As the world’s attention is fixated on the spread of COVID-19, many of us are feeling various amounts of stress and anxiety. We want to acknowledge that fact; these are challenging times. By coincidence, we recorded and planned to release today an episode on performance psychology, specifically on the principles of confidence, resilience, the power of reframing, self-talk, and much more.
Though this episode doesn’t address the type of anxiety you might be feeling head on, there are immense lessons to be learned in this episode that are applicable both to riding your bike faster, and living your life in a more healthy, mindful way. At times like these, we hope there are meaningful lessons to be gained from our discussion.
To our devoted listeners, we send wishes of continued health and tranquility. We hope this episode helps you cope through a stressful time. Now, a few simple questions: What is confidence? What is resiliency? What is pressure, and how can we better cope with it? These are just some of the questions we tackle in today’s episode.
And while you might think you have a fair idea of what these terms mean, with the help of our incredible guest, clinical and sports psychologist Julie Emmerman, we open new doors on a landscape that few of us regularly consider a part of our training. That’s because we’ve been conditioned, when we consider the act of training for our endurance sport of choice, to think about it in physical, physiological terms. Today, we spend much of our time devoted to revealing ways to tap into the psychological aspects of training.
We’re very excited to have Julie on the program, to share her wisdom from her many years spent working with professional cyclists, NHL players, MMA fighters, and everything in between. She won’t offer us some simplified, cliche “Seven Ways to Build Confidence” pitch—something you might see on the cover of GQ magazine or a self-help book. What she will provide is a deeper understanding of some of the most fundamental psychological principles at play in athletes, and how you can learn to better utilize them to your advantage.
Want to know how the best athletes operate, psychologically, and what qualities they possess that make them so good at what they do? Stay tuned. Would you like to understand how to use the power of the brain to utilize everyday tasks, big and small, to refine your cycling performances? Listen in. And, if you were a fan of Jack Handy’s “Deep Thoughts” from Saturday Night Live, we might have something for you, too. Joining us also in this episode are two friends of the podcast: Red Bull athlete and the host of “The Adventure Stache” podcast, Payson McElveen, as well as endurance sports coach, and host of the Off Course podcast, Grant Holicky.
Now, kick your feet up on the couch. Your counseling session is about to begin. Let’s have some deep thoughts, and let’s make you fast!
Primary Guest: Julie Emmerman: Sports and clinical psychologist
Secondary Guests: Payson McElveen: Two-time mountain bike marathon national champion Grant Holicky: Elite endurance coach
- Brick, N. E., MacIntyre, T. E., & Campbell, M. J. (2016). Thinking and Action: A Cognitive Perspective on Self-Regulation during Endurance Performance. Front Physiol, 7, 159. doi: 10.3389/fphys.2016.00159
- Corbett, J., Barwood, M. J., Ouzounoglou, A., Thelwell, R., & Dicks, M. (2012). Influence of competition on performance and pacing during cycling exercise. Med Sci Sports Exerc, 44(3), 509-515. doi: 10.1249/MSS.0b013e31823378b1
- Hatzigeorgiadis, A. (2002). Thoughts of escape during competition: relationships with goal orientations and self-consciousness. [Article]. Psychology of Sport and Exercise, 3(3), 195-207. doi: 10.1016/s1469-0292(01)00039-5
- Hays, K., Maynard, I., Thomas, O., & Bawden, M. (2007). Sources and types of confidence identified by World class sport performers. [Article]. Journal of Applied Sport Psychology, 19(4), 434-456. doi: 10.1080/10413200701599173
- Latinjak, A. T., Torregrosa, M., & Renom, J. (2010). Studying the effects of self-talk on thought content with male adult tennis players. Percept Mot Skills, 111(1), 249-260. doi: 10.2466/02.05.28.PMS.111.4.249-260
Trevor Connor 00:01
As the world’s attention is fixated on the spread of COVID-19, many of us are feeling various amounts of stress and anxiety. We want to acknowledge that fact. These are challenging times. By coincidence, we recorded and plan to release today an episode and performance psychology specifically on the principles of confidence, resilience, the power of reframing, self talk, and much more. Though this episode doesn’t address the type of anxiety you might be feeling head on. There are immense lessons to be learned in this episode that are applicable both to riding your bike faster, and living your life in a more healthy mindful way. At times like these, we hope these are meaningful lessons to be gained from our discussion. To our devoted listeners, we send wishes of continued health. We hope this episode helps you cope through a stressful time.
Julie Emmerman 00:51
Welcome to Fast Talk, the Velonews podcast and everything you need to know to ride like a pro.
Chris Case 01:00
Hello, and welcome to Fast Talk your source for the science of cycling performance. I’m your host Chris Case. And as always, Coach Connor is joining me in our new podcast studio. Welcome, Trevor.
Trevor Connor 01:13
Chris Case 01:15
How are you?
Trevor Connor 01:16
Chris Case 01:18
Today I want to start by asking what might seem to be a few simple questions. What is confidence? What is resiliency? What is pressure, and how can we better cope with it? These are just some of the questions we’ll tackle in today’s episode. And while you might think you have a fair idea of what these terms mean, with the help of our incredible guest, clinical and sports psychologist Julie Emmerman, we open new doors on a landscape that few of us regularly consider part of our training. That’s because we’ve been conditioned. When we consider the act of training for endurance sport of choice, we think about it in physical, physiological terms. Today, we spend much of our time devoted to revealing ways to tap into the psychological aspects of training. I’m very excited to have Julie on the program to share her wisdom from her many years spent working with professional cyclists, NHL players, MMA fighters, everything in between. She won’t offer any simplified cliche seven ways to build confidence type pitch, something you might see on the cover of GQ. What she will provide is a deeper understanding of some of the most fundamental psychological principles at play and athletes and how you can learn to better utilize them to your advantage. Want to know how the best athletes operate psychologically? And what qualities they possess that make them so good at what they do? Stay tuned. Would you like to understand how to use the power of the brain to utilize everyday tasks big and small to refine your cycling performances, listen in. And if you’re a fan of Jack Handey’s deep thoughts from Saturday Night Live, we might have something for you too. Now, kick your feet up on the couch. The counseling session is about to begin. Let’s have some deep thoughts. And let’s make it fast.
Chris Case 03:16
Well, Julie, we’ve spoken many times in the past. And I’m very excited to have you on the Fast Talk today. It’s been a while that we’ve known each other, it’s been a while we’ve had some deep, interesting conversations about the psychology of athletes. So thank you, for thank you for joining us.
Julie Emmerman 03:35
Thank you. I’m excited to be here as well. It’s nice to be able to talk about these things.
Trevor Connor 03:39
Yeah, it’s great to have you on the show. I’ve been excited for this.
Chris Case 03:42
The amount of experience you have working with athletes from all of these different backgrounds I think is exceptional. It’s really cool to think about that, and how that one informs the other and overlaps with one another in a lot of ways. So maybe to as much as you can. Could you give us a sense of what that looks like in practice when a when an athlete approaches you and says, you know, whether it’s an NHL player or an MMA player or a cyclist, what does that look like?
Why Athletes Come to Sports Psychologist Julie Emmerman for Help
Julie Emmerman 04:16
Well, the athlete will come to me through various sources, whether it’s word of mouth or their agent, or they find me on their own, or a coach referral, for example. So they are coming to me with whether they know it or not, they’re coming to me with a certain degree of vulnerability. They know something isn’t going as well as it can be and they know they’d like to work on something. So they’re already coming from a place a stance of openness to some degree. So in a first introductory type of meeting, and we go through some just the foundational paperwork, I talk at length about their rights as a client, specifically pertaining to confidentiality, especially in professional sports. It’s just so imperative that a client really understands how seriously their confidentiality is taken. It’s, you know, we need to be HIPAA compliant, nothing can be discussed with any outside source without their written consent. And, and really that trusting that trust relationship is key and fundamental to anything that can progress from there. So we spent a lot of time talking about that, and anything that they feel might get in the way of being able to trust me. We also talked about trust as a process, and that it takes time to really trust somebody, and it’s appropriate that it should take time to trust me, you know, just because I’m in an office and I, you know, have this degree or whatever, they shouldn’t just implicitly trust me that it’s okay that it takes time, that’s a healthy response. And then we’ll start talking about things that they’re indicating they would like some help with whether it’s, you know, recovering from an injury or worrying about their place on a team or wanting to improve skills or wondering if they’re good enough for struggling with disordered eating or feeling depressed, that they are no longer on a certain team. And they’re wondering where they are in their career. And any combination of those types of things. And so we’ll talk about what means of support they currently have, what’s been useful so far, have they ever sought out any kind of mental health in the past? And what are their views of mental health? And as I get to know them, I can usually tell if the person is more insight oriented, or if they like more concrete types of responses, how to help design my way of approaching to them to be maximally helpful.
Chris Case 06:32
It sounds like this is a potentially lengthy process. And one of the things that you and I mentioned or that you mentioned to me before, before we started recording was the fact that you’re really not the type of and maybe there aren’t types of therapists like this at all, there shouldn’t be I don’t think. This will make sense when I get to the point. The point is, there aren’t these, what you would see in popular media, seven tips on how to have more confidence, seven tips on building resilience,
Julie Emmerman 07:05
Chris Case 07:05
This is a process, everybody’s an individual, each athlete is different. And it takes a lot of conversation between you and them to get to where you want to go.
An Athletes Vulnerability
Julie Emmerman 07:16
Yes, thank you very much for bringing us back to that point. Because I often shy away from doing some public speaking and forums like this, for that reason. The work is highly personal. And it’s really dependent on that individual relationship I have with a client, and that does take time to establish. And I feel like that’s where it’s, you have the most ability as a clinician to have impact because as you get to know somebody, and they trust you, it can move from an intellectual understanding of things to more of their heart and gut level of understanding. And that’s where things really start to shift. And you can see change taking place. As we talked about, I mean, anyone can go online or go to a bookstore and look at things like seven tips to success or seven ways to have better confidence. And maybe they’ll get things from that. And that’s wonderful. I’m sure people do otherwise those books wouldn’t be sucessful. That’s it, and at the same time, having an intellectual understanding of something, and being able to utilize it in the moment when you’re gripped in fear, or worried about something or need to make some decisions that are very, incredibly fast, you know, rate of decision making is different. So that’s where I think the work really takes place in that space of an office.
Chris Case 08:26
One thing that I’m I’m curious to know about this, this interaction with the athletes is, you say that they come to you with a bit of a vulnerability. Which I actually find a little surprising, because first of all, I would think some athletes would understand that where they, they might need to be vulnerable to access what you’re trying to give them, but they might not have and maybe what you’re saying isn’t what I’m about to say they have a weakness or a shortcoming. Because I what I see is the power of what you can provide is like any other training that they might do as an athlete for their physical performance, this should take them above baseline, so to speak, if that makes sense is are we talking about two different things here, or-
Julie Emmerman 09:22
No I think we’re talking about the same thing.
Chris Case 09:23
Julie Emmerman 09:24
My practice is mostly elite and professional athletes, and so they’re looking for any way they can possibly gain. And part of what has led them to be where they are in their sport is an honest assessment of their strengths and weaknesses relative to their peers and relative to where they want to go. So towards that end, most of the athletes I meet with have a realistic sense of, look, I’m really good at this. But I know I struggle here. And I’m not sure how to improve on that.
Chris Case 09:49
Yeah understood. Yeah, I understand. Okay.
Julie Emmerman 09:51
That’s the vulnerability, just the acknowledgement of I think I can do better, and I’m not sure how I need to ask for help.
