Developing a Winning Mindset

Introduction

It’s all well and good having goals or intentions and aspire to be the best you can be. However, you need the right mindset to be able to achieve your goals. A mind-set is a fixed mental attitude or disposition that predetermines your responses to and interpretations of situations. The key word here is fixed.Unless you keep challenging and adapting your mindset you will stand still.

In this week’s Blog, I reflect on experiences that have affected my own mindset. Its aim is to stimulate you to think about your own mindset and how it affects how you train, coach or provide support to others.

This time of year is ideal to reflect on your own mindset, as doing so may inform on how you develop a training or support programme for yourself or others. It’s not a magazine article with ’10 tips to develop a winning mindset’. Rather, you should reflect on your own experiences, thinking about what your own mindset is and if you need to change it.

Bias

Bias is very closely related to mindset. In fact, I’m struggling to be able to come up with a clear difference in definition. Are you bias? Do you focus on one method of training or another? Do you stringently defend one theory or perspective while dismissing alternative ones? If not, you are exceptional! Even the Buddha was bias and he was enlightened!

What are your biases and how do you think they could limit your performance? Write them down if it helps. It took me many years to accept that I was bias and that my biases impact on how I behave. By recognising your own biases, your assumptions and methods of doing things, you will begin to understand your own mindset. It becomes easier to open your mind to change things for the better once you do so. Changes could relate to the way you train, race, coach or provide support to others. Sometimes, you will conclude that your biases or assumptions are reasonable and you can continue on the same path as before. That’s great as long as you’ve critically thought about them. For example, I’m bias towards riding my bike as a mode of transport and I really don’t want to consider driving. It fits well with my green, left-leaning mindset and I’m happy with that.

Reflecting on my Experiences

As a sports scientist specialising in physiology and during my Ph.D. research, my areas of interest became my world. Very little existed beyond this small world. Of course physiology is far more important than psychology, I thought! Why do coaches not understand? I know far more than all these coaches; why do they lead me when they’ve not got a clue? Why do others not value me? That was my mind-set for a while. It was my map-of-reality. So what changed? Well, a number of things:

1. I was trying to get some tests organised but it wasn’t happening. It was my job to do them and I was frustrated. When I eventually spoke to the coach, he spelt out a few realities for me. “Why the Jemima Puddleduck are you moaning to me about getting lab-tests organised? I’m trying to get some bloody wheels and tubulars for the nationals sourced, I have a million other things to organise! Where do you sit on my priority list?

I was wounded! It hurt! His priorities were definitely more important than mine. His were athlete-centred and mine were about doing a job that I was being paid to do.

2. I read an academic paper by Mark Hargreaves an eminent physiologist. In his commentary, he recognised that his area of expertise was only a small part of the puzzle that he was trying to solve, rather than the whole solution. Accepting that he was bias demonstrates that he had an open mind, something that can quite easily lost when you’re an expert in one particular area of knowledge.

3. I was coaching a rider who was physically very talented, highly competitive and has a never say die attitude on the bike. The challenge was to help keep them happy, motivated to train and focussed on goals. Understanding behaviour and how to influence it was far more important than prescribing specific physical training sessions. The experience forced me to look into areas that were relatively new to me, such as how to develop psychological skills.

4. I went to the Tour of the North in Northern Ireland with a junior team. The riders who weren’t physically exceptional. They were, however, technically and tactically excellent, meaning that they could race with confidence and bravery. A professional rider in the field commented “I wish I was able to ride like that at their age, How do they do it?”. “They have been coached in techniques and tactics and are expected to practice them in training” I replied smugly. Then, on reflection, I realised that my total contribution to their training was administering VO2max tests and ‘policing’ their snack trips after I saw a smoked sausage and 3 cream eggs in one rider’s shopping basket. Yes, planning and prescribing training sessions, understanding physiology and being able to advice coaches on physical training is important but it’s only one small part of the overall plan. I had learnt what my place was in the ‘big picture’ as a physiologist and burnt a few bridges along the way.


I thought I was a physiologist; therefore, I was a physiologist, my adaptation of the Descartes musing! Other people called themselves coaches. I worked with other support staff with their own labels, such as psychologist, biomechanist and nutritionist. Like me, I assume, these people often define themselves by their labels. These labels are illusions. People should be defined by their actions, not the labels they give themselves. Yes, labels are essential to identify the area of individual expertise. However, they sometimes act as a barrier that prevents people with the similar goals but different skills from effectively working together as a team. A collective “how can we solve this problem together?” rather than being constrained by our own biases is the way to go.

Speaking with one of the much respected coaches at work about these experiences he said:

“Andy, you are not the first physiologist to have made similar mistakes and you will not be the last. But, you have learnt your lessons the hard way, so make it count”.

I promised him I would!

Further Lessons

Human performance is complex because it involves body and mind. Each system of the body is reliant on all the others, rather than each working independently. For example, most muscles contracts when we use the mind to tell them to do so. If the mind has not been trained sufficiently well, it will send signals to the muscles prematurely telling them they need to slow down or stop when the going gets tough. The more the body and mind are trained together, the more automatic appropriate and efficient movements and actions become.

If technique training is neglected, then performance will be sub-optimal. If an athlete is unable to consistently implement appropriate tactics i.e. making the right decision, in the right place, at the right time, performance is sub-optimal. The take home message for me is that the body and mind need to be trained together. This was a change in mind-set because, similar to Mark Hargreaves, previously I was bias to one area….peripheral fatigue in my case.

Being bias in one area of training or performance than another isn’t a problem, per-se because it’s impossible to be an expert in everything. However, failing to recognise your own biases is a problem.

Question
If swimming efficiency ranges from between 5-8% (over 90% of total energy is ‘wasted’), will there be larger improvements through physical or technical training? Does your answer reflect your own mind-set or how you train?

If you focus exclusively on physical training or not thinking about your area of expertise within a holistic perspective, then you are failing yourself. With an open-mind it is possible to develop a mind-set that will help you and those you work with reach their own potential. With a closed-mind, learning is likely to be a very slow process!

This blog supports a workshop that I’m doing for my cycling club, looking at developing simple and effective training programmes for riders. Don’t worry if you won’t be there though as I’ll be doing further blogs to support the workshop content.

Please feel free to contact me with any questions you may have or event use the comments box to disagree with what I’ve said. I would really value if you could share your experiences.

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