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Marjon academic publishes research on improving performance for endurance athletes

Released: 24.06.19

Dr Alister McCormick has been undertaking research into how endurance athletes can use ‘self-talk’ to tolerate exertion, pain, and the demands they experience on the day, like adverse weather and other stresses that might affect performance.

The Sport, Health and Wellbeing Lecturer recently contributed to a new book on psychology in endurance sports. The book, Endurance Performance in Sport: Psychological Theory and Interventions, edited by Dr Carla Meijen, provides a background to the main theoretical models and covers practical strategies for endurance performance.

Alister co-authored a chapter called ‘Self-talk and endurance performance’, and it looks directly at the relationship between endurance performance and what athletes are saying to themselves when they’re doing an ultra-marathon, for instance, and how they can use self-talk to improve their performance.

Alister, who studied his PhD in how to improve performance in endurance sports, said: “Self-talk is about what people can say to themselves out loud or in their heads that can help them to deal with the different elements which can affect performance for endurance athletes. It’s about making athletes aware of what they’re saying to themselves and helping them to control it.

“We’ve got a section in the chapter which is called ‘learning to use self-talk’, which is designed to teach people how to use their self-talk as a performance weapon. It’s created in a way so that anyone can use it,”

 “The other chapter is about the future direction of the research that’s being undertaken in sport and exercise psychology, specifically relating to performance in endurance sports. Carla Meijen, my PhD Supervisor, and myself want to encourage researchers to pioneer new research and boost the quality of the research that’s already taking place in the field.

Student involvement is something that lies at the core of Alister’s research, and getting more students actively involved in future projects is an aspiration of his. He said:

“I’ve recently started to explore research-informed teaching. I’m currently running a project that looks at why people become committed to running when they take it up, and what leads some people to drop out along the way. Students from our BSc (Hons) Psychology degree have volunteered to help me with the data analysis and interpretation. It is an opportunity for them to gain experience in conducting contemporary research and to hopefully shape the findings and outputs.

Alister is part of the Marjon Psyching Team, which uses techniques based on his research into the effects of psychological interventions on the performance of endurance athletes. This research has shown that goal setting, imagery and self-talk can improve performance.

Alister elaborated: “The psyching team is a fairly new concept here in the UK. Our psyching team are usually dotted throughout the course of the 10K runs or the half-marathon, holding banners with inspirational messages on. We even have a high-five station to motivate the runners.

Alister and colleagues are also studying the effects of the crowd on how runners feel during long-distance running events. “We’re hopeful that we can perhaps give advice and suggestions to the crowd on which types of encouragement athletes have found supportive or not. For instance, we received feedback that athletes don’t respond well to people saying, ‘only two miles left!’, because for them that seems like a long way, so it’s about tailoring the messages going out from the crowds to the athletes.”

Alister is currently looking further into what leads people to be committed to running, and he is a part of the RESIST research group, which stands for Research-evaluated Endurance Strategies Intending to Support Training. RESIST is a group of specialists in Sport and Exercise Psychology here in the UK, and they’re all working collaboratively on how endurance athletes can overcome the urge to stop or slow down. They have a website, which aims to make sport psychology accessible to people who could benefit from it.”


Plymouth Marjon University offers a number of Psychology programmes:

Undergraduate Psychology programmes

Postgraduate Psychology programmes

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