By C. Adair Lyden - MileSplit Correspondent
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You spend hours at practice. You train your body to its limits, pushing yourself so that you hit your goals for the upcoming season.
You push and push, working toward a breakthrough.
It's no secret that cross country and track and field are mental sports. Bu while you work to the absolute limit physically, it can be easy to forget about the other key component in performance--your mind.
So here are five tools for your mental tool box. Implement them in your training so you can work toward achieving a breakthrough.
Realize You Are More Than The "Athlete"
When you spend several hours dedicated to one area of your life, it can be easy to let it become your identity. It's who you are--you're the "athlete."
So, what happens when this identity is stripped? What happens when injury, school, or your health gets in the way of your goals? You might have an identity crisis.
"There is more to who you are than just this sport. When you're able to acknowledge the whole you, the athlete will get better," said Dr. Amanda Alexander, a licensed counseling and sport psychologist in Florida and Tennessee.
Ask yourself this question: Outside of the sport, what gives you joy? This could mean finding an identity in your family, friends, school, or faith. When sport isn't the only thing you find confidence in, the process becomes more enjoyable and you can begin to discover what it is you want out of the sport itself.
"I've learned a lot about myself," said Sinclaire Johnson, an NCAA Outdoor Championship qualifier in the 1500m at Oklahoma State University. "More importantly, I've learned more about what I want out of the sport. I'm not just running to hit these times or gain this title, I'm running for the mental toughness that it brings and for the relationships it builds."
Place your identity in other areas of your life. You are more than just the "athlete."
Stay Consistent Through Adversity
You know that consistency in physical training is important. It's cumulative; consistency builds on itself. The same goes with mental training; the two go hand-in-hand.
Often times you can put pressure on yourself to the point where the workout seems impossible and you just want to shut down.
"You have to tell yourself, 'It's okay, there is no pressure here," said Evan Schwartz, a USA Olympic Trials qualifier in the marathon and a former athlete at Ohio State University. "You have to make the run or workout positive, so tell yourself: 'I get to go run,' rather than 'I have to go run."
When you can change your mentality behind the workout, it makes the split-second decision to go for your goals very simple.
It can be very easy to become consumed with the struggles you are facing. When you are wrestling with certain issues, it's hard to see the light at the end of the tunnel.
To strive through this struggle, walk yourself up to the bigger picture. Yes, you are going through a difficult time, but what can you do in this moment? What do you have control over now?
"I went from running 5:12 pace for an 8K race to running 5:16 for a marathon 5 years later," Schwartz said. "If you have any adversity or if you think it's over, just be consistent. Get to the next day and then the next. You have to believe in yourself."
Not all journeys will follow a straight path. If you can stay consistent through adversity and develop perspective for your own personal journey, you will find an appreciation for the experience you are going through.
Positive Self Talk
You know the little voice in your head? The voice that breeds comparison, like fear of failure, or fear of success? The one that gives you performance anxiety?
This toxic voice can consume you. It can hinder your pursuit towards your goals.
You have to become your own best friend. Ask yourself what you would like to hear. If your coach or best friend was at the finish line, what would you like them to say to you? Take these positive words as ammunition and combat the negativity in your head.
"I would always compare myself to others on a national level, and I think it's really important for us to just focus on ourselves. We need to realize that what we are doing or what we are not doing is what will work for us," Johnson said.
When you can create a positive ethos, it frees your body to perform at its highest level and allows you to focus on you, and less of what you perceive others to want from you.
Coaches -- This One is For You
Leadership trickles down.
"Coaches are in such an incredible position of power and potential to transform how athletes think about themselves and how they use the sport to better themselves," Dr. Alexander said.
Be curious about the subject of mental training, and learn as much as you can so you can coach your athletes to train their mind.
Seek a professional who can help polish these training techniques, so your athletes can excel beyond the sport and into other areas of their lives.
The mind is the most important muscle; it controls the rest of you. Practice mental strength as you would practice your physical strength; this is how you will experience breakthrough.
"Find beauty and appreciation for the whole process. We do a sport that is not easy all the time, that's what makes both the victories and the trials and tribulations so great," Dr. Alexander said. "It isn't a simple stroll through the park. It's a 10-mile hike up a mountain, but you get to the top and the view is awesome."
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