Learning from the best: Jasmijn Muller – mental toughness

J Muller 1

Jasmijn is the current World 24 hour Time Trial champion. She is known for her mental toughness. Her she talks about those elements of her training and racing where that mental toughness really shines through.

 

 

 

 

On picking her challenges…

My awareness of challenges usually comes through reading, hearing about or seeing others do cool things. For something to grasp my interest sufficiently to then become a goal, there needs to be an emotional connection (it needs to excite me and make my heart buzz) as well as a logistical fit (with work, lifestyle and support network). It either needs to be a step up from something I have done before (e.g. stepping up from a 12/24-hour to a multiple day/week challenge) or something entirely new that nonetheless allows me to build on skills/strengths developed to date (e.g. going from long distance supported to unsupported racing). Essentially, the goal needs to scare and excite me in equal measures and allow opportunities for self-development and learning. I am not someone who enjoys doing the same thing year in year out.

On sticking to goals…

I keep a blog and use social media as much to share my journey with others (to take something from both my successes and failures) as a way to commit myself to my goals. Sharing goals helps with accountability and also provides opportunities for social connections, support and advice. I also find it essential to work with a coach to help me set out the steps I will need to take to work towards my goals and to give feedback on my progress. If left to my own devices it is just too easy to either overdo it or to put off things to tomorrow. I am goal-driven, but also know when to be flexible when life gets in the way. I don’t like unfinished business. I don’t expect to achieve my goals upon my first attempt, but as long as the desires to achieve a goal still burns strong enough, I’ll keep pursuing its, even if that means that I will need to move the goal posts or delay the challenge. There are times where it is hard to stay focused, especially when planning and preparing for a goal over a prolonged period of months or even years. But those moments are easily overcome by reminding myself how badly I want to achieve this goal (breaking the solo women’s cycling record from Land’s End to John o’Groats).

On how she approaches training…

Key steps are to define the goal, identify the key ingredients required to successfully achieve my goal and asses those areas where I am currently weak. It is important for me to keep a training diary for physical training, but also keep feedback notes about how I was feeling during those sessions, what I ate and drank, what logistics I experimented with etc. I like to keep lists and enjoy ‘ticking’ off things or seeing TrainingPeaks boxes turn green when completed. It is also important for me to work on both weaknesses and strengths. If I only work on improving weaknesses I can loose motivation and feel down about my abilities. It is nice to mix things up with a few sessions where I get to work on strengths and feel more in control of things. I am happy working on my own, but also enjoy being able to call on others and use them as a soundboard. From time to time I get carried away by wanting to enter additional challenges or events that I know full well do not contribute to my overarching goal, but just seem so much fun and are are so tempting. In moments like these I would contact my coach for his opinion. Usually this results in weighing up my underlying motivations for wanting to do those challenges and identifying to what extent they are distractions or can usefully serve the bigger goal.

On how she approaches racing…

I certainly have done plenty of races where I just hoped for the best or set off way to fast, hoping/thinking I may be able to hold on, but I have become more and more methodical over time. I no longer leave things to luck. Much of the goal I am working towards hinges on good planning and preparation. That includes planning of the route (e.g.potential road works, closed bridges, peak traffic times), planning the logistics (e.g. support vehicles, available drivers, crew manuals), adjusting my nutrition to the route profile, weather and intensity of effort (e.g. timing, type of nutrition, location of handups) and selecting appropriate equipment and kit, to name but a few. Planning for my goal is complicated by the fact that it does not just concern me, but also the support team. My challenge is dictated by the weather and thus complicated by not knowing when it will actually take place until 48 hour or maximum 72 hours in advance. This has implications on available support crew, travel and accommodation arrangements and also has financial implications. To be best prepared for this uncertainty and last-minute mayhem it is crucial to have a very detailed master plan ready that can be put into motion at short notice, that gives enough guidance yet is flexible enough to adapt on the go. This is where support from others is vital and where as an athlete I want to be able to delegate, switch off and just focus on my physical and mental preparations. I have tried to do it all myself in the past and learned that that does not work and something has to give.

For important races, I recce the route and take a detailed look at the wind, weather, road surface etc and use specialised software to allow me to assess the required power profile to achieve the target speed or distance I will have targeted for that event and to model my pacing plan. Nutrition, bike set up and kit will be tailored to the challenge and tested in training.I make packing lists, pack the night before and I even make diary entries and set reminders on the day for what time I need to get changed, when I need to start my warm up, what time I need to make my way to the start etc. The routine helps me to stay focused.

On her motivation…

My underlying motivation for long distance riding is based on a mix of performance goals and self-development goals. Although I enjoy just riding long distances, I think I would get bored if there wasn’t a competitive element in at least some of my rides. Long distance racing satisfies my need for speed AND my need for adventure. I am an ambitious person but also a curious and fiercely independent person. Long distance racing allows me to explore and expand my physical and mental boundaries; it allows me to grow as an athlete, but more importantly to grow as a person.

