Monday, 27 October 2014

Personal identity: a short task

In a previous blog I wrote about the importance of having an identity that is not solely based around your successes as an athlete.  I want to take this opportunity to share a task that I asked young talented individual to complete as part of a workshop I ran on dual careers a few weeks ago.  This is a useful task for individuals of all ages to complete, and is a good starting point for career planning, a way of focusing and motivating individuals, or simply an exercise to boost confidence.

This is me
Explore your personal identity by filling an A3 sheet of paper with things that make up you and your personality.  Use words, phrases, sentences, pictures, or images cut from magazines and lay out the page in whatever way you feel appropriate.  Include some or all of the following:
  • Successes that you have had outside of sport
  • Characteristics that define your personality (e.g. three words that describe you)
  • Long term goals – 1 for sport; 1 for education/career; 1 for life in general
  • What I would like to be when I ‘grow up’.
  • Hobbies
  • Things you like (food, books, tv) – Pick one and explain why you like it
  • Skills (maybe things that you’ve learned from sport that you can apply to life
  • Things that make you happy/laugh
  • Things that you like about your sport
  • Why you do your sport
  • Favourite subjects at school
  • Your coping skills
  • You top values*
This should be a positive document.  Use only positive words.  From this task you should see that there is more to you than just a person that goes to school, or a person that does sport.  You are multidimensional!

* Values-type exercises are among my favourite career planning tools.  Below is a list of some values.  Take some time working through the list and thinking about what each word means to you (each individual will interpret the values differently).  The theory is that those who are happiest in their careers have work and careers which meet their values.  Once you’ve made a list of the values that are most important to you, write them on a small piece of paper, and place it in your wallet.  Check it regularly and ensure that your values are being met on a daily basis.

Older individuals can take the above task a step further to help with career decisions.  Instead of just depicting the current you on a sheet of paper, you can depict your career so far as a journey or timeline, and explain how you’ve got from one stage to the next.  In a metaphorical sense, plotting your journey so far will help to see where the road is leading you.  Write down the key stages and words and talk through the plot with a friend or any willing listener.  This is a useful task when big decisions have to be made, as it takes the emphasis away from the pressure decision, and helps get you into your comfort zone.  We are all experts in our own lives, so that’s where we should focus our attentions.

I’ve included a further adaptation of the ‘This is Me’ task from a career perspective below.  This is something that I did for a recent job interview.  Essentially all of my work experience is in a sporting perspective, but writing it down like I did below helped me realise just how broad that experience is.  It’s ok to have life experiences that are just sports related, but recognising the skills that are transferable is key.  We’ll explore transferable skills in a future post.

Hopefully doing the above task will help you realise just how multi-dimensional you are and highlight areas that you can branch into.  Maybe it’ll inspire you to take up a new hobby, or generate an interest that you can explore on training camps when you have plenty of time on your hands.

Tuesday, 21 October 2014

Helping recovery from late training and competition

With more and more clubs struggling to get time in sports facilities, many athletes are face training, competition or matches late at night. I've known many swimming clubs have pool time 9-10pm (and then followed by a 7am morning session), and was recently expected to be on court for a match for 9.15. This provides an athlete with a few challenges- Motivation, fueling, and then recovery so that the athlete is able to train again efficiently the next day, especially if it is an early start.

So how can athletes best fit their preparation and recovery at this time at night in order to be able to train or compete at the best, and be able to recover quickly and effectively?

1) Be prepared- You will have a time table or schedule which will give you notice when these late sessions may be. Make sure you are aware of this, especially if its not frequent so you can get ready. Plan your day, and meals so that there is one less thing to think about.

2) Try to understand how long your body needs between a meal and training. Individuals will vary, but you should allow at least an hour between the meal and training time. If you know it will be an intense training session or match, try to have small snacks at regular intervals to top up energy levels. This would also apply to those who struggle to stomach meals before they have to train and compete, or those who suffer with nerves.

3) Be flexible with your meals. Perhaps have a larger, later lunch which is high in carbohydrate and then have smaller snacks closer to the game or training and after the match.

4) As its later, an athlete may struggle to replace their fluid needs before they go to bed. So athletes should try to ensure they start the match or training session hydrated as normal, paying more attention to taking fluid on board than they normally would. At the end of the match or training session, again attention should be paid to replacing fluid losses, taking a drink with them to bed that they can drink if they wake during the night.

5) Even though it is late, attention should be paid to a post recovery snack or meal. There may be little or no appetite, but in order to help recovery there should be something consumed immediately after which is high in carbohydrate to help restore carbohydrate used in exercise and a good source of protein to help muscle repair. This should be approximately 1g Carbohydrate per kg of body weight.

Some good choices for smaller recovery snacks before bedtime which are quick and easy:
  • Healthy Breakfast Cereal and Milk 
  • Milk and Banana
  • Yoghurt and fresh fruit
  • Wholegrain bread- as toast with jam. Or as a sandwich with a light filling
  • Jacket Potato with filling- Tuna & Sweetcorn, Chicken, Baked Beans

Tuesday, 14 October 2014

Short Days and Long Nights

As the nights get longer and colder, the hours of daylight become shorter, meaning that we see less of the sun and are exposed to fewer UV rays.