Chris Case 09:57
Trevor Connor 09:58
So that was something I wanted to asked you about because in my own personal approach to the sport psychology side for myself that I found really helpful was when I started seeing it as this is like training my muscles. This is like training my heart, training my lungs, it’s something that can be trained and developed. Obviously, the tools use are different. I don’t think there’s a trainer yet for-
Chris Case 10:24
Trevor Connor 10:24
Your brain, it’d be nice. Yeah, there might be-
Trevor Connor 10:26
Is there some wit for the brain?
Chris Case 10:29
Brains wit? Oh, there will be there will be soon.
Trevor Connor 10:32
It helped me a lot to look at it that way and say this is another aspect of training. And I personally, when I started looking at it that way, I also realized the the higher your level, the more that becomes the thing that needs to be absolutely trained.
Julie Emmerman 10:49
I think it’s how I might see it as complimentary to what you just described. It makes more sense that just historically, we have given more attention to the physical development of skill. And the mental side has only recently in terms of history, been given attention. And so when people are training themselves, physically, we get to a certain point where they probably bring enough innate skills to the table to get them where to where they are now. And then eventually, refined skills are no more required to help them get to where they want to go. Or either because the competition level is increasing, or they’ve had setbacks, or both.
Amateurs vs Professionals
Chris Case 11:32
I want to bring this back a little bit to the listeners to the amateurs out there. Are there? Are there things that you’ve seen that are universally true? Of all of the different elite athletes you work with? That’s, that’s the sort of the first question. And the second part of that question is, how does that apply to amateurs, if at all?
Julie Emmerman 12:01
The biggest characteristic I’ve noticed is that professionals are able to execute the fastest. Where as is it may, it may take like three or four months for an amateur to kind of apply a concept and, and really master it over time. It is incredibly fascinating to me how quickly some professionals are able just to take a concept, get it, use it, implement it, and you see it in their performance, like in that week. So the the, the quickness of implementation is definitely something I noticed. The maintaining maintenance of a growth mindset is another characteristic that everything is seen as an opportunity or a challenge. And it’s accepted with a positive mindset to it.
Chris Case 12:42
So you’re talking about not just gaining something from victories, but maybe even more so gaining something from defeats or poor performances or mistakes, things like that.
Julie Emmerman 12:54
Chris Case 12:55
Julie Emmerman 12:56
Everything from mistakes to even when equipment breaks down, or somebody’s sick, and you’re filling in last minute, you you, you know, just add it to a roster you didn’t even know now. You’re traveling here and you have to race the next day. Things that, you know, we might see in an immediate lease term as like an adverse event. They’re seeing it as well, here’s a great opportunity. Here’s what you know, let’s see what I can get from this. Let’s see what I can do.
Chris Case 13:20
And that’s resilience in some way. But I guess it goes beyond that.
Julie Emmerman 13:25
Yeah, it’s just an overall mindset of looking at everything with an acceptance of this is helping me grow to the next grow forward. It’s helping me grow for the next step for the next thing.
Chris Case 13:36
Yeah. Being being optimistic about that and and seizing those opportunities.
Julie Emmerman 13:40
Chris Case 13:40
Sometimes reframing things so that they are seen as opportunities rather than oh, shit, I gotta do this.
Julie Emmerman 13:46
It’s a lot of reframing. Yeah. But some people do that very naturally. And others don’t?
What Is Reframing? How does It Work?
Chris Case 13:50
Well, maybe it’s, it’s worth describing to people that aren’t familiar with the term reframing what that actually means. I mean, we’ve somewhat just described it. But give us a little bit more there.
Trevor Connor 14:00
While you’re thinking about let me throw an example out. And would you consider this reframing because this, this came to my mind as you were talking about opportunities, I always talk to my athletes about that when I when something isn’t going well, or there we discover an area where they’re not as strong as they could be. They see it as criticism or weakness. And I always turn around and say, no, this is an area of opportunity. And I always have to talk to my athletes saying, worst thing you can ever hear from your coach is, you’re doing everything perfectly. There’s nothing more to do, because that’s a nice way of saying you’re strong as you’re ever going to be. Where I say if we find something where there there is room for improvement, which they see as well. It’s a criticism, right? Weak, I go, No, look at that differently. It’s an area of opportunity. It’s a way you can become a stronger rider.
Julie Emmerman 14:47
That’s a very good example of reframing. And what I like about your example is that you also gave legitimate constructive ways that that person can see the opportunity. So a poor example of reframing would be you know, I’m sure we’ve all heard this like if you if you’re sick, and then you have an event coming up and people say, because they’re well intended, oh, well, you’ll be well rested. I’ve never heard someone feel necessarily better about hearing that, although it’s an attempt to reframe. But reframing is an attempt to really challenge the way that that person is thinking about something and encourage them to see the optimism, encourage them to see the opportunity, encourage them to see the good in it. So yes, it’s true, you might be rested, as a result of getting sick before an event, depending on how much time there is between the sickness and the event. But it might be more helpful to say, well, you’re going to get your rest. And then as you’re ready, you will have a couple days where you can do your openers, and kind of get back into the swing of things and then things, you know, you’re going to be set up as well as you can be by race day. So it’s helpful when reframing is grounded in reality is what I’m trying to say.
Chris Case 15:51
Trevor Connor 15:52
I have that particular scenario, you hope it’s not the Olympics, but when I have an athlete who’s really sick, and they’re just not going to be where they want to be for an event, I don’t bs them and give them, No, no, you’re gonna be fine. It’s, let’s pick another event target that’s a little further down the road, because we just had some bad luck here. But then look at this event and say, now, what’s the opportunity here? Now, it’s less important to win that this race, what can we do here? When you have a little less fit legs to get some benefits out of it get some gains.
Chris Case 16:22
It’s really about positivity really, is what I’m hearing is redirecting somebody’s frame of mind so that they see it through a realistic but more positive lens.
Julie Emmerman 16:35
Right. And along those lines, at the same time, you know, going back to this conversation about what are some characteristics that identify professionals and make them successful. Belief in self is another one and so as patience. So in this example that we’re giving right now, where someone might be sick before an event, one of the characteristics I see frequently in professional athletes is that they have a perspective that allows them to accept that they may not be at their tip top form at that event where they were recently sick, but they know and they trust in the process so that at the next event, they’re gonna have another opportunity. So they have patience, and they have perspective,
Chris Case 17:09
Why can’t amateurs take that approach?
Julie Emmerman 17:11
I’m not saying they can’t, they can.
Chris Case 17:13
Why don’t they, as often?
Julie Emmerman 17:17
That probably has to do with the fact that they are doing it as a sec- as a hobby, it’s a recreation, it’s not their career. And so they may be able to afford to get to fewer races, or they may have really prioritized certain things based on other family and work commitments. And so they may feel that they don’t have as much time, so to speak, or they don’t have as many opportunities to recreate that, quote, on quote, ideal racing peak form in the future. Whereas athletes race, X amount of days per season, at the professional level. And so there’s, there’s a lot of opportunities, there’s not a lot of opportunities to win a Grand Tour, obviously, because those are highly specific training plans that people have to follow to do that. But never the less, there are still a lot more opportunities with more race days.
Chris Case 18:04
What else is on this list?
How to Have a Happy Medium of Rest and Training
Julie Emmerman 18:06
Other things I’ve noticed, along with perspective is that a lot of professionals are very good at utilizing. And we’ve I’m sure you’ve all heard this before, utilizing the rest and taking it as seriously as they do their intervals.
Chris Case 18:18
We something we stress on this program a lot. Because we recognize that a lot of people don’t do that.
Julie Emmerman 18:25
Yes, I recently just helped an athlete get to her best form for an ultra endurance event. And the body of work that went into this training was just magnificent to see over time and extraordinary in terms of the demands on the body. And then of course, you know, for her own career trajectory, and so on and so forth, she agreed to do a lot of public speaking right before the event. And so I could not emphasize enough like set clear limits, you know, don’t shake hands with people. If anyone is sniffling, you might not even want to shake hands with anybody, use your hand sanitizer, just take care of yourself, because that’s not really rest. I mean, you’re not out there on your bike six hours, but you’re not resting if you’re out there exposing yourself at your most vulnerable time, after a huge block of training to the public, where you’re, you know, outside your normal routine, you’re probably not able to eat the foods you’re normally used to and so on and so forth. That’s not ideal, helping people really understand what it is to take care of themselves. So I think I mentioned patients. The other big, big thing I noticed is adaptability, that the most successful athletes bring to the table. And what I mean by that is not just mental adaptability, but physical adaptability, adaptability in every sense, whether it’s that they need to learn the basics of a new language, they need to learn the basics of a new culture because now their sport takes them into a different country. And part of that is with part of what goes on along with that is the willingness to be uncomfortable. And again, in training and specific training environments, but also in team environments, with different types of people on your team or on your staff.
Should Amateurs try and Mimic What Professionals do?
Chris Case 20:02
I think a lot of these things, it’s interesting to hear you go through the list because in my mind, they all are interrelated, like be, being comfortable with being uncomfortable, if you will, has a lot to do with the, your ability to reframe that as an opportunity, and see that as some type of way to grow or improve or change and see that as a good thing rather than as a bad thing. So a lot of these things have are interrelated.
Julie Emmerman 20:31
And of course, you have to love competition. You know, people who are ambitious, goal oriented, and really like that, not every athlete loves the competitive environment, or maybe they start out loving competition. And it takes on different shapes over the course of a career, being willing, if that’s where their life is going, and they want it to go, being willing to look at, you know, the different relationship they can have with competition over the course of a career, and sustainability, things like that. And that’s where things differ, obviously, between a professional and amateur.
Chris Case 21:03
Well, yeah, I guess that is one of the questions that comes to my mind is, of all the things that you’ve just listed, are there any that don’t really apply to amateurs? Or you would caution an amateur to try to mimic what the pros do in terms of that? or could they gain from adopting all of those principles?
Julie Emmerman 21:23
It seems like being willing to consider each of the things I’ve mentioned would only add to someone’s effectiveness as an athlete. I guess I’m hesitating or speaking more slowly, in the moment, because I’m just considering the other life demands that an amateur athlete has on them versus a professional.
Chris Case 21:46
Julie Emmerman 21:46
And so that’s important to take into account, it probably isn’t realistic for an amateur to take the rest as seriously as a professional. I mean, the realities are, you have other things that are paying your bills, and so on and so forth. And so it’s just not feasible. But whether that means you decide to do different events, or fewer events, or how do you make that as best of a fit for your life as possible? I think that would be an area of, you know, to consider. Um but yeah, I do think that amateurs would benefit from looking at that list and seeing how, and where they might lean into each of those things a little bit more. One thing I would caution, though, is I hear a lot, especially with social media, a lot of people look towards other athletes as sources of like, what so and so doing, and how do they do this? Or how do they look. And that’s a real area of danger. Because the, I always say, the more time you’re spending paying attention to what somebody else is doing this, it’s just indicative of the time you’re not spending and learning about and focusing on yourself.
Chris Case 22:49
Julie Emmerman 22:50
Each person is different, each person needs to needs to take time to figure out what does work well for them. And what works well for you at one point is going to change. So it might work well for a couple years, I like maybe diet or how you rest or take naps or whatever. And it might change over the course of your athletic career. And you need to expect that anticipate it be open to it instead of being rigidly adherence to well, this is what I’ve always done. And this is how I know myself, because, you know, using myself as an example of things that worked for me now, I never even had to consider years ago, but it’s just a natural tendency, we all evolve over time. So for amateurs, I think that’s an important piece as well.
