Why Do Athlete's Psych Themselves Out During Taper?
An observation from the last 12 years of coaching is that many athletes fall off a cliff when it comes to taper. Here is my take on it and some advice to help.
Usually, during training, the athlete's mind focuses working hard, being tough and getting it done. The athlete is not being afraid of things feeling a little hard from time to time and views training as fitness in the bank and suffering is sometimes a part of process.
When the athlete gets to taper, sometimes it's like a switch flips inside the athlete's head and the focus then revolves around "am I feeling tired" or "is this feeling too hard" or "I'm not going to have a good race because..."
What you will notice is that mentality described in paragraph one during training is process oriented. You will then notice that the second paragraph during taper is largely driven by fear, anxiety and is not at all process oriented. This is where the unraveling and loss of confidence begins....
You can clearly see how the mind leads and how it can be easy to psych yourself out even before you get to the starting line.
Just because you are tapering, it doesn't mean all of a sudden things are going to feel or be easy. Sometimes things feel effortless, yes, but that's not the rule or what most athletes experience the majority of the time.
Taper means you are training less and resting more. Period. As long as you are doing those two things, you have done the training and you are healthy, you WILL get stronger for race day. Period.
During your taper, keep the same focus and intensity you have in training, don't let fear or the "what if's" be what you are focusing on and remember to hold back a touch during every interval and every training session. Visualize the race you want to have and know that on race day, your process oriented way of thinking and your "mental tool box" will get you where you want to be. Period.
Lastly, have fun. A deep rooted sense of enjoyment and acknowledge that there will be more chances to race should things not go your way. This can take a lot of weight off your shoulders.
Race hard, race smart, have fun. - Keep it simple!