It is now widely accepted that the psychological aspect of training and racing for athletes is critical. If success is to be achieved both mental and physical work needs to be done. Women can be just as competitive as men and just as driven to improve at their chosen sport but sometimes it helps to take a female perspective.
A great starting point is to pay attention to how you feel. You are probably recording times, distances, hours spent and weights lifted. You may also be tracking your weight, menstrual cycle and sleep patterns (there are an awful lot of apps out there!). Women’s hormonal changes, both monthly and over our lifetime do affect how we feel, our levels of motivation and general wellbeing. Try taking 30 seconds before and after your different training sessions to note down how you feel. Review this after a few weeks and see if there are any patterns worth noting….how have you been affected by the weather, the time of day, who you were training with or whether you were on your own? Were the children back at school or were you having to manage home-schooling alongside everything else?
When it comes to training many women want an enjoyable experience where they connect with others, not just to record on Strava that they have achieved a certain distance. Think about what this means for you, a group to have a laugh with after the tough exercise has been done? A running buddy to chat with as you slog it out on a winter morning? People to meet up with at the Cycle Café before or after your weekend ride? The opposite can also be true with women relishing time spent on their own. Whether it’s running, cycling or swimming, the feeling of space and freedom, being answerable to no one can be quite intoxicating.
Women are more likely than men to have to fit in family commitments along side work and their sport – yes, even in 2021 that is still the case! Use your organising skills to plan and prepare, making it as easy as possible to get things done. Making decisions takes a lot of energy for the brain so get your kit out the night before, have your trainers next to the door etc. do whatever you need to reduce the faffing so you can just get out there and train with as little mental energy being expended as possible. Have back-up plans so again you don’t have to think too much; try using the “If….then…” format so you are clear what plan B is – “If it is chucking it down I will get on my turbo in the garage instead……..If my friend can’t pick me up to run that route then I will go out on my own and run this route”
A word of warning when it comes to Social Media. Women are more likely than men to be negatively affected by viewing a lot of supposedly inspirational images. Our brains automatically compare ourselves with others and it is highly likely that those images will be of the most beautiful and the most successful women, not a the full range of what women really look like. Body dissatisfaction can start to develop if we are not paying attention.
On the positive side though, we all know there are huge psychological benefits from becoming fitter and participating in enjoyable physical activities, especially in groups. Women’s overall confidence and levels of self-esteem grow and that is likely to have a positive effect not only on the women themselves but the people around them and their lives in general.
So what are you waiting for? Get out there and enjoy your training, your racing and your life!