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Mind Over Marathon: Developing a “Psyching Team”

Mental skills training at races: What’s involved and how to connect

For those of us in northern climes, the major road races have ended for this year. Sure, there’ll be some “Turkey Trots” and “Blizzard Blasts.” For most people, though, now is a good time for recovery, cross-training, laying down the miles, (finding a race somewhere warm)…and planning.

Are you a runner (or other endurance athlete, whether weekend warrior or committed racer)?

Are you a race director?

Are you a sport psychologist, psychologist, or other mental health professional with the KSA’s (knowledge, skills, and abilities) to assist runners in mental preparation for optimal performance?

This might be a good time to think about how a “Psyching Team” could be a part of your future.

Who do members of a Psyching Team work with? Well, here are a few typical scenarios, as well as descriptions of how you might assist the person:

Before the race:

• The runner who expects to complete the race in 3:25—or feel utterly defeated: Help him expand his goals, whether in terms of the outcome or various aspects of the process of the race itself.

• The first-time marathoner, wondering what she’ll do when she hits “the wall”: Review her training with her; reassure her; remind her to let herself start slow.

• The runner who knows that she’s too keyed up but can’t calm down: Help her learn diaphragmatic breathing and key words or phrases she can use both to calm and re-focus herself.

• The runner who can’t stop thinking about a current crisis in his family life: Be a listening ear if he wishes; help him “contain” his concerns so that he can deal with them after the race;

• The runner coming back from injury and insecure about how much she can handle: Help her review what she knows about her recovery from this injury and relevant physical signs she should keep in mind as she races…so that she needn’t add irrelevant muscular tension to the process.

During the race:

• The runner with a stitch in her side, hurting and feeling discouraged as she walks it off: Assist with what she’ll find most helpful—it might be chatting about something else; it might be helping her remember why she’s running this race in the first place.

After the race:

• That runner who came in at 3:26:…Yes, but what went right with the race? What can he learn from this experience?

• The partner at the medical tent, feeling helpless and concerned about his partner’s pain and confusion. I described a real example @

In 1999, I developed the Toronto Marathon Psyching Team, and it’s been running strong ever since. Taking a concept that originated at the NYC Marathon, to help runners from a mental perspective, I’ve had a great time gradually expanding its activities over the years. Each year, about 40 of us form the Toronto Marathon Psyching Team. (That’s Dr. Cindra Kamphoff, me, and Dr. Patricia McGarry-Roberts in our Team regalia at the top of the blog.) We’ve offered more and more (volunteer) services to the runners…and now the concept itself is expanding.

In the past couple of years, Psyching Teams, based on the “Toronto model” but with their own excellent local twists, have started. For example,

• For the Mankato (MN) Marathon, Dr. Cindra Kamphoff and her team have offered psyching tips to the runners, positive self-statements along the running route, and even a tee-shirt with 26.2 positive things to say to yourself!

• Just a few weeks ago, Dr. Chelsi Day and her colleagues worked the Columbus (OH) Marathon. Their slogan: “Let us help you get your head in the race!” During the summer, they even offered free seminars on mental skills to runners in the community.

• The Springfield (MA) College, sport psychology faculty and graduate students created a Psyching Team for the recent Hartford (CT) Marathon. Their slogan: “Mind over Miles” complete with “Psychlists” and “Psychs on the Run.”

Recently, in the space of two days, I received inquiries from two graduate students interested in creating Psyching Teams for marathons in their cities: Bogota (Colombia) and Halifax (Nova Scotia, Canada). Rather than hold pretty much the same conversation twice, I thought it would be fun and useful to have a shared conversation…and invite others to join in on a conference call.

I sent out an open invitation on a couple of sport psychology email lists, figuring I would receive maybe a couple of responses. Instead, 30 psychologists, sport psychologists, and graduate students from all over North America contacted me, indicating they’d like to start something similar in their area.

We’ve held one meeting with some of these 30 people. What did we talk about? A number of different things, such as:

• What’s your goal? Why are you interested in developing a Psyching Team?

• How would you go about getting started: who would you contact and how would you “sell” the idea of a Psyching Team?

• What kinds of services would you want to start with?

• Where would you draw Team members from? Would you use criteria for membership on the Team—and if so, what?

• How would you go about recruiting and training the Team members?

• How would you evaluate the effectiveness of your Psyching Team?

Over the next couple of weeks, we’ll be holding more of these conference call-type meetings. So: If you’re interested in starting a psyching team in your neck of the woods, please feel free to contact me via my website,

If you’re a graduate student or a mental health or sport psychology professional interested in joining with others in order to learn more and have the opportunity for specialized practice, perhaps you’re wondering if there’s a psyching team near you. We hope to develop an interactive map to assist in this coordination.

Perhaps, reading this blog, if you’re a runner, you’re now curious about Psyching Teams. You can read information about the Toronto Marathon Psyching Team @

If a Psyching Team isn’t yet happening at a race you’re planning to participate in, speak with the race director!

Or perhaps you’re a race director, wondering what it would be like to include a Psyching Team in your race. Jay Glassman, race director for the Toronto Marathon, calls our services “value added.” From his perspective, it’s part of what makes his marathon unique. The Columbus Marathon race director told Dr. Day after the event, “You’d better come back!”

Whatever your level of interest and potential involvement, there are no downsides to Psyching Teams. This is a win-win-win for all concerned.

Good running to you!