Dr. John F. Murray shares the latest in sports psychology research and practice and gives his expert interpretation on how this can help.
Mental Strength in Running
We put much effort and time into the physical aspects of our training, however, we regularly leave the condition of our mind up to random factors. We rarely work on developing superior mental skills. The final task in endurance sports performance is often learning how to deal better with discomfort. If you are actually working to better your thoughts, attitudes, and actions, you’re already on your path to turning into your own sports psychologist. You are getting in touch with the messages are that are continually floating through the six-inch area between your ears.
Learning how to deliberately and intentionally manage internal messages is a critical step in the process. You need to embrace challenge first. Everyone wants to talk about mental toughness, but the truth is, mental strength only exists in the context of a challenge. Difficult workouts on the training calendar provide the greatest opportunity to come in contact with how your mind reacts and responds to a challenge. Telling ourselves how awful the task is, how miserable it feels, how we can’t wait until it’s over etc., not only makes the workout that much more unbearable, but it is also much more likely to lead to quitting early, which typically leads to guilt and negative feelings about doing so later.
The task of embracing challenge within an intentional cognitive framework is a good reminder that however you mentally respond in training is exactly how you will respond in racing. We have to embrace a challenge and insert ourselves into difficult tasks to find out what we are really made of and how we may respond. This is so important in the sport of running.
Like most collegiate programs, Maryland did not have a full-time sports psychologist in the athletics department. Resources seldom match the demand for sports psychologists at the collegiate level, including at the major Division I universities in the D.C. area. Few programs have a full-time sports psychologist or mental health professional on staff, and others rely on the school’s counseling center or a part-time consultation model, which can present hurdles for student-athletes.
Other local schools in recent years have incorporated the NCAA’s ideal model-and the one many would like to have: a full-time athletics department sports psychologist. Maryland hired a director of clinical and sports psychology to its athletic staff in the summer of 2017, and a clinical professional counselor joined the Terps last year. At Howard University, there has been a sports psychotherapist since October 2017. She has a PhD in counseling psychology from Howard and is working on becoming licensed. Georgetown University has an embedded head of athletics counseling service that works fulltime within the athletics department. The sports psychologist position, which the school recently filled, is overseen by the Counseling and Psychiatric Services on campus. Working with a sports psychologist can change many lives.
DR. JOHN F. MURRAY’S TAKE: GREAT ITEMS TODAY AS WE LEARN MORE ABOUT HOW VITAL SELF-TALK IS TO ENDURANCE SPORTS AND COPING WITH THE EXTREME PAIN AND DISCOMFORT THAT OFTEN ACCOMPANIES THEM. WE ALSO READ ABOUT SOME OF THE DEVELOPMENTS AT THE COLLEGIATE LEVEL WITH SPORTS PSYCHOLOGY. MANY STUDENTS ARE STARTING TO HAVE ACCESS TO A GOOD MENTAL COACH. MY SENSE IS THAT IT IS MUCH HARDER TO FIND IN THE PRIVATE SECTOR, AND IT’S STILL HARD TO FIND SOMEONE TRAINED AND EXPERIENCED IN BOTH CLINICAL AND SPORTS PSYCHOLOGY, BUT EVOLUTION IS GOOD! LEARN MORE ABOUT WHAT THIS FASCINATING FIELD CAN OFFER! SEE ALL THE EXCITING UPDATES AT MY MAIN PAGE AT JOHNFMURRAY.COM AND THE DEVELOPING NEW SITE AT SPORTSPSYCHOLOGY.COM.