How Not to Freak Out (During a Season)

This season, World Championships are ridiculously late (end of September/beginning of October). Usually they’re in July/August, so it’s a weird thing to prepare mentally for a peak at what feels like a completely different time of year. Last season, I was fully aware that my priority was end of August/beginning of September (the Diamond League Final and IAAF Continental Cup). This year, that focus is a whole month later. The rest of the competitive season doesn’t really change, though, so I will still start traveling to meets at the end of May, just like last year. That feels early to me, honestly, but it can be difficult to be an American watching the collegiate season roll onward, the Australian/South Pacific season come to a close, and people in other throwing events just dropping bombs. It’s neat to feel the right kind of FOMO (motivation: I want to throw far, too!!!), but if you let that excitement run rampant, you’re asking a lot of your nervous system even when you’re not in any kind of training arena!

I know I’m not alone in feeling antsy when other peoples’ results start to pour in, and mine either haven’t started yet, or aren’t what I hoped they would be. I want to talk about how to stay in your own lane. How to rely on the plan that you and your coach have set in place and ease your mind so that you save energy for the rest of the season (when you’re supposed to perform). How not to lose sleep over the fact that you sometimes feel like the world is leaving you behind.

I’m a firm believer that one of the biggest lessons you can learn from sport is how to channel uncertainty, frustration, worry, doubt, fear, and any other negative emotion into positive energy and outcomes. That huge feat takes time for everybody, but I’m hoping to provide you some super simple tools here that can help you on your way.

Step one to remaining calm…

Step one to remaining calm…

I’ve written about how to recover. I’ve described some mental tools that I use either in competition or the day of competition to stay calm. But here are some ideas to either distract yourself from or channel the very specific kind of seemingly helpless frustration that comes from wanting to succeed but having to wait. A lot of people want to go lift or head to practice when they feel this feeling, but overtraining doesn’t help anyone! I will preface this entire list with this: PUT YOUR PHONE DOWN. Scrolling social media channels, desperate for one more ounce of information about whatever you’re worried about is NOT helpful. Stash that google machine across the room and calm your mind. In no particular order:

1.       Do something totally different.

I’ve said this before and I will say it for the rest of my life! Be well-rounded. If you’re still in school, pour yourself into your studies. Start a new hobby or fall back on the one you’ve always loved. Read your favorite book or find a new one. Start a book club with a friend! Confidence and enjoyment in other areas of life breed confidence and enjoyment on the runway, so master other crafts as well.

2.       Stretch.

This is something we all say we’ll work on at home and we hardly ever do. Just stretch. Mildly, not aggressively. Breathe. Feel what you feel and think about how the stretches you’re doing will help your throw. Which parts of your body feel tight in practice? Focus on those. Ease into it. You’ll actually enjoy it after 3 minutes, I promise.

3.       Hydrate or meal prep.

Grab your water bottle, not a wine bottle. Make yourself some tea. If meal prep is something that you do, do that. If meal prep isn’t your thing, but you’re going crazy enough to try it, try it! Researching recipes and trying new things, especially when you know the real and nutritious food you’re making will help your throwing, can calm your mind. The simple act of taking care of your body with hydration and nutrition will help you trust it when it finally comes time for you to perform.

4.       Core.

Your core is difficult to overtrain! Obviously it’s possible so please don’t go too crazy, but this is another area where we all say we’ll do more than we actually do. Get into a plank for a minute each side. Do 3x30s of seated Russian twists. Be a Banana for a while. Focus on how the simple work you’re doing will help your throw. Feel connection between your upper and lower body!

5.       Film review.

Your OWN, not everyone else’s who has been throwing far and making you antsy. Watch past years. Watch yesterday. See what’s different. Think about how you felt yesterday vs. what you were focused on last season. Appreciate the changes you’ve made and concentrate on how those changes are going to get you the results you want.

6.       Journal.

I used to hate training journals. I would accidentally turn them into teenage diaries of how I felt about every single thing I did that day. But now, with my Believe Training Journal, I really enjoy just recording what happened. I’m forced to very briefly record my takeaways because there’s not much space. It’s made for runners, but I like the simplicity because it’s easier to pick out patterns. Why did I have that terrible back spasm this week? Go back to last week and check it out: Makes sense. Pick positive patterns out of your journals as well, of course! But writing about what’s bothering you makes you process it, too. And then you can move forward. Try setting a timer for 10 minutes and just writing the entire time. It doesn’t matter what you write about, just keep your pen moving! I’ve really enjoyed that process in starting to write my blogs.

7.       Meditate/Visualize.

I’m terrible at this, but getting better. Turn on a white noise app or download a guided meditation one (you may use your phone for this one). Maybe after you do your film review, spend some time visualizing your absolute perfect throw in vivid detail. You can also visualize how you might compete against those people who are already competing, or someone you know has been a challenge for you in the past. Specificity in visualization is really powerful, so channel what’s bothering you into something you can overcome mentally. Again and again. Just worrying about it isn’t helpful, but planning to overcome something specific is.

8.       Take a nap.

If your brain is working overtime about your worry, it’ll be hard to go to sleep. But do things that will allow you to get that shut-eye! Turn on a fan or classical music or just focus on keeping your mind blank until suddenly you’re sleeping. Naps are my favorite.

