Sport psychologist Julie Emmerman has worked with professional athletes from a wide range of sports and brings deep insight, expertise, and experience to this discussion on the importance of mental skills. While many of us focus predominantly on physical training, Dr. Emmerman knows only too well how great a role sport psychology and mental strength and resilience can play in sports performance and success, particularly as it relates to female athletes.
In the show, Dr. Emmerman shares strategies that can help athletes optimize their training and performance. She talks about the importance of process-oriented goals and maintaining a growth mindset. She also discusses the impact of social media, body image pressures and how to manage them.
Dede Barry 00:05
Hi, Welcome to Fast Talk Femme, hosted by DeDe Barry and Julie Young. Our guests on today’s episode is Julie Emerman, a sports performance and clinical psychotherapist for elite, Olympic, and professional athletes – based in Boulder, Colorado.
Dede Barry 00:20
Julie provides individual and team based performance enhancement services to elite, professional, and Olympic athletes and coaches. She has provided services for EF education Meet Bo professional cycling team. She works with USA cycling’s High Performance Division, and provides leadership consultation to Team directors at the highest level of professional cycling. She also has extensive experience working with the NHL, triathletes, track and field, Ultra running athletes, equestrian riders and tennis players.
Dede Barry 00:51
She helps athletes execute up to and beyond their perceived potential and navigate challenges throughout their athletic career. Our discussion with Julie will focus on tools and approaches to maximize your chances of being your best on race day. We will also discuss social media and the pressure that female athletes have to sell their body image. Welcome, Julie, and thank you for joining us today.
Brittney Coffey 01:15
Hi, listeners, we’re so excited that you’re here to check out fast talk FEM a new podcast series, it’s all about the female endurance athlete. Here at fast talk labs. We pride ourselves on being the pioneers of information and education in the endurance sports world for both athletes and coaches. If you like what you hear today, check out more at fast talk labs.com.
Julie Young 01:39
Julie, it’s great to see you again or actually see you I don’t know we actually have met in a lot of correspondence with athletes, but it’s great to have you join us today. Great to be here. Yeah. And I’d love to just kick off the conversation. And since this is a podcast that’s focused on that female endurance athlete and their coaches and your practice, have you found that you may work with or communicate with female athletes differently.
Julie Emmerman 02:10
You know, I gotta be totally honest. And I don’t. It could be because I work with people who are already at the elite level. And it just I think there’s some differences. And years ago, there was some research to show that there were some differences according to where someone is in their level of sport, and also age. However, nowadays, I honestly think things have just balanced out and especially the issue of gender are so much more nuanced than it ever has been that in my work. In my experience, I don’t notice any great differences. One subtle thing is people who identify as female tend to be more open to and have an easier time with collaborating. So women tend to be more vocal with their peers, or their coaches or friends about their experiences. Whereas men might be a little bit more isolated. But that doesn’t necessarily mean I work with them differently. It just is what I observe. And they’re telling me their experiences. I think
Julie Young 03:06
sometimes we try to dig for these differences. And it’s just like, they’re like, let’s not try to make something out of right thing that’s not there.
Julie Emmerman 03:14
It might also be age related to I’m sure,
Julie Young 03:17
yeah. Have you found that female athletes may have some unique psychological challenges,
Julie Emmerman 03:23
I think, especially in endurance sports, I mean, it’s well documented that there’s some more concern, invulnerability around body image, eating disorders, everything on the spectrum from disordered eating to severe eating disorders. But honestly, in my experience, men experienced the same. It’s think there’s there’s vulnerabilities, I think, with social media, which is something I know you want to talk about social media does kind of invite this like, Beast, because it seems like it’s really a part of how people need to sometimes promote themselves, but I have to say, I only see it do a lot of harm.
Dede Barry 03:59
Yeah, I gotta say I talk with my friends about this often how I think it’s a lot harder to be an athlete today than it was in our generation, because of social media, because so many athletes values now are actually based on their social media presence, their value to sponsors, and I think it puts undue pressure, particularly on women around body image and selling a certain image that can be really distracting from performance.
Julie Emmerman 04:28
Yeah, yeah, I agree. And even if it’s not body image jointed, it’s just the pressure that people have at the professional level to promote their sponsors via social media. So you know, you’ll have people taking photos and posting them like 10 minutes before they’re at the start line. It’s just really not conducive to focusing on the details at hand if you’re, if that’s part of your obligation. So yeah, I mean, social media really just invites a lot of comparison amongst athletes and we know for I think, like 1000s of years now that comparing yourself to another really only brings about a negative outcome. So if you’re looking at somebody as for inspiration or aspiration to what they’re doing, that’s one thing, but it tends to lead people down a path of cyclical negative thoughts and comparisons. So most men that I work with usually are able, depending on the sport, they’re able to steer away from social media 100%, some of them don’t even they block their accounts for the entire duration of their season. And with women, I think there’s more pressure to promote themselves and their sponsors on social media. So they’re not able to do that. But I really work with them on how to try to minimize it and separate like the business side of things from their personal lives.
