I doubt many of you saw me at the British trials indoors, but I was wearing a t-shirt that read “Running is Mental”. Now I can’t take all the credit, I didn’t design the t-shirt, I just bought it. Hopefully I get my act together soon and get the line of QA t-shirts rolling out for anyone who wants to help support the blog, me or just wants to look cool as hell in training. For now I’m still relying on Nike to provide such deep and profound slogans.
I really like this t-shirt. Theres a couple of different layers to the phraseology used, it could refer to long distance runners being a little crazy (which would be true), it could refer to running in general being mental in the colloquial positive sense e.g. youth gets off the roller coaster and exclaims “that was mental” to infer excitement and adrenaline fuelled, or, as I like to interpret it, it refers to the mental (in the brain) aspects of athletic performance.
How many times have you heard the phrase “ so and so had the mental edge” or even the blanket statement that the limiting factor at the elite level is the mental?
If we consider the second statement more closely, the mental side of performance could be just that for several reasons. You could think this because you’ve spent so much time developing yourself physically that something else has to become the limiting factor. But also, if you’ve never actually worked on a certain aspect of performance then ultimately it will become the limiting factor at some point. If you don’t train the mental side of performance then you’re basically relying on your “natural talent” in this area ( I put “natural talent” in inverted commas, because this is unlikely to be a skill you are completely born with, more a skill-set developed through life experiences and the examples of your guardians during your formative years). I’ve even heard at least one top-level coach say something to the tune of “you’re either born with it or you’re not” of the mental side of performance. For anyone into Carol Dweck, this would be a highly fixed mindset approach. To state the obvious:
If you never work to improve it, of course you’re either born with it or not
Maybe one of the reasons many people have never worked on this area may be due to the lack of mainstream understanding of this area, how many coaches know how to improve this area? how many coach education programs teach the coaches the basic fundamentals in this area? Maybe the idea of handing this off to a professional sports psychologist would be the best, but if we’ve only just got athletes to commit to paying for massage (something which has a much more direct affect on their physical wellbeing and performance so a more easily justifiable expense) then asking them to go further and hire the services of a sports psych may be a step too far.
Maybe the un-named top-level coach is right, even if you start to address these issues once you’re physically mature maybe you still can’t make any discernable improvements. This wouldn’t surprise me, its almost like getting a world championship level in the squat before you even consider doing a running drill as a sprinter. Maybe it’ll take a year or so to see some improvements in running speed, but its certainly not going to do any harm starting now. Theres a chinese proverb that works well in this instance (they’ve got a proverb for everything those guys):
The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now.
Ahhhh, so beautiful.
So for an already mature athlete lets get that tree planted now. But maybe a consideration for future young athletes you take on would be to introduce a fundamental mental practice at the same time you start introducing fundamental movement skills? Then we’ll really see if this a truly fixed or growable asset. I’m definitely in the growable camp myself.
In a future post I can go a little more into some proper terminology and practices, but for now, for those of you who have been inspired and really want to get some green fingers already, download the Calm app and do the 7 days of Calm program. Get mental.
Thank for reading and sharing