Monday, March 15, 2010

Head Games in Kettlebell Sport - The Role of the Ego

Most of what is written on the various kettlebell sport forums and blogs is focused on the physical aspects of the sport (ie. technique, approaches to training etc.). Very little is written about the mental aspect of this sport. It takes tremendous mental strength to complete a full ten minute set of jerk, snatch, or long cycle; especially when your body is screaming for you to put the weights down. I have also found the sport to be meditative. The repetative nature of the lifts combined with rhythmic breathing patterns place me in the present, the here and now. There is no time for outside thoughts about work, relationships, or bills. At the completion of my work out, I am always refreshed, both physically and mentally.

The real mental challenge comes in the competative arena. It is here, where the athlete is attempting to perform at a top level, that the role of the mind can help or hinder your outcomes. As Timothy Gallewey writes in his book The Inner Game of Tennis, the real key to peak performance is the elimination of Self 1 (the ego) thereby allowing Self 2 (the physical body, including the brain, memory bank - conscious and unconscious, and the nervous system) to reach its full potential. This essentially equates to allowing yourself to play in the "zone". We have all been in the "zone" sometime during our athletic careers, but the elite athlete is able to get into the "zone" with each performance and can STAY there throughout the entire event. Tim Gallewey states,

"...even though you don't know much about what is happening in the "zone", you can know a lot about what is not happening. You can remember that you weren't criticizing yourself; you weren't congratulating yourself either. You weren't thinking about how to do the (snatch) correctly or how not to do the (snatch). You were not thinking about past (reps) or the (time remaining in the set), about what people would think or even about the results to be obtained. In other words what was missing was Self 1 (the ego). What was left was Self 2. Interestingly, this state of being (the zone), when Self 1 is absent and Self 2 is present, always feels good, and allows a more vivid consciousness and usually great excellence in performance."

So, what does this have to do with me? Well, for the past several weeks, as I continue to work towards those last 10 reps per arm in the snatch to make Candidate for Master of Sport I have become aware of the role of the ego in my training sessions. Today for example, I was in the "zone" on both my left and right hands for the first 3 minutes. I was not thinking about technique, the reps were consistent, efficient, and they were adding up. My nervous system (Self 2) was running the show. However, as I entered the 4th minute on both hands my ego (Self 1) entered the picture. I started telling myself how good I felt, that I was going to make the numbers, that I only had 1 more minute to go, and that I needed to focus on catching the bell early on the descent, not shorting my backswing, and using my legs on the ascent. Next thing I know, I am no longer in the "zone". I start to struggle, my technique falls apart, my grip begins to fail, I begin to doubt my ability to finish the 4th minute, I begin to question if I will ever reach CMS. MY EGO HAS WON.

Warm UP
Jerk(2x28kg) 7 minutes @ 6 rpm
10 minutes rest
Snatch(28kg) 8 minutes @ L15/16/15/13 ---> R15/16/15/15
OAJ(40kg) 10/10 x 1
Swing(40kg) 35/35 x 1
CC Full Squat 30/30 x 2


Jakeheke said...

How true. I have been in zone, couple times in competetion!
Usually it means new record.
When small guy(ego) is off,there is nobody saying to stop.
GS is mental game too. That is the reason,why so many dont like that sport! Its much easy to train fittnes!
Rachinskiy tell littlebitt,how train mental aspect. One thing is that allways do in last minute some extra rep! It teach you find extra gear in last minute of competetion! Imes is only person in west ,who talk mental side of GS!

Alex said...

Good points all around. I haven't done much meditation or yoga, but I imagine that we achieve a similar mental state, even if only for 10 minutes at a time.

MKSchinabeck said...

Jake, glad to hear that you have had similar experiences.
Alex, a 10 minute set is very similar to a meditative state. You should give it a shot sometime. I wish I would have found meditation when I was younger. I have only been at it 6 months, but I can already tell there have been significant changes in my stress levels and the way I look at the world in general.


Boris said...

Good stuff Matt. "I" is a hindrance - baggage to be let go of. It all comes back to the attachment thing. The cause of suffering is desire.

Boris T. said...

I find that visualization is imprtant. Mental prep is a must, I personally try and distance myself from the rest of the world before I step on the platform. I strive to be alone and visualize what I am about to do.