by Kelly Williamson

Ed. Note—Kelly Williamson is back for the second of two pieces on Athlete IQ. Miss last week's? You can find it here. Kelly Williamson raced professionally for over 15 years, racking up over 15 Ironman 70.3 and Ironman victories during her career. Kelly now spends her time working as a coach for Durata Training, guiding her athletes to their own victories, large and small.

Learn to control your emotions or they will control you —Edgar Martinez

The more years I’ve spent in sport (both in the ring and from the sidelines helping others), the more I realize how some of the intangibles to success are due to factors we cannot measure or necessarily see. While we can all talk about power numbers, run paces, challenging workouts and accomplishing race goals, when thinking about success as an athlete, I have often come back to the term Athlete IQ. In think a world so pressed to seek the next best gadget to make you faster, take a step back and realize that the success you are seeking is not within a tool but rather within yourself.

The first installment of this talked about Athlete IQ: Logic. The concepts of making wise decisions, addressing the small details, listening to your body and taking risk if you want to make gains as an athlete. This part focuses on Emotion. More specifically, (thank you Derick for this one), RUM. No, not rum rum… (and if it were rum, it would be beer or whiskey because they are superior to rum). But rather RUM: Recognize, Understand, Manage. A simple way to dive into this; breaking down Emotional Athlete IQ into three parts.

  1. RECOGNIZE. The first step in knowing how to appropriately deal with one’s emotions is to recognize them. And if you are going to recognize them, you have to accept them. Be honest with yourself. I think one fault we all have at times is trying to be a hero; push feelings aside, maintain the tough exterior and truck through everything. While this can work at times, it will only work for so long. At some point you will break. It is ok to feel something; it makes you human. In this first step, try not to judge what the emotion is. If you’re more let down than normal after a race or a session, acknowledge the feeling; then deal with it. When you recognize your emotion, you become vulnerable; and while many believe this makes you weak, it opens us up to being our true self. So, the first step to being a strong athlete emotionally is being willing to recognize, and accept, the emotions you’re experiencing.
  2. UNDERSTAND. Ask yourself why you may be feeling as you are. As athletes we have to realize that sometimes emotions can become more intense at times due to factors outside of your ‘sport’. Are you overly exhausted? Work or home/family stress wearing on you significantly? Try to break down what you are feeling and what is likely contributing to it. Do your best to understand where this is coming from, so you can then deal with it. Sometimes the root of our emotions may be things we don’t want to admit. Are your expectations not realistic? Maybe you know you’re not happy in your current situation, but you haven’t come to admit it. Not to get too deep, but honestly at times you have to when it comes to this stuff. You may need to ask yourself the hard questions, talk to people you trust, and use these feelings you are experiencing to make tough decisions. But if you ever expect to deal with emotions as an athlete in such a way that it enhances and doesn’t detract from you achieving your potential, you need to understand your what you’re feeling.
  3. MANAGE. I believe this one to be the most critical. In the world of sport, there are no guarantees. Your preparation can go according to plan; nail every big session, achieve all of the process goals along the way. But some days on the day you need it most, you don’t have it; and there isn’t always a logical explanation. How do you respond, when you’re in the thick of your opportunity, and nothing is clicking? Negative self talk will happen. Bad days will happen. Unexpected misfortunes will happen. But the outcome on the day often depends upon how you choose to perceive the situation. When you may be frustrated and confused; aim to channel it into something positive. When you want to call it quits, ask yourself how you feel next week with this decision. I will be the last person you will hear endorse the “Death before DNF” line. No, no finish line is worth sacrificing your health. There are situations whereby the wisest choice is self-preservation. But if you find you are going down a hole of negative due to the situation, try to adjust your attitude, manage your emotion, and ultimately make decisions that you will remain proud of. You will often find that when you begin to think more positively and alter the self-talk, your body will respond; feel a bit better, stronger, and more willing to give you what you’re asking of it.

Similarly – you will have days you’re far surpassing your wildest expectations. How will you respond? Will you limit your potential thinking “oh, I’m not this good, something must be wrong”, or will you embrace and own it? Managing ‘positive emotions’ can be just as challenging, in the moment. When it all comes together, and you find yourself doing something in your life you never thought possible, seize it. Let your body do what it knows how to. And there is a place, in racing, when it is best to push emotion aside in favor of focusing on the process, the task at hand. Be completely involved in the moment and let your body do what it is trained to do.

Life is a process of constantly evolving. Learning from each day, each experience and trying to be better for it. We will all stumble, but in every opportunity, there is a chance for growth. And it isn’t always the fittest, or the strongest, or the most lucky person who comes out on top; but often times, the one who can stay composed, maintain control over emotions and make wise decisions along the way.