This is a true story. A few years ago a friend was training for a half-marathon when the unimaginable happened. While carrying some boxes to the basement, she fell down the stairs. When she saw her doctor for the bad sprain, she was surprised that he referred her to a sports med physician. “I just don’t feel comfortable treating this since you are an athlete” was his reasoning. My friend could not understand his hesitancy since she did not see herself as an athlete. Even though she had lost over 100 pounds and was running 5 days a week, she was far from being an athlete. Athletes were naturally thin, could run for miles without breathing hard, and wore cute little shorts and tops. No, not her.
My friend did go to the sports med doctor and was surprised to see the wide variety of patients in the waiting room. Talking with the doctor reinforced the fact that she was indeed an athlete. Expecting to hear that she should give up running, as her family doctor had told her, my friend was quite surprised that she would not have to miss the race. Some rest and physical therapy would keep her on schedule. In fact, since she had been running so much, taking a break and including some cross-training would be good for her overall performance.
Being an athlete is something that is within anyone who is willing to put forth the effort. In my experience, athletes can be found anywhere from the recreational programs at the Y to the Olympics. The running group I train with has different levels of training. For example, there are walkers, runners/walkers, all the way up to 7 minute milers. Anyone can find support and encouragement. There is a small number who are training to win their next race. They are close to what we expect an athlete to be. However, most of us are out there for other reasons. Whether the goal is to stay/get in shape, meet friends, or challenge ourselves, we know that our lives are not likely to change because of our activity. Even though we are not professional athletes, we do use the same techniques and mental skills to prepare for our races.
Sports Psychology is an area that focuses on the mental skills preparation for people involved in sports and other performance-based activities. Even the casual weekend athlete uses these skills which include positive attitude, self-motivation, and goal setting. For example, in training for a marathon, it is imperative that you stay clear and focused on the goal. You can’t slough off long runs and think you will be successful on race day. And, each person’s measure of success is different. For some it is to finish the same day they started. For others, it may be improving their time. Being able to maintain motivation and a positive attitude will keep you working toward your goal. No matter what your activity is, if you enjoy it, are committed to it, and like to see how you’re improving in ability, you are an athlete.