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Some interesting research encouraging drinking during your workout has been published recently in the Perceptual and Motor Skills Journal.
Conducted by Biological Psychologist Kirsten D’Anci at the prestigious Human Nutrition Research Centre at Tufts University, the study found that athletes who consumed zero fluid during an exercise session reported higher levels of both anger and depression on a mood scale after the session.
After a training session they found that very slight dehydration of only 1-2 % of body weight (a 0.75 litre loss of fluid in a 75 kg adult) was enough to cause what the researches called a “a global negative mood” . The symptoms included signs of confusion, fatigue and decreased vigour (energy). These factors were 33% higher than the group that exercised and drank fluid through the session.
The cause? The researchers proposed that the dehydrated group actually experienced a very slight shrinkage of the brain cells. (Picture a plump green grape versus a dried sultana). This shrinkage causes a chemical imbalance to occur and this can increase irritability and potentially trigger headaches.
The solution: aim to consume 250 mls (a glass) of water or sports drink every 30 minutes of exercise and feel happier!
“The ability to create sporting performance”.
It is generally believed that there are many aspects of sporting performance that can be explained by science and that many sporting performances can be pre planned.
I consider that there are so many unpredictable and random aspects in many sporting performances that the ability to adapt and perform in such chaotic environments is one that can justifiably be called artistic.
The experiences of the athlete, coaches, mentors and detailed study of a particular sport will reveal many of the situations that can be encountered during any given event. Many situations can be thought about in advance and answers sought. The ‘what if’ questions can be asked and often answered. This leaves a minority of chaotic situations in which we then rely on either luck or creative ability to maintain a performance. The odds on the luck option are often not good, leaving the althlete’s intuitive abilities to determine the outcome.
Many sports require the performer to execute skills that they have not practiced exactly. Think of a surfer on a breaking wave, this is the first and last time this particular wave will ever hit the shore, it is unique. There will never be another quite like it, yet a world class surfer can make it look like he has been there many times before.
A tennis player receiving and returning a 120mph serve often has the ability to perform incredibly well, even though this particular serve from his opponent has never been seen before. A footballer makes an excellent pass on a wet, muddy and rutted pitch to another player, from a position marked by a defender, in circumstances that they have not encountered before. How is this all done in such an apparently chaotic environment?
Athletes, in common with the general population, draw heavily on previous experiences, even though many of the situations that occur in life have not been previously encountered. As humans we can be incredibly precise with many of our skills. Those skills that are practised, and the athlete’s intuition and experience, often combine to provide a seamless high-level performance. This ability to improvise in any given situation is often called instinct.
With so many modern sports being relatively unnatural, how can instinct be part of the explanation? Have we evolved in such a short time to be able to play so many modern sports to such high levels?
As an athlete performs they are constantly making decisions, adjusting movements and often remedying any bad situations to maintain a credible performance. A F1 driver is constantly adjusting the power applied to the rear wheels to not only go fast, but to stay on the track. The car skids at times, the driver reacts by adjusting the power and or the steering, this is done with extreme precision and skill, not only is the result of the event at stake but also often the driver’s life.
The answer to some of these questions lie in the fact that most sporting decisions are taken with an estimation of what the outcome will be, based on previous experience. This experience is not necessarily specific to the sport. It is only by practice that athletes may become better at estimating and therefore needing fewer corrections during the performance.
Many technical performances require constant remedying and adjustments to any given situation. The best performances often have fewer corrections and more of a positive drive toward a goal or finish line both technically and physically. Exact and repeatable outcomes of many techniques in sport are very rare. As the athlete develops their ability to predict the outcome of a particular course of action, their performance improves markedly. When things are happening too fast for reactions to follow it is this prediction process that takes control.
Many unforeseen situations in sport may not be negative, but a positive opportunity to excel above one’s competitor. Many competitors at an event will experience the unexpected and after the event ask, “if only I had done?” It is those competitors that do make the best of any given situation that will prevail
What can be done to optimise performance in any given situation?