9.       Go for a walk.

With or without headphones and music/podcasts. Preferably in nature, but just around your neighborhood is great, too. Just stroll. Walking just to walk isn’t something people really do! But it’s calming. Maybe after your walk, take a nap.

10.   Borrow a dog.

Dogs are the best. I didn’t have one for most of my career but she is so important to my recovery and general happiness now! Dog owners, though, always enjoy when other people play with their puppers. Ask a friend to borrow their dog for an afternoon. Walk it or just pet it or take it to the park. Teach it a trick. Let it make you happy!

Pick one of these things when you’re next feeling the pressure of a season of which you don’t yet feel a part! Don’t run to the track to practice when you’re getting worked up if it’s not on the schedule, take care of business in other ways to calm your mind and preserve the plan of your season. Training is planning for your body to perform at a certain time. Freaking out and rushing that process messes with the plan! But I know how hard it can be to feel stuck at home and helpless. You’re NEVER helpless. You have lots of different tools to make yourself better. And when it’s time, all your waiting will be worth it.

You can absolutely use your nervous energy within training sessions. Mimicking the way you’ll feel in a competition if someone throws far by using that worry in a positive way during training is the perfect way to a) get it out of your system and b) turn negative feelings into positive outcome. Nervous energy is energy you can put toward far throws. Just learn to channel it by using the ideas above!

Some joy from performing at the right time of year! (Beijing 2015)

Some joy from performing at the right time of year! (Beijing 2015)

Questions from Instagram:

“I check what everyone threw at a meet I’m going to is that bad?”

I wouldn’t recommend it! If it helps you to not be surprised by peoples’ far throws within a competition, that’s one thing and I get it. If it’s just a way for you to work yourself up for days before going into a meet, stop it! Worry and concentration on other people just fry your nervous system and put you at a disadvantage during the meet. You probably have some sort of idea who throws what without doing a deep dive into their athletic history, right? So you already know what you’re up against without spending a lot of energy looking it up in detail. If it’s a positive for you, that’s fine. But if all those numbers consume your thoughts when you’re trying to sleep the night before, or if it feels like you’re focusing on others more than what your technical cues are, try to find a new habit (like thinking about your own cues!).

“How do you get away from runway anxiety?”

See my “Competition Mentalityblogs for a lot of info on this!

“Pinpointing what this looks like for different people? And expressing it to young athletes.”

I don’t have a ton of experience expressing things to young athletes, unfortunately. But I can try to describe how I’ve seen such performance anxiety manifest in different people I’ve known throughout my career (and myself)!

I used to watch live results of meets I knew competitors would be at and worry the whole time. Now I know that if something amazing happens, I’ll hear about it. I’ve watched a LOT of teammates and training partners overtrain because they can’t trust the process their coach has laid out for them. They think that ten more sets of drills are better, when really maybe one more set of excellent drills are what they need. Physically, this particular anxiety is just a tightness in my chest coupled with an extreme restlessness. Like when results show up on Friday night or Saturday and maybe you were happy with how you did that weekend, but now someone else has done better and you can’t BELIEVE you have to wait another week or two to try again. Refocusing on what went well or what your actual goals are is helpful here. There are a lot of different ways such feelings can present themselves! The bottom line to helping someone through them is to communicate with them. Care about them as a whole person and an athlete.

“Comparison! How to avoid?”

Put your phone down. Comparison is the thief of joy, it’s true!!

I struggle so much with social media. I’m working on ideas for a blog about my complicated social media feelings! About a month ago, I started leaving my phone in my kitchen when I went to bed. Instead of scrolling Instagram, I read a book I’m actually interested in, pet Maddie, and talk to my husband. That simple act has made it easier to put my phone down somewhere in the house during the day and forget about it, too. It’s a bad bad day when I’m refreshing Insta. I hope we all know by now that most of what we see on social media is the optimum of someone else’s life, not the whole picture. I saw a #javelin post the other day that was a guy throwing, in a questionable position, and the caption was, “Roast Me.” I loved it so so much for its realness!! Follow things that make you happy. And if there’s someone out there that you are following that doesn’t boost your training or feelings, unfollow or mute! Instragram (and any social media) can be such a great tool for learning and cooperation, if you’re careful to monitor what you are getting out of it. I hope that any training tips or rehab things that I post are educational rather than intimidating: If you’re not inspired and motivated by whoever is in your life, digitally or in the flesh, change that.

Comparison within competition is something I had to learn how to avoid as well. My technique is my technique, and watching other women throw doesn’t help me focus on my own technical goals for the day. That kind of thing is for practice. I used to watch how people prepared for a meet and see how far their javelins flew during warm-ups, then let however I compared to that have an impact on my feelings! Silly! So I stopped watching other women’s throws. That’s it. You can’t really close your eyes to everything, and I’m fine to watch someone coming down the runway, but as soon as the javelin leaves their hand, I don’t need to see where it’s going. It’s not helpful to me. You’re going to know within competition when someone throws far. But staying in your own process is easier when you’re not also processing all of the visual information around you that has nothing to do with you.

