Are You Mentally Set Up for Success?

Tuesday, September 10, 2013 | By Jason Short
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As athletes, we’re all going to have some level of a results-oriented and goal-driven mindset. After all, it’s that drive to achieve our goals and aspirations that keeps us on track with our training through the tough times. However, there is such a thing as being too focused on results, to a point that it’s actually hindering your performance.

As we near the end of the racing season, now is a great time to reflect on the season past. Just as you would review how effective your approach to training or nutrition was, you should do an honest self-assessment of your mental approach to the sport.

Here are four key questions to ask yourself during your season review. See if you’re mentally set up for success, or if an overly driven mindset is actually holding you back.

1. Were your season goals realistic?

Were your goals too lofty to realistically attain or were they set too low to push you to achieve your best? Sometimes we set the bar high as we have high expectations for ourselves and as a result we can be our own worst enemies. If we continually set the bar beyond what we can achieve, we can find ourselves getting discouraged as we’re rarely ever able to achieve our goals. A good strategy for staying on top of realistic goals is to consistently assess your progress towards your goals throughout a season. Seeking the outside perspective of a coach can help with this. A coach consistently monitors your progress and can provide an objective and realistic perspective based on your progress and performance.

On the other end of the spectrum, did you set your goals too low? Sometimes we “sell ourselves short” due to inexperience and really not knowing what were capable of – and there’s nothing wrong with that. Where we can run into trouble is when we constantly set the bar low because we’re afraid of failing. One of the keys to growth is to let go of that fear of failing. After all, in every race, at some point you’ll have to risk losing in order to win.

2. Did you “over-plan” your races?

Think about a race where you tried to account for every possible scenario beforehand. How did that race go? Did you need to plan for every possible scenario? The best analogy I’ve ever heard is that racing is like a high-speed game of chess. When you consider all the possible moves in a game of chess, is it possible to have every scenario memorized? While it’s not a bad idea to go into a race with a plan, going into a race relaxed, observant, and versatile tends to allow for the greatest chance of success. It’s always great to have a plan, but base that plan around the fact that a race is an environment with constantly changing variables. When we get too caught up in executing our own plan for a race, we sometimes forget to observe what’s actually happening. We then end up racing to the tune of our own plan and not the race that’s unfolding before us.

3. How did you handle defeat? And victory?

Think about the races that didn’t go as well as you would’ve liked. Did you get so caught up in defeat and the lack of achievement, that you missed out on the opportunity for a learning experience? Whether you win or not, every athlete should consider any competition they walk away from as an achievement if you learned something from it that will make you better the next time out. Those races in which you didn’t get the results you wanted are great opportunities to reflect on what you could have done differently to give you that desired result. Ask yourself: did you burn any un-needed matches, did you fuel properly, and did you race a tactically smart race? Think of all the scenarios that could have given you the result you wanted and what you could’ve done differently.

On the other side, how did you handle any wins? Did you still take the opportunity to learn from that win? Our best performances are our blueprints for success. After a success, ask yourself what you did to achieve that and try to incorporate that into achieving future goals. Finally, ask yourself what you could have done better. Despite a good result, there is always an opportunity for reflection and learning that can pay off down the road - don’t forget to capitalize on that.

4. Did you maintain a good balance in other aspects of your life while pursuing your racing goals?

While you were pursuing your competitive goals, did you strike a good balance with the other obligations in your life? Let’s face it: racing is tons of fun, rewarding, a great outlet, and a great way to stay in shape. You have that accountability to stay on top of your training and your fitness when you’ve got a race scheduled, and that helps us stay healthy and active.

However, we’re far more likely to make something a long-term lifestyle if we can incorporate it smoothly into our everyday life. Taking the time to plan out your races and training schedule around your life obligations allows you to keep that life balance in place and in return keeps your sport fun instead of a source of stress in your life. If your sport becomes a stressor, you’re likely to see a reduction in your motivation to train and as a result a reduction in your performance (and in the long run, burnout). On the flip side, if you can find a sustainable way to work training and racing into your day-to-day life, you’ll accumulate more years and experience in the sport – which will ultimately pay off in your results.

Developing your strength and ability as an endurance athlete takes time. Some endurance athletes may participate in their sport for years before they ever see a podium finish, or for ten or more years before they see a professional contract. So, having a plan in place that allows you to gradually develop as an athlete is especially important, whatever your goals may be.

As an athlete, there is certainly a lot of value in staying in tune with your achievements and goals. However, it’s equally important to take the time to reflect on those achievements so that you can repeat them. If you find yourself unable to reach your goals, don’t get discouraged - take the time to re-assess them. Keep the big picture in mind when faced with short term challenges and allow yourself the time to develop as an endurance athlete. Wanting to be dedicated to achieving your desired goals is a hallmark trait of a good athlete, but when that athlete refines their mental skills, that’s when they can become great.

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