best Junior riders (age 15-17) in the country were there.

The race organizers had a system where riders were randomly assigned to a host family. At the time, I didn't know how fortunate I was to be selected to stay at Tom's house.

Tom was a year older than me and a much better racer. My best finish all year was 10th place. I had never talked to him; only watched him beat me and my friends in races. What would he be like?

The shuttle bus slowed down and dropped me off. With my bags in one hand and my bike in the other, I awkwardly knocked on my host family's door.

Tom cheerfully greeted me at the door and asked if I wanted to go for a training ride before dinner. I accepted his offer, and off we rode into the humid Wisconsin afternoon.

Relaxed and confident, Tom rode no-handed and speculated about the next day’s opening stage: “It should be fast, Gordy Holterman is gonna be there.”

Gordy was probably the best Junior rider in the country at that time, but Tom’s tone of voice and was casual, almost over-confident. “I’m pretty fast too,” he said with a sly smile.

And fast he was. The next day, Tom ended up on the podium in 3rd place. Gordy won. I finished somewhere in the top 20.

As I watched the podium celebration, and Tom being interviewed by the local TV station, I was struck with the thought that maybe I could be up there too. After all, Tom was just a normal down-to-earth Wisconsin guy, you know... like me.

The next day, I warmed up on the race course with my usual group of friends. We had entered the Grand Prix with no aspirations, just hoping to finish respectably in this field of elite riders.

As we lined up on the start line, I looked around at the competition. Some of them I had only read about. In my head I thought about how good everyone else was.

The start pistol went off, and we rounded the first corner. Suddenly it got fast, really fast. Gordy took the lead, and pulled away from the field.

The field slowed and riders bunched together. Who was going to chase? Just then, Tom attacked up the side of the road. Another rider took off, then another.

But soon Tom and the others were reeled back in, their efforts to bridge up to Gordy had failed. Suddenly, Tom attacked again! “How is that possible?” I thought. He didn’t even have time to recover. I watched him ride away, his body writhing in pain.

Tom ended up on the podium again, in second place, with Gordy taking the victory. "So that's how Tom does it," I thought, “He creates the race himself.” Tom dictated the course of the race. He didn’t let pain stop him.

After the race, I hung out with Tom and Gordy and a few other racers who were "out of my league." We went swimming, went to Leon's Malt Shop in Oshkosh to get burgers, and basically laughed and had fun like teenagers do.

By Michael Ceely 05 Apr, 2017

Allow me to introduce Mikael Hanson of Enhance Sports based out of New York City.

In addition to his coaching company, he is the head coach of the NYU Cycling Team. He is also a champion duathlete, and represented the U.S. Team at the 2007, 2009, 2013, and 2015 Duathlon World Championships.

Mikael shares my interest and passion for coaching and sport performance. I have known Mikael for years, and am continually impressed by his work ethic and dedication to his athletes.

In this guest blog post, Mikael shares some sage advice on how to continue to enjoy sports as you get older:

Better with Age (or just smarter?)

by  Mikael Hanson

Like a fine red wine or collectable antique car, there is another thing that can improve with age - the endurance athlete. Whether we are talking about swimmer Dara Torres medaling in the 2008 Olympics at the age of 41 or Brett Favre throwing TD passes as a grandpa, athletes accomplish incredible things past the age of forty.

Take myself. Outside of bicycle racing, I've always been a very competitive multi-sport athlete, but I did not win my first race until I was forty-one and then did it again three more times when I was forty-two (and have managed to win at least 1 multi-sport race every year since). How-- By adapting my training as I got older.

Sure, when I was an elite category 1 cyclist in college I could ride 6 to 7 times a week, amassing hundreds and hundreds of miles in the process. I could stay out all night long and live on a diet of burgers, beer and cheese (a staple for one from Wisconsin). As my twenties became thirty-something and then the forties, my ability to recover changed. Gone are the days of being able to race daily for a two week cycling stage race. It now takes me a day or two even to feel normal after a 10k running race.