Plan all that can be planned thoroughly. Have intense periods of concentration and mental rehearsal prior to performing. (Many athletes then find it better to relax this mental focus just prior to performing in order to allow the performance to be more spontaneous).
Have basic technical models of what is required for the sport, so there is something to aim for. Although it may not always be possible to perform these technical models exactly, it is still better to have a target during some practice sessions.
Have alternative plans for all foreseeable situations. Prioritize these plans in order of the most likely occurrences. Mentally rehearse these alternatives. This way the plan will be ready to be used and the varied situations will be more familiar. It may be helpful to estimate options in terms of a percentage.
Make a clear distinction of what can and cannot be planned. Planning what cannot be planned is a major mistake and often leads to uncertainty and confusion in the athlete’s mind and eventual performance.
Many sporting events are course/track specific and require the athlete to be very familiar with the sporting arena. Consideration should be given and can include training and competition on the terrain to be encountered, taking into account race pacing and the specific technical and physical demands of the course. Other issues could also include climate and altitude training and acclimatisation considerations.
Also, consider specific equipment requirements and possible modifications to design. For major competitions it would be advisable to spend a large amount of time training at the venue or similar venue and simulating competition conditions. This could drastically reduce or erase completely any home advantage of the competition.
When any given situation is too chaotic and unpredictable to plan for, accept this and put trust in the athlete’s artistic, creative and instinctive abilities. When these situations have been experienced both in competition and training and when the outcome has been successful, mentally revise what occurred. It may be of help in the future as it is a major learning opportunity.
As well as formal skill training for a particular sport, also incorporate informal play into the training sessions. The situations and stimulus during play can often be more varied and unpredictable, they often provide more of a learning experience than formal, regimented and repetitive training. It can be a great way to discover and develop new and varied techniques. It also provides a more varied and stimulating training regime.
Adjust and vary the mental pressure on the athlete to perform at any given time. Removing the pressure to always produce high level performances will often lead to more technical experimentation and possible improvements. With constant pressure to perform during every competition and training session the athlete will often revert to what they already know will work and less of a progressive learning experience will take place. Nothing has ever been learnt without mistakes being made along the way. Allow mistakes at times; they are part of learning and help to define, move and possibly extend new boundaries.
Trust the athlete’s artistic, creative and instinctive ability because they are real. They are some of the most valued and respected human abilities we have. Allow for individual technical differences in athletes, something needs to be different in order to win!
Assessing performance is a vital part of learning. Have a complete debrief after both training and competition. Planned situations can be judged on the basis of what actually happened during the performance and comparing it to the plan. This requires both the athlete and coach to know exactly what the plan is. This assessment needs to be done if the plan needs to be repeated at a later date. Anything that happens out side of the plan can often be viewed as a mistake, but during chaotic and unpredictable situations, the outcome can be assessed, by asking did the athlete make the best decisions in the particular circumstances? Also, ask was the original plan realistic and achievable?
The blending of experience, creative and instinctive abilities to produce high level performances must be the art within sport.
© By Jim Jayes coach of European, World and World Cup Champions and Olympic Medalist. He now resides in Llangollen UK, with his wife Sally, where he continues to coach and they run their activity business and outdoor shop White Water Active and Eddylines .
If you’ve read a few of the posts here you’ll know I’m a fan of the Inner Game books by Tim Gallwey. It’s been a while since I read one, so I bought the 2009 version of The Inner Game of Golf to re-read.
To be frank, I’m not really a golfer at all – sometimes I have a few hits at the driving range and maybe play 2-3 rounds a year. But I am interested in how the mind learns new skills and the most effective and natural ways to teach and refine skills and this is where Gallwey’s work excels.
Gallwey’s Inner Game approach divides the mind into Self 1 and Self 2 – these are not to be confused with the conscious and unconscious. In Gallwey’s assessment, Self 1 is the verbalizing, thought producing self and Self 2 is basically the body and its natural responses. So athletic performance is a function of Self 2 (potential) minus Self 1 (interference).
The idea is that with practice, Self 2 will naturally organize its movements to those that lead to the best performance… when not distracted.
