Researchers at the University of St Mark & St John (Marjon) in Plymouth believe the right psychology could hold the key to people getting fit and healthy.
According to researchers from Marjon’s Faculty of Sport & Health Science using simple techniques such as goal setting and motivational self-talk could impact on public health and help people get more satisfaction from endurance sports such as running, cycling, triathlon and swimming.
A study ‘Psychological demands experienced by recreational endurance athletes’ was published in the International Journal of Sport and Exercise Psychology, by Marjon Applied Sport Psychologist Alister McCormick who wants to raise awareness of the benefits of positive psychology to overcome people’s barriers to performance in endurance exercise. He believes that anyone, such as those who enjoy running 5ks, 10ks or marathons will benefit from using psychology to their advantage:
“When people perform better at their chosen activity, they feel better about themselves and are more likely to carry on doing exercise, and if you offer someone the chance to get better using psychological techniques, they will be grateful for those improvements.
“It’s not always about out-performing others because people like to see improvements in their times and are motivated by trying to get personal bests.
“Research shows that when people use motivational self-talk in training and then start using it in performances, it can make significant percentage differences to how well they perform.”
One of the recommended interventions, ‘motivational self- talk’, means saying constructive motivational things to yourself in the right moment and planning in advance things you could say to yourself that will spur you on.
McCormick says there are different techniques but a key thing is that you are aware of what your self-talk is:
“If you’re being very critical to yourself and you’re saying ‘I can’t do this anymore, it hurts too much, I’m going to quit’, you probably will. So the motivational content is not only beneficial, but it also stops you from saying negative things instead.”
The University plans to develop a series of events and technology tools to include apps, workshops, after dinner talks, lectures and ‘Psyching Teams’ for endurance athletes. This will be added to Marjon’s current package of services offered at its world-class sports science laboratories and sport centre.
A ‘psyching team’ is a group of people trained in sport psychology who speak with entrants before, during, and after endurance events. They might run alongside people and talk to them about their lives to break up the monotony of a long distance run, or offer strategies to help them cope with pain. They also lead event workshops, hold motivational signs, and talk people through their emotions following their event.
He added: “We’ve done things like give people a piece of ribbon and say the ribbons want to meet up and it’s their job to get all the ribbons to the end of the race, so we try to come up with creative ways to help people!
“If we share these techniques with individuals at local races where thousands of people take part, and large marathons where 30,000 people take part, we can make an impact.
“Cycling, running, swimming and triathlons are healthy behaviours. If we can help people to keep up these healthy behaviours by making them feel better about their performances, there’s a potential physical and mental health benefit to be achieved.
“We can’t make everyone use these techniques, but if we can access a small percentage of people, we can make a positive difference to a lot of people’s health and wellbeing.”
Find out more about services offered by Marjon Sport Science laboratories.
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