By Mitchell Greene, Ph.D., Clinical & Sport Psychologist
If you follow the blogs and tweets of triathlon’s elite performers you realize a couple of things very quickly. First is that triathlon is an around-the-clock job for them, with nutritional requirements, recovery aides, travel plans and sleep cycles requiring as much attention as any particular workout. Second, although their reputations are built on their head-down pedal-to-the-metal racing style, their patience and perspective are the key attributes that keep them from flaming out too soon.
Recently, as in pre-pandemic, I worked with a seasoned pro triathlete who traveled three states over only to achieve a much slower-than-expected duathlon time; slower than his time in this same event the previous year. Disappointed and somewhat shocked, he needed to perform some serious mental gymnastics to keep his training program from being sabotaged by one race. But, you know what, he reached out for help. Kudos to him; that takes courage.
Whether you are new to triathlon or someone who has been putting your sweat in for years, dealing with the all-too-common reality of underperforming is a job hazard that never gets any easier. Most age group triathletes gradually get through these rough patches with the support they receive from their training partners, coach, significant other and/or spot-on motivational quote. If those work for you, great! However, for some, the weight of what can feel like ever-present performance pressure can lead to significant cracks in the armor. Is it time for you, when the pandemic has forced all of us to slow down, to reach out for help?
In a sport psychologist’s work with age group and elite athletes, we provide a safe place for athletes like you to say how you feel. Sometimes when an athlete comes to a sport psychologist’s office, they are tired of feeling "stuck" and are sick of complaining to their coach, spouse or bike shop guru. In some situations, triathletes become so frustrated that they long ago stopped talking to anyone about what is bothering them (mentally or physically), but the significance of the issues and the affects remains. You spend so much energy and time on your physical game, please be sure to take care of your inner game as well.
For any triathlete who feels stuck, seeing a sport psychologist can provide an opportunity to get "out of the big chain ring" and reconnect to what you love about the sport. The goal is to return to enjoying the challenge of training and competitive racing, and not to let yourself be defined externally by any one race result or workout session.
Finally, it is important to not think of a psychologist (sport or otherwise) as someone who fixes someone who is “broken.” Sport psychology is more akin to teaching than emotional digging. In that sense, it is more mundane than mysterious. A triathlete’s willingness to build mental conditioning into their fitness program won't magically produce never-before-seen race results but they hopefully will be sure to keep racing happily (and with perspective) for years to come.
For sport psychology resources in your area, or on the web, please contact Dr. Mitchell Greene at firstname.lastname@example.org.