“Thus, the aim of the Inner Game is not so much to try harder to persuade Self 2 to do what it is capable of doing but to decrease the Self 1 interferences that prevent Self 2 from expressing itself fully.” (p21)
Using this technique, a coach wouldn’t provide much technical instruction at all. Instead, a coach would provide nonjudgmental guidance as to what part of a skill the athlete should pay specific attention to and discover more about the feel of that skill. This noncorrective attitude helps the athlete make nonjudgmental observations of his or her own technique, increasing the sense of feel and natural learning.
There isn’t an emphasis on ‘doing it right’, but on exploration… a coach guides the exploration to the best areas. The athlete retains trust in his own natural learning abilities and benefits from a pro’s knowledge.
I won’t reprint here the great example applications of this idea in the book – and there are many – but I think you’ll be easily able to apply the ideas to your sport even though the book is about golf.
Conscious thinking and instruction from Self 1 will never go away. You may feel that a part of your technique worked really well one day you just let it happen and didn’t think much about it. You can try to re-create that feeling, but you won’t be doing the same thing because you’re trying to force it rather than let it happen the way it did in the first place.
For such situations in Golf, Gallwey recommends saying to yourself ‘da’ at mojor points of the Golf swing – the take away, the end of the backswing, the ball contact and the finish of the follow-through. Thus, you wouldn’t give yourself any instruction about technique – just ‘da, da, da, da’. This gives Self 1 something to concentrate on while Self 2 does the hitting.
Gallwey wraps up his book with the time-proven ideas of focusing on the process rather than results and encouragement to have fun with the game you’ve chosen. Having fun with your sport means greater focus on the process, so that the technique-clever Self 2 can come to the fore.
The off-season of the training year is obviously the bit between the end of the biggest competition of the year and the start of training for the next season.
Probably to make it sound more purposeful, the father of a lot of recent training theory, Tudor Bompa (his main book is Periodization: Theory and Methodology of Training ) called it the Transition Phase .
Bompa’s idea is that this distinct phase of an athlete’s year should set him or her up for a better year to come by providing rest, alternative activities and mental refreshment.
Often, this part of the year is easily seen as a time to have fun and not do your sport… the off season.
Frankly, what athletes do on their time off at the end of the year is never really associated with their performance in the next season. But, it should be as the transition phase has some key ingredients that get the body and mind refreshed:
1. Low training volume – reduced load on the body helps remove any niggling injuries and gives the athlete time to reflect on their underlying motivations to compete. Plan for a month-long transition, before commencing pre-season training.
2. Some exercise – having done so much training for the rest of the year it becomes part of the athlete’s lifestyle to be active, so I’d include some moderate exercise which is not what you’d normally do. Depending on the sport, examples could be rock climbing, mountain biking, hiking, swimming, pool running or surfing. As fitness is easier to maintain than develop, a little exercise during the break may be enough to maintain most of the fitness built over the last year and make for an easier start to the new season. Aim for 3-4 sessions a week of 30-60 min at an effort level of 5 to 7 out of 10.
3. Virtually no participation in the main sport – this is a chance for overstressed joints and muscles to rebuild and the mind to have break from thinking about technique, strategy and constant training. For the athlete that has had to manage an injury during the season, the transition phase is a great time to address muscle imbalances and weaknesses. This pre habilitation (as distinct from rehabilitation) can strengthen the muscles and joints for better training during the season.
Over at Sports Mind Skills we recently had a surge in sales of a video by Sports Psychologist Ken Ravizza on Mental Skills for Competitive Athletes . I didn’t know what caused the surge so I checked our stats and saw a lot of people had Googled his name before coming to our site.
I Google Newsed myself (if that’s a word) and up came a recent story concerning Ken Ravizza and how he mentored big league Baseball player Evan Longoria. It seems people were impressed with the story and wanted to find out more about Ravizza.
Besides Ravizza, there are many great Sports Psychs out there who have done supreme work with athletes who didn’t quite have it all but went on to become champions after their help.