Dede Barry 05:37
Can you speak a little bit to the suggestions that you have for the athletes that you work with to do that?
Julie Emmerman 05:43
Yeah, I mean, it’s just kind of helping them understand that there’s the business model of sport. And this is where the business is today. And you do have some say in how you interface with that. And certainly, plenty of athletes are taking things more into their own hands and saying, I will, and I won’t do certain things, just helping them understand that there is this, it’s like layers of an onion, you know, you have your fans, and then you have sponsors, and you have like your, your more immediate circle, then you have yourself and your private little team. And it’s important to have a protective kind of barrier between you and your most immediate team, and then the external world because you have to have barriers put in place so that you’re not just internalizing every message from every Twitter comment. I mean, it’s just, it’s ridiculous. So just helping people understand, like how to build that muscle of having psychological barriers and boundaries between understanding this is the business and this is me personally,
Julie Young 06:34
Julie, what is the age that you start working with athletes, because I’m thinking about this, these dynamics? And I’m thinking about, like, the young athletes that I’m working with, and it’s just kind of amplifies the challenge.
Julie Emmerman 06:48
Yeah, so I work with a few high school level athletes, but mostly 20. And up. And like I said, so in my work, the athletes are already at the elite professional level. And so there’s different pressures, I think, then, like a high school athlete who wants to post on Instagram, and Facebook, etc, tick tock more as a part of like, feeling included in things and you know, just keeping up.
Dede Barry 07:11
Julie, I wanted to shift the conversation a little bit, I want to talk about how to maximize your chances of being your best on race day. And I know when we initially were chatting and planning for this episode, you mentioned that your first priority and working with athletes was to help them adopt a growth mindset. Can you explain to our listeners what it means to adopt a growth mindset, why it’s important, and also your the approaches that you take to this?
Julie Emmerman 07:39
Yeah, if you think about it, most people get involved in their sport, because they love it, and they’re doing well. And if they’re experiencing success, that means they’re either winning as at an early age, or they’re, you know, on the podium at an early age, or others are telling them that they’re really good. And the results are really encouraging. Everything is very results based and oftentimes that leads, or most oftentimes, that leads to in later years, people just without realizing it think that every race or event is like this pass fail. And the mentality going into it is like a do or die. It’s a pass fail experience, whether it’s triathlon or, you know, road racing or whatever, gravel racing, and so pass fail just creates anxiety, if I felt like every time I line up, I’m, it’s a pass fail test, it would just be it would be so awful. So growth mindset, encourages everybody to recognize you’re learning it every step of the way. And you’re going to learn from this experience, no matter what happens. So you want to do the best you can you want to control your performance and, you know, take control of what you can, which is your performance to the extent that you can, and then learn from it so that you’re carrying those lessons forward. So it’s a shift in view from pass fail to I’m learning all the time. And everything I learned here will apply at some point in the future. So there’s really no, quote unquote, failure. It’s just all growth and all learning.
Julie Young 08:57
So Julie, it’s it’s interesting, you know, I’ve just listening to the great champions. And I feel like so many of them so clearly have this mindset. It’s just kind of like anything, whether it’s their training, or whether it’s a competition, it’s just kind of like bring it on. Like it’s like this opportunity to learn and improve every single time. And I have to believe that really reduces that sense of pressure, and that sense of anxiety. And that that is one thing that I wanted to ask you about is it feel like many of the athletes that I work with, there’s this sense that you know, pre race anxiety or pre race nerves. It’s like a purely bad thing. It’s a purely negative thing. And I tried to explain to them like, Hey, there’s this amount. There’s this threshold of nervousness that’s important in order to get your best performance, but, but it’s also really important to manage that so it stays within that healthy and productive range. Can you talk to us a little bit about that?
Julie Emmerman 09:56
Yes, people oftentimes think anxiety is like this evil thing, but we All need anxiety in order just to get out of bed and realize that we’re hungry and we need breakfast or that we have things we need to do or want to do. So you need to have some level of anxiety. Too much anxiety is obviously not good. But if you don’t have enough anxiety going into an event, that’s also not good. If you don’t have enough anxiety, usually people like you tend to forget things or you show up late or you’re just not focused and you’re not organized. If you have an excess of anxiety, you know, that might manifest in looking very scattered, or similarly, like forgetting key equipment, just not organizing yourself well. So I oftentimes use a dial analogy or like a volume dial that you can turn, you are experiencing anxiety, it’s a a 12, you want to bring this really down to about a seven or an eight, because that’s where you have enough arousal to perform and be focused and organized. And you have enough energy to help propel you forward. Versus if you have too much. It’s, you know, a hindrance. And if you don’t have enough, it’s also a hindrance.
