You've just completed the "BIG RACE." So what now? The next race isn't for another few weeks. Back to training. But how can you stay motivated, maintain that sense of self- confidence you had before the last race? A systematic program of setting goals and working toward achieving the goals is a highly effective way to maintain self-confidence and increase competence in running. Research and practice alike have consistently shown goal setting to be extremely helpful in the development of both physical and psychological skills.
Among the benefits of setting goals are:
Set short-term, not long-term goals. Long- term goals are really just objectives, something in the future to shoot for, such as competing in an upcoming marathon a few months away. Such an objective alone won't keep you motivated as much as will short-term goals (weekly or even daily). There are too many outside variables that can interfere when the amount of time between the present and the goal is greater. Short-term goals will enable you to check progress and get feedback as to what directions or actions you need to take to stay on track for your long-term objective.
Set performance goals, not outcome goals. You have control over your own performance and nothing else. You cannot control the weather on race day, the other competitor's training or performance. To set an outcome goal ("to win the race") is merely to set the stage for feelings of failure if you happen not to win. It does not make sense to evaluate yourself and your achievements on the basis of attaining or not attaining goals over which you did not have complete control.
Instead, an appropriate goal would be a particular overall performance time or times on a mile-by-mile basis. Or if you have particular difficulty on sections of a course, hills for example, focus a goal on performance on hills alone. The goal should cover any aspects you can control completely and nothing else. This is the same for competition and training alike. Success should mean you have exceeded your own performance goals, not the performance of other people.
Set challenging, not easy goals. Research has shown that if the goals are too easy or too difficult, motivation drops dramatically. Therefore, goals should not be so easy that they can be achieved without additional effort; they should not be so difficult that you have trouble taking them seriously or that you still cannot achieve them after repeated effort. When you cannot reach a goal that is too difficult in the first place, you may feel you are a failure and your self-worth will be threatened.
The best way to determine how challenging your goals should be is to use your most recent performances as a baseline, then set a goal slightly above those, an approach termed the "staircase" method. Continue to set small goals as steps on the staircase where the "top step" is a great improvement from the "bottom step." By the time you reach the "top," you will have frequent opportunities to achieve and build self-confidence and motivation. Each step should cover approximately one week of training. If you find it difficult to reach the next step, reconsider the difficulty of the goal, and divide it into smaller steps. Or check to see if you are using an appropriate training strategy.
Set realistic, not unrealistic goals. Don't confuse who you are with who you wish to be. Set goals that are realistic enough for you at the present time (with a little training) to achieve. Don't be afraid to modify a goal that proves to be too much for your present skills.
Set specific, not general goals. To "do the best you can" is a positive goal, but difficult to achieve or exceed. Why? Well, how do you know exactly what your "best" is? This goal is much too vague, although it is difficult to fail at, for you can always say you did your best. A specific goal is much more effective because it will direct you to a specific criterion by which you measure your success. You will receive a clear expectation of a quantifiable goal and a specific time period or precise event. Take, for example, "I will run the 1500-meter race on Sunday in 3:57." This goal defines a specific time (3:57) by a specific date (Sunday).
Goals are not easy to set, as they do take a lot of work on your part. But the rewards you will get, the sense of self-worth and increased motivation will make all your efforts worthwhile, and in the long run improve your performance. Good luck!!
Originally written by Christie (Wells) Marshall April 2000 for the Washington Running Report
Every athlete knows the risks. They also never really think it will happen to them. After all, that's why there are conditioning programs, strength training, warm-ups, stretching. But then there's a misstep, a big hit, an awkward move. Suddenly life as you know it takes a very strange turn. Beyond the x-rays, the treatment, surgery, and rehabilitation lies one more piece of the puzzle that is not always tended to--what changes are going on in your head.
You may attend practice while you heal, but can no longer participate. How does that make you feel? You see the player who is now filling your shoes and doing very well. What thoughts are going through your mind?
When it is time for you to return, are you anxious? Scared? Many athletes experience new fears they never considered. They second guess every movement they make--will this hurt? Will I get hit too hard? Will I be able to play as well as I used to--ever?
The ideal time to begin to address all of these is ideally as soon as treatment starts. It's important to be able to talk to someone about your concerns. It is also important to come up with ways to calm your fears.
Relaxation to calm your mind, and using mental imagery and visualization to see yourself back in action are effective tools. Another is positive self-talk, reminding yourself of where you were and how far you've come, how strong you still are. Know that your skills, while they may be a bit rusty at first, are still there. They will return. All is not lost.
Imagine yourself back in action. Really feel like you are there. Take in sights, sounds, the feel of being back. This may seem obvious but is important to note--when you are imagining, you are completely in control of your success. Always imagine yourself being successful! You perform flawlessly, at the top of your game.
You can even visualize a situation similar to what caused your injury. This time, though, you escape injury. You catch yourself, move properly, avoid the hit. Feel your confidence grow with each scenario.
These are just a few examples. There are so many techniques you can use. Choose what works best for you. With appropriate mental preparation, you should have very little trouble making your triumphant return.
Great news! You don't have to be an Olympic contender to benefit from mental techniques. You don't even have to be in great shape. You just have to want to commit to achieving a personal best in your chosen activity.
Sit down and do an assessment. "Where am I now in terms of this activity, and where to I want to be?" When you have those two answers, you simply connect the dots. What lies along the line between them are your goals. The end point is your ultimate, long-term goal. The ones on the line are shorter-term goals. (See the article posted on Goal-Setting)
Now, to achieve each goal, decide what you need to do to get there. Here's where you can apply various mental techniques. A golfer experiencing the "yips," and wishing to eliminate them, can implement relaxation, ritual and visualization to assist in gaining focus and control. If you are new to a sport and learning skills, imagery can go a long way to helping your body lock in appropriate processes and movements. A runner attempting an increase in race mileage, a 10K or even a marathon, can benefit from self-talk during the race, or the use of associative or dissociative techniques to focus on how the body is feeling, or take your mind elsewhere to rhythmic patterns of counting or breathing or the like, respectively.
Great gains can be made, goals achieved, motivation maintained, and above all, fun had just by applying tools of sport psychology to your endeavors.
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