“Please! Also about doing that during training in the insta age.”

Since I’ve addressed social media a bit above, I’ll take “insta age” as “instant age.” Many people like instant results in 2019! A weird thing about me is that I’ve never been that person. Like I don’t open packages I’ve been waiting for for like three days. I enjoy training just as much as competition because I know what it’s for. I absolutely love delayed gratification, but I’m competitive enough that feeling left behind gives me this anxious feeling that inspired this blog! So I think I understand how instant gratification people feel.

My advice for dealing with the desire of instant gratification is to think about something that has happened in your life that you are thrilled about, and all the steps that you took to get there. Really reflect on how much you love or appreciate that thing (or maybe person? Child?), and everything that went into bringing it into your life. All the little things that had to happen along the way to make it possible. Realize that some of the best things in your life have been the product of slow builds, and it makes training and patience for competition and results an exercise in gratitude for that build.

 “What about young athletes with lows after a very successful year?”

Talk to them about expectation. Throws are about jumps in performance and then working toward a plateau at that level, then jumping in performance again. Waiting for the jump can be terribly hard! A young athlete could also fall into the trap of thinking that just because they succeeded once, they have that performance in their back pocket. Throws are more punishing than that! You have to reinforce the work you’ve already done and then learn even more to improve. I am not a coach, but I would try to have the conversation with kids that expectations have to match reality just a little bit as far as results go: There’s something to be said for competition giving people an extra boost in performance, but understanding positions and feeling certain things in practice need to come before far throws can. Ask your athlete what’s different with them? What were they doing well when they threw far, and what are they doing now? Is there something small they can change to give them more confidence? Perhaps it’s not a javelin issue at all.

“Should you hold back ‘fire’?”

I don’t quite understand but I’m going to say no. Always try your best! You can just do that in a lot of different ways.

“Can I ask, how to sleep the night of a competition? And how to not be too nervous in a comp.”

For advice on how to not be too nervous in a competition, read my Competition Mentality blogs!

As far as sleeping the night before a competition, I struggle with that a bit, too. Try to make things as normal as possible (same bedtime routine no matter where you are, be on the same page with your roommate about the TV being on or not, etc.). If you have trouble falling asleep because you’re thinking about throwing, maybe download a guided meditation app that makes you think about something else before sleeping. Once you practice this with a recording enough, you’ll maybe be able to just clear your mind on your own and get good rest. There are various SleepyTime teas commercially available, but I find that non-caffeinated tea in general makes me feel like curling up under the covers! If you do any kind of supplementation to sleep, I would recommend that you try whatever system you’re thinking about the night before a training session first to see how your body responds. I do not take supplements and I do not recommend them in general, but they work for a lot of people.

“This year so far, I opened the best I have, the second meet I competed had the best series of my life and had a PR, my 3rd meet had one of the worst meets after putting more pressure on myself knowing I can do better. How do you compete/what mentality should you have when raising the expectations and bar for yourself without putting too much pressure on yourself?”

I would say, moving forward, pretend your next competition is another season opener! Do your best to start strong for sure, and then with each successive throw, be in the moment and compete with your last throw. For your next meet, your PR or when it happened don’t matter. Reset, and challenge yourself to take the competition throw by throw, casting aside any overarching expectations you might have. To make that first throw strong, think about what cues have really worked for you recently, and just pick your favorite one.

When we try to push after having great results early, it’s SO easy to just trust the positions we think we have nailed down and “relax and let it happen.” While that is absolutely the zen moment you want, it’s not quite that when it actually happens. The zen of an amazing flow day lies in knowing absolutely that certain technical positions are yours, and that you’ll hit them exactly when you need to. It’s like you’re moving in slow motion. Your mind isn’t blank, it’s laser focused on connection and how to keep connection happening. Connection is achieved through great technique. So keep drilling, keep nailing positions that you know worked for you in your first two meets and have been working all year in training (because clearly that’s the case and how you got to a PR!), and then when you get into the ring just start from there. Knowing you can do better (belief) is important, and knowing how you will do better is a lot more important. You already know that because you’ve already done it. It’s a really subtle shift in focus that can feel really difficult, but your body knows how much you want success and further throws without that thought being at the forefront of your mind. The whole “it’s about the journey, not the destination” thing rings true for technique and mindset as well.

This is also a growing pains question I think! It’s absolutely normal to have disappointing performances after a PR, so try not to be too hard on yourself. It’s fantastic to start a season on such a high note, and there is no reason to be totally down on yourself about one bad performance (or even two!). As Barbora said to me last summer, “You must have one.” I had thrown 55m. Then I threw 64.75m a few days later. You’re going to be great! *flexed arm emoji*

Competition Mentality Q&A

I am blown away by this number of questions! Thank you so much. Questions are bolded so if you asked one, you can easily scroll and find it. As always, feel free to inquire more in the comments!

“How do you approach a big meet or ‘need to throw further’ 3rd throw to get into a finals of a competition?”

               See my main blog for the answer to Part A! I like the “need to throw further” 3rd throw part of this question. It’s a bit of a Hail Mary, right? You’re desperate. I hate that I have felt this way at so many major championships, but I have overcome the feeling before!

