Speedo Q&A 5: Understanding sports psychology

GB swim coach Ben Titley explains how sports psychology can help you race faster

19 messages
10/06/2011 at 10:41
Hi folks, This lunchtime (1-2pm) we're joined by swimming coach Ben Titley who'll be answering your questions about sports psychology - demystifying it and explaining how you can make mental strategies work for you.

Ben is Head Coach at Loughborough University's Swimming Team. A two-time British Swimming Coaches Association Coach of the Year, Titley has coached multiple champions at world, European and Commonwealth level over both short and long course. His current flock include GB swimming stars Liam Tancock and Fran Halsall.

We're opening the discussion now Ben so can get answering your questions at 1pm (rather than having to deal with a rush of questions at once). 

Alice

10/06/2011 at 10:55

Afternoon Ben,

I've read a little about visualisation, but I'm struggling a little with the details.  As I understand it the idea is to imagine yourself in the situation you would like to be e.g. 'I'm coming to the bottom of the hill on the bike, I'm feeling strong, I know I can climb this...' and to dress this with how you want to feel and and the environment (sun beating down etc).  Being more of a 'glass half empty' person this positive spin is difficult to get my head around.  Any tips please on which bits to focus on?

Thanks.

10/06/2011 at 10:57

Re: motivation.

Everyone goes in cycles sometimes where motivation is low... call it "no training mojo", "no fizz" ...all the same. Even with upcoming races (always a motivator and something to look forward to), the fact that most of us are actually doing something we love (most of the times) and barring a case of actually over trained or burned out , how does one keep a positive motivation going consistently? Or how does one shake off a case no motivation?

Lee the Pea    pirate
10/06/2011 at 11:19

Hi Ben,

this probably echoes what  FF and PKim have said, but I was wondering if you recommend any specific strategies for maintaining a 'PMA', which at times is hard.  I've tried visualisations during training, and during events, and those can really help, but I struggle on the non-training days to keep positive, especially if i'm tired, and it makes the next training session seem even more daunting.  Any suggestions? 

Cheers,

Lee

10/06/2011 at 11:34

I hate races. I hate starting out knowing I have so many miles to run. I want to give up and look for an excuse to pull out.
Once I've got a few miles under my belt I'm ok - it's just the first mile or so that I hate and I wish I wasn't racing.
I'm prety similar with track work - I really don't want to do a track session before the session but once I get going I'm fine.

I'm always happy at the end of a race / track session if I know I've done my best so I know dropping out isn't a real option, just that initial loathing that I can't get over.

What techniques are there that I can use to get me out of this negative frame of mind.

10/06/2011 at 12:11

At the sharp pointy end taking the holistic approach to the athlete's phyiscal/mental condition must be crucial.

How much do you work with other people ie nutritionists/coaches etc  supporting the athletes you see? Are there times when it's just obvious to you the athletes need to drop back for a week or to get a few good nights sleep?

I can't help but think there are times lots of us amateurs can forget the benefits of a good night sleep, making sure nutrition is correct etc. If our bodies are tired, we need to listen to them. 

Edited: 10/06/2011 at 12:14
10/06/2011 at 13:11

Hi FerrousFerret,

Thanks for your question.  Its great that you are giving this a go, so dont worry if it doesnt come natural to begin with.  My advice with visualisation is to make it as specific as possible...try to relate it to an actual race or quality training session in which you performed well...think about or visulaise or 'feel' what you felt like you were doing well...how was your breathing...what were you thinking about...how did the legs feel...where were you experiencing sensation??  these sorts of things can make the visulaisation 'feel' more real.  To take it further try to picture what cadence or rate you were cycling or swimming at...try to match what you 'see' with what you want to actually achieve in that part of the race.

 hope this helps

 Ben

10/06/2011 at 13:18

Hi Pkim,

I think what you are experiencing is completley normal...just because you love doing something doesnt mean you love it all the time!  I love pizza, but give me pizza for a month and I would want a change!  Try to set yourself new targets...maybe not directly related to your event or sport...you will not lose any ability/form from your primary event but it will help your mind stay focussed on a task and you will enjoy it more...they do say that a change is as good as a rest.  With regard to competitions, maybe in some lower level races try new race tactics...for example take the swim and the ride easy then see how fast you can do the run?  Not every race is about winning or constantly achieving your highest level of performance but to practice components.

