Training the Mind as Well as the Body


For the past several months, I have been working with a sports psychology consultant. Several years ago, I would not have been open to working with one, never mind publicly writing about the experience.

Earlier in my athletic career, my perspective on sports psychology was very limited and I was pretty ignorant about it. My opinion was that those who needed this type of help lacked confidence and were not mentally strong. I considered myself above using this important resource. Naïve, I know.

During my fifth year at University, I had the opportunity to speak with the athletic department’s sports psychologist on a handful of occasions. I recall leaving the sessions feeling more relaxed and empowered, but I did not make an effort to set up regular meetings.

Since then I have met several friends who have studied sports psychology or are working in the field. They’ve opened my mind to using it as a training resource. I have not met, however, many runners who are working with a psychologist or psychology consultant.

It may be that I have not spoken to enough athletes about the topic. Or maybe the subject is too personal. Or maybe those who do work with a sports psychologist fear they will be perceived as less confident or mentally weak for revealing it to those more ignorant, as I used to be.

In January, I had the good fortune of being contacted by a friend whom I met at a University meet back in 2011. Thanks to Facebook, we were able to stay in touch. Karen Costello (no relation) explained to me that she was volunteering her sports psychology consultant services to a few people she knew were preparing for the 2016 Olympic Trials. I gratefully accepted Karen’s invitation and we have been Skyping every couple of weeks since.

So far the results for me have been great. I have a more positive outlook on my training, even though I did not meet my time goals over the past indoor season. I’m also focusing on smaller steps of improvement. To this latter point, an example exercise that I have found beneficial is the practice of writing down a training achievement each week, so that I can look back over the evidence of progress I have made. These achievements might be standout workouts, moments during which I successfully implemented some of Karen’s tools, or changes that I made to my lifestyle that will ultimately benefit my training. I write down each achievement on a sheet of paper with a hand-drawn staircase, one achievement per step. It’s a visual that evokes a sense of progress.

Although I have restructured my life to make running my first priority and I am grateful to have been able to do so, there is also more time now for me to be inside my own head. I’m a classic over-thinker, so this extra time can be detrimental. It is wonderful to be able to share my thoughts with the professionally trained ear of someone outside my immediate social circle. She helps me to understand how my thoughts affect my emotions, which then affect my physical state and performance, in races and at practice.

When we are running well, it is easy to have confidence and think that we do not need help. In fact, it’s when we think we are above needing help that we lose our sense of humility and are most susceptible to a breakdown. Just as we focus on eating, sleeping, and training as well and consistently as possible, why not also monitor our mental approach with the same consistency?

During an Olympic year especially, when there is more pressure to perform well and everyone is seeking every possible edge to make the team for Rio, I am very thankful for Karen’s generosity in providing this new dimension to my training.

Subscribe to Runner's World

Related Articles