Trevor Connor 23:28
Something that I just want to add, all these things are skills. It’s like going to the person who’s depressed and saying, be happy, and then going oh i’ve solved all their problems. It’s not that simple reframing, adaptability, these are important skills to have, but they aren’t something and go, Oh, I never thought of that. I’m going to start being adaptable. Now you have to learn.
Buying a Book on How to Cope vs. Seeing a Clinician
Chris Case 23:48
Well, that that was my but that was really my next question for you is we’ve already talked about the fact that you could go to a bookstore and pick up a book. But how effective is that going to be? It depends, I mean, you might get something out of it, you’re not going to get as much out of it as sitting down with Julie Emmerman for six sessions and Right, well, that’s it don’t think that’s too big of an assumption. The question becomes, can people learn these skills without sitting down with a psychologist? Can you learn to be more adaptable, or can you learn these certain things? Yes. How do you do that? effectively?
Julie Emmerman 24:36
I think absolutely a person can do that. It does take in a commitment. It does take a fair degree of insightfulness. It takes a fair amount of steadfast honesty with oneself and I think where the value of seeing a clinician comes in is that a person like myself is there to subtly notice the things that we all hide from our selves in various ways. We are masterful at how we do it. And a really good clinician can gently point out the ways that you might be hiding behind your own stuff.
Chris Case 25:07
Julie Emmerman 25:08
And therefore limiting your opportunities to really thrive. And the other thing is, a lot of times people experience things that they’re not sure how to articulate. And so the value of talking with somebody versus reading is that it might be easier for that person to say, Oh, I didn’t even know that what I’m experiencing is ambivalence as I lead into the biggest race of my career. But now that they know how to identify it as ambivalence, then we can talk about, okay, well, let’s address this. And what do you want to do with that? And how can we move forward and help, you know, be helpful in a way that is going to lead you to the best chances for success at this event.
Trevor Connor 25:46
We connected with pro mountain biker and Red Bull athlete Payson and McElveen. for professional perspective on this subject, the host of the adventure stash podcast have many insights in performance psychology, including what he feels are the key elements to a high performance mindset. He also touched upon what elements amateurs can most benefit from, how to get over bad days and negative emotions and loving the training for its own sake.
Payson’s Key Elements to a High Performance Mindset as a Professional
Chris Case 26:13
I’m really interested to talk to you Payson because I, my experience, speaking with several athletes in the past, they do a great job both on the physical side of your training, but also on the mental side of your training. And I’m curious if you’ve really delved into the performance psychology side of things, whether with Redbull or without them on the on your own? And if so, what do you believe are the key elements to a high performance mindset as a professional and the those types of mentalities that an amateur can can really benefit from?
Payson McElveen 26:53
Yeah, this is one of my favorite topics, because I think, for one, I think it’s more important than, than physical gifts. I always say that literally anyone can be come a professional cyclist, if they’re able bodied, and have the right mindset and talent is what determines how good a professional cyclist you are. So obviously, we can’t all be Matthew Vanderpoel. He’s incredibly gifted. But probably all of us are capable of being on a start line with Matthew Vanderpoel. As a professional cyclist, you know, should our personal histories have have developed correctly? I genuinely believe that in terms of what that looks like, for me, in regards to the Red Bull stuff, yeah, they’re, they’ve been incredibly helpful with with that, and I think to an extent it might be for them, it might have been a priority historically, because they deal with so many athletes whose sports requires such an incredible amount of pressure, you know, whether it’s, say the guys that do Red Bull rampage, and they have one minute to do something their entire year, revolves around this single minute. And it’s incredibly high stakes and super scary. And just as much of a pressure cooker as you can possibly imagine. Or whether it’s, you know, Lindsey Vonn, for example, downhill skiing, where the margins both in regards to what the course looks like and winning margin are just razor razor thin. So obviously, they’ve done a huge amount of work and research with her. And even though you know, Dirty Kanza, for example, doesn’t have those same margins per se. You know, you can’t argue with the fact that mental fortitude is is pretty central piece there. So I think there’s a lot of crossover and they annually they’ll, they’ll hold quote on quote, training camps called Performing Under Pressure. And we’ll we’ll do all kinds of work there. I’ve worked with a mindset coach, personally, since 2016, before I signed with Red Bull. And that was, literally, this is not not an exaggeration. I can trace my career from the time up until I worked with a mindset coach and then my career after I was working with a mindset coach, it completely changed my career. When I was 20, I was still a U-23. I didn’t know it, but I was 100% outcome focused in my goals. And that quickly developed into just this fear of failure all the time. I was having trouble making the world championships team as a U-23. Even though, you know, I was putting a podium at Nationals here, here and there and winning national series rounds and I almost automatically qualified for the Olympic long team when I was like 21 just with a flash in the pan result and there are these really good performances but the consistency just wasn’t there. Especially when things were really on the line and you know, finally, I just thought, I’m beating myself here. The physical components are there, why am I beating myself. So I sought out the help of this guy, Mario Arroyave, who’s a awesome mindset coach, and I’ve been working with him ever since. And he basically completely changed the way I looked at my career as a whole, and then also just performances. And he, he helped me get much more performance minded rather than outcome minded. So, rather than thinking about, man, I have to finish top seven at this race to automatically qualify for such and such, or I’m not going and that was the thought I had on the start line. Versus don’t even think about the result, you’ve done the work. If the result is meant to happen, today, it will happen. And here are the 10 things I need to do on the first lap of this race to be to put myself in a position. And I knew if I had a good first lap, oftentimes other things are gonna fall into place. So then you walk back even further, you know, what, what is required to make it to the single track in a good position first? Break that down? What are the steps there?
Payson McElveen 31:17
And really think about it one step at a time, not look at the point B, but look at the path, one step at a time, that gets you to point B. So that was major, also just developing a generally optimistic attitude. I think I’ve been fortunate and in the fact that I was kind of born with that, but I think anyone regardless of how optimistic they are, if they spend enough time, racing bikes, at a certain point, are gonna have a hard time. I was laughing with. I’m buddies with famous basketball player, Reggie Miller. And we’re laughing about how in basketball big cyclists now.
Chris Case 31:53
Yeah, big cyclist.
Payson McElveen 31:54
We’re laughing about how if you if you have a record where you win 30% of your games in a year, probably the coaches getting fired players getting moved around, it’s a disaster of a season. Eddie Merckx won 30% of the races he entered. And he is the most winning racer of all time. Like absolutely incredible career, everyone talks about his dominance, etc, etc. And it’s funny to think about how in bike racing, even if you’re the best of all time, you’re going to lose more than you win. And so I think it’s important to remember that I think that’s where a lot of junior racers fall off, is they just get tired of those bad days. And it takes a really unique person to want to have more bad days than good days and still have those good days outweigh all the bad days.
Setting the Bad Days Behind You
Chris Case 32:43
Is there something your mindset coach has taught you about putting, setting those bad days behind you or learning what you can from them and moving forward?
Payson McElveen 32:53
Well I think one of them is just understanding that they’re going to happen and not fighting the negative emotions when they come up. I think the fact that if someone’s still gets really bent out of shape about a bad performance, that’s good, because it means you care. Like if you get to a point where you can just brush off a bad race. You know, that’s probably a red flag. And the other thing is loving the single biggest thing, I think, if there was one thing I- I could say is most important, it’s just fall in love with the process, loving the process. And it’s so cliche, but it’s a worn out cliche, because I think it holds so true so often, especially on the mountain bike side, or on the off roadside, we see really good racers retire, and then continue doing exactly what they’re doing. For example, I had Todd Wells on the podcast not too long ago. And the dude is like the new net over and I mean, on the Durango Tuesday night group ride, he’s not any slower, and it’s really annoying, because then we have Ned there. He’s like-
Chris Case 34:01
Payson McElveen 34:01
So it’s like, bro, y’all just need to go have your own retiree group ride, the Pros will, you know, go do our group ride, feel good about ourselves. And y’all can just go do your own thing because this is ridiculous. But point being, point being you fall in love with the process. And for me personally, like if I got to do one race per year, I would still enjoy training. If I got to do no races per year, I’m pretty sure I would still train very close to how I do now. Because I just love the process that much. I love the training I love you know laying the brick one brick at a time, you know now and then you get a brick wrong and you have to adjust it and that’s part of the process. And for me that that’s been so, so key. And then the last thing I would add and this was with a conversation that I had with a non-cyclist it’s an analogy that I really, really loved. A Red Bull skier named Michelle Parker, but on my podcast said that over the span of her life has had so many experiences that really stretch her and stretch her out of her comfort zone, you know, especially high mountain experiences, each one sort of makes your envelope a little bigger, makes your tolerances a little bigger makes what you freak out about, it takes more to make you freak out and, and lose poise. And the way she put it is, her body of water just kind of expands. So for example, if you have a bathtub, and you take a brick, throw a bath of brick into the bathtub, water goes everywhere. If you take a brick and throw it into the ocean, no one even notices. And so just accumulating all of those moments of adversity, all of those challenging moments, makes you so much more prepared for when inevitably more moments of adversity come and then it makes it so that you’re able to move beyond those much more quickly, in my experience. So I really like that analogy of just having this really big body of water. So that when I mean there was a story a few years ago, where Chris Froome was sleeping on an air mattress on the floor of a hotel room when he was in the yellow jersey because of some weird hotel situation. And he still won the tour that year. I mean, most, I know so many non pros and pro racers who would freak out beyond all that they had to sleep on, you know, in an ideal situation, not get good sleep. That sort of thing. The night before a race. The dude still won the Tour. And just one more quick story here. One of my first major results was well in hindsight, it doesn’t sound like a major result. But I won the, I was leading the Transylvania epic for and won a bunch of stages for uh, jez was this 2014, maybe 2015. And there were more established pros there, I wasn’t necessarily expected to win blah blah blah. And somewhat surprisingly won, the opening time trial. This is a six-day mountain bike stage race in Pennsylvania. And I was so excited that I couldn’t sleep that night. And it was the first night of my life where I literally did not sleep a second, I just laid in bed staring at the ceiling.
Chris Case 37:23
Payson McElveen 37:25
All night, All night. And I was in the dang leader’s jersey. And I was really, really worried obviously. And of course, then the stress kind of snowballs and makes it worse. Sun came up, and I was so bummed, I was so bummed. I thought I’d completely screw the thing up. And but then I thought, you know what this is, this is potentially an opportunity too, let’s just see what happens. And I went out the next day and won that stage by four minutes. And ever since that, I know that no matter what happens the night before, it might not happen every time. But that isn’t a deal breaker. Of course, it’s not ideal. But I know that it’s possible, even when something that drastic happens to still put in a good performance. So I think it’s just an accumulation of experience like that, that makes your body of water a lot bigger. So when things do go sideways, it’s not nearly as as significant.
Julia Emmerman and Her Expertise as a Sport Psychologist
Trevor Connor 38:25
Let’s learn a little bit more about Julia and her expertise as a sports psychologist.
Chris Case 38:36
Part of your job is helping people see things-
Julie Emmerman 38:39
Chris Case 38:39
That they are either blind too, ignoring, or other or something else is preventing them from seeing them seeing that trait or whatever the case may be.
Julie Emmerman 38:50
Chris Case 38:51
And you open doors and or uncover something that they can then see. And then you then you address it.
