The Secret to Recovery
Most of us whether a sports scientist, dedicated elite athlete, or weekend warrior, have long worked out by now that training effectively and bearing the fruits of your labour relies upon recovery periods to enable our bodies to be ready for the next session, and to enable it to super compensate, so that we are able to improve the physical attributes required to excel in our given sport.
Almost everyone nowadays has a plan for training sessions (worryingly, not all of us), a list as long as your arm of tips, rituals and essentials that we will always include. Unfortunately, when it come to recovery, we often don’t give it too much focus, seldom have a plan and sometimes we are in denial that its even necessary!
Risks of insufficient recovery
Over time you’ll end up consistently under-performing and will be at risk of total burnout – where you suffer mental, emotional and physical exhaustion. This is the extreme end of the scenario, however at the opposite end of the spectrum, you won’t be getting the most out of your performances and wont be maximising improvement potential.
This is an area that we often really don’t think about, despite the world going on about ‘holistic’ approaches and the mind-body link, we miss a trick when it comes to the mind being fresh and ready for peak performance. A coach can help with this, but ultimately you need to be at a place where the athlete is able to recognise when and how they need to recover.
Elite and even dedicated amateur athletes can be rife candidates for burnout, where they are devoted to a goal that is a step too far, too soon. There is also the danger of developing an ‘athlete identity’, where they become somewhat unidimensional with their world revolving around the confines of their sport too much; this causes major issues when they perform badly or suffer an injury setback. These sorts of athletes are often perfectionists who set very high standards for them and others, have a desire to be liked by others and are sensitive to criticism (often generous to others, but not themselves , and lack assertive interpersonal skills to be able to express negative feeling without feeling extremely guilty about it. If that sounds like you or any of your athletes, be sure to spend time working on these psychological recovery strategies:
- Debriefing: Effectively evaluating performance can be a useful way to provide emotional and psychological recovery post training or post competition. A successful debriefing approach helps both the coach and the athlete to evaluate performance objectively, identify what specific changes are needed and then set realistic goals for the next performance. An effective debriefing protocol should emphasise to an athlete and focus on controllable processes rather uncontrollable outcomes of performance. Effectively debriefing performances allows the athlete to achieve “closure” with regards to a past performance.
- Emotional Recovery/contingency planning: In the case of a major setback or traumatic situation/event additional resources may assist an athlete in “coming to terms” with such a situation. It is important that coaches and athletes have their own individual strategies established in advance in case such a situation arises. Contingency planning is an important aspect of preparation for handling emotionally traumatic events as they can be used to distract your attention away from potential sources of stress. Some of the simplest distracters to use during a tournament or competition are mood-lifting activities. These can include watching amusing dvds or comedy shows on television, reading escapist or adventure books, going to a fun park, Cinema, or playing computer games. A sense of humour and a feeling of camaraderie, or team support, are invaluable in times of emotional stress. For athletes in extended competitions away from home, and especially overseas, planning such activities as part of the tour is essential.
- Access to Social Support: Boterill, (1982) Suggests that due to athletes’ total psychological and social immersion in the sports world, the majority of their friends, acquaintances, and other associations are found in a sport environment, and that often their social activities revolve around their athletic lives. Rosenfeld et al (1989) point out that an athletes’ social support will often be derived from their athletic involvement. However, in times of emotional stress that is potentially caused by the athletic involvement, it is important that athletes can also access social support networks that are not immersed in such an environment. It is therefore essential that athletes need to build up a network of support contacts that enables them to access specific individuals who will match their emotional needs for specific emotional stressors, such a support group will include significant influences who the athlete feels they can trust for such support e.g: previous coaches, siblings, parents, friends and possibly other athletes.
- Mental Toughness skills: Recognition of the complex interaction between physical and emotional states is important for recovery training. This is evident when muscle relaxation is observed in conjunction with lowered heart rates and blood pressures and improved mood states. Skills associated with developing positive body language are some of the effective skills that have been used by elite tennis athletes (Loehr, 1992). Development of such techniques can be incorporated prior, during and post training and competitive environments.
- Relaxation Techniques: There are numerous relaxation techniques available to athletes that can be utilised to energise and regulate levels of anxiety and arousal. Williams & Harris (2001) Suggest such strategies can be categorised as muscle to mind and mind to muscle techniques. Muscle to mind techniques typically involve breathing exercises, neuromuscular exercises or progressive muscular exercises, the aim of such techniques being to train an athlete to become sensitive to levels of tension and then control their ability to release such levels of tension. Mind to muscle techniques such as meditation, autogenic training and visualisation aim to disrupt the stimulus response pattern of the nerves leading to the brain or away from the brain. Learning to reduce the sensation in either half of the circuit will interrupt the stimulation necessary to produce unwanted muscular tension.
Remember that although training is important, it will be unproductive if you do not leave ample time for recovery. Try some of these psychological recovery techniques out and see how they work for you.
Our mentorship programme has various coaches who can help advise training techniques and recovery approaches. If you would like to learn more about how this could help you click here