Tuesday, 25 February 2014

Was Jenny Jones really GB’S first Winter Olympic Medallist on snow?

Snowboarder Jenny Jones at this year’s Winter Olympics in Sochi won Great Britain’s first Olympic medal on snow (rather than ice) when she took bronze in the Snowboard Slopestyle.

However, 12-years ago in Salt Lake City Alain Baxter became the first British athlete to win a medal on snow.  The medal was later taken away and awarded to Austria’s Benjamin Raich after Baxter failed a post-race drugs test.  A minute quantity (20 millionths of a gram) of the banned substance methamphetamine was found in the athlete’s urine sample which he claimed was from an over the counter Vicks nasal inhaler.

He was supported by the BOC to appeal the decision to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) and though CAS agreed with his argument the IOC’s decision was upheld because of the strict liability rule.
Alain Baxter’s error was buying an American version of a nasal inhaler to clear his sinuses.  It had different ingredients to the British version he had used for years, which had been cleared for use by his doctor.  The American version was not checked and contained traces of the banned substance levometamphetamine.

Since the games Alain has told the BBC that it was quite hard to take in when they were saying about it being a historic medal for Britain and he had some explaining to do when the archive pictures of him were shown on television news after Jenny Jones won her medal in Sochi.

Baxter did return to ski racing after serving a ban, and competed at the 2006 Games in Turin where he finished 16th; he has since retired from competitive racing in 2009. 

So what can athletes learn from this mistake?

What is the Strict Liability Rule?
This is where athletes are 100% responsible for what is ingested into their bodies whether or not the athlete intentionally or unintentionally used a prohibited substance or was otherwise negligent or at fault.

At some point, an athlete is likely to require medication for an illness or infection to allow them to train or compete and many athletes receive information on what to do through the 100% programme run by UK Anti- Doping (UKAD).
But here are a few pointers:-
  1.   Check with your doctor that the medication does not contain a banned substance and that you are able to compete; if it does contain a banned substance is there an alternative medication?
  2. Even over the counter medications can contain banned substances so should always be checked
  3. Athletes in the UK can check their medication on the Global Drug Reference Online (Global DRO) which provides athletes and support personnel with information about their prohibited status of specific substances-  http://www.globaldro.com
  4. Athletes in Ireland can check their medication on- http://www.eirpharm.com/sports/search which provides athletes and support personnel with information about their prohibited status of specific substance.
  5. Some medications are banned just in competition, so be specific when you come to check

What happens if you train or compete abroad?

  1. Take enough of the prescription with you so you don’t need to buy any abroad
  2. If you are in the UK, Canada, United States and Japan check- http://www.globaldro.com
  3. If you are in Ireland check- http://www.eirpharm.com/sports/search
  4.   If you are in any other country outside of those listed you can check the ingredients listed in the medication

Sunday, 16 February 2014

Book Review: The Business of Being an Athlete

The Business of Being an Athlete
Kerri Pottharst
Kez Publishing

When I started supporting high performance student athletes eight years ago, I wished I could find a book or manual that detailed everything that I would have to support them with, and how to go about that.  I'd competed at a relatively high level myself, but lacked the 'world-class' perspective on things.  Luckily as things panned out, I worked with a very mature bunch of athletes, and I could learn on the job.  None of my first cohort of students had quite yet reached the world stage, and their problems (coursework deadlines, not enough hours in the week, money issues) were ones that I could easily relate to; issues such as retirement from sport, Olympic selection (or non-selection as the case might be) and eating disorders didn't arise until later.

The Australians have always led the way in lifestyle and career support for athletes, and it's no coincidence that I happened on this book in a Melbourne bookshop.  It is written by two times Australian Olympic beach volleyball medalist Kerri Pottharst who combines snippets from her own inspiring career with practical advice for high performance athletes of all levels.

Divided into three sections - passion, preparation and belief - the book covers such diverse topics as goal setting, nutrition, dealing with fans and handling competitive nerves.  Within the preparation section are chapters which you won't find in any nutrition or psychology book for athletes.  The author gets to the real nitty-gritty of high performance lifestyle, and deals with communication skills, managing money, keeping records and time management.  There is advice on setting up a website and how to use social media platforms in a professional way.  Good table manners (for all those awards dinners) are even covered.