What adaptations does the older athlete need to make to stay competitive?

1.  Listen to your body and understand the importance of REST!
This will likely mean LESS high intensity workouts during the week, LESS racing and more recovery time. In my twenties recovery came easy and rest days, well those were for the weak minded. In my forties it is not uncommon for me to string together back to back recovery days. I am also now much more in tune with my body.  I take my resting heart rate and check my body weight every morning, looking for the early warning signs of not being properly recovered (perhaps bordering on obsessive-compulsive behavior). I used to become overcome with guilt for skipping a training day (even when I was sick) and lived by the mantra that somewhere someone is training and when you meet them in competition, they will beat you. Being older and wiser, I no longer feel guilty for missing an occasional workout, and realize that some of my best performances have come after a period of forced rest. 

2.  Learn from your own body of knowledge .
After over 30 years of endurance racing at nearly every level, I tend to think I know what works in my own training and what doesn’t. As a cyclist, I know that I respond best from longer, medium tempo rides than a ton of high intensity workouts.   However, this approach does not work for me as a runner. I have found that I need a few more structured intensity workouts to help me find my form. This is where keeping a detailed training log you can refer back to is key (mine go back 20 yrs). Had a particularly good race last fall? What did your training look like leading up to it? Were you heavier or lighter? How many hours of sleep were you getting (or not getting)?

3.  Get back into the gym .
The gym used to be a place I would only visit on the off-season when weather prohibited you from comfortably training outside. Never would I venture into the confines of a gym during those warm summer months, not when I could be logging miles outside on the bike! But as one gets older, less flexible, your muscles shrink. If you want to stay competitive, strength training needs to become an integral part of your year-round fitness routine. Yes, you will spend less time strength training in the heart of the racing season, but it should not be ignored. Devise a routine that can be done without elaborate gym equipment such as sit-ups, planks, push-ups, wall squats, etc. All you need is 20-30 mins a few times a week during the racing season to keep you on top of your game.

4.  Watch the diet.
As endurance athletes we like to think we can eat what ever we want - just look at the diet of Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps. As a twenty-something, this might be true, but as we get older and the metabolism slows it becomes even more important to watch what you eat. A proper diet of lean meats, fruits, vegetables and the right mix of carbs to protein will not only speed up the recovery process, it can also elevate your own performance.

5.  Buy that incremental performance. 
There is a reason the average age of a triathlete is in the mid-30s and their median income level is in the low six figures. Some endurance sports like triathlon and cycling can get prohibitively expensive when compared to others (such as running or swimming). Carbon fiber frames and wheels, wetsuits, running and cycling shoes, biomechanical insoles, aerodynamic helmets, and race entry fees (approaching $100 for some Ironman events) can add up.   But, if you have the means, many of these items can lead to improved performance. A lighter more aero frame or wheel set, a professional bike fit, a compu-trainer to ride indoors, portable altitude tents or even performance testing can enhance your own performance. 

6.  And finally - Keep it FUN!
For most of us, we do these endurance sports not because we are getting paid or it is our full time job, but because we crave the thrill of competition. Find ways to include your family in your racing. Look for a destination race at a location your family would enjoy. Several years ago, duathlon national championships were held outside of Tuscon, Arizona and both my wife and son made the trip with me. We made the trip a week long vacation, tacking some extra days on after the race. Gotta tell you, having your own cheering section at an out of town event is the best motivation to race well!

As I approach 50 I still refuse to use AGE as an excuse and hope I am able to still compete at a high level for years to come. Just a few years back I competed in a duathlon versus a field of over 300 athletes, including a small platoon of lean West Point cadets who were part of the Army triathlon team. For myself, there was no better gratification than finishing ahead of nearly all of them – save a lone cadet half my age who managed to beat me by a mere six seconds. To me, that was quite a feeling of accomplishment and, as they say, priceless!

To read more posts from Mikael Hanson's blog Click here

By Michael Ceely 15 Mar, 2017

In Part One of this post, we learned how an athlete's belief system can influence their performance. We also began learning about self-talk.