               Thinking about what has gone wrong on throws 1 and 2 isn’t the move. Concentrate on what you came into the competition focused on technically, and do that. I always find that really locking in my posture and core before one of these last-ditch attempts is really important. Relax your upper body and make your legs fire! It’s so easy to approach a third throw like this with a “relax and let it happen” attitude, and I find that that just sends the tip of the javelin straight up into the air, because I’ve forgotten about my legs.

A) Breathe. But not in a relaxed way necessarily, in an empowering, positive-in-negative-out kind of way.

B) Do a little bit of core. Some push-ups maybe. A handstand. Lock in the source of your power!

C) Focus on the cues you came into the day focused on.

D) Lead with your legs.

Breathe!

Breathe!

“What helps you the most to stay out of your own head before a meet?”

               Sleep in if I can, go for a walk and listen to something completely unrelated to javelin, watch funny shows or movies, and nap. I’m pretty solitary on meet day. I know some people like to talk to others to distract themselves but I need to be mostly horizontal to feel like I’m saving up my energy. Once it’s time to get ready to head to the track, though, I’m fine with focusing on the job at hand. I love the process of packing my bag with everything I know I’ll need: Water bottle, snacks, shoes and extra spikes, foam roller, extra clothes, bib number and safety pins. It calms me to know I’m prepared. And I pack and start getting ready fairly early so I know I’ll have time to remember everything.

“How not to be nervous when people are watching; parents and teammates.”

               See my previous blog for another touch on this! I used to be so nervous about crowds, too, until I realized that they were only there because they believed in me. A crowd really wants everyone to succeed. They want to see a fantastic competition, even if they’re just a bleachers section full of parents! So recognize their attention for what it is: Encouragement. Be honest with yourself that there is some tiny part of you that wants to show off all of the hard work that you’ve done in sport, and tap into that to give the crowd a show. They’re there because they want to witness something fantastic. Don’t you want that for yourself, too? Everyone is on the same page. I found that this mental shift was fairly slight for me (attention is still being directed your way, negative or positive, in front of a crowd), but so huge for my mentality. It takes practice to soak up that energy as a positive, but you can do it!

“How to stay calm all day so you don’t burn out but ramp up the energy come competition time.”

               I have come to love walks. It’s probably all due to my Maddie Lion! They truly calm me, and I actually started that practice just after my left shoulder surgery at the end of 2015, about 6 months before we got Madeline. I was training for her and I didn’t even know it! I take some sort of walk every competition day now, limited to about 20 minutes. Bonus if I’m listening to some sort of podcast that makes me laugh or think about something unrelated to what will happen later in the day. Sometimes after the walk I’ll do a tiny bit of balance work.

               After that, getting horizontal, not drinking too much coffee too early in the day, watching shows or movies that are easy on the brain, and napping keep me calm. I like to set a time for myself that it’s okay to start getting excited, and like I said above, that’s usually when I start getting ready for the competition itself. If you know subconsciously that you’re reserving excitement for that specific time, hopefully your body will cooperate and relax all day, then build when you say it’s okay!

               Starting to get ready to leave is actually phase one of excitement. Phase two is the bus. Phase three is the warm-up area, and phase four is walking into the stadium itself. Practice this in training. Think about cues in your car on the way to training, but keep the music calm. Crank the tunes during general warm-up or just allow yourself to be a little more excitable (laughing with teammates, etc.). Then as you approach the ring/runway/what have you, don whatever your game face is.

A game face.

A game face.

“How do you keep your head clear during competition? I get unfocused and in my own head.”

               Print out photos of things that make you happy (see below for two that make my heart explode) or motivate you. Physically write your cues on a sheet of paper or index cards to have with you during the competition to keep you focused. Practice your strategy for the meet in training or just at home in your own mind (Do you want to open the competition with a super far first throw? What will you do on attempt four to start finals strong? Break the meet down into scenarios and operate within those as you’ve thought through them.).

               I do a couple really simple things to shake myself back into the moment during a competition if I start to feel tired or unfocused (that sometimes happens when competing jet-lagged!). The first is to simply drink water. I always have a water bottle with me, and the plain act of sipping water from my own sticker-riddled Nalgene water vessel snaps me back into every day life and a headspace that I’m used to occupying. The second is to remove myself from the competition area a bit! Get away from semi-awkward smiles or chit-chat if you need to and do some stretching or breathing or a stride. Just take a second.

Just doing some levitation off by myself on a very cold Drake Relays day!

Just doing some levitation off by myself on a very cold Drake Relays day!

               Another thing you might try is some kind of meditation. It doesn’t have to be long or intense or involve anything more than just sitting quietly and breathing for five or ten minutes. Controlling your own need to fidget or move or be stimulated helps retain focus in competition.

“How do you overcome your own thoughts before practices and competition? I’ve always struggled with being very negative and never being happy with my performances and it’s definitely affected my throws during meets since I’m constantly beating myself down.”