The Business of Being an Athlete may well be the manual that I sought all those years ago.  It is the ultimate advice book for high performance athletes and a useful guide for support personnel and coaches working with international athletes.  Written in an easy-to-read, non-technical style, it is easy to pick up, pick a page, and be informed and inspired.  It is highly recommended for those working in the area.

Monday, 10 February 2014

Goal Setting - Part II

Last week I blogged about the importance of goal setting in the context of both performance and lifestyle management.  This week I wanted to go into a bit more detail about effective how to set effective goals, and outline some of the different type of goals which can motivate us in different ways.

The acrimony SMART (or SMARTER) is often used in the field of sports psychology to determine what makes up an effective goal, though discrepancies exist in what each of the letters stand for.  Here are just two of the many descriptions that I have come across:

Specific – Target a specific area for improvement.  Non-specific goals can be irrelevant or difficult to define
Measurable – Will you know when you have achieved your goal?
Aspiration or Ambitious – Is the goal stretching?  Easy goals don’t inspire or motivate us.
Realistic – Is the goal achievable?
Time-related – When do you want to achieve the results by?
Evaluated – Check that you are progressing towards your goal and adjust
Re-evaluated – Keep checking that you are progressing towards your goal

Specific – make them as precise and detailed as possible
Measurable – a method by which you can quantify or rate your current position and then determine the amount of improvement required
Accepted – goals need to be shared and negotiated with all others involved
Realistic – the goal is realistic yet challenging
Time phased – date is set for when the goal is to be achieved by
Exciting – goal motivated the individual
Recorded – the goal and progress towards it are recorded

Together these two definitions cover all but one aspect of what makes up a good goal.  I’ll come back to the other in a moment, but I just wanted to highlight the importance of a goal being exciting.  Some of us are excited by challenging goals; some of us are excited by working towards shared goals as part of a team; some of us (particularly those who are extrinsically motivated), are excited by the final outcome and the fame, fortune or reward that achieving the goal will achieve.  Find what excites you, and set your goals accordingly.  Think about how achieving your goals will make you feel.

The final thing that a goal should be is ‘positively phrased.’ This is where goal setting and mental imagery cross over.  The value of positively phrased goals is probably best demonstrated in the following example:
Negatively phrased goal: To not let people pass me in the home straight of an 800m
Positively phrased goal: To stay ahead in the home straight of an 800m
These two goals set about to achieve the very same result, but the athlete with the first goal will imagine himself being passed when he reads his goal, while the second athlete is likely to imagine himself feeling strong and staying ahead of the pack when he rereads his goal.  Very subtle wording adjustments can really help our goals to be more effective.

Types of goals
Not all goals are the same.  In fact there are three main categories of goal; all of which are important.  They are:

Outcome goals – these are goals where the outcome depends on winning or achieving a particular result.  Outcome goals are highly motivational, particularly in the long-term, but sometimes the result is completely beyond the control of the individual.  An athlete might aim to make the Olympic Games.  They might achieve the qualifying time, but still not be selected to compete.  Similarly a team might aim to win a national title.  They might play the game of their lives in the final, but just come up against a better team on the day, or be defeated as a result of incorrect referring decisions.

Performance goals  - these can be very similar to outcome goals, but give a little bit more control back to the athlete.  With performance goals and athlete sets a specific standard which they want to achieve.  For a track athlete that might be to run 4 minutes for the mile; or for a gymnast it might be to achieve a specific score for their floor routine.  Achieving performance goals is usually unaffected by the performance of others, and are highly effective in monitoring progress towards long-term outcome goas.  Athletes can achieve their performance goals without winning.  Extensically-motivated athletes may be more excited by outcome goals, while intrinsically-motivated athletes can be sufficiently motivated by performance goals.

Process goals – these relate to perfecting a strategy or technique necessary to perform well.  The athlete has complete control over process goals, and process goals can help to reduce anxiety and precompetition nerves.  Examples of a process goal for a long jumper might be to maintain controlled rhythm during the run up.  A golfer might focus on their putting technique and tennis player might focus on their forehand technique.  A series of process goals can be set working towards a medium or long term performance of outcome goal.

