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Monday, August 22, 2011

3 Questions regarding mental skills

I have been missing in action from my blog again & with the social media stuff proliferating at a rate of knots in both running & triathlon I am at answering individual requests again.

This particular coach asked some very pointed questions & I thought the answers may have a universal appeal to athletes & coaches alike. It is good to know that coaches are taking on this level of work & passing it on to those who need it most – the athlete in order to enhance performance

I want to thank you again for taking the time to teach those of us who attended the USAT Level 1 clinic back in April. I learned a lot from your presentations, and from your book, Magical Running. I felt very lucky to be able to talk to you one-on-one after your running lecture on that Friday night, and really learned a lot from you, which I have taken and directly applied to the athletes I work with. 

After having put in practice those things in your lectures, reading your books, and watching your instructional DVD, I have a few questions, and was wondering if you would be kind enough to share your expertise and experiences with me?

I have 3 questions for you:

  1. What is the biggest obstacle that you see in athletes that keep them back from mentally allowing themselves to achieve to their full abilities?
Bobby: hmm, it varies by athlete, but I see a LOT of assessments where the athletes are poor at mental imagery. I also see a lack of professionalism around their participation compared to their jobs – careless, thoughtless mistakes of all kinds. I’d also say that athletes have a poor sense of what they really are capable of – either expecting too much from really ineffectual training or talking themselves out of a performance they are capable of by being so focused on outcome, or being freaked out & therefore not specifically focused on execution. This leads into a very poor consciousness of what they are thinking, what they might be thinking & having a handle on the process of creating a race mindset from what they currently have. Lack of knowledge of why they are anxious and what they can do about & with it other than attempts at denial & suppression – both disastrous, is why they race poorly. They care too much and they don’t know (define/understand)what it is they care about. They don’t understand how they feel, dislike it, try to avoid it & think it’s abnormal & fail to progress in managing the sensations, as they never directly address them in even the most basic sense of acknowledgement of sensation. So instead of each ensuing race providing an accumulative learning process, they either just remain ineffectual, or worse (& more commonly), they grow progressively worse as poor performance after poor performance accumulates in a paradigm of, “I really am a poor racer”.
  1. How often do you tell your athletes (those who don't seek you out for mental coaching), that you are also focusing in on coaching their mental approach?
Bobby: You know with me this is kind of moot, as I assess them when they come on board & each quality session & race is approached from a mental aspect as well as a physical aspect & as training progresses I ensure an awareness of where training may have failed mentally & expect a culture of awareness & honesty surrounding race performances where there is agreement post-race as to whether successes or failures were partly mental, partly physical or wholly either.
  1. What is the biggest mistake you have seen coaches make when working with an athlete’s psyche?
Bobby: Couple of things – either a rah-rah aggressive football-type pre-game psych-up job, or mostly a plethora of platitudes & over-simplified, non-specific statements, made too late, without tool/process support & insufficient time to create something of permanence or likelihood of inculcation for race day. This stems from a lack of true understanding or training on the coach’s behalf & often a fear of confrontation & the resultant unwillingness to say & then work with them (on an ongoing basis) on the really hard stuff


  1. Great answer on #1 - you are the master at teaching this skill Bobby!

  2. Hi, I came across your site and wasn’t able to get an email address to contact you. Would you please consider adding a link to my website on your page. Please email me back.


    Mandie Hayes