               Try hyper-focusing on very few objective technical cues. You should do this in practice as well! If you have maybe two (maybe even just one) physical things that you’re attempting to accomplish in a competition and those are your absolute only goals, it’s very easy to tell if you succeeded or not! Then, if you don’t accomplish those goals, it’s okay to be frustrated for a bit. You’re nervous and upset because you care about how you’re doing, but you also need to learn how to channel that negative energy into positive work and then results. Take your next competition and establish two technical components that you must execute in order to consider the day successful. If you do those two things, you’ve won. For this meet, it does not matter ONE BIT if you throw far or not. It only matters if you hit your positions. I bet both will happen.

               My sophomore year of college, I had this terrible practice at which I hit myself in the back of the head with the javelin like eight times. It was supposed to be a really chill day with not a lot of effort, but I can feel my tears of embarrassment and frustration welling up in my memory! The next day was a competition day, and I threw a 4-meter PR. Something about feeling like I had hit rock bottom (which was an over-reaction) and then getting a little angry in a competition made me relax.

“Was it hard to adjust to ‘big meets’ and keep a solid mindset? How did you learn?”

               Um, yeah. I think my track record (ha!) at really big meets speaks for itself as far as my very slow learning curve and performing when it counts. See Part 1 of this series for some stories on that!

               I’ve learned by trying to figure out how to make the big meets normal for me. I’m actually really excited as we approach Tokyo 2020, because I’m hoping to make the experience much more like the three-week training trips I go on to Germany and Europe in general sometimes than a big, grandiose Olympic Games. That’s normal for me (my own AirBnB, Russ along, paddle-boarding at night in the city). Something as simple as a walk (again, see Part 1) keeps a big competition day consistent with a not-as-big competition day.

SUP?

SUP?

               After ACL surgery, I spent a long time in my re-introduction to international competition trying to remain really calm. I was super nervous to compete again because throwing the javelin at a high level of intensity in one slightly wrong position is how I hurt my knee. So to return to that arena was scary. I needed to practice managing my energy and nervousness going into meets. After a while though, I just felt tired heading into the stadium. My psyche adjusted to the regular competition goings-on as I got further away from my injury and I needed to ramp it up again, but in normal ways. So I started watching the YouTube video that always gets me fired up, listening to high-energy songs, and drinking more coffee before getting on the bus and during my warm-up routine. Keeping things normal is important, but sometimes the slightest jolt in that normal routine creates magic as well (for the third time, read Part 1).

               I’ve struggled with jet lag at Diamond League events, comparing myself to others during the warm-up process, and worrying that I’ll have to pee in the middle of the event. But when it comes down to it, whether I’m on American soil or in the Bird’s Nest, the constant is that I’m throwing the javelin. Recognizing that that can be the same all over the world is powerful.

“What’s your diet look like pre and post meet?”

               I eat pretty darn simply on meet days! The night before, I usually have some kind of sweet. Something small. And the dinner that precedes that is typically some sort of red meat and vegetables. Breakfast day-of is eggs, maybe some oatmeal and banana if it’s available, and some coffee because that’s a normal thing. Sometimes orange juice. For lunch I like a sandwich. I’m a big fan of a Jimmy John’s Italian sub. Maybe an Arnold Palmer. Water all day in sips, and more coffee before or on the bus. I often compete in the late afternoon or evening so eating before a competition is sometimes the hardest part! If it’s late enough that a bar won’t cut it before competition time, I might eat another half a sandwich. Then, a protein bar of some kind (Zone bars and Balance bars are great, but I’ve been loving Larabars recently as well), some Propel usually, and fruit snacks for right before/during the meet! Then dinner, whatever it may be, as soon as possible post-competition. Great question!

“I often feel guilty with rest, I would love to hear you talk about this.”

               Rest is best! I love it love it. Read my Recovery blog!

               As far as rest on competition days, I used to do too much of it. I would preserve ALL of my energy for meet time, but then find it really difficult to get up and go when I needed to, especially overseas. Now, I eat breakfast, usually take a walk from there (20 minutes or so, listening to something completely unrelated to javelin), then do a little bit of balance and core work before going to lie down for the rest of the day before competition! My favorite is to get my lunch on the walk and keep it in a hotel mini-fridge if available so I don’t have to leave my room again until it’s time to hit the track! I used to just lay down all day, and my back would hurt and it would take so much more effort to warm up once I started. Lethargy. Now, keeping that bit of movement isolated to the morning and then resting all midday keeps me alert but relaxed as well. A bonus competition-day nap is my favorite!

               Allowing yourself to rest on meet day lets your mind and body prepare for putting everything into competition. It’s this slow burn, like the question above about ramping up energy when it’s actually time rather than burning out with excitement during the day. The important work to your performance that day has already been done! Any fidgeting, extra mobility work, or drills you might do on meet day a) should have already been done and b) probably will just make you tired. Your coach has prepared you for competition in a specific way, and messing with your central nervous system with extra work the day of a meet doesn’t help that process!

“I am interested as a jav girl about the 80%=PRs. How do u stay 80% at big meets?”

               I’m not completely familiar with this concept! It’s not something I’m conscious of during a meet so I’m not totally sure how to answer, but here we go.

