Mental Skills for Triathlon


By Melinda Frey, PhD, CC-AASP, University of Utah

In the summer of 2007, we conducted a study to examine the race preparation strategies of age-group Olympic distance triathletes competing in select races in the State of Utah. Our objective was to understand the basic differences in preparation between the top and bottom 25% of race finishers. Our sample was comprised of 64 triathletes who completed surveys at the packet pickup the day before each race. As limiting as our sample size may be, we were able to gather some remarkably interesting information. For example:

• 29% identified “competition” as their primary motive for race participation
• None of these athletes had sought out a sport psychology professional
• Many Athletes claimed to use mental training skills including:
goal setting
focusing strategies
development of a pre-competition routine

It is unclear as to how many of the sample were able to employ the correct utilization of these skills. For example, the written examples of goals that participants provided were often negative goals (e.g. don’t die), while others were too broad (finish in 2007) or were not measurable. One noteworthy difference between the top 25% of finishers vs. those in the bottom 25% – was the use of mental preparation strategies.

Plans for future research – We have decided to broaden the study to investigate physical, nutrition, and psychological training habits of triathletes across the country who are competing at any distance and at any level of expertise. Analyses will be conducted on several variables such as gender, competitive focus, years of experience, and participation motives and their relationship to athletes’ preparation strategies. Comparisons will be made to previous research on other endurance sport athletes and we hope to gain insight on suggestions that would help applied practitioners working with this population.

About the Author:

Melinda Frey PhD is a certified mental training consultant and is on the U.S. Olympic Committee Registry for sport psychology. Originally from Southern California, she attended UCLA for her bachelors degree, Cal State Fullerton for her masters, and ventured out to the University of Tennessee for her Ph.D. Although a sprinter by nature (she’s a former 400m hurdler) a friend introduced her to the sport of triathlon about 5 years ago and she has been an endurance athlete ever since. Melinda is also a professor in the Exercise and Sport Science Department at the University of Utah and teaches classes such as sport psychology, psychology of injury, and psychology of coaching.

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