I wrote about the challenge of goal setting in my last blog post. Having a clear outcome goal increases motivation, but can also be tricky because outcome goals are uncontrollable and take our focus into the future, and being future focused during a competition tends to increase anxiety. This is a very personal challenge for me, as I raced at Bala last weekend knowing that a top 4  result would earn enough points for me to achieve my goal of promotion to Premier division.

The course on the Chapel Falls section was pretty straightforward, with the two main whitewater features separated by a fast flowing section of moving water. Physically I was a little below my best, still feeling a bit tired and sore after an intense 4 day whitewater trip to Val Sesia earlier in the week. Having written about my situation already, I was aware that I’d increased, rather than decreased, the weight of my own expectations about the race. So my strategy was to follow my normal race day routine, focusing on producing two clean, error free runs.

I recommend mindfulness practice to all my sports and business clients, because it’s the best way I know of developing the ability to stay “in the moment”, focused on the present rather than the past or the future. This certainly helped me to stay calm on race day, bringing my attention back to whatever I was doing whenever my mind started to stray into the future and think about the consequences of the race. I also decided that I would stay a bit more self contained than usual, partly because there was a short turnaround between runs, and partly because I wanted to avoid too many conversations with people about “how do you think you’ll do?” And “do you think you’ll get promoted?”

I was pretty satisfied with my first run. I delivered the plan I intended, and very close to what I had visualised before the race. As always there were a couple of areas where I thought I could sharpen up, but nothing major. I chose not to look at the first run results, figuring that it would be less distracting than knowing where I was ranked. The  race is only half way through at that point!  My only concern about this was that I might not know about a penalty, but as I received a thumbs up from my friend Chris I decided to assume I was ok.  In the absence of any comparisons I decided to stick to the same plan for my second run. Again, I executed a clean run very close to my plan – not quite as good as the first run, in fact 0.25 seconds slower.

So in terms of my process goals I did what I wanted; 2 clean error free runs that followed my plan. Time to look at the result list.  I was in 8th place, 3 seconds off first place. This meant I hadn’t yet achieved my goal of promotion to Premier.

Full results can be found here if you’re interested: http://www.canoeslalom.co.uk/results/310514tryweryn1.pdf

What did I learn from this race?  

I’ve structured my reflections against the four Psychological Fundamentals that I teach as a sport psychologist and that I’ve written about in my book In the Flow (http://performance.sportscene.tv)

Mastery Motivation: Felt pretty confident and tried to focus just on delivering my own runs without comparing with anyone else.

Execution: Good. Focused well on both runs, no significant distractions or mind-wandering. Delivered the runs I planned to deliver.

Decision Making: With hindsight I was too conservative, should have gone direct rather than spin on gates 13 –14.  Might have been a second or two faster and this would have been useful! I should have taken some split times on the options here.

Teamwork: OK, although I was pretty self-sufficient on race day. Maybe could have talked more to test my thinking about my race plan, but this is hard without a coach.

Where to now?

The result leaves me sitting at the top of Division 1, a tantalising few points short of promotion to Premier. This feels quite good, because I know that it’s well within me to produce the performance  I need before the next Premier race in September. So the journey continues.

Finally, big congrats to Luke Smyth, one of the young Lee Valley paddlers I’ve got to know over the last year or so. He finished ahead of me on Saturday and went on to claim 3rd place in Sunday’s race. I knew it was inevitable that Luke and his mates would overtake me. The improvement curve is steep as a teenager, and it flattens out quite a bit at my age. But look out Luke, I’m not done yet!