Julie Young 10:56
Dede Barry 10:58
for athletes that have too much? What are some of the tools you use to kind of help them manage that better?
Julie Emmerman 11:05
Oftentimes, I started off with just asking the person this female this case, what are the ways that she’s experiencing anxiety, how’s it coming out? What is she noticed, and it depends also on how far away the event is. But typically, if somebody first notices like I was just on their mind more, or they have noticed butterflies, it’s just a pit in their stomach. If it’s a ways out, then I’ll just encourage somebody to balk at this point, you want to make sure you can take care of what you can, you know, the basics, make sure your bike is in order, make sure your gear is you know, everything’s topped off that way. Make sure you’re dialing any nutrition, key pieces that you need, things like that, if somebody is at the beginning of a taper during a taper is oftentimes when people experience a peak or an escalation in their anxiety, because you’re no longer training as much you have more idle time, the event is closer in proximity. So then I’ll start to talk to somebody about how these nerves are really helpful, it’s an invitation to help take care of you. And if you consider anxiety or anxiety is energy and energy is like a blob, just this amorphous blob. If you don’t put any structure to this blob, it will mushroom out. And then after a while you feel like you are anxiety you don’t, it’s like you and the anxiety are one in the same and it’s too much. So the goal here is to take this blob, and delineate energy in different ways so that it’s manageable and functional for you. And you’re getting things done that are meaningful and fill the purpose of racing well. So what does that look like? Well, we will develop process goals, which we can break that down, I will check in with them on how they’re doing with things like meditation, or reading things that maybe I’ve offered them earlier, or practicing any form of deep breathing, whether it’s box breathing, or a different form of breathing. And then we’ll talk about what are their values? What do they want to get out of this race? What are the key objectives and give them things that they can commit to, so that committing to these process goals will take over their energy, and it gives them something to actually do and to focus on executing as well as possible. So and then normalizing the anxiety, you know, to some extent, because you need, like I said, you, you need to feel a little bit uncomfortable to be approaching what you’re doing in order to, it has to get your attention.
Julie Young 13:22
I was having a conversation with one of my younger coaches, moms, and she was really concerned about her son not sleeping well, the night before race. And we had actually had a sleep expert chat with the bear team. And I thought he had some really great things to say about like, it’s totally normal, like not to sleep well before an event. And that’s okay. And I think to your point, like normalizing it. Like if we make it a big deal, it’s a big deal. But if we’re like, Hey, that’s a total normal thing to experience that, then it becomes less of a big deal.
Julie Emmerman 13:57
Yeah, yeah. And I think from my role, I mean, just being able to help people feel that they can do something with all the energy that you have, when you’re anxious is fulfilling for me. And regardless of whether it’s fulfilling or not. It’s constructive and purposeful. So helps people achieve their goals.
Julie Young 14:13
I remember when I interviewed you for an article, and in that article, or in that interview you had mentioned, it’s super valuable to help the athlete kind of identify what’s creating the anxiety or the nervousness. And I thought that was really helpful.
Julie Emmerman 14:30
Yeah, to that point. I mean, we all have self doubt. If you don’t have self doubt at times, when you’re stressed, then that’s, that’s a different story. But most of us, we can, you know, live pretty comfortably within our within our comfort zone. But if you’re approaching an event, it’s outside your comfort zone, it’s going to make you nervous, and when you’re nervous or stressed. Most people will go to a place of self doubt and self doubt, can take on a bunch of different I guess narratives. So I oftentimes refer to this as list of ways people, I don’t know if you can see this too much. But these are just words additives that people often feel when they are experiencing self doubt. So it ranges from unlovable to ineffective, not worthy, unlikable, boring, disgusting, like all these different things that we tend to take on. Oftentimes, either these are messages that we learned from others early on in our lives. It can come from a variety of sources, but most often, it’s something that we’ve just heard from childhood, and we carry that with us. So when we are in our adulthood, and we’re facing something that we feel stressed about, it’s normal to go back to these doubt, labels. And so what I like to do is ask somebody to help, you know, identify, what are those labels? What are you really, what’s that little voice telling you, you’re not good enough, you’re mediocre, you’re never going to make it, et cetera, et cetera, and then bring about some factual information in the current year to help them realize that these data labels are not true, that these are things that came from somewhere else, they didn’t even belong to you in the first place, they probably were really the owner of these things with somebody else, not you, but they were tossed on to you and you’re carrying them, but you don’t need to carry them, especially when you have evidence in the current year or the recent years to show otherwise. So that’s one example of like, of using cognitive behavioral therapy to, or techniques to help somebody realize, oh, some of this nervousness is just really coming from these messages I’ve been carrying around for decades, not what’s going on in 2023.
