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The Mental Slog of Off Season and How to Stay Motivated

The Mental Slog of Off Season and How to Stay Motivated Run Tri Bike Magazine JoAnne Barbieri

When designing training programs and racing schedules, most endurance athletes utilize a concept known as periodization. Periodization is composed of specific training cycles unique to the needs of each athlete where training loads, volume, and intensity are varied to peak performance at just the right time. The components of an endurance athlete’s training calendar include the preparatory, precompetition, competition, and transition phases. Each of these phases is critical for an athletes growth, and the transition phase, also known as the off-season, is no different. 

Benefits of the Off-season

The off-season in a training program is the time designed for physical and mental rest and recovery. This phase occurs after an athlete’s last race or competition, before the start of the preparatory phase. For most athletes, this phase lasts anywhere from four to eight weeks, if not longer. It is a crucial component to success for both physical and mental performance. 

The off-season protects athletes from burnout, injuries, and performance slumps. During this time, training is not as intense, and racing does not occur. It is prime time for an athlete to self-reflect on the previous season, areas to improve upon, and goals for the upcoming season. 

The Mental Slog of the Off-Season

Although the benefits of the off-season are clear, some athletes might struggle during this time. Athletes may feel antsy, anxious, or nervous during this downtime. Some might feel like they are holding themselves back from enhancing their performance by not taking part in intense workouts. Others might think that taking time off could result in losing all the progress made over the year. If an athlete is feeling these effects it can impact their motivation. 

So, what is the overall goal for athletes during the off-season? The primary key during the off-season is keeping athletes mentally engaged and patient with the process. Follow these five steps to enhance motivation during the mental slog of off season. 

5 Steps to Enhance Motivation During the Mental Slog of off Season:

  1. Reflect on the previous year: The off-season is the prime time for reflection. Becoming a self-aware athlete is an advantage as it assists with connecting to the purpose and reason for taking part in endurance sports. To enhance motivation, athletes should reflect upon successes of the previous year and areas for potential improvement. Having this understanding helps athletes as they work on developing the upcoming training calendar.
  2. Spend time focusing on goals:  Goal setting is an essential skill for endurance athletes. Goal setting assists athletes throughout the competitive season but can also serve as a motivational tool in the off-season. While the competitive pressure is reduced, it is a great time to begin establishing short-term and long-term goals for the upcoming year. Use these newly established goals to help guide program training development.
  3. Stay on a routine: Many athletes are creatures of habit, helping them feel comfortable each day. When something alters the routine, some athletes may struggle in dealing with the unknowns. In the off-season, the unknowns could be due to decreased training intensity, not having a structured day, challenges in understanding how to stay focused, etc. Establishing a routine similar to what the athlete considers normal is essential. This includes waking up and going to bed at the same time, working out or being active at the same time, and even scheduling in downtime!
  4. Be accountable: Although the off-season is not as intense with training, accountability is still a factor. These items could include sleep hygiene, nutrition, psychological skills training, and personal development. By holding themselves accountable for actions taken during this time,  athletes can stay motivated and excited for the upcoming season.
  5. Try a new activity: Just because the off-season and training have been altered does not mean an athlete needs to become inactive. This is the perfect time to participate in activities to train the mind and body in different ways. Try something fun and separate from the usual activity. Examples could be yoga, taking a group exercise class, playing in a recreational league, etc. 

As endurance athletes plan for the off-season, it is essential to incorporate these steps to enhance self-awareness and become motivated for their upcoming season!

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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 assistant 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.