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Coach's Corner - Mental Endurance

Nick P

Jul 1, 2017

Mind over Matter: Does the brain influence the body?

Triathlon is tough. Staying motivated or ‘in the zone’ is often a struggle, especially during an 8+ hour event! So here’s a quick little article analysis to maybe help you get thinking about how you can step up your mental game and develop that psychological skills toolbox!

This one’s got a bit of jargon in it, but it’s a review of an article I found for my grad studies. If you’re interested in how mental skills training influences the boy, this review study provides some background data on just what all the current research says about mental skills training and endurance performance! I don’t go into specific quantitative data here, but the gist of it is covered here, you can also find the full (open access) article here.

This literature review was conducted to review quantitative and qualitative data on the effectiveness of practical psychological skills intervention strategies for endurance athletes, and to determine which practices are best to develop an athlete’s psychological toolkit.

This study aims to identify practical psychological intervention strategies that can be used by endurance athletes to boost physical performance, as well as to determine what qualities are exhibited by endurance athletes during performance. This study used articles covering a variety of endurance based sports, and using the physiological determinant of any activity lasting greater than 75 seconds of continuous effort, resulting in 46 unique studies for assessment. The psychological interventions included in review were: Association & dissociation, goal setting, hypnosis, imagery, pre-performance statements, psychological skills training packages, relaxation & biofeedback, and self-talk. The list of additional psychological determinants considered in the analysis were: external motivators, mental fatigue, priming, experimenter effects, emotional suppression, and efficacy strength.

Further, the research practices of various studies were taken into consideration to formulate suggestions for future studies and to identify theoretical and applied implications.

When selecting the studies to be involved in the analysis, the authors adhered to a set of strict guidelines that considered a thorough range of statistical evidence. Starting with the source of the study, narrowed by a list of qualitative and quantitative terms (“time to exhaustion,” “economy,” “pace,” “sport,” “perform,” etc.), and the sport involved (and its duration). These data were then further refined based on the language written in (English preferred), whether the study was peer-reviewed, the experimental design was considered, the types of athletes observed (competitive level, health status, etc.), and the study’s authors endurance definition (ie. Greater than 75s continuous, maximal effort). Resulting studies were then evaluated using the Effective Public Health Practice Project (EPHPP) Quality Assessment Tool for Quantitative Studies, and assigned a quality from ‘weak’ to ‘strong,’ based on the qualities applied by the EPHPP. The final assessment was then based on the effect sizes of the studies in question. Mean and standard deviation data was either obtained from the literature, or from the primary authors.

Substantial evidence was found in favor of using practical psychological interventions as a means of improving the performance of endurance athletes in maximal to submaximal events. Each of the psychological interventions strategies addressed provided data to support this conclusion. The authors state that although the relative contributions to performance cannot be individually determined, the evidence remained that regardless of which interventions strategies were used. Limitations addressed by the authors include the lack of cross-evaluation within study-design was evident in the papers assessed, as well, of the studies included, none of the randomized, controlled studies provided data in a competition-performance testing procedure. This is a difficult situation to navigate, as athletes are generally required to adhere to strict protocols when coming into competition, future research will need to take this into account and navigate the situational difficulties acquiring this data poses.

These data are indicative of the strong applicability of psychological intervention strategies to improve performance, however, there is a recognized notion that different styles of intervention can be applied to different athletes with a spectrum of psychological traits, and they’re varying influence on performance. In short, different psychological intervention strategies will be better suited to ranges of athletes. The correlative effects of applying various methods to different trait profiles could be a strong area of future research, providing coaches and psychological consultants with more direct approaches to mental skills training.

Now, go flex those brains!


McCormick, A., Meijen, C., Marcora, S. (2015). Psychological determinants of whole-body endurance performance. Sports Med, 45. 997-1015. Retrieved November 21, 2015, from Springer Link with Full-Text database.​

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