This article is guest blogged by Eric Broadbent, a certified USA Track and Field Level 2 Coach, Certified Strength & Conditioning Specialist (CSCS), holds USTFCCCA Track & Field Technical Certification, and a USA Weightlifting Sport Performance Coach.
To read all his guest articles on this Blog, click here for the full list.
Multi-Events Training Part 4
Achieving Mental Success
In the first three parts of this series I addressed general training goals, setup considerations, and commonalities that exist within the various events. In this final part of the series I wanted to shift gears and discuss the mental side of the multis and briefly talk about everyone’s “Olympic Experience”.
A lot of literature out there recognizes the importance of visualization in sport and this couldn’t be more true and critical for the full development of a multi-eventer. With so many events on the plate of a decathlete or heptathlete, there won’t be as much time available to physically train for each event as compared to someone who only has 1-2 events to focus on. With that being said, a good multi-eventer needs to spend time prior to and during both practice and meets visualizing themselves being successful in an event. The more specific and positive they are with the visualization, the better.
Patience is another critical quality that a multi-eventer must work towards. There are very few overnight successes that I know of in the multis. Sure there are some major studs out there who it appears to come easy for. But if we were to actually take a look at their time line of success and look back, you would most likely see years of hard work and steady increases in performance. At a certain point, it appears that most multi-eventers have a pretty large spike in performance but this too takes time. It takes years for athletes in different sports and events to achieve success, but if you think of trying to develop 7-10 events, you can see how patience would be of utmost importance. The athlete needs to focus on mini-goals so there can always be success and progress and also work towards those larger end of year and career goals. I don’t always like when people talk about the definition of insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. If you are on the right path(working hard, have good coaching, taking care of yourself), then you can expect to be “insane” to some extent. Expect to do a lot of the same things over and over again! Training is not sexy, it is a bunch of hard work and patience.
Having a positive self-image and outlook is a must in the multis. The reason for this is because there are going to be so many times in an athletes career where they “fail”, and the best athletes are the ones who don’t actually see it as a failure but as a learning experience and an opportunity to get better. Not only does the athlete need to be positive but they need to be confident in their abilities. Some athletes possess more confidence than others, but this is a quality that can be developed in practice and at meets for everyone. Not every word that the coach utters needs to be cheery and bright, but it is good idea to find positive aspects of every training session and also find a ways to convey the areas that need improvement without belittling the athlete and destroying their confidence. Usually the athlete will lose confidence when it comes to some of their weaker events, so this is the time when the coach needs to be especially aware and supportive of their mental state. Make sure the athlete isn’t using any negative self-talk and is learning from each experience rather than tearing themselves down.
When it comes to the combined events, lets be honest, there is not much glory! At least not a ton of external glory that some might define this as. Most competitions start super early in the morning on the first day of the meet and they usually try and get the multi’s out of the way before the other events begin. On day two, there might be a few more spectators in the crowd, but unless it’s a major competition there won’t be more than your parents and a loyal teammate or two in the crowd. This is the reality of the event! If someone is all about the roaring crowd and fame, then this is not the event for them! Most multi-eventers need to be really self-motivated. They need to have that intrinsic motivation as they work towards their goals of becoming successful. That is the beauty of track and field as compared to team sports which success is defined mainly by winning or losing. You could never win an event in your life but if you are continuing to improve and do something you’ve never done before, there can be a ton of glory in that!
Developing the athlete’s short-term amnesia is another key component of mental training for the multis. More appropriately, this may be called compartmentalizing things. This basically means that the athlete must be ready to forget a performance in an event whether it was good or bad. When an athlete has a big performance in an event, it is great to carry that momentum in to the next event and this will sometimes lead to big performances in subsequent events, but not always. Sometimes if the athlete sets a PR in an event, they will start doing the math and say “well if I just do X in this event then I will score Y on day 2!” Or if they have a mediocre performance following a big performance then they might get down on themselves and think they’ve blown it and wasted their PR performance.
On the flip side of things, if an athlete’s performs less than expected in an event, they have a tendency to let that performance and mind set carry over in to the next event. Or they might even try to make up for the performance with the next event. “If I just score X in this event, then that will make up for my crappy performance in the previous event.” In my experience, this doesn’t really work out to well. The best approach to working through the events is by having a positive and completely separate mentality going in to the next event. As I mentioned, doing well in a previous event can boost the confidence a bit going in to the next one, but the focus needs to be completely on the next event and doing what they’ve done every day in practice. If thoughts start creeping in to their head about how awesome they did before, then they’ve lost their focus on the task at hand and performance could suffer. Working on this in practice and developing this kind of mindset is critical to the athlete’s success.
