My brother and I were raised by a single father for most of my upbringing. My brother was five years my senior, which felt like we were generations apart. My dad worked 40–50-hour weeks, making sure the space we lived in was surrounded by playful environments. We water skied in the summers and snow skied in the winters. Being renters who often moved from home to home, many of our dwellings had access to pools to cool off under the hot summer sun. We also had bikes, roller blades, footballs, play structures, basketballs, and even a Nintendo during times we couldn’t play outside. Being led by an active brother and father, I picked up on physical skills fairly quickly. My brother and I never leaned toward one activity over another, so we were rather broad in our skillsets, able to pick-up new activities as they were introduced. I learned later that this ability, being able to control the movement of your limbs on cue is called Proprioception. Whether it was shooting a basketball, catching a football, or learning a formal type of activity, i.e., the squat, I was able talk my body into the desired positions for maximum efficiency for the task at hand.
Fast forward a few years to grad school at Eastern Washington University, where I had the privilege to take Sport Psychology classes led by Dr. Jon Hammermeister. Dr. Hammermeister has quite a resume and continues this day to work as the team Sport Psychologist for the Pittsburg Pirates of the MLB. It was Hammermeister’s Psychological Skills Training classes that dug deep into psychological influences on health, fitness, and athletics. Influences like Goal Setting, Visualization, Anxiety Management, and a topic that I alluded to earlier, Self-Talk. Self-Talk is the “inner voice that provides a running monologue on (our) lives throughout the day. This inner voice, or self-talk, combining conscious thoughts and unconscious beliefs and biases, provides a way for the brain to interpret and process daily experiences” (Psychology Today). Being content and happy throughout my upbringing, it never occurred to me that negative self-talk existed. Surely, I would hear negativity throughout the day, but at the core of my being, and what I thought was also at the core of everyone else’s, was positivity. Admittedly, I learned this to not be true well before my graduate coursework, and my studies provided the time to look deeper into this topic, or better yet, this issue.
As I reflect on 2022, I am excited by many things. Most notably, the growth of the boys’ team, the high school runners who continue training and racing with Whisper, and the many new elementary age runners who I have the pleasure to watch grow and develop for the foreseeable future. And while it’s easy to lose sleep over the smaller girls’ team we fielded this past fall, I am grateful for the girls we did have, and I know they worked as hard as they could to achieve their greatest potential.
Winter Training 2023 could be the most exciting training block we’ve ever had. As always, we will circle back to the roots of Whisper – the Sport Psych side of things – where we will continue working on Goals, Visualization, Anxiety Management, and most certainly, Self-Talk. As I look around at the kids we have at practice, the ones I feel are most apprehensive to club racing, or even attending practices, are struggling in one of the following: Anxiety, Self-Talk, or Soccer. And since there isn’t much I can do about soccer, we will focus our attention to managing the mind through learning and practicing anxiety management skills, performing confidence boosting activities, learning large motor skills in smaller segments, and of course, making friends. If we can learn and hone the skill of self-talk, acquire new skills, and make small gains, then optimal growth, individually and team, will come.