So I wanted to list some of the other ones I admire.
Terry Orlick - Canadian psych and author of the must read book In Pursuit of Excellence . Terry has worked with thousands of Olympic and Professional athletes and coaches, corporate leaders, astronauts, surgeons, top classical musicians, dancers, opera singers and other performing artists, mission control professionals, and many others engaged in high stress performance missions.
Jerry Lynch - An integrator of eastern ideas into western sport, Jerry created the Way of the Champion series and well as multiple books on the mind-body conenction. According to LPGA champion Anika Soresten Jerry Lynch’s book, Thinking Body, Dancing Mind , is one I have used to turn my game around (from an interview on national TV).
Alan Goldberg - Author of 25 mental toughness training programs and books for athletes on sports psychology and peak performance. His signature product 14 Steps to Mental Toughness has helped thousands to develop a stronger focus in pressure situations.
Timothy Gallwey – Creator of the Inner Game concept (Tennis , Golf and Work ) Tim brings a fresh perspective to mental training for sport. In his first book, Inner Game of Golf (new edition 2009), Gallwey’s ultimate insight into the game is that a golfer’s mind is a golfer’s worst enemy; too much thinking only gets in the way. If you’re not into Golf or Tennis it’ll still be easy to absorb ideas that will help you become a true athlete. Essential reading (in fact I just convinced myself to order the latest edition of Inner Game of Golf !).
Robert M. Nideffer - One of America’s most illustrious Sports Psychologists. He developed The Attentional and Interpersonal Style (TAIS), one of the most widely-used assessments in sports and business. Nideffer has written 17 books and authored over 100 research and applied articles.
Just a few of my favorites – who are yours? – ones you’ve worked with or benefited from their books, videos or articles?
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Following on from previous blogs about Taking Your Own Pillow and Sleep and Athletic Performance I wanted to continue on the ‘yawn’ theme and write about aiding sleep when nerves might be keeping you up at night.
I often had nights during events from club races to World Championships where I couldn’t get to sleep for ages. One night at a worlds my mind was so active I can’t remember getting to sleep at all. However, I still got by the next day of the event because I just lay there and rested.
Wanting not to have my sleep during big events sabotaged by an overactive mind I found a few alternatives. Sleeping-pills you say? Yes, of course - you can get suitable ones on prescription from your Doctor - but it’s probably better to try mend the source of the problem first. Here are the basics:
You may have heard of Melatonin, a natural substance in the body which functions in regulating daily rhythms. When taken as a supplement it’s meant to help with sleep timing, but I’ve not found much benefit compared to the other strategies listed here.
If you do go down the sleeping-pill path, I’d suggest breaking them in half to cut the dose, allowing you to get to sleep but not have any affect on your next day’s performance.
Good news! We’ve got 5 double passes to give away to Australian readers for the new film on boxer Mike Tyson.
He may not have been the most popular World Champion out there, but in Tyson the former champion looks at his own life in and out of the ring illustrating his determination and focus to succeed.
Here’s a trailer to get the feel for it:
And according to movie review site Rotten Tomatoes, Tyson is being received really well… "A fascinating, emotional, and frank confessional from Iron Mike that sheds a sympathetic light on one of boxing’s most controversial icons."
To win tickets to Tyson (which opens this week in Australia) all you have to do is be a current subscriber to Sports Training Blog and among the first 5 to send your name and address to michael (at) sportsmindskills.com. Good luck!
This post is based on an interesting article and the comments it attracted in International Journal of Sports Science and Coaching published 2009*.
Basically, a couple of investigators from Finland (Yuri Hanin and Muza Hanina) wrote an article called Optimization of Performance in Top-Level Athletes: An Action-Focused Coping Approach. Then, a number of other University-types from around the world each wrote short articles commenting on and critiquing the authors’ ideas (in fact, they mostly criticized it).
The Finish guys proposed that it’s best for elite athletes to learn the intricacies of performing the skills of their sport. That is, to increase their self-awareness of how each part of their body moves when they play their sport. Such knowledge could be gained from, for example, in depth video analysis.