Dede Barry 16:32
Yeah, I think reframing is so important. I think that so many young athletes, particularly they suffer from a fear of failure. But when I look back on my career, and different athletes that I’ve worked with over the years, in terms of coaching, we often learn the most from our failures, and we grow the most from them. And I think that it can be hard, especially for a young athlete to understand that, but when you can reframe it, and that way, that’s when they really start to blossom.
Julie Emmerman 17:04
Yeah, yeah. And also, you know, in explaining to somebody that we’re going to debrief whether you DNF or you metal, we’re still going to debrief because there’s always going to be positive takeaways. And if you compete a lot, you realize you’re gonna have a lot of highs and lows. So it’s not helpful to put to like thank your identity on one single race, because there’s always going to be another one, what you do in a race is separate from your identity, ultimately. So it’s important to be able to roll with those changes and roll with the highs and lows and be able to see yourself as a growing entity who’s constantly processing information and making the best of it to apply that information forward.
Julie Young 17:43
When I think too, it’s, it’s a pretty negative experience, if it’s all outcome based, you know, I think Diddy and I had folks that we raced against in our career where they finished the career and they were so burnt, and they were just had such a negative experience with their, their athletic career. And I think a lot of that is due to just everything being so focused on results and outcomes where, you know, it is such an opportunity to grow as a person, you know, yeah, I think you learn so much about yourself as as an athlete, and, you know, didn’t really take that opportunity, as you said, just debriefing. Good and bad. And, you know, as DD said, you really do learn so much with those perceived failures. And I And again, I just think it keeps that athlete on a really positive trajectory.
Julie Emmerman 18:31
Yeah, I mean, results do matter. But at the same time, there can only be one person at the top step of the podium. So we have to make use of our experiences, regardless of where we finish a race.
Julie Young 18:44
You had mentioned, this idea and kind of this is kind of goes along with what we’re talking about right now is this idea of process goals. So for me, as a coach, one of the biggest things I emphasize with my athletes is that we want to use every training day to train all those components that contribute to performance. Yeah, I think it’s so easy for us to just to fixate on the physical preparation, but it’s like, let’s use training to train all those aspects. And I think, for me, I really encourage my athletes in their training to implement this idea of process goals. So that becomes like this natural default practice. So it’s not something just they’re introducing on race day. Yeah. Can you talk a little bit about the process goals and just how you suggest athletes implement that into their practice?
Julie Emmerman 19:32
Sure. So I typically divide process goals into three different forms, strategic mental skills, and then motivational which there’s some overlap between the mental and the motivational, but a strategic example would be in this would be hard to apply in a training setting but like a strategic example of a process goal would be doing your best to get to the whole shot, you know, in a mountain bike race or gravel race, or with swimming like making sure you’re citing a bully making sure that like Things are strategic to help you stay on course and set you up for success in a very strategic, logical way, a mental skill process goal would look something like if you’re, you know, towards the end of your marathon and you’re noticing that you’re getting tired and with fatigue, your self talk starts to go downhill, noticing it, not judging yourself for it, but noticing it, and then bringing yourself back to things you’re going to tell yourself to stay engaged with that race. So you can finish. And I would work with somebody to tailor that. So it’s a relevant, either like a mantra or just things that they know will mean something to them and kind of write the ship and keep engaged with the task at hand. And like I said, sometimes there’s overlap with the process goal being motivational in nature, because you can also how you’re talking to yourself can be motivational. And it could also actually be strategic, if you’re saying, okay, just get to that next tree, or that next mile marker and see how you feel, and so on, and so forth. So, I like to have different types of process goals that an athlete can work on. And it’s kind of like head units have different data fields, you have your heart rate, your power, your cadence, etc, you can kind of in your mind circulate through all these different process goals, like how was my form? How was it? How am I doing with, you know, My cornering skills? Have I checked in with my nutrition lately? Do I need to drink do I need to fuel so that you’re constantly kind of keeping yourself accountable to the things that you have determined ahead of time to work on. So it would be easy to structure that into training, for example, if you’re doing a particularly hard training session with somebody, and you know, towards the end of heart intervals, they tend to just give up or they’re really, you know, getting down on themselves mentally, then you can structure in some of the process goals that way, because part of racing is being comfortably uncomfortable. You know, that’s a pretty common phrase. And some people when they’re uncomfortable, tend to have like catastrophic, thinking, like, something’s gonna go wrong, my body’s gonna fail me something horrible is gonna happen. Others don’t, but me sort of have a dwindling performance anyways. And if you can find ways to keep that athlete engaged and motivated to the finish of that heart interval or that hard set, then hopefully that’s going to just be all that much better and help them when things get tough in a racing scenario,
