We are getting into the heart of our track regular season.  The kids are starting to hit their stride.  The competition is getting tougher.  You get to see what your athletes are really made of when they are challenged a little bit.

I am a big believer in the mental part of sports.  I feel the more you can understand about your sport, your craft, your opponent, the game, etc., the better you will be able to handle situations when they are presented to the athlete in competition.

Almost to a fault, I try to explain how the athlete’s race is going to go.  What they will be feeling.  Where/when they need to accelerate.  I try to explain to them their competition in the heat.  Who they need to be aware of.

But, each athlete is different.  

I have to get to know my athletes first and foremost to understand if they will be able to process this information.  Or if it will completely throw them off, consume them, or get them even more worried about their race.

No matter how much or how little your athlete can handle, there is one rule that must be the first rule that they understand.

Only focus on what YOU can control.

In a sport like track where there is no defense preventing you from crossing the finish line, this should be really emphasized.

For example, these are items you CANNOT control:

  • The weather.
  • How fast your opponents will run.  How high they will jump.  How far they will throw.
  • I had long jumper complaining that the long jump board was too thin.  Too bad.  They aren’t changing it just for you.  Everyone has to use that same board.  Adjust.
  • I had some throwers complaining that the throwing circle was too small.  Too bad.  They aren’t changing it just for you.  Everyone has to throw in that same circle.  Adjust.
  • Delays in a race.
  • Change in start time.
  • An official making a bad call or continuing to make bad calls.

If any of these items happen, you cannot focus on them.  They are beyond your control.  No amount of worry will change those items.

Instead you need to shift your mental focus on what you can control.

  • If the weather isn’t ideal, how do I need to shift my running/throwing/jumping to accomplish the best possible result.
  • If I’m running a race against fast athletes, what do I need to do to run the best race possible?  What do I need to do to start fast out of the blocks?  How am I swinging my arms to get to top speed as quick as possible?  When I finish the race, make sure I lean into it to get the fastest time possible.  
  • The board is too thin.  How do you need to adjust your steps to give you the best chance of hitting the board just right?  If you miss it during practices, keep adjusting until you get it right.
  • The ring is too small.  How do I need to adjust my throw so I can get a quality throw? Figure it out and do it.
  • If the official is calling a game a certain way, I need to figure it out and try to take advantage of it.

Sometimes, you run a race and perform about as perfect as you can and it is still not enough to beat your opponent.  If you focused on everything you could control, then you have to tip your hat to that person because he/she was better than you that particular day.

I guarantee though, if you had focused on how fast your opponents were or worrying about the cold weather, you will NOT run your best.  It will keep tying your stomach up in knots.  

I understand it isn’t easy to focus on what you can control.  But, the best athletes don’t worry about their opponents.  They focus on what they are going to do to put themselves in the best position possible to succeed.

And you should too.