On the surface, this sounds reasonable.
However, the other guys disagreed for a couple of reasons. Mainly, because athletes can know too much about their movements.
It is important that coaches are mindful that increasing an athlete’s awareness in practice and in competition is a double-edged sword; the athlete who becomes more inclined under pressure to intervene with conscious control becomes more likely to suffer from deautomatized movements. That is, they try to control every little action.
Top-level athletes ordinarily perform with very little awareness of their movements, but can become increasingly aware of their movements when anxious to perform well.
The most effective approach may therefore be to discourage or limit the build up of movement knowledge during practice so that athletes are less able to consciously control every little movement.
This will help to prevent the breakdown of skill under pressure (ie, ‘choking’) due to self-focused attention.
Athletes should direct attention to the movement outcome rather than internal movement components, allowing the body to more naturally self-organize, and place fewer demands on attention, which leaves the athlete free to attend to important task-relevant information.
In short, fine tuning a movement pattern to address a mismatch between what feels right and what is right is a common challenge for elite athletes and their coaches. However, it makes little sense for athletes to consciously control the exact position of each body segment during practice. Instead, focus on the goal of the movement.
Every sport, skill and athlete are different - so what do you think? Does the above apply to you?
*International Journal of Sports Science and Coaching (Vol. 4, No.1, 2009)
How do you reverse a slump?
I’ve recently started coaching a guy who was a double world champion going into the last Olympics but bombed badly in Beijing.
We’ve just been to a competition in France and he’s bombed again - in conditions similar to China. Admittedly, he hadn’t had a lot of preparation coming into this competition as it’s early in the European season - but neither had a lot of the other top athletes. Also, his equipment was a bit below standards due to unforeseen circumstances, but it wasn’t so bad to cause a world champion to finish half way down the score board.
No, the truth is, the monkey is still on his back.
From time to time, top athletes, for whatever reason, can encounter a string of well below par results and this tends to dent their confidence after a while. The result is a frustrated and exasperated athlete.
Low confidence can eat away at the decision making process. Decisions that used to seem easy and obvious are now thought about more, analyzed and anguished twice over. The extra analysis is meant to produce a better result and when it doesn’t, confidence is hit again.
If the athlete starts to think more about results and begins to fear loosing, then attention is diverted from normal thoughts concerning skill execution and game play that served the athlete so well in the past.
So, how do you remove the monkey?
Well, monkeys have quite a good grip - that’s how they climb trees so well! They won’t be shaken off easily.
(Forgive me for continuing the monkey analogy even further)… The trick is to distract the monkey by filling your mind with what matters to performing well in your sport – focus on the process. The monkey will eventually get distracted and jump on someone else’s back!
In practice, your skills never actually leave you after a string a bad results. What leaves you is the focus that allows you to execute the skills of your sport as efficiently and accurately as you have trained yourself to. So a key to reversing a slump is to go back to building your skills as solidly as possible.
In times of stress the body naturally wants to go back to the behavior it knows best. Train yourself well and a skillful performance will be the behavior your body always wants to replicate.
Ever since the heroic fable had the slow but steady tortoise beat the hare, the idea that good pacing is critical to athletic performance has been appreciated.
A key objective in most endurance sports is to ensure that energy output is spread as best as possible during a race and is maximal at the end so that you finish as fast as possible.
Best pace strategy involves the perceptive process of proportioning energy use such that you are never working at too high a level, so as to tire quickly, or at too low a level so as to not reach your potential.
It is often difficult for an endurance athlete to judge accurately the pace at which he or she should work to spend the available energy in such a way that the body’s resources are almost exhausted as he or she crosses the finish line.
The inexperienced athlete may overextend him or herself too early or hold back too much. Going to hard too early and depleting energy reserves or failure to push the body to its limit will result if the individual’s perceptions of how hard they can race are consistently inaccurate.
The decision to increase or reduce effort during competitive endurance exercise has a lot to do with athletes’ pacing ability. Therefore, pacing is a function of athletes’ psychophysical perceptions of their ability to maintain a level of effort for an extended period of time.