Julie Emmerman 38:59
Right and yeah, and give them the tools and the skills to learn how to then address that. It requires some degree of vigilance because we for that, because it isn’t something that you can really just check off a box like oh, I did this today. Done. It’s it does require mindfulness as much as possible.
Trevor’s Mental Routine
Trevor Connor 39:21
I actually have a book with all the things that had been taught to me by people like you, who got to know me said, here’s skills that you should practice, Trevor, and I put it all in a book and I used to-
Chris Case 39:34
It’s called their diary, Trevor.
Trevor Connor 39:36
It’s actually not a diary. I don’t talk about my life, and it’s literally things to practice. And every morning, I would do my 20-30 minute mental routine. I’d actually combine it with my stretch and it was my favorite part of the day.
Chris Case 39:48
Wait, you’re talking about this in the past tense?
Trevor Connor 39:51
Well, that’s part of what I was going to get too.
Chris Case 39:53
Trevor Connor 39:53
So one things I was addressing is I frankly, I was a coward in bike races. I got really really scared and it was one mental sides, how to reframe viewing races and got to a point where the example I’ll give you is Cascades. here was that first road stage that went on this really kind of twisty down, up and down hill, there was always a crash in it. And I remember back when I was at my best and constantly practicing the mental skills, I would get to that start line, everybody in that start line knew 10 miles from now, somewhere in there-
Chris Case 40:31
Somebody’s gonna crash.
Trevor Connor 40:31
They’re gonna be up, it’s not gonna be somebody, it’s gonna be 50 people going down.
Chris Case 40:35
Trevor Connor 40:36
And you just sit there in the line going, there’s a good chance I’m going down, it’s going to hurt. And back when I was practicing those skills and working that didn’t bug me at all, I was actually quite calm and just vigilant. I went back to Cascades in 2007, I’d stopped doing my mental skills work in the morning, all that sort of stuff. We did that start and I was in a flat panic. And I couldn’t get out of it. I couldn’t. It just I kept picturing that crash, I kept picturing the what if looking for somebody making the wrong move, and was doing I knew I was doing everything wrong to the point that I knew I was dangerous guy in the field. And that was again, because I wasn’t practicing that side of it. That’s one example. But there’s many examples where I do think it is skills that you have to constantly practice. But that’s my take.
Julie Emmerman 41:24
But it seems like that practice helped you accept the inherent risks, and then you were able to commit appropriately to the task at hand.
Trevor Connor 41:31
So that particular one, it was actually a sports psychologist that gave me this neat little trick that really worked for me, he said, you notice how when you’re in a big field, and each one is going down a hill with a lot of twists and turns, the whole field seems to move together. It’s like It’s like school of fish, watch school fish, they can do all these movements, but they never bump into one another. So he just had me visualizing being in a school of fish. And it was just a little cue I would do when I start getting scared, I would say school of fish my head. And it was actually something that over time practicing this every morning picturing it like that, I stopped being afraid of the field and actually sense the movement in the field and like being part of it. And without practicing, I lost it.
How to Overcome Performance Nerves While Racing
Chris Case 42:14
Can you explain that type of process that you would go through with someone to help them overcome performance nerves for a situation like that?
Julie Emmerman 42:23
Sure, I might take a similar approach as what you just described. I would want to know more in detail really what that person’s past experiences were with various crashes or feeling out of control, various injuries that they’ve had, or witnessed, you know, their secondary trauma sometimes when you’ve experienced a horrific crash, and trying to pull out or tease out some things that were really poignant for that person that can help them feel a sense of trust and confidence in themselves, that can at least help them anchor to a place of self agency as they’re going through something that is pretty chaotic and somewhat unpredictable. Part of what I would also address too, though, is the reality that there is risk in bike racing, and there’s unpredictability in bike racing, and that needs to be accepted as part of it. So you can do all the mental tricks in the world, you can double check your equipment, you know, you can do everything right, and you can still be involved in a crash. And we know that intellectually, but it’s not anything we like to think about. But the reality is, there is pain. There sometimes we are all going to be in that spot. I think there’s value in sometimes talking about those things that nobody really wants to talk about. Because that you’re not bracing against it as much. I mean, nobody wants to have an injury, of course, but having a sense of well, if this were to happen, chances are you’re going to be okay. Yes, it will suck depending on the degree of injury. But chances are, you will be okay. And you can resume racing, if you want to, and so on and so forth. But just an acceptance of the realities out there. I don’t like to sugarcoat things.
Chris Case 44:02
Julie Emmerman 44:03
That’d be helpful.
Chris Case 44:04
That’s one of the things that you’ve mentioned multiple times now is the fact that you’re not going to lie is not the right word. But you’re not going to skip over the things that people might not, quote, not like to hear.
Julie Emmerman 44:17
Chris Case 44:18
Like you’re going to be honest with them. And that I would assume that that helps you build trust with somebody because they’re, they see that you’re willing to face those those issues and those topics.
Julie Emmerman 44:29
Chris Case 44:29
How Pros Deal with Their Fear of Crashing Successfully
Trevor Connor 44:31
I wish I had brought it but there there was a study. I can’t remember who wrote it. I’ll try to find this if I can. But they did talk with top pro cyclists about crashing. And some of the conclusions of the study was they found all the top pros just accepted the fact that they are going to crash and I’m not talking like fall over, you scrape up your elbow. Like they know at some point. They’re going to have a crash that’s gonna involve some significant hospital time and what they showed in the study was they were just okay with this. That is new that was part of being a bike racer.
Chris Case 45:05
Julie Emmerman 45:06
I also use a lot of mindfulness in my work. And though I don’t push any kind of religious aspect in my work whatsoever, a lot of it does come from Buddhism. And within Buddhism, there’s an there’s just an emphasis on accepting that in life, there is tension. And so that makes a lot of sense to me in a competitive environment, where you have a lot of really strong, talented, ambitious people going for the same thing. There’s tension. And that’s part of what we love about it, you know, let it look like, great, it should be there. It’s exciting.
Chris Case 45:40
In some ways, that’s what makes sport, sport.
Julie Emmerman 45:43
Chris Case 45:44
That is the definition right? It is-
Julie Emmerman 45:45
Chris Case 45:46
It is tense competition.
Julie Emmerman 45:48
Right. And it’s unpredictable. And, you know, and it’s wonderful for all those reasons. And part of that is accepting the natural tensions that are going to be there. And the risks, you know, it’s not necessarily a Disney story.
Chris Case 46:03
Julie Emmerman 46:05
There’s real adrenaline on the line.
Chris Case 46:07
Trevor Connor 46:08
So I love that you said you can’t get into the athletes head because this gets to a question I really want to ask you about this is something that I at least feel I’ve seen, which is this whole question of confidence. I personally believe you have a lot of people that on the start line will show confidence. But for some of that people, it’s kind of a fake, they try to put on this look of confixdence, but they’re not they actually aren’t. There are other people who I have met who truly are confident people and confident racers. And I really want to ask you, what is the difference?
The Right Way to Present Yourself at the Start Line of a Race
Julie Emmerman 46:42
So I think what you’re referring to is when we were talking about how people present and I was just suggesting that it’s easy to assume somebody’s confident based on how they may show up at the start line and what they look like or what they’re wearing or not wearing and things like that. And I was just saying it’s hard to I would caution against making any assumptions of someone’s internal state based on-
Chris Case 47:02
-don’t read a book, but it’s cover.
Julie Emmerman 47:04
Chris Case 47:04
Judge a book by its cover.
Julie Emmerman 47:05
Trevor Connor 47:06
Even if it says confidence in the title?
Chris Case 47:08
Even if it says confidence in the title.
Julie Emmerman 47:10
I mean, somebody might not be wearing gloves or knee warmers because it might be a conflict of sponsors. Who knows?
Chris Case 47:17
Sure, that’s true, that’s true.
Trevor Connor 47:19
Or if you’re like me, you left them in your bedroom.
Julie Emmerman 47:22
The importance of confidence and the presentation of confidence. I’m kind of I was chuckling a little as you were presenting that question, because I’ve always had I wince when I hear people say, just fake it till you make it. And it makes me wince. Because I’m always thinking to myself, well, why do you need to fake anything? Like what’s there to fake you, if you’re focused on the right things, you and you’re honest with yourself, then, you know, in any event, the things that you rightfully so should have confidence around, and the areas that are likely to be challenging for you. And that needs to be, in my opinion, okay. That’s the way you’re going to improve. That’s an example of a growth mindset. Knowing that, okay, here’s where I can apply my strengths. And here’s where I am going to feel challenged, I’m going to be tested, but I’m up for that challenge, and I’m excited for it, I’m going to do the best I can. That’s confidence. To me, that is real confidence. Fake confidence is just assuming that you’re going to dominate no matter what and kind of having a cocky attitude, it’s like more of an external presentation than it is anything real and internal. And on the flip side, I oftentimes I’m working with an athlete trying to help them own their confidence and own and find and own areas where they rightfully so ought to have confidence and helping somebody through those insecurities to the point where they realize, well, you know, what, yeah, I, I can own this strength, I have been consistently showing progress in this area, and I now have some mastery over this particular skill or this particular thing. I can have confidence over that, and I can feel good about it. And these are still the areas where I’m looking to improve.
Chris Case 48:57
Here’s a perhaps very simple question. But maybe it’s a complicated answer. What, what is confidence?
Julie Emmerman 49:08
I think the easiest answer would be a sense of belief in yourself and what and your capacities and that you’re you are able to impact your surroundings, at least in this context. That’s how I would describe it.
Chris Case 49:18
You mentioned working with an athlete on this aspect here. I know it’s, it’s always difficult, but can you help us understand how? Because I think this is one of those things that so many people deal with is issues of confidence, generally speaking, too much of it too little of it, how to get it, how to sustain it, how to grow it. What does that look like from your point of view? How do you go about working on confidence?
Julie Emmerman 49:53
Probably going back to what I was saying earlier about looking at the past performances, whether in training and or racing or any game situation, you know, what are the things that you’ve been consistently able to do? Well? Where are your directors or coaches, etc, people around you giving you that positive feedback? If you’re able to look at film, can you see for yourself where you are doing these things and executing really well. And I would ask, you know, what are the barriers around owning that, that you are really good at this? And I think that takes time, I think it’s probably an age developmental variable. Some people are more or less confident or able to own their confidence or areas of confidence. And depending on whatever life factors they’ve been dealing with before, and that’s okay, this is all part of the equation. The other thing I would add is I do think in certain environments, it is important to present as confident like in an NHL game, I think that’s an important piece of just going out there and showing a face of strength to your opponent.
Trevor Connor 50:51
So I love the way you’re describing this, because I’m actually looking at a study right now from 2011, written by a Dr. Kate Hayes, was the lead author, many authors in this one, where they tried to define competence in athletes, and their definition was almost the same word as what you just use, they called it self efficacy, or based on based on belief. And one of the important distinctions they made is to say that confidence isn’t this, I’m going to win. And we’ve talked about this before, you don’t really control whether you win or not. The way they define it is your belief in your ability to perform in the face of whatever’s there on. It’s knowing that whatever happens in the race, whatever obstacles you encounter, that you have a belief that you can handle it.
Chris Case 51:43
And I know Julie and I have had this discussions about this in the past, whether something is “healthy”, or “unhealthy.” She might not use use that terminology, I kind of see this as a, “more healthy” way of looking at things because yeah, in bike racing, there’s so many things that are out of your control. So if you go in saying I’m going to win, and then you don’t win, then you feel this, you can feel this big sense of disappointment or defeat. Whereas if you go in and you focus on the things that you can control, which is performance, and you believe in yourself, and you do those things, and you you that’s your focus, then I think you’re more often than not setting yourself up to be successful. And if you aren’t, then you can understand why you weren’t in a better way. Otherwise, it’s just like I didn’t when I suck.
