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Ideas for Athletes & Coaches Preparing for Real Competition

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.

In Pursuit of Excellence 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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Category : Sports Psychology

sleeping athlete 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:

  • Have the room cooler rather than warm, but avoid strong air conditioning.
  • Don’t try to sleep without being at all tired.
  • Try an audio relaxation product like our own Sleeping Better for Sport .
  • Ensure your bed is clean and comfortable. Lie on a spare duvet/doona if the mattress is too hard.
  • As light is one of the key indicators to the body as to when to sleep, ensure the room is nice and dark. Eye-mask and ear plugs may assist with reducing stimulus.

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 night!

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Category : Sport-General | Sports Psychology

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!

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Category : Sports Psychology

There’s a lot of people suffering colds or flu here in the (now) cold southern hemisphere. In Australia, authorities reckon the swine flu has become unstoppable, with the worst yet to come. The H1N1 virus is worse than a common cold, but is also, of course, over hyped . However, the challenge remains for athletes to decide when to re-start exercise and training after an illness.

when to exercise with a cold - blowing nose A good starting point is to do a self-check on where your symptoms lie. If your cold symptoms are relatively mild and from the neck up, you can probably go for it. If your symptoms extend below the neck and include chest discomfort or deep cough, general aches and pains, and fever, hit the bed instead of the treadmill.

When you do feel well enough to do something and it’s cold outside, begin with some light indoor exercise, such as a walk or light run on a treadmill at the gym, sipping regularly from your water bottle (a sports drink can help protect your immune system ). You don’t want the cold air outside to dry and irritate your throat. Nor do you want to do heavy exercise that will deplete your immune system.

Scientists have boldly and deliberately infected people with rhinovirus (which causes the common cold) to test the effect of moderate and maximal exercise on the severity and duration of the illness. This study reported that moderate exercise training during a rhinovirus-caused upper respiratory illness (URI)… does not alter the severity and duration of the illness.

And this study concluded that physiological responses to pulmonary function testing… and maximal exercise do not appear to be altered by an URI.

So if you get a common cold, take a day or two off to start with. Then re-start training slowly and gradually build up a little each day, deciding how much to do depending on how you feel each day. A good objective measure of your health can be obtained by checking your resting heart rate each morning. If it’s 10 bpm above normal, your body is really buggered and you need a day off. If it’s 5 bpm up, it may be ok and you should review your other symptoms to decide whether to train or not.

Training with a cold will make the training feel harder, so continue to limit the duration and intensity until back to full health.

However, if you have the flu and symptoms are more serious - like heavy chest discomfort, achy muscles, chills, fatigue, etc. - you need to be even more sedate with your return to exercise. Make sure you get plenty of sleep, your nutrition is good and your resting heart rate is barely elevated above normal before re-starting moderate or heavy exercise.

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Category : Sport-General

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.

football-skillsIt 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?

For more on Skill Acquisition, see posts under Sports Psychology

*International Journal of Sports Science and Coaching (Vol. 4, No.1, 2009)

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Category : Sport-General | Sports Psychology

Compression pants, socks and tops are increasingly being worn by professional athletes. Here’s our review of the what, why and which of compression garments.

Scientific studies with athletes have shown that compression garments may:

  • Reduce blood lactate concentration during maximal exercise bouts and enhance lactate removal and subsequent exercise performance
  • Enhance warm-up via increased skin temperature
  • Reduce muscle oscillation upon ground contact (especially valuable in sprinting and jumping sports)
  • Increase torque generated about joints and reduce risk of injury
  • Reduce effects of delayed onset muscle soreness in the days following strenuous exercise
  • Increase feelings of positive leg sensations both during and following strenuous exercise.

While a couple of studies have reported no benefit to wearing compression garments, no studies have reported negative effects on performance or perceptions of pain.

Compression Garments Have Been Squeezing People for Ages

Medical compression stockings have been used in the treatment of poor venous blood flow for more than 50 years. These stockings are usually worn over the leg and foot and create a controlled, gradient compressive force on the leg. The compressive force is greatest at the ankle and diminishes over the length of the stocking to a minimum at the top.

Therefore, compression works by squeezing de-oxygenated blood back up towards the heart a bit quicker than normal and limit fluid pooling in the limbs.

