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Am I An Athlete?

Am I An Athlete JoAnne Barbieri Run Tri Bike Magazine Sports Psychology Coaching

Happy New Year!  Welcome to 2022!  The new year is when many choose to begin with solid intentions of committing to health and fitness. Many athletes will sign up for their FIRST endurance event. For some, running, biking or swimming were already a part of their fitness regime. For others, these sports are completely new territory!  Whether athletes participated in the sports prior or not, training for the first endurance event is beyond exciting and coupled with emotions including happiness, nervousness, pride, and doubt! There is also the question of: Am I An Athlete? that will enter their minds.

Comparison Is The Thief Of Joy

When athletes challenge themselves to achieve new goals, it can include uncomfortable thoughts leading them to question their abilities and resources. Some might also begin comparing themselves to other endurance athletes.  These could be athletes that are their friends, athletes they see on the road while they are training, or athletes they see posting on social media.  This whole process requires an athlete to become self-aware and self-regulated, especially because some of these feelings and thoughts could be new for them and could impact their abilities of achieving their desired goal.

An essential element is to recognize that anytime an athlete is working towards achieving a goal, they will experience moments of success and setback. Healthily responding to setbacks or errors are essential!  Each time an athlete experiences a setback or error in their training, they have two choices: they can view it as a threat or a challenge. Viewing it as a threat can lead the athlete into feeling that they do not have the necessary resources or abilities to be successful.  In this case, it could lead the athlete to feel that they should not be training or participating in the upcoming endurance event because they are not going to be successful.

Viewing it as a challenge assists the athlete in rising to the occasion, recognizing they have the resources and abilities to be successful, and being prepared to take it on again in the future.  A new endurance athlete viewing setbacks as part of the process will embody a growth mindset allowing them to recognize their ability to grow during training!

Am I An Athlete?

An underlying thought for some new endurance athletes might be, am I an athlete?  If an athlete experiences this thought, they need to learn how to reframe their thought patterns.  Here are three steps to assist in reframing thought patterns:

Self-Awareness: The athlete should take time to understand and reflect upon the core of their current thoughts and questions.  Some reflection questions could include:

  • Why do I feel that I am not an endurance athlete?  
  • How do I see an endurance athlete performing?  Am I fitting that perceived image?
  • Am I comparing myself to a certain standard of an athlete?
  • Do I feel like I belong within the endurance sports community?  Why or why not?

Listen to Self-Dialogue: The athlete should become in tune with themselves and listen to their inner dialogue. This could be uncomfortable, but it is essential to enhance self-regulation. The athlete needs to recognize when their thoughts are negative or begin questioning their capabilities as an athlete. Many choose to ignore this step, but learn to lean into this process!

Shift the Thought: When a negative or hesitant thought arises, the athlete should learn to STOP and shift the thought pattern into a positive sequence. This acronym stands for the following: 

  • Stop what they’re doing when the thought occurs
  • Take three deep breaths to slow down their physiological response 
  • Observe how the thoughts impact their emotions & physical performance
  • Proceed and prepare to move forward

This process allows them to remain mindful and to learn how to understand their thoughts without judging themselves.  A helpful trick for this step is to visualize a STOP sign!

Experiencing a sense of imposter syndrome for the new endurance athlete is common. This can occur when they are doing the training, putting in the work, but still feels like they don’t fit in with the sense of being an endurance athlete. When this occurs, encourage them to connect back to the three steps of reframing thought patterns. Enhancing self-awareness and self-regulation are always a work in progress for athletes of all experience levels. Take it day by day and remember, each person is unique. ALL endurance athletes deserve to compete in their race and challenge themselves!

Dr JoAnne Bullard Run Tri Bike Magazine Doctor of Sport and Performance Psychology

JoAnne Bullard is a Doctor of Sport and Performance Psychology and a Certified Mental Performance Consultant through the Association for Applied Sport Psychology. She is also a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist through the National Strength and Conditioning Association.

She serves as a tenured Associate Professor at Rowan University and is the owner of Absolute Fitness, LLC.  Her goal is to provide a holistically applied approach for clients through performance psychology consulting. She has experience working with athletes of all ages, including endurance athletes, in individual and group sessions.  Her research areas include mindfulness, performance anxiety, goal setting, coping strategies, and mental well-being of athletes.

She has completed five marathons, numerous half-marathons, and is always looking for her next race.