Trevor Connor 52:38
That story I told about Cascades is a good example of this. And previous years when I went there, even though I knew there was gonna be a big crash, I had the belief that I could handle it when it happened. When I went there in 2017. I’m like, ah, no, I can’t handle this.
An Example of Reframing
Julie Emmerman 52:54
So Trevor, I would just reframe that, as an example of reframing. It is important to watch out that you don’t project into the future too much. So just because there have been crashes in that particular area before doesn’t mean they’re always going to be crashes. And if your expecting there to be crashes, you’re already setting yourself up in that mindset, where you’re kind of, you’re putting attention to something that may or may not even happen. So it’s, it’s appropriate to give attention to it. But it’s also important to recognize, we don’t know. And so you could also if you’re focusing on that you might miss the opportunity to get an break. It’s important to like, attend to it, and then also surrender and let it go.
Chris Case 53:35
Not assume to be, there’s an assumption bulit into what he was saying-
Julie Emmerman 53:38
-right, right. I’m not trying to nitpick-
Trevor Connor 53:39
That’s also very perceptive, because in 2017, there was no crash.
Chris Case 53:45
There you go.
Trevor Connor 53:46
I got through that I went, whoohoo. Then we hit the category one climb, I got popped. Because all the confidence in the world doesn’t deal with the fact that I’m old.
Chris Case 53:54
Julie Emmerman 53:54
And there might be a collective sigh in those areas, you know, amongst the whole Peloton of, “okay, good this year, we got through it all, that’s great.” So just to watch out for living in the future or rewinding too much staying on the present, you know, obviously, like push, just push play.
Presenting Confidence, Whether or Not You Actually Have It
Chris Case 54:09
So help me understand why it would be important to present with confidence whether or not you actually had it.
Julie Emmerman 54:18
Well, hopefully, an athlete has some degree of confidence as they’re on the start line, but I do think that it is helpful in certain situations to present as confident and show that you are ready um, present as you are ready. Because part of competition is also trying to take the competition off guard or you know, try to destabilize your competition. And so if you can do that through a menacing glare at the start line, you know, who knows what it’s gonna take or who who it’s going to be effective on or not. But sure, it can’t hurt at all to try to just create a little bit of fear or destabilize in your competitors
Chris Case 55:03
Is there any evidence to suggest that? Well, this this kind of goes back to the fake it till you make it thought here a little bit? If If so is there any evidence to suggest that if you present as having confidence, it can actually lead to some confidence?
Julie Emmerman 55:25
I’m not aware of any scientific study that would, that has looked into that.
Chris Case 55:28
Julie Emmerman 55:29
The whole fake it till you make it stance to me speaks from a place of basically ignorance and not knowing and fear based. So that, to me is something someone says when they are completely overwhelmed, they’re feeling unprepared, and they just want to present as if they know what they’re doing. And they’re confident and, you know, they’re sort of wishing on a prayer. That’s not what I’m in the business of.
Chris Case 55:55
Yeah no, tha makes perfect sense.
Julie Emmerman 55:57
So, I think that it is worthwhile to take sack of the things that you are good at, it doesn’t have to be that you are superior, but just the things that you can stake your claim and say, “yeah, I know that I usually win face offs, I know that that’s an area of strength, I know that I’m going to get into the whole shot, you know, top five position, or I’m good at moving up through the field.” And then identify those things that you know, where you’re sort of neutral and where there’s room to improve and, and utilizing that race, or that event as a platform for how you can improve upon all those areas. Keep the strengths and work on the areas of relative weakness. So that your overall confidence, grows, confidence comes from mastery. And mastery comes from repetition.
Grant Holicky’s Perspective on Competence in Relation to Goal Setting
Trevor Connor 56:49
Grant Holicky an elite endurance coach and host of the off-course podcast here at Fast Labs has coached hundreds of athletes over the years. And he’s counseled many of them on the mental aspects of high level performance training. He explains his perspective on competence in relation to goal setting.
Grant Holicky 57:06
I think an athlete has to be confident in their ability to get their best out of them. We talk a lot and there’s a lot of evidence. And there’s a lot of stuff out there that says that results based performance or results based practice does not work nearly as well as process oriented goals or process based things. And, you know, so you get into this place where you say, okay, what- that confidence then becomes a product of their process, right? They know they can come into a race or into a performance. And I’m going to go through my race plan, or I’m going to go through my process, I believe in what I’ve done, I believe in the training. So I think the misconception so often is that that confidence is I know I’m the best one here, it’s not about being the best one there because you can be the best one there. And if you screw up your process, you screw up your plan, you’re not going to be the best one on that day. You know, and, and, and furthermore, if that confidence is based on being the best one, there’s an inherent pressure to stay there. And so let’s not speak to our athletes about you’ve got this, you’re the best one, go through your process, know what your goal is, know how you’re confident in your ability to get the best out of yourself. I think so much of that is, and this comes back to that statement of what makes people talented, the willingness to hurt, the willingness to suffer, the willingness to be scared. I think this is something that athletes almost never talk about when you’re right up on the edge, and your heart rates around 200. And there’s fear, there’s fear there. And if there’s not, you’re doing it wrong. Right? Because you’re gonna go too far over the edge. There’s fear there. And even if it’s not conscious, your body does not like to have its heart rate at 200, your body wants to protect itself. So part of your body is scared. Part of your brain is scared. So that ability to have confidence in your ability to push yourself that hard usually comes because you’ve done it over and over and over again in training. You’ve done it over and over and over again and racing. So high level confidence is high level confidence in your process.
Trevor Connor 59:40
Let’s return to Julie here about another fundamental principle in sports psychology.
The Definition of Resilient from a Psychological Point of View
Chris Case 59:47
Let’s shift gears a little bit and talk about something that we mentioned early on in the the list of what the best athletes do have which is this sense of or this this resilience Let’s start with the definition what from your point of view, from a psychological point of view, is resilient?
Julie Emmerman 1:00:06
There is a lot written about resilience. And there’s extensive definitions of what it is and what it isn’t. And rather than get into the tit for tat of how it is defined by various people, I basically would just prefer to recognize that resilience is something that changes over time, and depends on somebody’s environment and the context. And it’s basically the ability to return to functioning after any kind of setback, at least to where they were before and possibly beyond.
Chris Case 1:00:39
When you say that, you mean, they were at one level, they experienced some setback, whether it was injury or a big defeat, or some disappointment, and resilience is the ability to come back to that prior level or even slightly better, or much better than that prior level. Is that what you’re saying?
Julie Emmerman 1:01:04
Right. So when people use the analogy of a broken bone heals it stronger after it breaks, I look at resilience as in a similar fashion.
How Psychologists Work with Athletes to Bolster Their Resilience
Chris Case 1:01:13
Okay. Interesting. Yes. And, again, if if you can, as we did with confidence, take resilience and help us understand from your point of view, as a psychologist, how you would work with individuals to bolster their resilience, or that that capability in them.
Julie Emmerman 1:01:37
At any given time, somebody may feel more or less resilient,. You know, they’re struggling to come back. So your question was, well, how might I help somebody? One way is to help that person take on a task that they feel as well within their control. So you first want to establish a sense of re, re- helping that person to regain their sense of safety, their sense of control their sense of self efficacy, how can they impact their environment, their surroundings in a way that is consistent and yields a positive outcome. And sometimes that might mean working directly with a coach and suggesting different things or in our skills to help that person. Remember that they really do know how to go downhill, or they know how to navigate their bike through tight turns, or whatever it is, but setting it up so that they are likely to be successful and can regain a sense of mastery. If the person is not injured, and they’re able to ride, for example, that is something that’s very do-able. And if they are, if the injury is more extensive, and they can’t, it’s helpful to even do visualization skills like that. It’s- I also emphasize trying to do whatever they can, while they’re injured to help help regain their sense of well I do have really good control over my physical means I can do this, and that helps their emotional state. So things that emphasize mastery and control and then utilize in community. So for example, it doesn’t matter if you know the person directly, or if you just see somebody, I mean, I oftentimes I’m encouraged by people much older than me climbing Flagstaff, it’s like, that’s to me amazing. And I hope I can do that at their age. And it’s inspiring, you know, so that it helps me with my own resiliency on days where I might otherwise, you know, be questioning it or just feeling a little, blah, utilizing community, whether it’s a direct relationship or indirect to and by indirect, I mean, other sports figures, or there’s people that you know, that you know, who have overcome a lot of different hardships. And whether those hardships are physical or mental, emotional, addiction problems, for example, whatever it is, sometimes it’s really helpful to read about those experiences and see what other people have gone through similar or harder things. So let that tap into and feed your own innate resilience. I think it’s also important and has been helpful to help somebody realize that it’s their choice and how they want to respond to an adverse event. You can choose to let it go. Let it go. I mean, in this way, like buckle, you can choose to say, well, I’m done. I’m not going to do this anymore. In my experience, that often leads the person to feel like they have unfinished business with their sport. And so they might later return, but maybe for now, that’s really what they need. But if after exploration is really is what that person needs, it is important in my role, then to respect that and then help that person take a different choice, take a different route. But-
Chris Case 1:04:17
Essentially, you’re handing power to them.
Julie Emmerman 1:04:19
Chris Case 1:04:20
-to make the choice for themselves.
Julie Emmerman 1:04:21
Chris Case 1:04:22
You might guide them in some way. You might not.
Julie Emmerman 1:04:25
Chris Case 1:04:25
But you’re giving them the power to make that choice.
Julie Emmerman 1:04:28
Yes, yes. Um, yeah, so giving them choices and helping them realize that it is a choice they can choose. And then if they’re going to choose to get back into their sport, helping them do so in a way that does again, like step by step lead them to a sense of self efficacy and control and being able to impact themselves in the world around them. And another thing people often use for building their sense of resiliency is faith. Whatever that is, whether it’s faith in nature and natural healing processes or religion formally, informally. But that can also be a powerful way of restoring resiliency. There’s a bunch of other things written about resiliency. But those are the things that I have found helpful. You know, in addition to things like utilizing family, friends, your coach, things like that being transparent with people around how you’re feeling.
Chris Case 1:05:16
These are scenarios that are somewhat outside of the competitive sphere that you’ve talked about. What about within, say, a bike race, you crash, you need resiliency to get up from that crash and return to competition, and not say to yourself, I can’t get back on the group or this or that. So how does resilience apply in that scenario? Or how do you help somebody understand how to utilize resilience in that more acute sense, I don’t know if that’s the right word, but in it, you’re, you got to act fast, or else the opportunity is, is gone.
Julie Emmerman 1:05:58
For as long as I’ve been bike racing. First of all, it’s just worth noting, I think we all stop and check first that our bikes are okay. I think it’s very important to make sure your body and your brain are okay. That has to be the first and most important thing. I don’t want to undermine or make jokes about head injuries whatsoever. If all evidence suggests that that person is able to continue, you’re right, it does need to happen pretty rapidly. But if they’re riding along and they realize they are okay, maybe they have some road rash, or whatnot, but they’re physically other than that, okay. I think that it’s important than the person, you know, to Trevor’s point earlier, when you’re practicing these things, they come more easily. So if this person has been already experiencing opportunities, where they can practice resiliency, just in training, it’s going to be more familiar to them to think rapidly through their, the choices they have before them, I can quit, I can work my butt off and get back to the group, I can write tempo and see where that takes me, I can do any of you know, I can just get to that next person in front of me and see if he or she will work together. The less time that you need to take to make those decisions, the better, obviously.