Multi-event athletes need to be really good at dealing with stress. If you have an athlete that freaks out over change and isn’t willing to adapt then you need to work on this with them. Typical Heps and Decs will see huge changes in weather patterns and event times. It is not very uncommon for them to change an event time and move it up by 30 minutes at the blink of an eye. Since day 2 is usually based around the other events that are going on, you never know when the event time will change. Poles and other implements may break, things might not go your way in an event, and the weather may be awful. This could create a very stressful environment! Working out outside when the weather is not ideal, changing things on the day of practice, and adding other stress inducing tactics are a great way to prepare your athletes for the stressful situations that they will no doubt encounter during competition.
Similar to dealing with stress and controlling emotions, the athlete also needs to be able to control their arousal level. Not every event will benefit from the athlete being psyched out of their mind and relaxation is important in all of the events. Knowing when to turn it on and when to throttle back is extremely important! Also understanding your athlete and what they react better to is also very important. I have seen guys who look like they are sleeping before the start of every event but when it comes time to compete they are ready to go and unleash a great performance. I have also seen guys who need to do some self-talk and move around a lot in order to get primed for their event. Find out what is best for your athletes and use it to your advantage in competition.
Another key thing to instill in your athletes is for them to develop a routine. Athletes in certain events may get away with a crappy diet and poor sleep habits temporarily at a meet or two but when it comes to a decathlon or heptathlon, a lot of time must be spent fueling and resting your body properly. Talking to your athletes about developing a strategy or routine to follow in general, and at meets, is a great idea. This isn’t completely a mental thing but having a mental checklist and good habits is. Make sure your athlete plans times to eat between certain events and stays hydrated throughout. They need to develop good sleeping habits and take care of themselves between the two days of competition. Not many athletes that I have come across know how to actually take care of themselves. Some think that carb loading and getting a crappy nights sleep two days out aren’t that bad so they need to be educated on how important it is to eat right and get good sleep! They need to stay off their feet in between events and stretch when it is appropriate. Don’t assume that your athletes are doing this because most will not. Guide them and show them what is expected of them and help them develop this routine.
As I mentioned above, the training for the multis is not very sexy, nor are the competitions for that matter. Most multis take anywhere from 4-8+ hours a day of competition with some brutal events that take a lot out of you both physically and mentally. Usually the things in life that are hardest end up having the greatest reward and that couldn’t be more true for the multi-events. The harder the athlete is able to work and push themselves throughout the competition, usually the better they are going to feel afterwards about their performance. Having said that, I think it is important for multi-eventers to be able to “embrace the suck.” They need to be comfortable feeling uncomfortable. This mindset has to be developed and fostered in practice and then it will carry over in competition.
One final note that I’d like to mention has to do with reaching your full potential. I like to talk with athletes about their “Olympic Experience.” In a nut shell, I try to explain to everyone that they have a certain amount of potential in their event based on the various biomotor abilities(speed, strength, power, endurance etc.) that are important to their sport and how well they are developed. That coupled with a positive mental side and some good luck and you have a chance to reach your full potential. There are a lot of people out there who really don’t know what they are capable of and have a ton of potential in the above mentioned qualities. Having said that, everyone has a major goal or competition that they envision themselves taking part in. Basically the pinnacle of where they could be and achieve success. For the top athletes in the world it’s the Olympics, but for the vast majority of the people out there, it’s something else. I try to encourage people to think about their goals and where they envision themselves by the time it’s all said and done. Basically, I ask them what their “Olympic Experience” looks like. From there it boils down to a ton of hard work and patience and working towards that end goal or experience. By the time it is all said and done, the athlete will usually reflect more upon the actual experience leading up to that end goal(even if they didn’t get there) rather than the event itself. The “ride” becomes the best part.
About the Author
Eric Broadbent is a certified USA Track and Field Level 2 Coach, Certified Strength & Conditioning Specialist (CSCS), holds USTFCCCA Track & Field Technical Certification, and a USA Weightlifting Sport Performance Coach. He also has over 6 years of coaching experience including coaching at North Carolina State and West Chester University. As an athlete, he won the USATF 2012 Indoor Heptathlon and was an Olympic Trials Qualifier. That same year he represented the US in the Pan American Cup and took 2nd place. As a national level competitor he also had top 6 finishes at the 2009 and 2010 Indoor Combined Events Championship and finished 10th at the 2011 Outdoor National Championships.