Sport psychology task – How many words?

I was asked a question the other day by one of my Sport and Exercise Science students… “How many words describe triathlon?”

This one a great question, and a somewhat mind journey of an answer too. It is in fact an exercise i did with a sport psychologist many years ago. So, here is my take on it with triathlons. Yet having thought about all the words in my list below, the final one stuck in my head.

Triathlon… Swimming, cycling, running, competing, training, eating, fasting, avoiding sugar, avoiding fat, weighing scales, bike, carbon frame, deep section wheels, disc wheel, aero, helmets, tri suit, chamois, technique, body roll, kick board, 50 m sprints, hills, intervals, drills, goggles, wetsuit, open water swimming, Long runs, protein, beetroot juice, creatine, vitamin D, triathlon cycling shoes, running shoes, elastic laces, mid foot strike, strength and conditioning, Core stability, sweating, breathing, bilateral breathing, the catch, pull bouy, shaved legs, cycling tan, brick sessions, early mornings, hydration, 30 minute window, saddle sores, electrolytes, watt bike, sacrifice, pain, crying, winter, blisters, muck off, sunglasses, race belt, sprint, suncream, chamois cream, baby oil, paddle, flippers, grit, toughness, injury, motivation, Cold baths, flexibility sessions, top 10, winning, 5th place.

5th place. It was only when I really thought about it that I recalled having achieved a lot of 5th places. In fact my last four races have been 5th places and that is something I need to crack. However I don’t think I would’ve focused on this as much if I hadn’t done the little exercise above. Now i will be aiming for 4th.

So I encourage you to make your own list and see which things come up for you. 

One last thought I will give you to go away with touches on one of the words above, and that is motivation. The one thing that always comes into my head when thinking about motivation to go out on my bike or complete the last two intervals in the pool is this; 

“You don’t get what you wish for, you get what you work for”


The end of getting faster?

Year on year we hear about athletes breaking new records beyond what was once thought as being humanly impossible. But will there be a day where we can no longer improve our physical abilities?

A recent presentation by David Epstein (TED) brought together a number of intriguing historical statistics up against our more recent achievements. He explains that over the last 108 years the winner of the Olympic marathon has become an hour and 20 minutes faster. This is similar with the likes of Jesse Owens and Usain Bolt in the 100m sprint.  The record time of Owens was 10.2 seconds compared to Bolt’s 9.58 seconds. That shows a clear increase in speed, strength and power, yet it is not all down to the thought that we are naturally getting better at what we do. Epstein explains that in both of these running events, previous athletes ran on the cinders of burnt wood which would have made a huge difference to the grip an athlete has under the foot. Compared to the synthetics of todays running tracks. Also the use of lighter and stiffer running shoes help the athlete to generate a more efficient running technique.

There are other things that come into play that may help us understand why we are getting faster in certain sports. For example, many youngsters in primary schools have the chance to compete in many different sports. By the time these youngsters reach high school they could well be training in a professional fashion, that is, eating correctly, training correctly, and using the best equipment. So to some it is no wonder that these increases in ability have come about.

The second point that Epstein makes highlights the selection process, or suitability, of athletes in particular sports. Activities such as basketball, sprint cycling, swimming, and horse riding are just a few sports that require specific physiological body shapes. In his own words “the large got larger, and the small got smaller”. All in all to suit a particular sport.

In a sports such as cycling and the Tour de France there are many different shapes and sizes. Some explanation for this is dependent on the type of rider that the cyclist is. For example, they could either be an exceptional climber, time trailer, or sprinter, or maybe even good at all 3 (more commonly known as a domestic rider or domestique). And this will depend predominantly on the type of leg muscles they have.

All shapes and sizes

This may also be the case in triathlons as there are three different disciplines to master (swimming, cycling, and running). Not only this, there are a variety of different distances that a triathlete may focus on. From my own experience, anything from Sprint up to Olympic distance triathletes share a similar body shape. That being very slim and lean, with a low body fat percentage. Nevertheless, the height of such triathletes tends to differ greatly and may not have that much of an impact on performance. Yet the geometry of triathletes at these distances show similarities, for example, arm and leg length in proportion to the rest of the body.

However, many of the Ironman athletes show a slightly different physique despite having the same three disciplines. As with most endurance events one of the key things to consider is power vs weight. The lighter the athlete, the better they can perform at a certain power output. So having done a little bit of research and looked at the top 10 finishers in different ironman races my conclusion was this: Top Ironman triathletes generally hold a lean body shape and tend to be 6 foot and under. They also show signs of increased upper body muscle mass in the shoulders and biceps to possibly suit the length of the Ironman swim (usually 3.9km). In general they tend to hold a slightly stockier build to that of a Sprint or Olympic distance triathlete. Although, further scientific research may uncover something more surprising.