Chris Case 1:07:04
Rehearsal or practice or visualization are somewhat typical in this instance.
Julie Emmerman 1:07:10
Yeah, yeah and I think in this situation, rehearsing it is in real life is the most important thing. So whether you’re doing group rides, and you have a flat, if you have a flat, you can choose to fix it slowly and doddle and chat with your friends. Or you can choose to hurry up and use it as practice to see how quickly you can get back on to the Peloton. It’s an example of also using things from a growth mindset of let’s use everything that happens as preparation for whatever may happen- and you’re preparing yourself for the next step all the time.
Trevor’s Experience with Resilience While Racing
Trevor Connor 1:07:38
Give it example, a practice. Hope you you agree.I’ve told this before on the show that one of the things I like to do, right back when I was at my best, one of the things I’d like to do is very early in the season, find a racer to ride, go and ride for teammates or ride for a friend. And basically just spend the race on the front of the field trying to control the field. There was a great fitness component to that, which I’ve always talked about on the show, but there was a mental side too, because when you’re on the front, it’s not like just everybody sits behind you. You’re on the front, somebody is going to attack and then I would have to go hard bring them back and it’s it’s it’s quite painful to slowly reel that person in, then you real them in, you think you got a break. But 30 seconds later somebody else attacks and you’re hurting because you just brought back the last break away. And that’s just that game that resilience of now I got to chase this guy down, that’s gonna hurt even more. Soon as I catch him, somebody else is going to attack and I got to bring them back. And there’s always that temptation to go, I can just drop back in the field with rest.
Chris Case 1:08:39
Trevor Connor 1:08:40
But it’s that constantly. Oh, I’m not getting my break. Now I gotta go again. And I just found that built a mental toughness when you got to the really hard races, where if you did slip back, you’re done. You just found it in your deck. Keep going, keep going and keep going.
Julie Emmerman’s Experience with Resilience While Training
Julie Emmerman 1:08:57
I think there’s opportunities daily to really practice these things. I mean, I can give you an example from my own life the other day, it’s winter here. It’s beyond the temperature that I’m willing to ride outside. So my bike on the trainer
Chris Case 1:09:11
Julie Emmerman 1:09:16
Chris Case 1:09:16
Julie Emmerman 1:09:16
I’ll rephrase it as self-respecting.
Trevor Connor 1:09:17
Chris does not ride a trainer. I showed him with for the first time what like two weeks ago?
Chris Case 1:09:23
Yup, this is true. It was two degrees yesterday and I was a wimp in two degrees I said nah I’m maybe I’ll get sick. I’ll just drive today. This morning. I didn’t actually I just choose not to look at the temperature I dressed really normally and went outside and it was cold, but yeah, don’t look at the temperature. You don’t know how cold you’re gonna be. You’re gonna do it.
Julie Emmerman 1:09:44
Chris Case 1:09:44
Is what you’re gonna do. So anyways, go back to your back to your example.
Julie Emmerman 1:09:47
So in my clinical wimpy story, my bike is on the trainer. I had recently picked it up it had some work done to it and am I the trainer. I’m obviously I’m a fairly busy person these days so I have limited time to get my workout done. As I’m sure most of your listeners can relate to, and my bike is not shifting. So I’m sitting there like, okay, what’s going on? What’s going on? I’m troubleshooting this and you know, I’m getting frustrated, like, what is it my battery’s dying? So I take one or two steps to, you know, see if it’s the battery. And I just have intermittent issues for like, it seemed like forever, but it was probably maybe 40 minutes, you know, but on a tight, a strict time frame. That’s a lot. And I could have, and I know, some people would have been like, oh, screw this, I’m done. Forget it. I’m not getting my workout, workout another-
Chris Case 1:10:31
Julie Emmerman 1:10:32
-day. Right. But I won’t let myself do that I will. Because I know in a racing environment, or even outside of racing in life, we are forced to, you know, these things happen, we have to figure out a way to cope and work around and do the best we can. So that’s what I did. You know, will there be an occasional day where I’m just like, okay, this is not do-able today? Yes, of course, I’m not militant about it. But in general, I try to be very aware that this is an opportunity that can very well happen in a race situation. And I’m going to need to figure it out. What am I going to do? What are my options? I’ve been at races where, you know, some of the most important TTs I’ve done, I’ve had peers say that their power meter didn’t work, you know, and they were racing the whole thing without power. And I choose to take that information in as a warning of yeah, that is something that can happen, and I need to be prepared for that.
Chris Case 1:11:24
Julie Emmerman 1:11:25
How can I perform as best as I can, if that were to happen to me?
Chris Case 1:11:29
Yeah, it’s nice to hear from someone like yourself, who has kind of all the at least access to all the tools in the toolbox, that you can recognize opportunities in daily life, whether it pertains to cycling or not, or any sport or not, and both practice what you preach in a sense. And, and use that to apply later on to a sport that you love to compete at a high level in.
Julie Emmerman 1:12:00
Another example is, um, and I, I’m sure they do this in the military under much more formal environments. But you can choose to make your training somewhat uncomfortable in various ways to train yourself to deal with the discomfort.
Chris Case 1:12:13
This is what Trevor does every time he rides a bike isn’t it.
Trevor Connor 1:12:16
There’s – we joke about this, but there is some truth to this. I don’t like my winter bike functioning perfectly.
Chris Case 1:12:23
Trevor Connor 1:12:23
I wanted to break down I wanted to have issues for exactly what you said that’s going to happen in races. And if you’re used to a bike that functions perfectly, and that happens in a race, you lose your cool, and it happens to me in a race, I go, oh, this feels comfortable.
Chris Case 1:12:37
This is familiar territory for me.
Julie Emmerman 1:12:40
Right. So you can either choose to replicate something like that you might actually physically experience and or you can broaden it to just general discomfort. So for example, I know that there are certain music that I would be much less inclined to train to. And it would be very uncomfortable to listen to certain songs or certain bands or genres of music, right? During intervals. I haven’t done that frequently. But it’s an example of I know this is going to kind of piss me off.
Chris Case 1:13:04
You’re saying, you’ll intentionally choose music that you don’t like to make you more-
Julie Emmerman 1:13:11
-rare on a couple of occasions.
Chris Case 1:13:13
Julie Emmerman 1:13:13
I don’t do it frequently. Because I don’t like to, you know, I’d like to treat myself Well, I guess you could say I’m not into-
Chris Case 1:13:21
Julie Emmerman 1:13:21
-a kishin type of thing.
Chris Case 1:13:22
Get Comfortable with Being Uncomfortable
Julie Emmerman 1:13:23
But for the point of we are getting increasingly comfortable in our lifestyles, I find and that’s nice. We all hopefully have the privilege to be and sit very comfortably in life and be, you know, have a sense of safety in those ways. Racing a bike as a recreational athlete is a luxury. And I also think that a lot of times people just want to be comfortable. And that’s not always in our best interest. It’s good to get out of our comfort zone and practice being uncomfortable. Whether that’s through the intervals and or, you know, how long can you ride and listen to something that’s really get under your skin?
Trevor Connor 1:14:00
I don’t know this is true. An urban legend is Eddie Merckx apparently had a trainer set up in his basement where he would have his face six inches from a brick wall and he would do three, four, or five hour rides just staring at a brick wall to build mental toughness.
Chris Case 1:14:15
I know that Graeme Obree did such things. The example of Graham Obree is a slightly different one because he was struggling with a lot of things when he was training for his, our records and stuff. But he would definitely place himself in very uncomfortable situations and somewhat relish in that. But to your point, yeah, talk about an uncomfortable endeavor, the hour record you-to mentally prepare for that you have to do some things. You’re not just going to go time trial through a pretty landscape and prepare yourself. So,
Julie Emmerman 1:14:51
I think it’s important to say that if anyone out there listening thinks, oh, this is a good idea, I am talking within a realm of what I want to refer to as common sense. Im not advocating people go out there and-
Chris Case 1:15:02
Julie Emmerman 1:15:02
Trevor Connor 1:15:03
Stare at a brick wall for five years.
Chris Case 1:15:03
Julie Emmerman 1:15:03
Into thinking that’s gonna be beneficial for their-
Julie Emmerman 1:15:07
Or so you know, when it comes to things like hydration and nutrition and just overall safety and well being I, I think that’s important to mention.
Coach Holicky Explains Resilience and Dealing with Failure
Trevor Connor 1:15:17
Let’s return to resilience and specifically dealing with failure. Coach Holicky has had many experiences with many different athletes at all levels with these two topics.
Grant Holicky 1:15:28
I think some of that can be an inherent positive trait. I doubt it’s nature, I think it has a lot to do with nurture, the household they grew up in, and and how we treated failure as a three-year-old. Those of you who know me know that this is a soapbox for me. But we have to do a better job with our young girls and teaching them they’re allowed to fail. We don’t teach young girls were allowed to fail, we watch a boy fall on their face, and we kind of laugh and go check it off, kiddo, you’re gonna be fine. Watch a young girl fall on their face, and everybody surrounds them, oh my god are you okay, are you okay, are you okay? Let them fall on the face. I think that’s one thing that a lot of coaches, especially coaches of young athletes don’t want to do. They want to make sure that they mitigate everything that could possibly go wrong. No, put that on the kid. Make them figure out how they get rid of this. So they get rid of that or like this is what got screwed up last time, I need to do something with it. Help them, pull the cart with them. But if you’re pulling the cart with them in it, they’re not learning anything, they’re not going to get any better at resilience. In, in older athletes, high level athletes. Again, it’s that line of communication. It’s that safe place. Tell me about it. Why are you so mad? Why are you so frustrated? Because I saw these things that were good. I understand that you’re upset. But tell me what you’re upset with? Don’t tell me I lost. Tell me what we need to do better. And I think that environment and this may sound a little pessimistic. But in every scenario, is there something we could have done better? In every scenario, was there a place that we failed? In that great, unbelievable race, what could we have done a little cleaner, right? Celebrate the wins, celebrate the greatness and celebrate the disasters. I mean, certainly we’ve had conversations with athletes who were like my god, you screwed that up so unbelievably beautifully. I don’t even know how he did that. But-but under, you know, understand that when you’re working with an athlete, they feel bad enough about it, you don’t need to put any more on that. Your job is to be there with them, and get them to open up that comfort with failure. They feel bad enough that they let you down, make sure they know that they didn’t let you down. They didn’t let their parents down. Everybody still loves them. How do we then move forward from that? Right. How do we create a positive out of that negative. And it’s cliche to say it’s easy to say, but you have to create the environment that lets them feel that. It’s safe here to screw up. Now let’s learn from it.
The Definition of Pressure from a Psychological Point of View
Trevor Connor 1:18:25
Let’s get back to Julie talk about the all-important topic of pressure.
Chris Case 1:18:30
As we have with confidence and resilience. Let’s start with that definition of pressure. A lot of people probably think they do understand what it is. But I want to hear it in your words from a psychological point of view, what is pressure?
Julie Emmerman 1:18:43
Pressure is an internal sense, oftentimes described as an internal sense of discomfort that is created due to performance needs that are time sensitive, and or evaluated, meaning they’re subjective. So-
Chris Case 1:19:00
I don’t think anybody would come up with that, and a lay person would come up with that definition for pressure.
