We hope that you enjoyed [and more importantly learned] from Part I of our series on building mental strength for you indoor track and field teams. As you will hopefully pick-up today in Part II, once you have learned who you athletes are, learned how they communicate with themselves under times of stress, and implemented mindfulness practices with your team, you can start to move on to more specific, event oriented tactics to building your teams mental strength.
Again, this is not about treating your athletes like dirt in order to get them tougher. They don't even need to have your mentality as a coach, they just need to be themselves, be committed to what they have been trained, and be confident in their ability to execute.
Here is Part II of 10 Ways to Build Mental Strength for Indoor Track Athletes
If They Focus on The Process, They Will Like Their Place & Their Time
Focusing on running a fast time, finishing a certain place, or throwing a specific distance is all well and good, however it is the result of lots of things happening in succession. It is the result of a process that worked out over time. For example, how many times do we see athletes not run through the line? Trip over the last hurdle? Fall out of the circle? I think the answer would be too many. I would attribute this to athletes seeing the result close at hand a loose site of the process that is going to get them what they have trained for. It’s ok to talk about results, but what is more important is getting the little things [the process things] correct so you can attain your goals. Don’t stress ‘you have to run this time’ or ‘you need to throw this far,’ focus on the things they need to do to get there. Then your athletes will see the times and distances they have been striving for.
An athlete that is mentally tough is one that is prepared. They can build confidence from the work that they previously have done in training, the film room, and all the extra pieces that fit together to form success. Just think about the confidence your team would have if they walked into a meet knowing that they were the most prepared, that no one had done the amount of work that they had done. Not just from the miles run or time spent in the weight room, but making sure that no stones where un-turned. Is that your team? If it isn’t, think about what it can do to be more prepared and get to work.
They Pain is Gonna Come, So Why Fight It?
Especially in running events, pain is going to come. It’s inevitable, it’s science, and a fact of running. It’s nearly impossible to count all the athletes that quit in the face of pain. Not because it was that awful of an experience, but because they did not know what to do when their legs began to tighten and lungs began to burn. So having said all of this, the mentally tough athlete is aware that at some point, the pain is going to come. And rather than tighten up, the calm their breathing, focus on good technique, and just keep putting one foot in front of the other. Those athletes will have breakthroughs, while others will suffer and sink in the presence of pain.
Create Focal Points
One of the simplest things that you can teach an athlete that allows them to become more focused is the creation of a focal point. A focal point can be any point in the stadium that is a reminder to stay calm, focused, and committed to staying in the moment. For jumpers and throwers, it can be a point at the end of the runway or past the thrower's circle that they look at before they start their event. For runners, it’s a spot at the end of a straightaway that they focus on as the move down the track that helps them stay in their lane [more on that later], block out pain, and negative thoughts. It’s a simple technique that when used correctly, can be invaluable.
Breaking up the race into segments, especially in indoor track races lasting over a mile is a skill that is not utilized enough. Again, like we discussed earlier, focusing on the process, and taking the race one piece at a time, especially in longer races is a great way to increase mental toughness. If an athlete has a goal of being in a certain place or time at specific points in the race is a much easier pill to swallow than trying to get someone to focus non-stop for 3k-5k. Spoon feed success throughout the race and win smaller victories along the way.
No Meet is Bigger Than Another
When you get to the championship part of the season, most athletes fail to perform because they believe that because it is a ‘big meet’ they need to go outside themselves and put together a bigger than needed effort, which usually creates tension and non-desired results. The mentally tough athlete knows that they go to that meet for a reason. A championship meet is no important than any other meet. The environment may be different, but the same effort and focus that got them there will lead to desired results. So, treat every meet, small or large, with the same amount of attention and care. It will prepare them for more important meets down the road. Remember the more prepared they are, the better they are.
Stay in Your Lane
When I was younger, I always laughed when Carole Lewis, when discussing the sprint events, would comment ‘the most important part of the race is that you stay in your own lane.’ I never understood until later how important this line was. Who is in the race is only there to bring the best out of you, the biggest competition is yourself. By getting athletes to focus on what they must do, then it does not matter who is in the lane next to them. Teach your athletes to stay in their lane, focus on what they need to accomplish [again, focus on the process], then you will start to see the results you are looking for.
Control Your Controllables
Your athletes can’t control who is in their heat, where the event is taking place, the hostility of the crowd, or a how hard their competition will compete. What they can control is their effort, emotions, and thoughts. If you have an athlete that says, ‘I don’t like this track’ or ‘I can’t stand this throwing circle,’ then they are focused on something that is out of their control. What is in their control is how they respond to that ring and the quality of their effort on that track. Coaches rarely teach this without getting pissed first, so take the right step early and teach this skill early in your pre-season. The more the focus on doing the best they can with what they can control, the better their results will be – no matter where they are or who they are competing against.