It's the end of the season. You walk into your garage. Your running shoes haven't moved in two weeks. Your goggles look exceptionally dry. You can't even look at your tri bike that's slowly gathering dust on its rack.
Ever have that feeling? If the answer is "yes," you're not alone.
Peter Haberl, senior sports psychologist for the U.S. Olympic Committee routinely helps some of the nation's top athletes combat the mental fatigue that can result from a season of hard training and intense competition.
You don't have to be an Olympian to suffer from offseason blues, Haberl says. All you have to be is "an athlete high in perfectionism."
Does the profile sound familiar?
This trait can drive positive behavior. An athlete like this will set very high goals. However, this characteristic can have negative effects as well. The same athlete may feel less than perfect if he or she falls short.
There's no hard and fast rule for when the depression can set in. It's an individual phenomenon that depends on where the athlete is in his or her sports career and stage in life.
Tying self-worth to PRs proves to be the one single common denominator. Offseason blues can easily be caused by wrapping too much self-esteem around a goal and then missing it.
When it hits, treat it like an injury and address it right away. This isn't the natural instinct, however, for typical triathletes. "Triathletes tend to live by the ethic that 'more is better.' In this case, less is often more," Haberl says.
He doesn't have a formula for regaining your mojo, but he does offer four recommendations that typically help elite athletes recharge and regain their passion for what they do best:
1) Create an off-season for yourself: It really matters that you make an offseason. You need to recharge your emotional batteries and rediscover the joy in the sport.
2) Take a real vacation: The travel itinerary should not include any activity that requires you to pin a number to your shirt. Stay up late. Sleep in. Eat what you want. Lie next to the pool and get some sun.
3) Do some different sports: If you live in a winter climate, take up cross-country skiing on the weekends. If you live in a warmer environment, try mountain biking or hiking.
4) Revisit what's important to you: Re-examine your core values and what's most important about doing the sport. By reflecting on your personal motivation, you can trump other negative emotions that hurt performance.
To avoid the post-season blues next year, Haberl strongly recommends starting next year in a different way. At the beginning of the new season,set realistic goals. These goals should be more process-oriented than outcome-oriented.
Outcome-oriented goals focus on results outside your control--such as being first out of the water at your "A" race. These types of goals risk creating a feeling of failure.
Process-oriented goals focus on how you performed--such as the form you kept during the run--not your absolute time or place at the event. With these type of objectives, you will have the greatest chance of a successful 2011 season and remaining a happy participant in the sport you love.
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