The compressive effects of these garments are used to improve recovery in hospitals by promoting venous blood flow, decreasing blood pooling and preventing thrombosis in post-operative patients.

When you have to sit still, such as on a long haul flight, the lower legs and ankles swell with fluid as the body is without the natural movement and ‘muscle pump’ which helps circulate fluid back to the heart. Compression garments can also help the traveling athlete to reduce blood pooling in the legs when seated for long periods.

Which Compression Brand to Buy?

Compression suits are relatively new and there are a variety of brands out there offering various quality products. To be effective, you need a garment that provides the right amount of graduated pressure to promote venous return.

Not all sports compression products are alike – they differ in the technology in the cut and design of the suit as well as the type of material (usually a mix of nylon and lycra). Good brands have a detailed sizing chart on the back of the box to help you get the correct fit.

You should expect that the suit will gradually stretch and may cease to provide enough compression within 3-4 months of regular use. It’s suggested you machine wash them in cold water inside a mesh wash bag, so they don’t get tangled and stretched around the agitator or other clothes.

2XU compression tights Currently, the 2XU brand offers a high quality product. (I have no affiliation with them at all!). They have an exclusive circular knit which enhances the durability of the garments’ compression properties. This is pretty important given that sports wear tends to get treated badly. 2XU suits do cost a bit more, but the fabric technology should make sure they are effective for longer.

I’ve been training with a pair of 2XU’s elite compression tights for the past few weeks. When you first put them on you can really notice that the lower down in the suit, the more compression there is.

As far as use goes, they feel especially useful during dynamic, explosive and eccentric exercise – as in sprinting, changing direction quickly, downhill and cross-country running. I think the tights would also make a lot of sense for multi-sport endurance events where you run, cycle, kayak etc, all day.

When to use Compression Garments

The key times to wear compression garments, in order of effectiveness, include:

  • During long-haul flights in economy and long drives
  • During training and competition (but not in hot conditions)
  • Immediately after training (even sleeping in them)

Naturally, if you haven’t been exercising or traveling, the compression isn’t likely to do much for you!

Should you wear them while competing? It depends on your sport and your preference – try first in training and see.

With respect to travel, the scientist at the Australian Institute of Sport recommend going with a medical grade compression sock. These offer greater compression than a regular compression suit and stretch from the ankle to just below the knee. If you have a pair of compression tights as well, this means they will still be clean and ready for the first training session when you hit the ground again. Also, the long tights can be a little too constrictive behind the knee when seated for long.

I got a pair of Venosan socks and have worn them on a couple of long-haul flights (8-13 hours) in economy class to test them out (what dedication!). (To be really scientific I probably should have worn them on one leg and not the other, but I think that would have gotten annoying!). Anyway, subjectively my ankles showed almost no signs of swelling – normally they look far bigger after sitting for so long. The socks felt tight – I could definitely always feel them there – but as long as the fabric was smooth with no creases they were comfortable.

Note that if you’re flying in business or first class (lucky you!) you’ve got the opportunity to lie down and have more space to move around in your seat, so venous pooling of blood is less of a problem compared with cattle class.

The Skins brand is also popular and they have done a great job with marketing and penetration of their large range of products. A recent study in the Australian Medical Journal found that wearing Skins improves circulation in-flight while decreasing leg pain and increasing energy and alertness.

Which Suit – Pants, Tops or Shorts?

If you’re in a predominantly upper-body sport, get a top; lower-body athletes, get the pants. The pants make most sense for athletes who want to use them for traveling. Otherwise, get both!

While a few companies have also produced a compression short, these don’t make a lot of sense for enhancing venous return as the shorts only compress the upper part of the legs, rather than where it might be needed most, down at the calves. Same for the tank top. However, these items may assist warm-up and reduce muscle soreness.

Remember, compression garments are another tool for the serious athlete. If you train every day and are more or less on top of core training principles like specificity, sports nutrition and recovery then you’ll probably benefit from investing in a compression garment. Get the major things right first, then consider minor add-ons like compression.

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Category : Sport-General

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.

monkey on your back? athletic slump 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.

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Category : Sports Psychology

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