Dede Barry 22:08
surely, I think when you do go into an event with process goals, and they’re somewhat structured, it does make it easier to debrief after two and take a more structured approach to that, yes, particularly for athletes that are doing individual sports. But I think the debriefing can be more complicated. Sometimes, when an athlete’s taking part in a team sport, because they’re more reliant, obviously, on the coach leading that experience. I mean, they can do their own personal assessment. But in the end, a coach can really set the tone. And so some athletes have coaches that do a great job of that. And those are usually highly functional teams. But some athletes end up in teams that are, you know, somewhat dysfunctional, because the coach just tells them they suck, when they don’t win, or they don’t. So how do you approach when you’re working with an individual athlete or and they’re stuck in a team situation that’s dysfunctional? Do you encourage them to take leadership and the debriefing? And to try and help overcome that? Or like, how do you approach that?
Julie Emmerman 23:14
Are you talking about like a cycling team kind of environment? Or it could be? Yeah, I think it really depends on that woman’s comfort level with being in a leadership role. And if they feel like they would rather just establish their own personal way of debriefing and self assessing, maybe there’s a way to rely on another peer and a teammate to also give honest feedback about what’s going on, I wouldn’t task that person to suddenly become a leadership in a leadership role if they weren’t already. So I think it depends on the situation, and the dynamics of the team. But certainly anyone can do their own debrief, if they’re willing to be honest with themselves. And you know, it could help to have up here, just to talk about how the race went, how it unfolded, what do they see, etc. But I think also, a lot of times the process goals are really private in nature. And so it might be harder to have a conversation like that in an open setting, like a team debrief, because like, in my scenario, I’m talking to people about, you know, how do you want to counteract your self doubt? When your thoughts and your narrative goes to, you know, self doubt place? What do you want to do? What can you commit to, to turn that around and change the narrative, and I don’t think that’s a conversation people would most likely be comfortable having with a teammate even.
Julie Young 24:28
But I do agree those process goals are valuable to have is that thing you wanted to happen? And then, you know, have that direct comparison, what I wanted to happen and what happened?
Julie Emmerman 24:38
Yeah, and certainly if the process goals are, I guess less sensitive in nature, if it’s the process goals have to do with say, hydration and fueling. And you know, how you are countersuing through turns, how you’re positioning in the pack, things like that. Yeah, it could be much easier to debrief and talk about. I would imagine most people would be less vulnerable, talking about those things open We hope so.
Ryan Kohler 25:03
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Julie Young 25:26
Julie, I’m just thinking about this as we’re chatting. Do you work with coaches by chance? Like, I mean, I know like DD DD and I have worked with various coaches. And yeah, some have told us we just suck at the end of races, but like do you work with? Do you work with coaches that like to help them kind of have a better strategy, in terms of the mental side of sport,
Julie Emmerman 25:50
I would like to work with coaches more I have, but it’s not as frequent. I think it takes a special coach to be open to that I’m trying to think of other sports. And if there was any kind of comparison between sports, I don’t know. But I do think things are changing. As far as like youth sports, especially the way people are approaching has changed. There’s a lot of work being done on that front, as it is today in the cycling world or other endurance sports, I’m not really sure how open a lot of team directors or coaches are to learning about communication skills with our athletes,
Julie Young 26:22
seems like it would be valuable. Yeah. For athletes, I mean, and again, I know that doesn’t mean they have to get a PhD, but I think just be more aware of some of these strategies to get more out of their athletes.
Julie Emmerman 26:36
Yeah. And that being said, whether in sport or real life, most of us are going to have employers at one time or another that we don’t particularly love and who may be a bit abrasive, and we have to learn how to adapt and deal with that. And I don’t think you know, sport is any different, there’s always an ideal, and there’s always room for improvement. But I think part of just being human and, you know, trying to do our best is you’re going to encounter some people who are maybe really good at what they do in some respects, but don’t have the best communication skills. And I think it’s up to each athlete to determine the pros and cons and the ratio of like cost benefit, if it’s working out well enough for them. And maybe it’s a temporary thing, maybe it’s long term, and so on. But yeah, it’s it’s complicated.