Julie Emmerman 1:19:05
You know, the time component is really important, because if anytime there’s a deadline, you feel pressure, you need to get this done. Anytime you’re doing something that can be evaluated like a piano performance or surgery on a patient, you know, there’s pressure because there’s an outcome that is desired, and it is being evaluated based on that outcome. Surgery might be a great example because it well surgery can be an example because it encompasses both, there’s a time element, and it’s evaluated by the outcome. Though another example of an evaluative type of pressure is gymnastics or figure skating events where things are subjective and you’re being judged and that judging is subjective, and can vary quite a lot.
Chris Case 1:19:43
All right. So as we’ve done with confidence and resilience, can we go inside the process to understanding how to deal with pressure better, and what that looks like from your point of view?
Julie Emmerman 1:19:58
Sure. It’s little difficult because it depends on how this person this theoretical client would be presenting.
Chris Case 1:20:05
Julie Emmerman 1:20:05
I’m giving their experiences of pressure.
Chris Case 1:20:07
Can we take an example of a figure skater? In practice, they’re nailing everything. pressure builds, as they get towards the national championships, or the state championships or the regionals, or whatever the big competition is there. They’re a race, so to speak, in this in this example, and they just fall apart. Does that help set a stage for an earning? Give an example to work from?
Julie Emmerman 1:20:34
In some ways, yes. I mean, I don’t think I will go into the details of this theoretical case all that much. But just because there’s so many unknowns, and it depends on-
Chris Case 1:20:42
Julie Emmerman 1:20:42
This person’s prior experiences, and it’s hard. This is one of the reasons like it’s hard to give a catch all answer.
Chris Case 1:20:48
Pressure from the Perspectives of Athletes
Julie Emmerman 1:20:48
Satisfying in any tiny degree. But in many cases, especially for professional athletes, this is basically where their education has been. This is this has been their education, their sport is their education. And so other areas of their development have lagged far behind, because they’ve been playing tennis or playing golf for gymnastics, or whatever, since they were five. And the more talented somebody is, the more they are recognized early on in life, and the more attention that, you know, there they get around their sport. Oftentimes, you see that other parts of their development are less attended to. So the football player, for example, is highly regarded as an athlete, and that becomes his or her identity. And then education might lag behind social skills may lag behind emotional development might lag behind. My point in going into all this is that by the time somebody gets to, you know, where they’re no longer a big fish in a small pond, but they’re feeling the pressure of their environment around them, then it becomes important to help that person kind of catch up through those areas of learning that they have sort of been shortchanged. And so a lot of times, I will ask an athlete, like when is the last time you remember feeling confident? When is when is the first time you remember feeling this fight or flight response to a competition, because a lot of times when people are struggling with pressure, they do describe going into a survival mode, or fight-flight or freeze response. Which may work in the short term as far as performance, but it is never a sustainable way to perform well, let alone enjoy an athletic career. And so in terms of in terms of dealing with pressure, I would try to help that person, remember and recall some strengths from before, and then work with that person to gradually nurtured that development so that they are feeling more confident to go back to a term we were describing earlier, about where they are now and have a realistic assessment in the present time of what what are their fears now, versus maybe what is the younger version of themselves fearing? Maybe they were thrust into their sport really prematurely, and they just kind of managed to wing it. And they you know, they got to where they are now, they don’t really know how they got to where they are, especially from a mental skills perspective. And now they’re struggling, so then I can help them build that area of development. I mean, people say, I feel too stressed before my events, I’m, you know, I’m too anxious. And the first thing I’d like to educate people on is that we all need a certain level of anxiety just to get up in the morning.
Chris Case 1:20:52
Julie Emmerman 1:22:45
And so it’s not along the lines of like, there’s always tension in life. And it’s not that we want to remove the tension, it’s more about accepting and acknowledging that it is a part of life. So as anxiety, especially, you know, in parts of the world where we’re living, there’s just a lot of reasons to feel anxious about a lot of things. And it’s how we use that anxiety for or against ourselves that really makes the difference. And so, pressure, a time element or an evaluative event, just brings that more into an acute awareness of, oh, this matters, I have determined and people around me who determined that this event matters, this race, this game, whatever it is. So now there’s this element of I want to perform I need to perform I, I would rephrase it as like I will perform, what do I need to do to just perform as well as I can? So it’s not about not feeling anxious or not acknowledging, yeah, here’s a safety pin that I’ve been torturing this whole time. But it’s a representative. It’s a representation, excuse me, of I care about this, this is important to me and yeah, I want to, you know, get across to your listeners and be effective and help and do well. And so it’s, it’s okay, and it’s important to normalize anxiety it to that extent, if you know, it’s causing panic attacks or it’s causing subpar performances, then that’s an indication of, you know, maybe that person needs to redirect their energy so it can be more constructive.
How Different People Deal with Pressure and the Best Emotional State for Pressure
Trevor Connor 1:24:53
Dealing with pressures is an individualize undertaking, let’s return to Coach Holicky to hear his story of how different people deal with pressure in different ways, and the best emotional state to be in to help you handle the pressure.
Grant Holicky 1:25:07
I think everybody handles pressure really differently. If it, I’ve said it before, in another place, I was at a swim meet a very, very high level swim meet. And I walked by and I was listening to a young woman, college age woman describing how she races and she was saying it’s 20% confidence. It’s 40% anger. And it’s this and it’s that and I, I kind of turned around and smiled. And she went, yep, it’s anger. And it was this really happy young girl, right in a young woman. And I remember thinking to myself, yeah, everybody’s different. I can’t race with anger. If I race with anger, I’m terrible. I’m a train wreck, I have to race with joy. How do people handle the pressure is a little bit about how, who they are. And again, this comes back to really understanding each athlete individually, we can’t give this blanket prep for pressure to a 15 year old boy, and a 32 year old woman. They’re totally different. And you can’t handle you can’t give a plan to handle pressure to a 15 year old boy and another 15 year old boy the exact same way. They’re totally different people. So what is it that that triggers that person negatively? And what is it that triggers that person positively? I think in a general state. Most of us like to race because we like to race, there’s something in there that’s that we inherently enjoy. Professionals have lost some of that. So you have to try and find maybe ways to break some have to find ways to bring it back. But what’s that inherent joy about? Where is the and I love this analogy. Where is that place in the race where you’re hanging your head out the car window like a dog, with your tongue flapping in the breeze and your cheeks wiggling around? Where is that moment in your race where you are that happy? Here we go. And for everybody that might be different for one person, it might be go hurt everybody just go in a place where you know, you hurt everybody or get another place. It’s go be with your friends and smile and enjoy that. But one of the things that we need to remember about pressure as an anti anxiety that so much of the chemical reaction produces pressure and anxiety is adrenaline. We need the adrenaline we want the adrenaline, the adrenaline fuels us, it fires us. It’s what pushes our body frame, again, framing frame pressure or anxiety as adrenaline and preparedness. There’s a lot of different ways to go through this and each athlete’s different. But finding that coach finding that person finding that friend who helps you frame, your anxiety and pressure in the right way I think is really important.
The Use of Visualization and Self-Talk as an Athlete
Trevor Connor 1:28:05
Let’s finish up our conversation with Julie by addressing the use of visualization and self talk as an athlete.
Chris Case 1:28:11
One of the things I’ve been thinking about as we’ve talked through confidence and resilience and pressure and all of these concepts today is how, and this alludes, this refers back to something I brought up at the beginning of the show is how do amateurs take all of this information and improve themselves so that their performance is improved? I don’t know if this is a tool that they can use. But I want to talk about what visualization and or self talk as a means to address some of these things that we’ve been talking about. So again, let’s let’s start with a simple definition of these two things from a psychological practitioners point of view. What is visualization? And what is self talk?
Julie Emmerman 1:29:02
I’ll start with self talk, if that’s okay with you.
Chris Case 1:29:03
Julie Emmerman 1:29:04
So most people are aware that they have their own inner monologue that is going on all the time. So even as I’m talking to you right now, I’m aware of how I feel in the room, how I feel in the chair, how, you know, maybe other, I’m distracted at moments of what else is going on in my day? Um-
Chris Case 1:29:21
Hopefully not too much
Julie Emmerman 1:29:22
I know, hopefully not too much. But you know, those are, it’s a normal tape that runs in each of us.
Chris Case 1:29:28
Julie Emmerman 1:29:29
And when you become more mindful of what your narrative is, then you can use that again, as I’ve been saying for you versus in a neutral way or even against you. So, athletes tend to be very hard on ourselves, we tend to be hard on ourselves. And among the list of things when we were talking about what, what makes a professional. What are some of the characteristics that make them so good? I don’t know that I included at that time about how one assesses their level of responsibility and personal responsibility. But, it is important to develop a sense of personal responsibility. And that means also knowing what is not your responsibility. This comes back to self talk, because sometimes people take on way more in their own minds, and they really ought to, they think that this play was their fault, or this, this goal was scored, because it was just the goalies fault. And and they’re ignoring the fact that it’s a team, you know, maybe the defense broke down. Maybe sometimes it is the goal is fault. All things are possible out there. But it’s important to have a realistic assessment of where you start and stop. And so self talk, it needs to start there with having a true honest assessment of what what is your narrative saying to you?
Chris Case 1:30:44
And that’s probably a very difficult thing, in itself, to be honest with yourself.
Julie Emmerman 1:30:49
Yeah, for a lot of people it is. And then. So that is more of an assessment, I would describe it as an assessment of like, what is your role here? And where do you start and stop. The second part of self talk has to do with or your narrative has to do with noticing the emotional, the meaning you associate with the various things that happen. So going back to the incident of, you know, when the trainer doesn’t work, or my bike isn’t working, and I only have a limited amount of time, my self talk could have been, uh well, this is just not the day for me, this is horrible. And you go down the rabbit hole that way, or my self talk can be well, this is frustrating, and what can I do about it? What are my options and just get into the mode of not getting all emotional about it, but just thinking constructively, what can I do? Or allowing some moments to be frustrated, and then saying, okay, enough, is enough, move forward and get, you know, figure out a way to get it done. Um.
Chris Case 1:31:41
So in some ways, the self talk is whether you see it as a checklist, or a representation of that pathway to a confident place or a resilient place or an adaptable place or being comfortable with the uncomfortable. It’s that stepwise process it’s a process?
Chris Case 1:32:00
Julie Emmerman 1:32:00
Yeah, yeah. And it, it really can determine how you are experiencing any given event. You know, you can be sitting in traffic and be, you know, your narrative is one of you know, along the lines of like road rage, can switch the channel and play something else in your own internal narrative. And, and that can happen in any kind of event. So, you know, self talk is pretty expensive, because even as I’m describing that my own mind goes to well, you know, there’s also the the part about self talk, where we all have our default modes, some people tend to be more anxious types, some people tend to be more depressive, depending on where you kind of fall in that spectrum. Some people are definitely mixed. But depending on what your narrative says to you, that will then dictate how you might need to shift to that, to help better serve your cause. So if you’re overly anxious for something in your narrative, your self talk is oh, my God, oh, my God, oh, my God, and you get like frenetic. Then the self talk does need to be how do you bring yourself down? How and what means tools can you use hopefully, that you are being taught by someone like myself, to help yourself effectively come to a more neutral and ready stance? It’s not that you want to be, especially for an event, you don’t want to be super mellow, that you’re, you know, feeling underprepared. You want to have a sufficient amount of readiness, alertness.
