Did you ever have difficulties committing to a workout routine? Do you wish to improve your performance and know which goals to set? Then this expert talk is for you. Eva’s not only a personal trainer, a passionate mountain biker, initiator of the “velochicks” (a cycling club for women) but a certified sport mental coach. In this interview she explains to us how mental coaching works and highlights three techniques to help you work on your goals. (Pic above: Martina Siebenhandl)
What is a mental coach?
Generally speaking, it’s someone who helps people conquering situations, solving problems and achieving goals. A mental coach provides tools, but never solutions.
Can you break this down for us, please?
Sure, I’ll use myself as an example. I’ve become a mental coach out of personal interest you could say. I’m a downhill mountain biker at heart and I’ve participated in races for a few years. However, I’m not the most courageous person and thus often experienced fear when it came to jumps. I then tried to find ways to overcome this resistance and found the tools of mental training.
So you treated yourself first?
Yes, I tested the tools on myself, before I used them on clients 🙂 I did the training during my maternity leave. I first did the mental coach training for sports, which is the more advanced one and then the basic mental coach training. Both use more or less the same tools. It goes without saying that you should be interested in in sports yourself, when you want to become a sport mental coach.
You’re into mountain biking – have you always been into sport?
I studied sport sciences in Graz, Austria. I’m also a mountain bike instructor and personal trainer. My first job was working in a fitness centre in Graz, which also had a separate centre only for women. Back then I was teaching techniques for mountain biking and biked regularly with men and women. That’s when I learned that men and women often have a different approach to cycling. Inspired by this women’s fitness centre, I had the idea to initiate a mountain bike club only for women. This was around 2006.
This was one of the very first women cycling clubs?
You could say that. So together with friends we founded „velochicks“ a cycling club for women. The club is mostly for mountain bikes, but we do have few members with cross-bikes and racing-bikes too.
This year we had our 12-year anniversary. Our members are located in Vienna, Graz and Salzburg.
Amazing. Why did you feel the need to found a women’s only club?
Biking with a group of only women is totally different. We have an easy atmosphere, where you can also have a chat, while riding. It’s not that competitive.
So with men it’s different?
You shouldn’t generalise for sure, but men are more competitive I would say. They tend to drive 100 meters ahead of the rest of the group 😉
So does your experience in sport help you as a mental coach?
There are certain techniques I can make use of. At the beginning of a coaching session I often use progressive muscle relaxing exercises for example.
What does a coaching session look like?
A client comes to me with an issue. This might be based on fears, or mental blockage or he might want to improve his performance or a certain movement (for example: cycling in curves). Teambuilding might also be a cause. After an anamnesis we then figure out a goal, or break the process down into little steps, if it’s a more extensive process. This will allow the client to celebrate little wins, which will hopefully be motivating for further improvement.
I then provide the tools or the right technique for solving this problem. Placing an anchor, visualisation or using nodal points are the most common ones. Let me explain:
- For visualisation a popular example would be skiers. Before the start of a race you often see them visualising the route.
- If you feel stressed at the start of a race, the anchor technique could be helpful to be more relaxed and focused. With this anchor technique you are linking a positive surrounding to a special event by visualising every exact detail. The smell is as important as the positive emotions you want to feel. So when in a stressful situation you’re able to recall this positive and well-known atmosphere.
- The other example I already mentioned is to improve a certain movement. Let’s say you want to cycle the perfect curve. The first step would be to break the movement up into small parts and „nodal points” – like driving in or out of the curve. Start by describing the curve in every little detail. This text could be two pages long. Then try to memorise all the details and consequently shorten the description between these nodal points. Until it all might be narrowed down to one page and finally only three short words. So while tackling curves you will remember these words and the longer description you’ve already learned by heart.
What kinds of people come to you as clients?
Everyone who wants to improve, this could be a professional athlete or a newbie. I do believe a sportsperson is more sensitive and self-reflective towards self-improvement, as they are constantly working on themselves while working out.
What’s the most important thing to start with?
There has to be a good chemistry. The client should be able to trust me.
I make sure that we are starting each coaching session in a relaxed atmosphere. So we might begin with some relaxation techniques like progressive muscle relaxations or autogenic training. Meditation can also be helpful, especially as you can progress easily to visualisation from this stage. So you’re training your imagination and your concentration too.
What’s your advice if you feel the need for improvement?
At the beginning you need to define a goal. We are talking of a SMART goal – s=specific, m=measurable, a=achievable, r=realistic, t=time framed.
Then check which qualifications you need for reaching this goal. It’s important to be honest with yourself and only set goals that are achievable for the envisioned timeframe. A good goal would be for example: I want to be able to jump with my mountain bike from a one-meter high obstacle until September.
If fear is an important factor it’s helpful to ask oneself what’s the worst thing that could happen, if you’re not reaching your goal.
It’s important to train with these techniques regularly, same as you would with a muscle. The more you train, the better you become.
Do you need to motivate your clients?
Every client has come to a coaching out of his/her own motivation. You simply can’t force someone to work on improving and reaching a goal. However, there might be days that are a bit difficult, because we are all humans. That’s when I try to motivate along the way with celebrating small victories for example.
How’s mental coaching with kids?
It’s similar to sessions with adults. The exercises have a more playful approach of course. It’s important that the kids are committed and willing to work on the goal. Parents should never force their children. With kids I mostly focus on team-building.
Is training in a group, like the velochicks, helpful?
Of course it is. Working out in a group or with friends not only creates a positive atmosphere but obligation as well. A group can also motivate to try out new things, especially if there is one member who is more experienced. If one member for example does jump with the mountain bike, others might try out jumps too. So a group is a good tool, if you wish to push your boundaries and try out new things.
Do you have one last advice for people who struggle with working out regularly?
I would suggest finding out why I want to work out. Is it really me who wants to do so, or do I just feel obliged because my friend wants me to? If your day is really crammed, then try to analyse every event, from the moment you wake up until you go sleeping at night. Maybe you can add an hour of training somewhere in between or you need to let go of something to be able to fit it a workout in.