1. Write down your goal (s) for the coming year.  Try to set an outcome, a process and a performance goal.
2. Are your goals intrinsically or extrinsically motivated?  Are they exciting to you?
3. Check that each goal is positively phrased.  Can you imagine yourself achieving your goals?
4. Double-check that each of your goals meets the criteria for a SMARTER goal, and adjust accordingly.

Monday, 3 February 2014

Goal setting: the key to lifestyle management?

Earlier this week I delivered a workshop to a group of talented young athletes.  We covered topics such as goal setting, time management and decision making, in that order, which was planned, but was only as we were discussing each topic, that it really dawned on me, just how important goals are to every aspect, not only of sport, but of life outside and beyond sport.  Knowing what you achieve is paramount in managing time, and it's a lot easier to make decisions, when we know what we want to achieve in the short, medium and long term.

Not all goals are made consciously.  High performing athletes will set goals for each session that they do, without realising that they have even done so.  Some days it will just be to get the session done; other days it'll be to perform a personal best on repetition.  After years of training and competing, goals in the performance setting will just come naturally.  Goals are not so easy in an unfamiliar environment, like when we are injured, or when we're planning for life after sport.  Considerable thought is often required in these situations.

Coping with Injury
Setting goals can be a great way to overcome injury.  You don't have to think about what you want to achieve after the injury - this often results in over-compliance to rehab programmes, and rushing back to training before you're ready - but think about the process goals that will help you get the most out of your time off.  Depending on the individual, the sport, and the injury, these are some goals that you might set for yourself while injured:

1. To undertake all exercises prescribed by they physiotherapist each and every day of rehab - no more and no less
2. To take up a new hobby, which I will practice daily (when I would normally be training), to take the focus away from the injury and not being able to compete
3. To carry out a period of mental imagery each day in which I will focus on perfect technique
4. To have a massage once every two weeks
5. To use the downtime to catch up on dental appointments and other things that normally detract from training
6. To maintain a structured routine

Not all goals need to be performance goals, and outcome and process goals are especially important during times of injury, illness, transition, or poor form.

Managing your time
Over the years of working with high performance athletes, I have noticed that those who manage to fit the most into their lives, are the ones who know what they want to achieve in both sport and outside of sport.  I've come across medical students who have managed to compete at an international level, and triathletes who can fit training for three sports around being a full-time student.  There are enough hours in the week - we just need to be motivated enough to use them wisely.

When planning for the week, it's a good idea to write down a few goals for the week; plan our time; and then reflect on whether or not our allocation of time is reflective of what we want to achieve in that week.  There is no special wand which will suddenly make us 'time-managed' but know what we want to achieve will make us more efficient with out time.

Making decisions
We all have important decisions to make from time to time - what subjects do we choose for A-levels/Leaving Cert? Which university do we attend? What will we do after university? Is it a good idea to become full-time athletes? Do we want children? Is it time to retire?  For some of us, these decisions will be made, or the options at least narrowed down naturally, but for many, we have to actively make the effort to wade through the options and decide what we are going to do next.  This takes energy and effort which we would probably prefer to conserve for training, but not making a decision, and leaving it to sit on the back of our minds, can use a lot more energy.  Decisions are important!

Knowing what are goals are can greatly help when making decisions.  If your sport is the most important thing in your world, then make sure that you choose a university where you have the facilities, coaching and environment to maintain your training.  There are rarely any right or wrong choices, but if your goals can't be achieved by the decisions that you have made, you are unlikely to lead a satisfied life.   Making decisions based on your goals also prevents you making them for the wrong reasons, or making them to keep others happy.

In summary, goals don't just help us to preform better - they help us decide what is important to us, to decide what we want to achieve in life, how to transition from one phase of life to the next, to deal with injury, to manage our time, and to make decisions.  They are the key to managing our lifestyle, whether that be as a student-athlete, retiring sportstar, or active mother.  Goal setting is the key to lifestyle management.