Ask Scott: Mental strength and how to keep your eyes on the prize
Top fitness coach Scott Pearson answers your health and fitness questions.
The mental aspect of sport is critical. We've all come across athletes who are very talented but never fulfil their potential. It's doubly important at this time of year as new year resolution fades and it's cold outside. This month in his exclusive column, Scott looks at how to develop the willpower to meet your training goals.
In the professional environment it is relatively easy to find athletes and players who are mentally stronger than the average person. As the game of rugby union develops (it has only been professional for 10 years), the strength in depth in squads improves and the competition for places becomes more intense so only the strongest survive!
You need to keep you eyes on the prize. Full-time training is very hard work. Pre-season training involves 3 training sessions a day while in-season training can be 2 sessions a day. If you are injured you need to do rehabilitation on top of this (5-6 sessions per day). This can be 6 days per week. If you consider that these sessions can include boxing, wrestling and full contact rugby as well as weight training and endurance training players are literally beaten up on a weekly basis. The mental strength it takes to push yourself through this is extremely high.
I have lost count of the number of extremely talented young players who simply haven't cut the mustard at the top level. I firmly believe that 90% of these players just could not handle the level of training that is expected of them.
In the professional environment we are lucky enough to work with dedicated sports psychologists who provide an outlet for players and work on coping strategies, visualisation (see right), imagery and mental rehearsal skills, but the average person doesn't have this luxury.
Visualization (or guided imagery or mental rehearsal) involves creating a mental image of what you want to happen.
By thinking of a scene, complete with images of a previous try or kick or other desired outcome, the player can enter the scene and feeling. It's about detail and should include all the senses: visual but also kinesthetic (how the body feels) and auditory (the roar of the crowd and so on). Just as developing physical skills, training and practice are essential to master the technique.
Researchers say that a player's physical and psychological reactions can be improved with visualization and it can certainly improve confidence.
The New Year effect
Having worked in gyms for many years before I went to the Sharks I am all too aware of the new year affect! January is by far the busiest month as people strive to overcome the Christmas excesses and start new year's resolutions. Unfortunately by the start of March many have slipped away. Apart from a boost before the summer there is usually a steady decline in people training throughout the rest of the year.
So, how do you start a fitness training programme and more importantly how do you stick to it?
The most effective way is to set yourself goals and targets. It is simply no use to say 'I want to get fitter' or 'I will go to the gym a bit more'. How do you know if you have achieved these goals or not?
When you set targets they should follow the SMART principles, that is:
- S = the goals should be specific (eg. I need to lose 5kg of body fat)
- M = goals should be measurable (eg. I can measure how much body fat I've lost)
- A = goals should be achievable (eg. If I said I wanted to lose 20kg of body fat it would be impossible to do. I would lose motivation pretty quickly)
- R = goals should be realistic (see above and consider the other side: goals should'nt be too simple either. if I said I wanted to lose only 1kg of body fat I would probably find it too easy and therefore lose motivation)
- T = goals should be time-specific(set dates by which you should have achieved your targets. This will focus your mind)
If you follow these principles you are much more likely to stick to an exercise programme and feel good when you achieve your goals. Remember to reassess and set new goals when you do this.
Another way of making fitness training enjoyable and not boring is simply to do activities you enjoy! If you hate training with weights and find it a chore then do something else! Find an activity you like and do that.
Try to train for an event; maybe do a triathlon, Great North Run, London Marathon or something similar (there are many other fitness based challenges around). I have found that if you have something to train for it is a great motivational tool.
I hope this information is useful. Good luck with your training - and please, ask me any question you like. I'll do my best to help.
Page created on January 7th, 2008
Page updated on June 22nd, 2010