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  • Writer's pictureCoach Will

Understanding an Athlete’s Psychology

There are many things that separate a good coach from a great coach. One element to being a great coach is understanding an athlete’s psychology. No, this doesn’t mean that your coach needs a psychology degree, but a great coach should take steps to ensure that their athlete has the appropriate mindset for their specific goals. In this latest Kilowatt blog I’ll discuss the differences between a Sports Psychologist and a great coach, understanding the different personality types amongst athletes rather than taking a “one size fits all” approach, and choosing a good level of “arousal” for your specific event.

Most coaches aren’t psychologists. It is very important that we make that distinction. Sport psychologists have a high level of psychological understanding and are educated in this field specifically. A great coach on the other hand, has an understanding of psychological concepts and how to find a good mind-body balance for an athlete to happily adhere to a training program and feel motivated. Let’s take two athlete’s, athlete A and athlete B. Athlete A would benefit from pre competition visualisation practices while athlete B struggles to stick to their training program and often finds that they over-exert themselves on recovery rides or skip structured workouts for a bunch ride. Athlete A would require a Sport Psychologist who is equipped with the knowledge and tools to teach and establish visualisation techniques. Athlete B would need a psychologically knowledgeable coach who would ensure that there is scope within the athlete’s program for social bunch riding.

No two people are the same, so why would a “one size fits all” approach ever work?! Too often coaches fall into this methodology in program prescription and athlete psychology while not understanding that there are a range of different personality types. The best thing we can do as coaches is to listen to our athletes. We must build a profile of every athlete that we coach to ensure that the program we provide caters not only to physical performance but also to an athlete’s psychology. A happy athlete is a motivated athlete. Some athletes thrive on a strict program with daily prescription and little wriggle room, while other athletes prefer to have more flexibility within their training week. To understand the fundamentals of a good program, you must understand the athlete.

When we talk about “arousal” what do we mean? In a sporting sense, arousal refers to an athlete’s emotional state immediately before an event. This is a tricky one to get right. It requires both an understanding of the event specifics and an understanding of the athlete. A simple rule to follow is that the shorter the event, the higher the arousal levels should be. Ever wondered why some weightlifting coaches slap their athletes immediately before the athlete completes a lift? A cycling comparison of this would be a track sprinter right before a flying 200m time trial. This is another reason why so many track sprinters listen to heavy metal music while warming up for their event. If a coach was to get their athletes in the same high arousal state for a Gran Fondo, the athlete would be emotionally exhausted 20km into the race. For endurance cyclists, keeping them calm pre race is preferable to achieve the optimal lower arousal levels. What about if your coach can’t be present at your target race? Your coach should then implement self guided arousal techniques and ensure that your warm up helps put you in the appropriate mindset (check out our previous blog on warm ups for more information on this).

coburg cyclists preparing for a team pursuit on the velodrome
Optimal arousal is a critical performance factor

It is important as coaches that we acknowledge we only have a limited grasp on Sport Psychology. We are not experts! I was lucky enough to have an introduction to this field during my university days. It’s the extra understanding of an athlete as a human being that makes great coaches, and we’ve personally found that a holistic approach works. We’d be happy to answer any further questions you have on this topic and more. Comment below or direct message us through our Social Media for more information.


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