Dede Barry 27:16
I think there’s so many different learning styles and communication styles and chemistry in the end is so important inside of teams, and even for an individual working with a coach. So sometimes it takes a while to find that. But striving for good chemistry is really important.
Julie Emmerman 27:33
Yes, the chemistry and also with chemistry, hopefully, I think it goes hand in hand that there’s trust. And I think trusting your coach is just so important. Yeah, it’s hard to get off the ground if you don’t have trust.
Julie Young 27:43
Well, I think the coach athlete relationship is like any other relationship. You know, it’s based on all those qualities of communication, respect, trust. And I think, you know, coaches can kind of bring the same thing to the table in terms of experience and education, but it’s always about the relationship.
Julie Emmerman 28:02
Now, one point I wanted to go back to this, when we talk about process goals and debriefing, I don’t want it to sound as if this is always like rainbows and unicorns, I think, to be truthful, you need to be able to express disappointment, and you need to be able to acknowledge and be to hold yourself accountable and say, this was an eight corner credit, and I really only mastered those corners, like a third of the time. So I really let myself down. I just didn’t feel like I could do it. I think there needs to there has to be room for somebody to express their frustrations, their disappointment, because again, that goes back to well, let’s talk about why. And let’s see what we can do to change that around. So it’s just built in that you should be able to talk about not only where the athlete was successful, but also like, Okay, where do we need to keep working? And how should we keep working? Are there different things we need to try? Do we need to involve your coach? Do we need to involve different skill, you know, clinics, etc, etc. So,
Julie Young 28:57
well, I think Didi pointed this out that you do learn more by these perceived failures or disappointing performances. And I feel like it really motivates more purposeful training, you get that clear feedback. And I think and I think everybody is different with this. But I do think like, the champions, like use those, those disappointing performances, just as that motivation to really fuel that training,
Dede Barry 29:22
I think we all need to look for our failures to keep growing and learning in life. Right. I mean, in sport and Beyond Sport,
Julie Emmerman 29:30
sir. Yeah, I was thinking like that in terms of the podcast, I was like, Well, okay, if I looked at this, like a pass fail, then I’d be really nervous. And, you know, that would just make it a horrible experience for me. But if I look at this, for example, as something I’ll grow from and learn from, doesn’t matter how many podcasts I’ve done before, there’s always room for improvement, and it depends on the audience and what I’m trying to get across and so on and so forth. So, yes, I’ll go back and review this and look at well, maybe I could have rephrase that or etc.
Julie Young 29:58
So Julie, I know I had mentioned this earlier, but just this idea of maximizing training to hone that mindset, so I get a little frustrated, because I feel like so often we just underestimate or completely disregard the mind in terms of performance. You know, so oftentimes, like when I’m working with athletes, you know, they’ll talk about how they felt going into, or like, physically how they felt going into race, you know, during the race, but just I want to understand, like, how were you mentally feeling? And what were you thinking during the race? You know, I think those are of equal importance. But with training, are there some specific strategies that you would suggest that athletes can implement into their training to help them really improve their mental game,
Julie Emmerman 30:45
what I do often use with people is mindfulness where, you know, if you’re in a time trial, and you notice that your thoughts are drifting, all you need to do is notice your thoughts are drifting, in, bring yourself back. And when you bring yourself back, bring yourself back to paying attention to key things like how’s my cadence? How’s my power? How’s my speed, how’s my positioning, how’s my head, you know, my, my being as arrows, I can be, where am I in the course, how much further is there. And if you’re circulating those thoughts in your mind, and paying attention to those different things, then eventually, probably for some people, they will drift again and be checking out, you know, I guess drifting for a little while. And as soon as you notice that you’ve drifted off again, come back, and then repeat those things. And you may need to add things like payments, my friend, or, you know, whatever aspirational thing that you have decided ahead of time works for you that you can then commit to is fuel.
Julie Young 31:40
Yeah, I guess, I guess for me is I just want athletes to understand, they have to train that mental side as much as they do the physical side. And so I guess, in my opinion, like, it should always, the two should always go together, and they shouldn’t come to a race day and expect that just to happen. So I guess what I’m hoping is that athletes can really think about maximizing every training session to become better at than just not feel like they’re just resigned to kind of what they have mentally. But no, it can improve, but it takes training, it takes as much attention and training as the physical,
Julie Emmerman 32:16
it does take a lot of discipline. But I do I will say I am a strong proponent of, especially in endurance sports, where you’re spending hours and hours doing your trade, it’s okay, in my opinion, you need to have days where you’re just going out and enjoying a ride and spacing out you need to have days where you’re just listening to an audio book on the trainer or music and that flexing the mental side so much because it is tasking and endurance sports tend to or any sport tends to serve so many different purposes. For people, there’s a social component, usually there’s just you know, helps manage our moods, it helps manage anxiety, depression helps just with with ADD, there’s so many different ways that exercise helps us that I want to keep it fun for people. And so tasking them with making every single session. Also, a brain exercise, I think would be not that helpful. So I think it has to be on balance. Sometimes it just needs to be fun, you know, crank your music have a great time.
