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How "Mental" is Track & Field?

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  • How "Mental" is Track & Field?

    I have a question of you board members, and have never had an opportunity to ask it of track savants. How much of a mental barrier, sub-consciously, do you think exists in track & field. I studied the subconscious in pysch classes, especially the effect of placebos, and the efficacy of a trained hypnotist on a suggestible subject. The 7 foot high jump, the four minute mile, and other marks such as the 17 foot pole vault were once considered "barriers". Allowing that fiberglass poles, conditioning and other things have altered the physical aspect slightly, how much of the sport's boundaries were in the mind?

    If you read Gale Sayers' memoir "I Am Third", he recounted how in his h.s. state meet in 1961, he needed to nail a 23'6" long jump to cop the state. When Sayers turned away from the pit to retrace his steps, his coach at Omaha Central moved the towel for Gale's target ("mark")a foot and a half forward. Now, Gale's quadriceps and hip flexors did not change while that was occurring. He took him final attempt, leapt for the towel mark, and landed at a state record 24'11 and three quarters. Smacks of mind over matter to me (given, Sayers was a superb athlete, I'm not saying any student could have pulled off the winning jump)

    Does anyone have other examples?

    I also think of those who run a bit faster in a field of faster competitors. I've read of powerlifters who recorded personal bests when told the bar held a weight they knew they had lifted (when it actually held a PB)


  • #2
    Re: How

    Yes, at the highest level in any sport the mental side of the game is huge. T&F is no exception. In order to achieve one MUST first believe. Belief in self, coach and training is essential.


    • #3
      Re: How

      It's an old trick in the HJ and PV to lie to your athlete as they get set to make an attempt in practice (or even in a meet, when they are the only one left). I had a girl make 5'7 when she thought she was jumping a PR-equaling 5'3!


      • #4
        Re: How

        I spent part of my childhood on Baffin Island and we had a store room for a 6-month supply of food. We drank powdered milk, and even after moving back to civilization my mother kept mixing it half and half with "real" milk. Eventually I rebelled and refused to drink anything but real milk. She still kept a container of the half and half stuff in the fridge for my naive younger brothers. One day she switched the containers to see if I'd notice the difference. I was furious to find out I'd been duped. Didn't notice a thing, but trust me if I'd had to choose between them I'd have known which was which 100 times out of 100.


        • #5
          Re: How

          Mr. Bayne:

          Are there any websites where I can find more info about this? I would like to read more about stories like the ones you have mentioned, but I'm banned from our local library (Don't ask).


          • #6
            Re: How

            I used to hurdle, long and triple jump and in those events, for me, there was no mental aspect at all. I just ran as fast as I could and jumped into the pit or over the ten barriers.

            BUT, I was a much better high jumper and that was ALL mental to me. As long as my belief system was entirely positive I seldom missed a jump, and when I did I was able to easily dismiss it as merely a technical error and go on. I'd get into a zone of confidence that no competitor or distraction or weather condition could affect. The fun of it was to be totally adrenalized and yet be able to focus all that emotional/hormonal power toward a specific goal. That was the coolest form of intoxication I ever experienced (and I did try some others along the way). At some point, though, it would hit me that whatever ht. I was attempting was damn high. Sometimes it would be visually, on a run through, or sometimes when I knew it was a pr. Whatever the reason, once total confidence eroded, I might have well have withdrawn then and there. When doubts arose, I invariably began to try too hard, to do something special, carry more speed, hit the take off more powerfully... and the results were never pretty. There is a fine, but ominous line between motivation and anxiety!


            • #7
              Re: How "Mental" is Track

              I read the powerlifting study about 10 years ago in the "Outlook" (editorial)section of the Washington Post. Sayers' h.s. track coach Smagacz led his team to five state boys'championships, and in enshrined in the Nebraska Sports HOF.



              A placebo is a standard component of supplementation and exercise physiology experiments. The placebo controls for the influence of the treatment on the subjects, for example, subjects supplementing with creatine may expect to make increases in size and mass. Such expectations may influence the behavior of the clients and thus the results of the study, so a placebo group is added to control for these expectations.

              A placebo is always as close as possible to the actual treatment, so in the case of creatine supplementation, the subjects in the placebo group would preferably supplement with a fine, bland, inert white powder.

              The response rate of the “placebo effect” has been reported in research literature as being as low as 0% and as high as 100%, thus the placebo effect can be very powerful. For example, 100% of subjects that were told they were exposed to poison ivy (when it really was a harmless plant) felt as though they developed a skin reaction. Therefore, employing a placebo in most physiology studies is essential.

              The placebo effect can psychologically help & hinder the athlete during performance and the superstitions that athletes keep are an excellent example of a practical “placebo effect”. For example, athletes may rely on certain foods (i.e. a steak) before game time to help increase performance even though there is no scientific support for that particular practice. The placebo effect is also present in many facets of life and can play a huge role in exercise and performance outcomes.


              • #8
                Re: How

                From an August post by "jsquire"

                All great champions are freaks, both physically and mentally. Otherwise they'd be just like the rest of us. It's freakish to be able to run a quarter mile so fast that you could be pulled over in a school zone, or to run 180 miles in 24 hours, or to throw a bowling ball 3/4 down a basketball court, or to be able to jump over a crosswalk. When I measure off Beamon's WR jump for my math classes, they just go nuts -- and then I show them the picture where his feet are above a seated official!

                One guy who's probably never been mentioned in T&FN but definitely falls into the "Freak of Nature" category is Yiannis Kouros. I think he's approaching 40, has been competing for over 20 years, and is still the best ultramarathoner in the world. His 24-hour record is 303.5 km, or about 185 miles. Last fall he put up 172 miles on a day that was much too hot for ultramarathoning (80s and high humidity).