Pete Jacobs 179cm (5’9″)

So with Epstein’s  two points of improvements in technology and the improvements in selection and suitability, my question still stands. What would happen when technology is unable to improve sport any further? Is it the simple possibility that technology is the sole influence in the improvement of our athletes? And when technological improvements stop, will our athletes continue to strive to become faster, higher and stronger?

The impact of having athletes that are faster, fitter and stronger is what captivates the public. The possibility of a new humanly impossible record. What if that were no longer???

British Sport – Our Time

When wasn’t it our time?

My first recollection of sport was at the age of four, and I could hear my father screaming at the television at the England team who were taken to the Mexico 1986 World Cup. And bellowing his advice to the likes of Gary Lineker, Glenn Hoddle, and Peter Shilton. We actually only finished eighth that year, after some of the worst performances my father had ever seen by the England squad. In the summer of 1986 an American won the Tour de France a German won Wimbledon and the British Lions didn’t even go on tour. Nevertheless, we did win the ashes, all be it not very convincingly. The British culture of sport was mainly dosed in alcohol, fighting and bullish behaviour. It is safe to say that we were decades away from winning anything. As a nation we were behind in so many of the sports that we allegedly invented all those years ago.

Slowly getting better…

It is hard to define when the turning point of British sport was. Although there were moments of greatness over the last 20 years. For example Jonny Wilkinson’s last second drop goal in the Rugby World Cup. Chris Boardman’s ride to glory in the Olympics. At home we had some of the toughest leagues and best sports to watch in the world. Yet, when we take all that talent into international duty we have a tendency to flop. The build up to the Olympics has had a huge effect on our sport. I am not saying that the Olympics was the major turning point, but the money and the funding that went into it surely helped our individual athletes. Sport and the sciences that are around it are becoming ever more popular. As a lecturer in sports science I’m seeing more and more students wanting to come onto the courses I deliver. And they are also looking to go on to studying sport sciences and related specialities at higher levels. Therefore, along with athletic talent, we are now getting the people to make this talent better. However a sport scientist also needs an athlete to work with. To which, this is also being improved with the variety of sports and the huge encouragement that schools and colleges are giving students to continue in their sports throughout their teenage years. And now, in 2013, it is fair to say that we have carved the way to sporting excellence. But we are not there yet. Although we are winning, we are doing it in the hardest possible way. For example, Lee Halfpenny missing that kick to secure the victory on the Lions tour. When Justin Rose just missed his approach shot on the 14th hole in the U.S. Open. When when Andy Murray dropped two sets in the final at Wimbledon.

Lets be good in at least one sport…

I remember being in a meeting about two years ago and one member of staff was discussing how ‘we need to be good in at least one sport’. The Spanish football team have dominated world football for the last five or six years. And now it looks like there will be a shift, moving across Europe into Germany. We were never able to perform well at one particular sport on the international stage. From watching England in World Cups and European Championships, to watching the Ashes, to watching the British Lions and the England rugby teams, to watching Murray get to so many finals and not hold the trophy. It was always so painful getting to the last hurdle and then falling.


‘Every time you win, you’re reborn; when you lose, you die a little.’ George Allen.


As a nation we have felt what it’s like to die again and again. However our nation has been reborn in sport. To summarise our success this year:

  • Scott Waites won at the BDO World darts Championships.
  • England dominated in the T20 against New Zealand in March.
  • Andy Murray won the Sony open tennis in the US.
  • We’ve had a number of British winners at 3 and 6 of Silverstone and also in formula 3.
  • Chris Froome won the tour of Romandie.
  • We have British winners in rallycross, speedway and superbikes on the international stage.
  • Our junior England rugby team won at the IRB junior world Championships.
  • Justin rose won the US open.
  • The British Lions won 2-1 in their tour against the Wallabies
  • We had a British driver win as part of a team in the 24 hours of Le Mans.
  • Andy Murray finally won at Wimbledon.
  • Chris Froome won the 100th and best Tour de France to date.

And it’s only July. At last we are a nation to be feared and not laughed at. Other nations take us seriously, because we now have an abundance of talented athletes, and we also have the best sport science and the best equipment and we leave no stone unturned when we want to win.

We have more talent in the bag too!