Julie Young 33:09
When I think I think for me, it’s more like those challenging workouts, just dealing with those uncomfortable physical sensations that you know, want them to start adopting, or start thinking about that focus for their mind. So when they are in experiencing those same sensations, you know, in a race situation, it does become more of an automatic, but I’m all for what you say like I think there are days where you just go adventure with your friends, you divorce from data, you just remember what it is just to why you love the bike, or why you love to run.
Julie Emmerman 33:43
So towards that end, Julie, I think you know, I can speak to when people are doing a hard session. You know, oftentimes people get nervous if they see they have a hard session. And so what that is, is people are oftentimes thinking ahead of themselves, like oh, you know, this is going to be hard in a row, and I can do five of them or whatever, and they get nervous ahead of time. Or even if they don’t sometimes in the middle of an interval. If people start to feel fatigued, they’re wondering how are they going to? How are they gonna do five of these. And so a mental practice that takes discipline is just rein it in, you don’t need to be thinking about what you’re doing an hour from now, all you need to be doing is just be right where you are right here right now. Because where you are in an hour, your sensations can totally change by then we don’t know. So part of the growth mindset, which I neglected to mention earlier, is just being open and curious, being open and curious to how it’s going to be how you’re going to feel. Don’t try to anticipate what’s gonna be anywhere down the line. Because part of the beauty is you’re learning your body and you’re learning what you can do and you’re depending on where you are in your training cycle, then it’s going to change, you know, are you rested? Are you in the end of a really hard block for women? Where are you in your menstrual cycle? How is that affecting how your sensations are in your energy level? So it is a skill to learn and just remember, like, just be where I am, you know, keep my brain right over where my pedals are.
Dede Barry 34:56
Yeah, and endurance events too. I think that circumstances can change so quickly, because I mean, I know so many athletes, they can start an event, like a four hour race feeling awful, and then come through and be fantastic in the final hour, right? So it’s, it’s maintain that growth mindset and the positivity to realize that like, Okay, I’m not good in this moment. But things can turn themselves around, I got to focus on fueling and on my power and on whatever else,
Julie Emmerman 35:27
right? Yeah. And therein lies like the beauty of sport, right? And the beauty of being in our bodies because it is dynamic. And thank goodness, we’re not robots. Yeah. So things change.
Julie Young 35:36
When I think to Julie Lowe, what you said about, you know, that strategy of kind of trying to rein it in and not look ahead. I mean, to me, I think that really is applicable to a race situation, like an a long endurance event where you really, I mean, in my opinion, it’s helpful to break that course down into sections, manageable bite sized pieces, versus the mind going up the road, like, oh, my gosh, I have that 12 mile climb. So it’s limiting my current ability. So like, but it is such a mental exercise to be able to do that.
Julie Emmerman 36:07
And if this was easy, we wouldn’t do it. Right? There lies the beauty of you know, like people who like that kind of challenge will gravitate towards these types of events.
Julie Young 36:18
Another question I had for you, and this goes back to my race days. And just it’s funny that thanks, Didi and I were saying it’s funny the things you remember. And then the things you’re just like, I don’t remember that at all. But anyway, it was just a point in a really crazy, intense stage of a European stage race. And I just remember, it was such a pivotal moment in the race. And I just, I always found it really fascinating how like my mind the effects of my mind, on my body. And at that point in the race, just what I was thinking just was transformative to how I was feeling physically. And it really was kind of that make or break moment where it gave five pedal strokes and made the break, you know, and you just think about those those instances while racing. But I was curious have they have they determined is something happening, like when an athlete really buys into self talk, or finds that mental monitor that really means something? Is something happening physiologically to that athlete?