               If I were to apply a “stay at 80% effort” mentality to competition, I would imagine that would mean I’d lead with my legs and try to keep my upper body relaxed. That is what I try to do anyway! Attempting to throw really far with not all of your effort is going to be really difficult. One of the worst feelings ever is walking away from a runway with the idea that you haven’t put everything you’ve got into the competition. People do that at the biggest meets in the world. They go in thinking, “Stay relaxed, just easyfar out there in qualifying and go home to prepare for finals.” Then before you know it, your third attempt is here and so far you’ve performed worse than the rest of the season. (I’m speaking from experience, guys.) Six throws (three in a qualifying situation) feels like a lot, but it can go by SO quickly. Put everything you’ve got into attempt number 1, then relax the upper body more and more from there (keep the legs turning over!).

               If you’re firing on all leg cylinders, but your upper body is relaxed, hopefully that equals the 80% effort you’re talking about. But trying to actually throw at 80% mentally means to me that you’ll be hesitant at release, and likely that means you lose the tip and just try to poke the javelin out there last-minute without proper sequencing. That’s what happens to me when I try to back off! There is a recklessness to this javelin throw, but leading it with your legs means that it happens in the right order. I hope this helps!

Please enjoy this collage of times I’ve tried to relax too much and been frustrated and baffled by the result.

“How do you keep your head in the right place if in a competition and it’s going bad?”

               All you can do is stick to your technical goals! Again, I try to remove myself a bit from the rest of the competition and put my head back on straight. I do some leg swings or just lay there face up, looking at the beautiful blue sky and reassuring myself that regardless of how it’s going right now, this is fun and I am awesome. I have, in the past, been pretty great at clutch sixth-round victory throws! And almost every time, this little reassurance moment off by myself in the grass or on a secluded spot of track surface is the precursor to that last-minute performance.

“How do you stay out of your own head after a bad meet or bad week of practice.”

               It is absolutely okay to sulk a little bit. Staying relentlessly positive is exhausting and not real! I’ve had extreme over-reaction moments when practice has gone terribly, I’m training super hard in an effort to just improve on SOMEthing, and then my back spasms and I collapse into a dramatic mess of tears. Once, I basically crawled to Russ’s room in Chula Vista, sobbing. I can be a disaster. But in short spurts! Then, pull yourself up, recognize little tiny victories every day, and move forward.

               Slumps suck. It’s true. And they can be due just to training, or injury, or stuff going on in your life that has nothing to do with javelin. In any case, and whatever is throwing you off your game, make a plan to fix it. Figure out exactly what’s wrong with some self-reflection. Have you just been continuing to train through back pain, hoping it will go away? Talk to a physical therapist and develop a plan, then prepare to put the hard work in to make it better. Confused about technique? Request more film-watching sessions with your coach, or do that on your own (YouTube started my freshman year of college and was finally mainstream when I graduated! You have SO many resources for visual learning.). Having a hard time focusing on training because something else is bothering you? Buckle down and finish that paper, break out of your toxic relationship, or volunteer somewhere to feel better. Deal with stress in a healthy way so that it doesn’t leak into your athletic performance. Bottom line, you’re in control of your life. Change what isn’t serving you.

               One bad meet? No problem. I threw 55 meters in Italy last summer, by FAR my worst meet of the season. It was my last competition before the Diamond League Final: The Most Important Competition For Me Of The Year. I was a little freaked out. Barbora and I had lunch in Prague just after the Italy meet, and I told her, embarrassed, about my showing in Rovereto. She shrugged and said, “You must have one.” Oh! One meet does not the athlete make. My worries instantly dissipated and I focused on the future, then threw well. I know it’s hard to shake it off, but practice it! One bad throw does not a practice make either. Get better at moving on from bad technique in the day-to-day, and that will make it easier to focus on a good next performance.

“What has been/is your mindset competing against people with much bigger PRs than you?”

               “Why not me?” It took me a long time to get there, though, especially after knee surgery. Watch this video for a little touch on that.

               One of the coolest things about traveling the world throwing the javelin and meeting women from everywhere who do exactly that is becoming their friends. Once you know them and know that they also have hobbies and significant others and dogs and lives outside of the stadium, they (and their PRs) get less scary. You can make that shift in your own mind as well. Everyone is just a person. Everyone has amazing abilities, including you.

               Also, I WOULD LOVE TO PR. I’m proud of my personal best, but it feels like I threw it at a time that I didn’t necessarily understand quite what I was doing yet, and that was NINE YEARS AGO. It’s comparable to many women’s PRs around the world, but as the world gets better at javelin, my personal best gets less impressive. These days, it drives me more than ever to hone in on the technique that I know will get me there. My best is what I’m thinking about in competition, not other peoples’. I’m fully aware that they’ve thrown further than me, but I believe I’ll catch them. Focus on what you can control, not other people. You have nothing to do with their results. See my previous blog for more information on how to think about PRs!

One of my favorite practices ever as far as mentality goes. Birmingham, 2017.

One of my favorite practices ever as far as mentality goes. Birmingham, 2017.

“How to stay calm when one of your competitors just threw farther than you.”

