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Psychological Demands Commonly Faced By Endurance Athletes

Psychological Demands Commonly Faced By Endurance Athletes JoAnne Barbieri Sports Psychology Run Tri Bike Magazine

Endurance athletes challenge themselves mentally and physically daily. Depending on the type of sport, an endurance athlete could easily spend over 12 hours a week training. Many could experience physical demands that include fatigue, pain, and discomfort as they adjust to their training programs and endure challenging training sessions. For some, adjusting to these physical demands can be psychologically challenging. In addition, endurance athletes might also struggle with personal sacrifices, the amount of time invested in sport and training, staying optimistic during tough training sessions, and remaining committed and motivated. These psychological demands commonly faced by endurance athletes can derail their training in the same way an injury does.

Psychological Demands Commonly Faced By Endurance Athletes

It is essential to recognize that each sport has psychological stressors that endurance athletes must during training and competition. For example, endurance runners might worry about “hitting the wall” during a specific part of their race. Open water swimmers might be concerned about swimming in open water and being alone. Cyclists might be nervous that cars might not see them when training.

Additional psychological challenges endurance athletes might encounter include:

  • Issues with self-confidence
  • Feeling out of control
  • Problems staying motivated
  • Decreased self-belief
  • Self-esteem struggles.

Being unable to manage these challenges could lead to maladaptive behavior patterns in the athlete. This could be detrimental to their performance and make it extremely challenging to stay engaged in training.

Coping With Psychical And Psychological Demands

Struggling for balance between these demands can be a challenging process. Coupling these physical demands with psychological concerns can be detrimental to an athlete’s overall performance. This can be especially true if the athlete does not have appropriate coping strategies. From an educational standpoint, it is crucial to encourage endurance athletes to participate in self-reflective exercises during their training. Self-reflection can assist them in becoming more aware of their biological responses, psychological responses, and even social responses. Crucial elements to evaluate through an athletes training are:

  • Exploring how they feel physically
  • Their adaptations to their training
  • What they’re noticing about their self-talk
  • Examining their motivation
  • Quality of their social relations 

The overall goal is to encourage endurance athletes to recognize that the extreme physical and psychological demands they experience assist them in improving their mental toughness. Therefore, when working to enhance the mental toughness of an endurance athlete, it is essential to consider the Four C Model that I review below. The Four C Model consists of: Control, Commitment, Challenge, and Confidence.

Four C Model

Control refers to an endurance athlete staying emotionally stable no matter the external factors or distractions that might be in their way. Leading up to training sessions or races, the athlete should identify elements in and out of their control. Developing strategies for what is in their control could reduce worry, nervousness, and anxiety.

Commitment occurs when an endurance athlete can stay on track to work towards achieving their goals even when difficulties arise. Success and difficulty will be part of the process that allows the athlete to recognize the importance of staying resilient. This will come into play during training sessions and races that have not gone as planned.

Challenge is how an endurance athlete perceives a stressor in their life. If the athlete views the stressor as a threat, they will back down and feel that they do not have the necessary resources to be successful. If the athlete views the stressor as an opportunity for change, they will be more likely to take risks. They will also recognize their resources and embrace change.

Confidence refers to an endurance athlete maintaining their self-belief even during challenges. They can recognize their strengths and abilities while working towards handling the present challenge they are facing. When endurance athletes feel confident, they usually think they have a high level of perceived competence. This connects to positive adaptive patterns. These patterns assist an athlete in recognizing how failures can assist in their growth and how they can stay motivated.

Overall, endurance athletes constantly push themselves to extremes- both mentally and physically. Recognize that there will be times when you are feeling extremely strong and resilient. Other times in training you may feel like the demands are too much. This is entirely normal! Learning to lean into these challenging times through providing necessary rest and recovery is most important. Take the time to incorporate self-reflection as a critical part of training and racing. Take time to become self-aware and work on enhancing the components of the Four C’s Model. This an essential element to assist with success and happiness.

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.