Julie Emmerman 37:13
Well, I don’t have hard data to support this. But I can definitely tell you that when people enter an event with a calm clarity, and a sense of they’re so determined on what their purposes, you are essentially allowing the rest of your senses to come more forward and be more alive, you have more access to your senses, which I think particularly in mass events, like road racing is really helpful, because you have more awareness of like, Oh, someone’s on my right hip, someone’s, you know, someone’s coming up and getting on my wheel or someone’s about to attack you just have more of your work without about you. Whereas if you’re really nervous, and you’re not able to be calm and thinking clearly, you’re so gripped with anxiety that it shuts down your ability to sense not only your own body, but what’s happening around you. And also, I think it’s important to recognize that even if you get really good at doing these things, it’s not that you reach a sort of mastery, and then it’s like you’ve never experienced anxiety, or you’re never tuner, you know, I mean, again, we’re going back to, or just going back to the fact that we’re dynamic human beings. I do this for my career. And sure, you know, I did value the sun last year, and I was nervous. Unexpectedly when the time fell, and I was nervous about the next day and like, Oh, my God, what do I do now? How do I do this? And unfortunately, I had friends there that were like, Okay, I’m just helping me structure my thoughts. So just, you know, I think it’s important to recognize we’re not seeking a certain level of perfectionism, and then you’re done. It’s being open again, to just, we’re human, we’re going to grow, we’re going to learn, and we’re going to have setbacks, we’re going to, you know, default to some old patterns that are not helpful. And the best we could do is recognize, oh, that’s not really helpful. How can I write the ship and get myself on a better track here mentally?
Dede Barry 38:54
Yeah, that’s really helpful. Julie, if you were to give an aspiring female endurance athlete three pieces of actionable advice, what would they be?
Julie Emmerman 39:04
The first thing I would say is learn how to view others as inspiring those that are worthy of your inspiration versus comparing. It’s just really sad to me that when I hear people really struggling with how much energy is spent, comparing themselves and going into this negative, unhelpful mindset based on how somebody looks. So that would be I think, a big priority. The second one would be find a coach that you have reason to trust and who you feel comfortable working with, that you feel you can talk to easily. The third is, I think, learning how to be comfortable training alone, and also with others. I think it’s important to be able to mix it up. Maybe that’s too easy of a third option. I could probably think of more but just as you know, if you’re saying someone who’s just starting out, I think it’s important to give yourself an opportunity to learn from other people. around you but also get comfortable training on your own.
Julie Young 40:03
I love those Julie.
Trevor Connor 40:07
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Julie Young 40:33
I think, you know, one thing that you said about like seeing your fellow at even call them competitors, you know, like sometimes, especially when I’m working with young athletes, but it really just trying to emphasize like, we’re so much better when we race, like all those people around us are helping us raise our game that we wouldn’t ride as fast we wouldn’t ride as well. And I do think that is so valuable. And I also really appreciate, you know, that idea of being willing to to mix it up, like go with the group, you know, and train on your own. Because as an as a coach, you know, you find like, people are always going to gravitate to what’s comfortable. And you know, training alone can be super comfortable. It’s super controlled. But then we also have to stay in touch with like the reality of racing, if we’re doing mass start races and like, Be okay with other people dosing it out and just mentally remember what that is.
Julie Emmerman 41:25
Yeah. And I’d be curious, from your perspective, as coaches, what you notice, I’m kind of flipping the interview around here, but just curious what you’ve noticed in the women that you coach, as far as their willingness to collaborate with others and be open with them. And if you’ve noticed any shifts over the years in that regard, versus like, maybe feeling insecure, or keeping their training a secret or anything along those lines,
Dede Barry 41:50
I can’t say I noticed like a gender differential in terms of collaboration within teams. I mean, I have a husband who raised professionally for a long time and for 16 years, so we’re always kind of sharing experiences and, and stories and whatnot. And I’ve worked with a lot of youth over the years, and I don’t necessarily feel like I see a gender differential in that regard, at least from my personal experience. But, you know, the, the one thing that I feel like underpins everything in terms of like, growth and learning and becoming a better athlete, and a better person is just maintaining that growth mindset. And I really believe that when you can get someone to do that they really flourish and prosper, and stay more open minded to learning and communicating better and, and so for me that really underpins everything when I’m talking about how to improve as an athlete.
Julie Young 42:49
Well, Julie, thank you so much for joining us today to speak with you. I really do appreciate your time.
Dede Barry 42:56
Yeah, thank you. Thank you. Thanks for joining us. That was another episode of fast Park fence. Subscribe to fast talk FEM. Wherever you prefer to find your favorite podcasts. Be sure to leave us a rating and a review. The thoughts and opinions expressed on fast talk them are those of the individual. As always, we’d love your feedback, and any thoughts you have on topics or guests that may be of interest for you. Get in touch via social. You can find fast talk labs on Twitter and Instagram at fast talk labs where you’ll also find all our episodes. You can also check them out on the web at fast talk labs.com for Julie Emerman and Julie Young. I’m Didi Berry. Thanks for listening!