               When I’m on my game, this fires me up like nothing else. I love the charge it gives me! If this happens in a weird part of the rotation of athletes, like I’m not the next person up, I try to replay that moment over and over in my head until it’s my turn, then focus hard on relaxing my right arm, great posture, and aggressive feet. Once again, you can’t just hope for far throws when the pressure is on, you must rely on your training. Focusing on technique lets you channel the adrenaline you feel in knowing someone passed you into making the javelin fly! It’s okay to let someone passing you create energy within you, as long as you remain locked into HOW you will put that energy into the javelin. That focus should keep you calm.

               Like I’ve mentioned, you can imitate responding to this in practice with scenarios! Ask your coach to come up with specific instances that might happen in a meet, have him or her tell them to you throughout training, and see how you respond. Competition is FUN, but sometimes we have to teach ourselves how to respond appropriately to challenges (channeling them into good performance rather than letting them lock us up).

“What do you go back to after missing the point on your first two competition throws?”

               Legs! Legs legs legs. The feet must get down quickly in order to control the tip of the javelin. Dana and I talk about this a little in our most recent Javelin Chat! If I’m nervous and forgetting about how I should be using my legs, that’s when I miss the point of the javelin and put no power into the implement. Keep the legs firing, stable and out in front of you, leading the throw! Patience with the upper body translates to stretch reflex, catching the javelin in the correct position, and much more arm speed and energy into the implement. Legs.

Competition Mentality

I know that outdoor season has now begun for many collegiate programs in the U.S., so I wanted to touch on the mentality of an athlete going into competition as I know it! Also Lara Boman of University of South Dakota suggested this topic, and she was right. 😊

I want to be totally straightforward and tell you that I am not yet the master of this art. My sophomore year of college, I absolutely wet the bed at NCAA Championships. All of the end of sophomore year actually was a total disaster. I never won NCAA Championships. Every. Single. Major. Championship of my career so far (save one) has been incredibly disappointing, but we’ll get into the successful one and how my brain was different in a bit. Not until 2018 did I feel like I truly performed when I was supposed to, and a new, happier, more relaxed training and coaching situation is a huge enormous reason why.

The only differences between training and competition are the uniform, venue and the number of people watching! The implement weighs the same. You’re competing with the same teammates if you’re in a team sport. The play book doesn’t suddenly change. You are usually wearing the same shoes. You might do your hair differently or drink a little extra coffee before heading to the stadium, but you’re focused on executing the same positions that you’ve practiced over and over and over again. The X factor in a competition that I used to get hung up on is the fact that people are watching. Expecting. But once I figured out that those spectators weren’t waiting for me to fail, but instead were there for the same reason I was (to experience something amazing), their attention instantly turned positive.

There are other X factors. Maybe your own expectations are the ones that get you all nervous. Perhaps there’s that one competitor that always just edges you, and it drives you crazy. You could be hoping to perform well enough that you get to travel with your team for the next weekend. All completely valid worries, and all things you can practice overcoming.

How to Approach a Big Competition Mentally

Keep everything as normal as possible. There is so much that goes on around big competitions that elevates you anyway. You don’t need to do anything extra at the last minute. You are enough!

So many times, I have overthought and overstimulated myself going into an important meet. Some of my very, very best performances have come when I’m jarred out of my own head by something unexpected, and forced to just rely on the tools I have. At NCAAs in 2008 I was SO nervous that I just barely made the final, and then ended up 5th even though I led not only the collegiate system, but the country. In 2009, I tried SO hard in the qualifying round of World Championships in Berlin and put so much pressure on my first professional Team USA performance that I only threw 52 meters. My 2011 season was absolutely riddled with sub-par results from a crippling lack of confidence. That terrible season had some other causation, but the mind can be very powerful in both directions.

In 2008 at Big Ten Championships, I fell hard on one of my last warm-up attempts. I sprained my left wrist in the process, plus I was pretty darn embarrassed. I was not leading the Big Ten at the time, Ruby was, so I had been super serious and too focused during my warm-up process and in my whole approach to the meet. After I fell, all I could think about was how much my wrist hurt and all I could focus on was the careful and deliberate placement of my feet so that I wouldn’t fall. Turns out, that careful focus meant I got my left down quickly, and that plus adrenaline (and great preparation by Coach Zuyderwyk) meant I threw 61.56m, the Olympic A standard. I just needed something to shake me loose.

I missed the bus to the track at USATF National Championships in 2010. I caught a ride to Drake Stadium with some strangers I met in the parking lot who had also missed the shuttle bus. Kurt and Sylvia came to watch me throw after we scored a sweet parking spot. That slight change in plans and thinking on the fly meant I was just happy to be there that day! I stayed completely relaxed and broke the American Record.

Your body already knows that you are approaching a big meet when it’s coming. Drink lots of water, get lots of sleep, and if you need to visualize throws, keep it very simple. Stick to the cues you’ve used in practice recently that have worked rather than thinking up something new before the big show. Trust yourself, your coach and your process. I’ve had a lot of opportunities to perform on big stages, and messed it up many times. I’ve just been lucky a few times to have things happen that get me out of my own head and let fun performances happen.

There are two times I feel I approached competitions correctly and on purpose from a mental standpoint: World Championships in 2015 and the Zurich Diamond League Final in 2018.