Research has indicated that elite endurance athletes appear to set a race pace which closely approximates the level of exercise at which lactate begins to accumulate in the blood. This pace is set from the athletes’ perceptions of their physiological state as they exercise and possibly also from visual or auditory cues from the immediate environment.
Apparently, elite athletes attend to various discrete physiological symptoms as well as general body feelings, both local and central in origin and then develop an overall subjective feeling of fatigue.
Experience with exercising at different paces is probably the best way to enhance your understanding of what cues you need to pay attention to accurately perceive your level of exertion and achieve an effective race pace.
Relatively evenly paced time trials in Olympic cycling and ice skating competition where the starting half lasts 51% of final time have been found to produce the fastest times.
In Olympic distance running competitions, the pacing graph shows the athletes tend to start relatively slower and accelerate during the final stages of more prolonged events (e.g., 1500 - 10,000 m), even though the starting half is also around 51% of the final time.
In running, a reduction in effort would be expected to lead to a large deceleration because of large drag forces associated with overland ambulation (ie, running!).
Conversely, the relatively small frictional losses to the road in cycling would cause only a moderate slow down if power output were reduced.
The cyclist may be better off expending relatively more energy accelerating and then ‘coast’ to the finish while the runner may do best by maintaining a manageable oxygen debt before sprinting to the finish.
Therefore, the inherent physical nature of cycling versus running - not to mention race tactics and drafting - may partly dictate the best pacing strategy at a physiological level. Nonetheless, there remains a conscious decision by the runners to start slower and finish quickly. Consequently, the basis on which a runner makes the decision to change pace during a race is important to ensure that the pacing strategy is optimal.
Although the athletes’ thoughts in these international level races are unknown, it’s believed that athletes generally learn optimal pacing strategies in training to minimize muscle lactate accumulation or at least the disturbance of pH associated with muscle lactate accumulation.
With extensive practice athletes probably learn to sense low levels of muscle pH (from lactic acid build up) and adjust their pace so that they ideally reach critically low values of pH near the end of a race. This agrees with the point made earlier that elite endurance athletes appear to set a race pace which closely approximates the level of exercise at which lactate begins to accumulate in the plasma
In a study considering pacing and thought styles, Silva and Appelbaum (1989) studied contestants in a U.S. Olympic marathon trial via a questionnaire asking about cognitive strategy use during the race. It was found that a characteristic mental strategy of elite marathon runners in the early part of a race was to ‘mark’ other runners to use them as an indication of pace.
Also, runners finishing 51st or beyond in the marathon tended to adopt a dissociative mental strategy early in the race and maintained this strategy over the majority of the course. On the other hand, top 50 finishers used association (tuning into bodily signals) more regularly over the whole marathon.
The authors suggested that the lack of attention by lower placed finishers to energy expenditure level would cause ineffective pacing. No physiological data were available to support this conclusion, however and no indication of subjects’ relative performance was given (e.g., personal best times).
In support of Silva and Appelbaum’s (1989) study, Schomer (1987) concluded that an associative mental strategy is better than a dissociative focus for pacing in training since the athlete is constantly tuned-in to his or her current level of exertion. Indeed, terms such as ‘effort sense’ and ‘rating of perceived exertion’ imply thoughts about what is occurring within the body during heavy exercise. Thus, it’s most likely that race pacing is optimal under associative thinking and perception.
In a recent review of research to date, Abbiss and Laursen (2008) concluded that during very short duration events (<30 sec) athletes will benfit from an explosive ‘all-out’ pacing strategy. During middle-distance events (1.5-2 mins) athletes tend to adopt a ‘positive’ pacing strategy, whereby after peak speed is reached, the athlete progressively slows.
However, during more prolonged events (>2 mins) it seems that athletes tend to adopt a more ‘even’ or varied pacing strategy based on the environment or hills. During ultra-endurance events (>4 hrs) evidence also suggests that athletes progressively reduce speed as fatigue builds. During such events, nutrition strategies become even more important.