This is good news for those that burn easily, but its not just sun tans and sun burn that UV rays are responsible for. They also help produce a large proportion of our Vitamin D requirement as sunlight reacts with a precursor of the vitamin on the skin. Vitamin D deficiencies are becoming more common in athletes, partially due to the precautions taken to prevent skin damage from the sun.

While there is no strong evidence to suggest that Vitamin D deficiency leads to under-performance in athletes, it will have effects on their ability to train and recover and on injury risk. Athletes who are are Vitamin D deficient could be at increased risk of minor illnesses and stress fractures, ultimately leading to interruption in training and competition.

Vitamin D, along with Calcium, Phosphorous and Protein, has a key influence on the growth and mineralisation of bones. It is involved in the absorption of calcium, meaning an athlete could have a really good intake of Calcium within their diet, but if the Vitamin D levels are low, this won't be able to have a positive effect on bone growth and strength.

Vitamin D also has a role in immune function, making it an important nutrient for athletes involved in heavy training. 

Its not all doom and gloom though! Although sunlight is the best source of Vitamin D, small amounts can be taken in through the diet, particularly through fish sources - reiterating their importance within our diet.

Good Sources include:
  • Fortified Cereals
  • Eggs
  • Margarine
  • Tuna 
  • Sardines
  • Mackerel
So why not enjoy training outside and making the most of the daylight we have at the moment, and take advantage of the sources above in our diet. Simple meal ideas include- Jacket Potato or Pasta with Tuna and Sweetcorn, or an Omelet adding lots of different vegetables for variety and added nutritional benefit. 

Tuesday, 7 October 2014

The Break is Over

As I sit here aching from two days of training after nearly a month layoff, I decided I should take a rest day.  In the past few years I have only taken a couple of weeks fully off, with a couple of easy weeks, but this year, due to other events, it made sense to have a complete rest for four weeks. And I am noticing the difference as I try to get fit again.

As hoped, this has given me a new motivation to train and compete, and hopefully my body, like my mind, will soon be ready to do so.  As so many athletes are also preparing to step back into winter training, I thought I would give a few hints and tips to help ease back into it.

Before I start, lets remember that it is important to take a break from training and competition. It allows both your body and mind to recover, and allows athletes to re-focus. However, when you stop exercising completely you loose aerobic fitness, lungs loose elasticity, blood vessels shrink and blood volume decreases. You use oxygen less efficiently and your heart pumps less blood per beat, not only that but you will also have lost muscles strength. Therefore, when you go back to exercise, just like a car that has been parked in a garage for several years, your body needs to be warmed up before it is taken out for hard exercise. If an athlete was to return to the same types of workouts as they were doing before the break, then the athlete risks straining inspiratory and expiratory muscles but also joints and muscles can become more stressed and increase the risk of injury.

Below are some simple tips which will help reduce the problems faced when athletes return back to exercise:
  • Have a plan - it’s easier to commit, especially when motivation drops, when you have a plan, and a plan can stop you from doing too much too quickly
  • Set attainable goals - and ease back into training, build slowly and allow momentum to grow.
  • Weight training (even if it’s just body weight) - this allows you to build strength and prevent injury. Functional exercises are great to start with. 
  • Get training partners - help to maintain motivation especially when the cold nights are coming in.
  • Stretch - improve recovery, help flexibility and prevent injury.
  • Try something new - Those athletes who are used to running and cycling on the roads could be encouraged to try cross country running or mountain biking to help gain fitness in a different environment, one which will  help challenge the core muscles too.
  • Keep warm - whilst out training and when you finish training remember you will cool down fast too.  Remember to take layers to keep warm once training is finished.
  • Stay Hydrated - Even during the winter and in the colder months you need to stay hydrated and remember to drink even when you may not feel thirsty. 
  • Plymometrics - Be aware of explosive movements. When cold these movements pose a greater risk of injury.  Always remember to warm up properly.

Preparing for the rainy day - without stressing about it

Lifestyle support is, in many ways, a form of preparation for the unknown.  How will we cope when things go wrong? What will we do with our lives when we retire from sport?    But how do we prepare for things going wrong, without stressing about it or constantly fearing the unknown?  How do we plan for the rainy day without becoming so scared of the rain that we don’t want to leave the house?
Planning for all eventualities needs to become a passive part of our being.  We need to remember to always have a raincoat or umbrella in the bottom of our kitbags, without even thinking about the rain, or how a wet day might affect our performance.  This comes with planning and practice. 
But planning can only take care of so much, and for the days that even the best planning in the world couldn’t have prepared us for, we need to develop a sense of humor and acceptance.  Beating ourselves up over something we couldn’t control won’t make things any better.  There are times when we just need let go of the control and let the adrenalin take us through.
And don’t ever look back on the rainy days and regret not having taken the opportunity to splash about in the puddles.  Because those are the days when the sun truly shines for us.