Julie Emmerman 1:32:20
So there’s various ways to work and help somebody learn how to assess where they are, I frequently will use like a dial, like kind of a dial that, you know, goes from like one to 11.
Chris Case 1:33:32
Julie Emmerman 1:33:33
So I joke, you know, are you at 11?
Chris Case 1:33:36
Spinal Tap reference?
Julie Emmerman 1:33:38
Yes, use a lot of movie references.
Chris Case 1:33:40
Julie Emmerman 1:33:41
So you don’t want to bring it to 11 you want to get down to like a seven or an eight.
Julie Emmerman 1:33:45
Julie Emmerman 1:33:45
Where you’re feeling alert and ready. And, you know, very aware of what’s going around you and what’s going on around you, but not so calm that, you know, you forget to bring your helmet for example.
Chris Case 1:33:56
Right, right. For in very simplistic terms, there’s a balancing act taking place here.
Julie Emmerman 1:34:01
Again, like another phrase I like to use is wherever you go, there you are. So if somebody comes from a past that tends to you know, if their history includes abuse, for example, then their self talk might be a replication of that, you know, when they’re telling themselves some really awful things like, you know, don’t be ridiculous, just calm down, what’s wrong with you calm down, and things like that. But that’s not helpful. That’s just creating more constriction, internally more tension. And that is not what that person needs at that time, then they’re just feeling ashamed because they are feeling stressed. And and that’s, again, not helpful. So that’s not a good pathway. A better pathway would be to teach that person about A) those abusive types of experiences and what that can lead person to feel in terms of their self esteem, self agency, regulation of their own emotions, and then helping them. I work with adults, I’m referencing adults in this situation, it helps them learn how to self modulate and talk to themselves in a way that’s more effective.
A 2010 Study About Beneficial Self-Talk and Tennis Players
Trevor Connor 1:34:56
So I’m gonna bring up one other studies. Just something to add to the conversation a little bit. This is one I’ve always loved. This was from 2010, written by a Giorni Rennen of the University of Barcelona. But it was a study on self talk and tennis players. And one of the things when they were looking at what is beneficial self talk, they found that it was the type of self talk that shifted the attention from being very outcome focused, being much more execution focus the outcome being, you just said, no, I’m gonna lose, I’m gonna lose, lose, or I’m also I gotta win, I gotta win, I gotta win. Shifting actually the self talk more to talking about, well, how do I get my gear ready? What is my strategy? What am I going to be doing in the first set? What am I doing in the second set? But-
Chris Case 1:35:43
Yeah, it’s a it’s a goes back to a conversation we had on a previous episode about task oriented versus goal oriented. And maybe that’s to remind folks out there that haven’t listened to that episode. Julie, could you just define those two terms quickly, to help people understand context here?
Julie Emmerman 1:36:02
Well, I’m not familiar with the study, specifically. But it does sound like the focus is being brought from outcome to process. And when people are focused exclusively or too heavily on the outcome, what you often find is that then their behavior and their thoughts are fear based, because they’re like, well, what if I don’t win? What if I don’t win? What if I lose, coming from a fear based perspective is never sustainable or an effective way to manage a pressure situation. Again, it can be in a short term way, but it is not sustainable. And it is not an enjoyable way to go through a year. So re reworking some of that, to help that person come from a strength based perspective would then include things like, what are the process goals that you need to really be focused on, and reminding yourself of, in order to give yourself the best chance of succeeding here? And then the self talk becomes around, okay, you know, I need to play aggressively, I need to do this, I need to do that. And creating, I also work with athletes to help them assess their own performances, so that they know I mean, especially at the professional level, you know, when you are not giving your all. And I often, you know, I’ll debrief with people and say, okay, tell me? You know, how did you accomplish those process goals? Doesn’t matter what the score was? Tell me what? Tell me how well you achieved X, Y, and Z.
Chris Case 1:37:17
Mm hmm. Right.
Julie Emmerman 1:37:19
And let’s figure out if there were obstacles, let’s work with those obstacles so that we can keep making progress. What about visualization another big topic.
The Importance of Imagery
Julie Emmerman 1:37:26
Yeah, it’s a big topic, I never used the term visualization. Actually, I prefer imagery,
Chris Case 1:37:31
Julie Emmerman 1:37:31
Because when I work with an athlete around imagery and preparing for an event, I try to, well, first and foremost, what it would look like is having that person sit in a quiet space, whether they’re sitting or lying down, closing their eyes, it relies on some visualization, but it’s not exclusive to visualization, but I will have them picture in their mind, we could start from like, the day before the event, when they’re at registration, maybe getting nervous, or whatever the situation might be. Or we may start with the warm up the next day, we’ll we’ll discuss that figure out, where’s the starting point? And then we will go through and try to make as alive as possible, all the kinesthetic elements that we can, so that that person really feels like they are there.
Chris Case 1:38:11
Julie Emmerman 1:38:11
And then we will go through in detail, you know, what is if you’re a triathlete, you know, picturing yourself in the water, what does it feel like, oh, you just got kicked in the face, you know, or, or, you know, whatever the situation may be, it’s cold, it’s raining, whatever it is, trying to incorporate as many different elements as possible. And imagining what it would look like for them to carry out their best one. What do they need to do to execute their very best one? And to see themselves but also feel it? You know, really? Like, it’s a very alive exercise.
Chris Case 1:38:47
You hope it’s immersive in that way? Yeah. Like they’re feeling and seeing.
Julie Emmerman 1:38:53
Chris Case 1:38:53
Themselves in that place, not just-
Julie Emmerman 1:38:55
Chris Case 1:38:56
It’s not a casual thing.
Julie Emmerman 1:38:57
Right. And again, it goes back to something we started with, it’s not just like an I don’t want it to be an intellectual exercise. I want them to feel-
Chris Case 1:39:03
Julie Emmerman 1:39:04
As much as they can.
Chris Case 1:39:05
Julie Emmerman 1:39:06
So we’ll do that. And we’ll do like a run through of, you know, when things are running pretty smoothly. And then we will also go through and bring in different elements that could be derailing. You know, oh, you’re a triathlete. And you’re doing an Iron Man, you just got a flat or, you know, you’re noticing that you’re dehydrated, or this or that, or it’s really windy, and things to help them practice what it will be like. So that again, we’re rehearsing so that when in, when they are there, it might not be that we’ve covered the exact thing that actually unfolds in the race itself. But they’ve been preparing for when things don’t go perfectly, and they can handle that adversity and hopefully move on as best they can.
Chris Case 1:39:45
Yeah. And so this directly relates back to the things that Trevor used to do, rehearsing for races, putting himself in uncomfortable situations. It’s all part of the practice of preparing for those key events for any event. Really.
Julie Emmerman 1:39:59
Chris Case 1:40:00
All right, Julie, you’re new to the program, we’re going to go easy on you, we’re going to give you 61 seconds today, if you could give people a sense that that take home that take home message from this episode on all of the psychological principles we’ve talked about today, and anything else you’d like to add has a very important message.
Julie Emmerman 1:40:19
Thank you for the extra second.
Chris Case 1:40:20
You’re very welcome. And use it wisely.
Julie Emmerman’s Take-Home Message
Julie Emmerman 1:40:23
I will try. So I think it is safe to say that most people live daily with some anxiety, some stress and pressure in and out of their sport, at any level. And one thing I notice is, people tend to, there seems to be a tendency to feel that if I just do this, then I can check that box. And I’m doing what I’m supposed to be doing. And that should help my performance. And I guess, to be more specific, it seems like people are very comfortable going from distraction to distraction. And we live, oftentimes in a world of just getting things done and doing, doing, doing and I am just as susceptible as anybody else. The other day, I stopped myself and I was like, wow, I’m doing a lot. And I’m really doing doing doing how am I being. And as a result of my own self talk from that conversation, I decided, I’m going to seg. you know, section off some time in the next couple days, where I’m not doing I’m just allowing myself to be and whatever that looks like it looks like but unstructured time to-
Chris Case 1:41:28
Julie Emmerman 1:41:28
You know, check in with myself.
Chris Case 1:41:30
Not Instagram. And no Facebook.
Chris Case 1:41:31
Yeah, I suppose.
Julie Emmerman 1:41:32
Chris Case 1:41:32
And use those distractions to-
Julie Emmerman 1:41:34
Chris Case 1:41:35
-look away from life.
Julie Emmerman 1:41:36
Right. And, and there is a certain addictive quality of staying busy, that is valued in our society that can keep us kind of forever distracted. So I think the biggest. Or what I hope people can take away from this is just the value in increasing time to be mindful and pay attention to themselves and their own processes. Because when you start that dialogue with yourself, then you can make more use of any of the things that we’re talking about. But if you just take them in and sort of digest them, like fast food, it’s not going to be helpful, and I wouldn’t expect it to. But if you can give yourself time to pause and communicate just first and foremost with yourself and ask yourself what you know of yourself, what are some things that you might want to work on? And what do you need to give yourself the best chance of succeeding and working on those things? It just starts a different conversation with oneself. So that’s what I would encourage people to do.
Chris Case 1:42:37
Brilliant. And that was 62 seconds. So penalty. But, Trevor, I’ll turn it over to you, you have 59 seconds.
Trevor’s Take-Home Message
Trevor Connor 1:42:47
So my 59 seconds here is I am a child of the 90s. So I grew up with Saturday Night Live making fun of self-talk, I forget the name of the character look at himself in the mirror and-
Chris Case 1:42:57
Trevor Connor 1:42:58
Yeah, thank you deep thoughts. So I always thought all this stuff was bogus. And it was actually quite a surprise to me. When I got serious into sport, discover that self talk visualization, these things are actually very powerful tools. But what I appreciated was before Julie was willing to come onto the show, she said, “I am not going to come in here and do the seven tips to perfect mindset type thing.” You have to be careful there is the junk stuff out there that claims this is really easy and just repeat these five things and then you’re going to be a superstar. I prefer personally to think of this as this is training a muscle, just the most important muscle in our body. But just like training for sport, so I think of somebody like Julie as a coach. And just like training for sport, it needs to be individualized. The coach needs to get to know you. It takes work. But if you’re willing to do it, it’s a very, very powerful tool. Chris?
Chris Case 1:43:58
Well, the first thing I would say is that this is an immense topic. It’s something that’s somewhat dear to my heart. I hope people really appreciate what can be gained from what Julie mentioned, pausing, taking some time to reflect, spend time with themselves, understand these principles, apply them in a diligent way. And also what Trevor has said, which is this is a powerful component to being an athlete being a human honestly. So my take home message is to appreciate what you have. Everybody has tools, they might not be aware of them. They might need. They might be really dusty. They might be sitting in the garage somewhere under cobwebs and a blanket but there are things within you can you can tap into might take some help from a from a professional like Julie, it might take conversations with friends, loved ones, that sort of thing but appreciate the fact that you have an extremely powerful tool within you called your brain and using it can take you to places you never thought possible if used right? If done diligently and no, I think there’s so many surprises waiting for you if you spend the time to train this like you do your body. That was another episode of Fast Talk. As always, we love your feedback. Email us at email@example.com or call 719-800-2112 and leave us with those voicemail things. Subscribe to fast talk wherever you prefer to find your favorite podcasts. Please pull out your phone right now and leave us a rating and a review. Follow us on social media. We’re @realfastlabs. The thoughts and opinions expressed on Fast Talk are those of the individual. For Julie Emmerman, Payson McElveen, Grant Holicky, I’m Trevor Connor. I’m Chris case. Thanks for listening!