By David “Dirk” Smith, M.Sc., SDL (He/Him)

Endurance sports are some of the most challenging and brutal physical activities that humans can take part in. Yet, for these same reasons they also endure as one of the most popular challenges that people take on. From the elite level all the way to the beginner, endurance sports include events like marathon running, open water swimming, cycling, triathlon, cross country skiing, biathlon and more. Each individual sport has variations regarding duration, length, and format, not to mention physical, technical, logistical, and psychological demands. But they are similar in that athletes must endure dynamic and whole-body exercise continuously performed over middle to long distances (McCormick et al., 2018).

The rise in popularity and participation in endurance sports competitions for both recreational and competitive athletes is attributed to the physical, psychological, and social benefits they offer which includes unique challenges that balances perception of effort level to that of motivation in pursuit of a goal.

Participation in endurance sports and the potential effects of it as a psychological intervention can be framed within the Psychobiological Model of Endurance Performance. This model examines perception of effort in exercise with the potential motivation as a determinant for endurance performance. Essentially speaking, how strenuous does the exercise feel and how much effort is the athlete willing to put in to achieve the goal.

  • Self-Regulation
    • “Self-generated thoughts, feelings and actions that are planned and cyclically adapted to the attainment of personal goals.” This requires the use of a self-oriented feedback loop that occurs throughout the phases of self-regulated learning to help maintain, guide and if needed, motivate the cycle. Allowing athletes to monitor and adjust their goal-directed activities based on the situational context and feedback loop so as to adapt to the current needs of their situation. There are three phases of self-regulation
      • Forethought
        • Task Analysis
          • Planning, goal setting, activation of training/ racing strategies.


          • Outcome expectations, intrinsic interest.


        • Self-Control
          • Deploy the strategies developed in the forethought phase. Visualization/imagery, positive self-talk, strategically focusing attention.


          • Evaluation of current performance and behaviors.


        • Self Judgement
          • Comparison of observed performance against a standard (prior performance, another person’s performance).


          • Self-satisfaction in effort and willingness to engage in future activities.
    • Psychological Skills Training is utilized during these three phases to drive the cycle of self-regulation.
      • Visualization
      • Positive Self Talk
      • Goal Setting
      • Ability to Focus
  • Self-Efficacy
    • “Belief in one’s capabilities to mobilize the motivation, cognitive resources and course of action needed to meet the situational demands.” Self efficacy is the belief that an individual can as opposed to will and is derived through integration and appraisal of information from past performances, social persuasions, and perceptions of physiological and emotional states.
    • Perception of self is often a better predictor of behavior and performance than objective measures.
  • Emotion Regulation
    • “Processes by which individuals influences which emotions they have, when they have them, how they experience and express these emotions. Endurance athletes face many various stressors throughout their training and competition which can also include harmful emotions in response to such stressors, such as anxiety, frustration and discouragement.
      • Impacts motivation, focus of attention, self-confidence and concentration.
    • Positive emotional responses in turn can be very beneficial. How can an athlete cultivate emotions that are helpful and manage emotions that are harmful before, during and after training and competition.
    • Various strategies utilized.

These skills and techniques in being able to regulate emotions and utilize psychological skills training takes practice and time that athletes develop in conjunction with the physical training associate with the sport. Millions of athletes, from weekend warriors to Olympians will hit the streets, pools, and paths every day to train and prepare for their events. Every individual is unique in their training goals, fitness levels, sport type, experience, and event, but these skills and capabilities help create a shared sense of identity and unique bond among athletes who must endure the kinds of demands that are unique to the mode of sport they are training. While it takes time, experience, practice, and certainly a bit of adversity, as one develops these skills, they will serve to strengthen one’s own resolve and ultimate put them down a path of success, both within and outside of their athletic pursuits.

Photo Credit: Marco Verch via Flickr