Sport Psychology

A word from a Brighton-based Sport Psychologist…

My name is Simon Russell. I hold an MSc (Distinction) & BSc (Hons) 1st Class in Sport & Exercise Psychology, as well as a Diploma in Personal Training & Sport Therapy. I ran 800m & X-Country in my younger days, and my first marathon in New York in 1998 (3:42). Since then I have completed about 35 marathons (pb 2:51) and 15 Ultra Marathons (inc 4 x London-to-Brighton Ultras, twice top-10; the 100-mile Caesars Camp Ultra; the 110-mile Mont Blanc Ultra Trail, in 40:50). In 2005 I completed the UK IronMan (11.37); I hold the course record for the Brighton Marathon (dressed as ‘Elvis’, that is, 3:13).

I recently spent three years working in Chamonix, France. There they call me a ‘Preparateur Mental’. You could translate this as ‘Mental Preparer’ – in the UK the terms ‘Sport Psychologist’ or ‘Performance Coach’ are more widely used. Whatever the name, I’m sure you know from (maybe bitter) experience that the difference between a good day & a bad day, whether in training or in competition, can more often than not be put down to how you’re feeling mentally. Being able to harness the power of the mind can make the difference between performing optimally, and having a day that fails to live up to expectations.

The mind is a powerful, yet commonly overlooked, tool.

When asked, most athletes will readily admit that their sport is 50% physical / 50% mental, maybe 60/40, sometimes 30/ 70. Despite this acknowledgment, most athletes I talk to admit spending very little time focusing on the psychological side of training & performance. This could be due to a number of factors, maybe a lack of knowledge of how to proceed, or a belief that things will work themselves out without the need for any particular action or intervention. When these athletes realise that a more proactive approach is required, this is where I come in.

Much has been written in the press in the last few years about how prominent athletes & teams have progressed with the help of a Sport Psychologist, but there may still be a lack of clarity as to what Sport Psychologists actually do.

The areas under our remit are wide & varied, including, but not limited to:

Self-Confidence, Anxiety, Concentration, Motivation, Behaviour Change, Injury Rehabilitation, Avoiding Burnout, Leadership, Team Dynamics.

Ultimately, this comes down to giving athletes the mental skills to maximise the chance of optimal performance; enhancing their enjoyment of sport participation; reducing the time spent recovering from injury, and ensuring that exercise programmes are adhered to & completed.

Our clients range in standard from complete novice to elite level, and from ages 15 to 85. They include the following:

– Athletes who are already at the top of their game but who want to ensure that they keep improving.

– Athletes who have reached a plateau and need assistance in overcoming whatever roadblock is in their path.

– Up-and-coming youngsters, providing them with a psychological skills toolbox for future use.

– Athletes & exercisers who are new to their chosen activity, and who need assistance getting started.

So, if you know how to overcome or harness pre-race nerves, you have already used a bit of Sport Psych. If you have different things you say to yourself that help you block out the pain or get you out of the house when the rain’s pouring down, then you have already used Sport Psych. If you know how to boost your confidence when you’re feeling low, then you have already used Sport Psych. If you set goals, write out a training plan and/or keep a training log, then you have already used Sport Psych. If you like to imagine yourself crossing the Marathon finishing line or lifting the Cup, then you have already used Sport Psych.

My role is to ensure that these Sport Psych skills are being used correctly so as to maximise their effects. Set the wrong goals, have the wrong internal dialogue, or concentrate on the wrong aspects in training, and the usual positive effect these skills can bring will in fact have quite the reverse. This can lead to reduced performance levels, increased levels of anxiety, reduced levels of motivation & self-confidence, and in some cases complete disengagement from sport participation.

The beauty of Sport Psych is that the skills we use are not difficult to understand;

they simply need to be used in the right way, at the right time, and with the same unconscious fluidity as the automatic physical skills that have been learnt over many years. If you can remember when you passed your driving test & went for your first long-distance drive, you might also remember just how tiring it was having to concentrate as you combined the physical aspects of driving with the need to look ahead, behind, to the side and all around, being aware of & trying to predict what other road users might do. Hopefully now, many years later, you will find that all these mental aspects of driving come naturally, automatically, and how much less tiring it is as a result. So it is with Sport Psych – the more often the skills are practiced, tested & honed, the more automatically they will occur, whether that is within a training or race environment.

If you want to discuss how Marathon Mental can assist you in your chosen activity, please email info@marathonmental.com or call 07539 256211.