 Enjoy

Ben

10/06/2011 at 13:27

Hi Lee

Non training days challenge alot of athletes....particularly those that like to have a structure to their day!  Many swimmers just go for an easy swim just to feel 'normal' the next day!  I however think that it is great to have off days...this is when the body adapts and makes its gains to be even better in the future.  Taking me as an example, my brain is always thinking about sessions and drills and how to interact with athletes...I cant help it...but I also know that being away from the pool for a day every now and again is good for me! and I come back fresher because of it.  We also do one of our main quality workouts on a monday morning...to start with some athletes said it was too hard to perform 1st thing after a day off...but trust me, the body can do amazing things if the brain will let it!

For what its worth my advice would be just embrace being tired (it means you have worked hard and are making gains!) and see the rest day as a chance to let your body just regroup...it will thank you for it in the long run.

cheers

Ben

kittenkat    pirate
10/06/2011 at 13:32

I don't really have any problem with motivation and race strategy in triathlons because I know I'm a good runner and strong enough on the bike.

My problem is swim specific, when I OW train with my club, I am usually one of the slowest, this I don't mind in itself but I do find that if I get left behind, I just switch off and amble along.

I don't think that's doing me any good, but when I lose the pack I lose concentration and any motivation to swim faster.

Have you any suggestions?

Thanks, Kate.

10/06/2011 at 13:36

Hi Mouse

you obviously love the sense of achievment you get when you complete sessions or races so I would try to focus on that...lots of things in life instil a fear before we do them and once we have completed it we ask ourselves what all the fuss was about!

I would try to embrace the aprehension, even laugh at my self for feeling it as I know once I have started its gonna be great and Im gonna feel like I have achieved something!

You obviously dont shy away from challenging yourself so just dont let the 'less than positive' initial thoughts put you off!

You said 'PMA', pretty american term...so I would say 'suck it up'!  You know you will be fine in the end so just dont take those thoughts too seriously!

Good Luck

Lee the Pea    pirate
10/06/2011 at 13:38
Thanks Ben.  Sometimes i'm sure I just over think things, and should learn to let go, and then just focus on the training plan on the training days!  I'll embrace my tiredness and not worry about it
10/06/2011 at 13:46

Hi Ninja,

I work alot with support staff...strength and conditioning, nutrition, sports science, psychology etc...all who know more about their respective fields than I ever could...and that is great!  what my role in the whole process of maximising an athletes potential is, is that of a filter...what information does the athlete NEED and how is it best to be presented to that individual.

With regard to you point about sleep...for me recovery is key!  but there is an important distinction between an athlete feeling tired and thinking they cant do something, and the reality of what their body can actually do...as I have said earlier, people can often do far more than they think they can!

That said, every now and again human beings do need a break, be that mental or physical, and that is something that should be embraced just as much as doing your best in a hard training session!  Sleep and eating right can be a big part of that.

Thanks

Ben

10/06/2011 at 13:49

Thanks Ben for some interesting answers

I agree there are times we need to push overselves. I was referring more to people just needing to acknowledge they are tired and actually there's nothing wrong with their attitude etc. 

10/06/2011 at 13:54

Hi Kitten,

From what I have seen in triathlons, it sounds like you have the 2 most important elements nailed!  As you know, swimming on someones feet or hip is far easier (resistance wise) than swimming out front or off the back!

I think you have 2 options...1) pick the next slowest person in the swim befor you start and make it your goal of the swim just to 'stick' to that person, thats it...stay with them at all costs! and if you get dropped, note where that happened, and the next time make it your goal to stay with them for longer.  Once you can do this for the full swim, start looking up the pack for a new 'unofficial training partner'!

2) when and if you do get dropped, have a very specific goal to think about (i.e. a breathing pattern, or a technical aspect like keeping a high elbow on the catch of the stroke) and take the 'performance' aspect out of that training session.

Either of these im sure will help you get to where you want to go!

All the best

Ben

10/06/2011 at 13:58

Ninja

For sure, and I see that alot with endurance sports like running and triathlon.  As a general rule for me with my swimmers, I like them to always be able to swim fast (at or above race pace).  If and when they get to a point where they really cant do this then I like to put in a recovery workout or 2 to bring them back to where they need to be.  Fatigue then recovery then apaptation is a process, and I certainly think that the recovery part of that is key

Ben

10/06/2011 at 14:00

Thanks everybody

Good luck!

Cheers

Ben

10/06/2011 at 14:01

Thanks so much Ben - and thanks to all of you for your questions. We'll be back next Friday lunchtime with another of world-class Speedo expert to take your questions!

Alice

Lee the Pea    pirate
10/06/2011 at 14:01
Thanks Ben

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