Russ and I were both on the World Championships team in 2015. We were roommates at training camp in Tokyo and got to go on sushi dates and tourism adventures and practice together like normal. We were roommates in Beijing as well, where we were completely at ease with each other, like every training day of my life. I was in the middle of my MBA program, and took an academic final the day between the qualifying and finals rounds. Before qualifying, we were able to watch funny shows and play cards together in our own space. Things were so much more normal than they ever had been or have been since at that Worlds, and I ended up 8th, the best an American has been for a long long time.

After months of a new training program, new technique, and a season of fabulous European experiences in 2018, I spent four days alone in Prague before traveling to Zurich for the Diamond League final. I love being alone actually (to an extent), and I simply drank water, slept, read books, trained, and visualized my perfect javelin throw at that point. I didn’t let myself think about it ALL day. I didn’t have access to the internet where I was staying, which was perfect. I hibernated and focused on my goals, but also just chilled, like normal. Arriving in Zurich meant reuniting with my long-time friend and short-time coach, Dana. This was the first time a coach had accompanied me to a Diamond League Final. Her companionship, humor, and just plain NORMAL presence in my life was the perfect recipe for success. We joked around throughout my warm-up process, I stayed loose, and then I got third and threw further than I ever have before in Europe.

What do you normally do? How can you combine your regular life and optimal performances? Maybe you have this experience too: You’re at practice, maybe you don’t feel great physically (you’re tired, you didn’t sleep well, you have a lot to do later, etc.), so mentally you know just to focus on technique that day. You’re relaxed because you’re tired and not expecting a whole lot, and then a throw or component of technique surprises and thrills you early in the training session! I absolutely love that. So you try harder, and it falls apart. That’s the lesson. The other lesson is not to panic. You can get it back!

Tools to Hone Mental Toughness

Since it is darn early in the outdoor season, you still have time to build mental tools for the end of the year when you want your best performances to come! Here are some ideas for specific problems that you might feel hold you back in competition.

Worrying about Spectators

               I did this a lot. I saw their attention as pressure. It’s not. It’s encouragement.

               A fix: Practice pretending that there are spectators! Invite people to practice who aren’t usually at practice. Even have them heckle you if you think it’ll help! Give yourself a scenario that involves visualizing a giant stadium and lots of noise, or a super intimate venue with people close to the runway if that’s what’s intimidating. Exercise your mind so you’re practicing putting up with that attention until it’s second nature.

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Your Own Demons

               Maybe you have a hard time leaving your past failures there. It might haunt you that you didn’t throw far enough that one time, or multiple times! I’ve been there.

               A fix: Change something. It could be as simple as your breakfast routine, or some positive self-talk right when you wake up in the morning. Let yourself believe that that simple shift in your habits will permeate your life and lift you to success when you want it. One of mine is extra recovery and rolling-out stuff. Mobility work makes me feel fluid and relaxed and prepared, so keeping that habit going at big, important competitions reinforces that feeling, and success follows.

Getting Really Serious

               I watched other people get their game faces on and be celebrated for it, so I thought I needed to do that, too. Maybe that’s you (the serious person), but it’s not me. I need to relax and have a great time to throw far.

               A fix: Funny shows, hilarious podcasts on the bus to the competition, a book you love (but can put down in order to sleep haha). Bring a relaxed attitude to practice and then carry that over to competition! In 2015 (my first season after ACL surgery and without my knee brace), I knew I would be an absolute nervous wreck, so my former sports psychologist suggested I bring photos with me that made me really happy. I printed a bunch of pictures of Russ (this was pre-Madeline) that make me laugh, and they were perfect to flip through between throws to keep me relaxed.

A Particular Foe Vexes You

               There’s just that one person that either gets under your skin or seems to find some little extra gear to clip you at the end, repeatedly. It feels unfair and out of your control!

               A fix: Visualize your victory over this particular competitor in practice. Come up with detailed scenarios involving that one person that you can overcome in training, and lean on that practiced confidence in competition. “Sally is ahead of you by 15cm going into the fifth round. You haven’t executed X cue so far. Go.” “You improved by 20cm, but she passed you again by half a meter. Last chance.” Reinforce your technical cues within that framework instead of just relying on emotional energy (you can do both).

You Want to PR

               I GET IT. Unfortunately we can’t force these things. Focusing on distance alone tightens me up!

               A fix: Watch video of your PR if you have it. Identify the technical things that you did correctly. Remember in detail what happened and how you felt that day. What other things in life cause you to feel the same ways? What kinds of emotions run through you and how do you channel them when you throw far? Try to do things that illicit those emotions and that energy on the days of your competition. Pinpointing the technical stuff that went well allows you to focus on an actual technical goal in the midst of a meet instead of getting caught up in hoping for numbers. Then when everything comes together it’ll happen! I believe!!!!

Calm, positive, focused confidence. Practice it! Photo by  Jenny Mann  and  Above Ground Level Studios .

Calm, positive, focused confidence. Practice it! Photo by Jenny Mann and Above Ground Level Studios.

This has been blog one of this week, and both will cover your mindset going into competition. Blog two on the same subject will be a simple Q&A from Instagram questions I’ve gotten! So submit those or drop a comment below if there’s something you’re wondering about after reading above. Thanks!