Remember the exercise in Part One? You chose an error from a recent athletic performance, and wrote down the first words that came to mind. Then you made a list of positive words of encouragement about the error, much like a coach giving a pep talk.

By reviewing these positive words every night for a week, you began a process of conditioning your brain to focus on the positive.

Creating the Connection

Now imagine you are a basketball player who associates the word “terrible" with missing a shot.  Without your awareness, this negative word unconsciously reinforces feelings of frustration. This is what you DON'T want!

What you DO want is to condition yourself so that missing a shot doesn't get you down. You want to link words of encouragement to the mistake. "Keep moving" or "good effort" will keep your head in the game more than words like "terrible."

Where and When to Practice

You don't have time to practice self-talk while competing, and you don't want to be distracted trying to remember complex phrases during your event.

That's why you need to practice self-talk outside of competition. Set aside specific practice times to work on it.  You want to condition yourself enough so that when you are competing, you automatically have a positive attitude.

Finding Your Mantra

Let's take the example of basketball again. Why is it that some players, even in the NBA, can't make a free throw? Remember Shaquille O'Neal? Shaq on the Line

If you want to harness the power of self-talk, the free throw is a great example of an activity to practice. For golf, maybe it's putting. For endurance sports like cycling, maybe it's hill climbing. Whatever your sport, choose something you want to improve.

For now though, pretend you are practicing a free throw. Choose a word - just one word - that encapsulates the mental state you want to be in. You are now honing your self-talk down to what we call a mantra. A mantra is three words maximum, preferably one. It is a "command" designed to focus you.

Picture yourself about to shoot your free throw. You might choose a mantra like "smooth" or "focus," whatever works for you. Then breathe, say your mantra, and shoot the ball.

You don't have to say your mantra out loud, just think it. Or visualize the word in your head. When you make the shot, repeat your mantra several more times. This will help link the mantra to positive expectations.

If you missed the shot, choose a different mantra. Choose a simple word or two of encouragement, like "keep going" or "practice makes perfect." Repeat this mantra several times after missing a shot.

Believe to Achieve

As you can see, we're not working on shooting mechanics here. We're working on your responses to success or failure. You are training yourself to respond in an encouraging way to both events. Practice this enough, and come game time, you won't let a missed shot get you down.

It's important that your self-talk is applied to a realistic situation. A long three-point shot that you can barely make is not a good place to practice self-talk. It will be a waste of time because you won't be getting the encouraging repetition of successful shots.

My Self-Talk Discovery

I wanted to share the story of how I discovered the power of self-talk. My sport is bicycle racing.

Back when I was racing a lot, I used to get dropped on any significant hill. I became frustrated, and of course this had a downward spiral effect: the more nervous I was before a climb, the faster I got dropped by the other racers.

One day after a race, my friend Matt Sarna, a very talented racer, pulled me aside and gave me some advice.

Matt said to me: "you need to relax... really relax." "Before a climb, everyone's nervous," he continued. "You need to conserve your energy." What struck me most was what he said next: "Tell yourself something to calm you."

During training that next week, I worked on calming myself before hills by repeating the word “relax.” I began to notice my climbing becoming more relaxed and focused. 

During my next race, as the first climb appeared, I noticed my anxiety rise. But because I had practiced Matt’s technique, I was able to shift fairly quickly into a relaxed state.

My mantra, "relax," began to work: I was able to stay with the lead group of climbers much longer than normal. This result gave me confidence, and I began to really work on my climbing, and got better and better results in hilly races. 

For the Tool Belt

Self-talk is just one tool you can use to improve your sport performance. Like any technique, it takes practice. You won't see results right away. But stick with it, and you should begin to see a positive change. Of course, when learning any new sport technique, it's best to consult with your coach before trying it on your own. 

My hope is that this article piques your interest about the power of your mind, and inspires you to learn more about sport psychology.

Like this article? Feel free to share or leave a comment!

More Posts
Share by: