By Ben Foodman
As a professional within the field of sport psychology, I have had the privilege of being able to work with some of the best athletes across the spectrum of sports. Through my work with these individuals, I have seen firsthand what has helped them succeed at the highest level of their craft. Interestingly, when working specifically with endurance athletes I’ve noticed that there are very distinct yet common mental characteristics that these individuals utilize to help them achieve their level of success. So when new clients come to consult with me about how I can help them enhance their psychological peak performance, one of the first things I evaluate is if they are cultivating these specific psychological traits into their routine. So with that being said, I am going to review what I believe are the four most important psychological traits of endurance athletes. Let’s get started with the first trait, the savage determination!
Being an endurance athlete means that you are participating in a sport where experiencing pain is inevitable. At some point during competition the accumulation of hydrogen ions in your body are going to make you feel as if you are immersed in an acid bath! Interestingly, one thing I’ve noticed is that many of the endurance athletes I have worked with look forward to this experience because it is one of the few times where they will be able to test their competitive resolve at the highest level in sport performance. Some sport psychologists and mental performance coaches refer to this as ‘mental toughness’, but I prefer ‘savage determination’. If you are an athlete looking to test the limits of your own savage determination, start off by experimenting with smaller and more manageable goals such as being savagely determined to properly execute a technical skill. Once you are successful at the foundational level, then you can start testing yourself with more complex and higher intensity tasks!
Balanced Social Life
Some of the most successful endurance athletes I have worked with tend to have more of a balanced social life rather than an unbalanced 24/7 performance lifestyle. Coincidently the research seems to support the theory that athletes who maintain a balanced social life are at reduced risk of injury, and are less likely to experience symptoms of anxiety and depression. While it is important to set lofty goals that require extensive hours of high quality work, this should not come at the expense of your social life. So whatever your goals are, make sure that you are creating time for your social needs. By doing this, you are actually increasing the odds that you will be successful during performance!
Worrying about what other people think is usually indicative of the fact that we want to have positive social interactions. But there is a healthy balance to be maintained, and excessive concern about what other people think of you can be unproductive and more importantly detrimental to your mental health. I’ve found that athletes that say they claim not to care about what others think of them instead usually care immensely about what their loved one’s perception of them is. However when it comes to random strangers they recognize that trying to appease these individuals is a waste of energy. During performance situations they maintain internal focus and only compete for themselves and those they care about the most. So instead of worrying about what competitors think of you, make sure to maintain internal focus during competition and narrow your external concerns to those closest to you!
Whether I am working on Brainspotting with my clients, or helping them develop psychological pre-performance routines, the most elite endurance athletes always want to understand the science behind my work with them. From my subjective experience it seems to be consistently the case that these athletes always maintain a ‘student mindset’ and are committed to learning everything there is to know about how they are getting better. So whether you are investing in Tailwind products and learning about how they can help improve your performance, or you are trying out a new method of periodization for your interval training, make sure that you are taking time to learn about why you are doing what you are doing.
Ultimately whether you decide to adopt all of these psychological traits or just one, recognize that it will take time and consistent practice to become proficient at exhibiting these traits. Even the athletes that possess these psychological behaviors did not end up at their desired disposition overnight. Be authentic to who you are and remember that these traits are just tools to help you become better at what you love to do!
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This post was written by Ben Foodman. He holds graduate degrees in clinical mental health and sport psychology & motor behavior. He specializes in working with professional, collegiate and high school athletes providing Brainspotting, clinical mental health counseling and mental skills training. For more information, visit his website here.