My immediate motivation for breaking the LEJOG record is three-fold. There is the personal performance challenge: I want to take that next step up from being successful at 24-hour races to something twice the length. Then there is the romantic pull: Racing across the length of a country under my own steam and hopefully following in the footsteps or some phenomenal male and female heroes who have achieved this feat before me. It is this impressive and unique history that, if successful, gives my attempt meaning and hopefully inspires someone else to break my record in turn. Although it is important not to let emotions take the overhand while I am actually racing, it is important to me that my goals are underpinned by a strong passion/emotion. That ties in with the final part of my specific motivation for wanting to break the LEJOG record: It is also an important way to raise money for Cancer Research UK, the charity through which I got involved with cycling in the first place, that I want to give back to each time I ‘up’ the challenge and which does such important work to help find cures for one of the leading causes of death.

On owning her performances…

In time trialling (the type of racing I mostly do) it is not uncommon to see athletes making excuses. It often even starts before the events with comments or social media posts like ‘Not the ideal preparation for this race due to …’ a busy week at work, illness, injury, sleep issues , you name it, ‘but hoping for the best’. After often amazing performances, this may then be followed by a comment like ‘happy with my time of x or nth position, despite aforementioned issues, being held up by traffic, a headwind, etc etc’. Yet, all participants face more or less the same conditions and in races like that most people are amateurs and have to deal with the realities of life intervening. I can’t say that I haven’t been guilty of such comments myself in the past, but when you fall short of your goals, you are ultimately better off focusing on those things that were entirely within your control and reviewing what you can do to improve than to dwell on the excuses of external factors.

Success is never mine alone. I have a strong support network of friends and family enabling to do these races and work with a coach, sports psychologist and sports massage therapist to put me in the best possible physical and mental condition. Many of the races I do are supported races and rely on volunteering friends and family handing up bottles by the side of the road at all times of the day and night. I couldn’t have won National 24 and World 24 hour TT championships without their support.

On bouncing back after a failure…

It is important to realise that failure is always an option. Of course, this depends on how you define success, but success is never guaranteed. Whether in sport or in business, people tend to look for ‘top tips’ for success or ‘best practice’ examples. Nobody deliberately strives for failure, but failure can also be a gift that ultimately helps you grow. And that, after all, is what I am seeking from pushing my boundaries in cycling. It is about the journey of self-discovery and development, more so than a hunt for fast times, records, titles or any other badges that may be the tangible results.

Success is great. It is what we all strive for and what everyone wants to hear about. Sometimes success happens because of sheer luck; more often it comes as a result of hard work and a lot of trial and error. But when you succeed, it is easy not to query enough why you were successful and what you can learn from it. Failure can be a bitter pill to swallow, but also a great opportunity for self-reflection, to evaluate why things went wrong and what you can do next time to make sure you don’t fall into the same trap again. Failure helps to build resilience, grit and determination to succeed at the next attempt. Failure is a gift we should perhaps all permit ourselves to at least consider as a plausible and valuable option.

It is important to allow some time to deal with the disappointment. You need to get those emotions out of your system. For me that is often by taking some time out, by doing some different things, by realising that there is more to life and that sports performances and achievements (or failures), do not define who you are, they are just part of what you do. After that, my analytical mind is usually keen to assess what went wrong and why, and if I still feel strong about my goal, to identify how to improve next time and make a game plan for the next challenge or next opportunity to try and achieve that goal after all. Sometimes, I work through these steps alone, but often I involve others be it as soundboards or to get a different view on things.

Failure forces you to be honest with yourself. It forces you to pause and reflect.  I have seen people ‘fail’ big goals only to realise that they were chasing the wrong goal for the wrong reasons. The beautiful thing about amateur sports is that we have choice. As long as your goals give you a buzz and fill you with excitement, keep chasing your dreams. If not, take a break, refocus and find something else that makes you happy.

10 tips… for athletes setting up a Facebook fan page

Facebook

Facebook is the second most popular social networking site in the world with over 1 billion active users. With Facebook it is essential to choose how you would like to use it; as a personal communication tool to stay in touch with friends and family (especially if you spend lots of time away on training camps or competitions), or as a way of promoting you and your sport. If you want to use it for promotion you can either make your regular page open to everyone (which has lots of risks) or you can set up a fan page which can be used for more general social media posts.

A fan page means you can separate out private and public information, and build a more external focused community. There is a limit on the number of friends you can have on a regular page, but no limit to the number of likes a fan page can have. These pages are also indexed in search engine results, so they can be found more easily. You can make someone an administrator of a page on your behalf so they can post for you if you are in competition mode and trying to get into the bubble and staying away from all social media. It will allow you to reach thousands of potential fans by creating a large base of followers, which in turn can help you get funding and sponsorship.

  1. When you set up your fan page the most important thing is to use your name or, if it is taken, differentiate by using your sport. My sporting ability is not worthy of a fan page however if I was significantly faster in my sport it would be Josie Perry Triathlete.
  2. Once the page is created make your profile a professional picture, your cover picture a great action shot and make your biography relevant and up to date. Include links to your other sites (Twitter, Instagram, blogs or website). Make sure you have the right to put up the pictures you do so you don’t end up with a large copyright bill.
  3. Many Facebook pages look unprofessional, are out of date or just look like they were set up to try to get sponsorship. So doing yours properly will make it stand out positively. Great content will get you more followers (or Likes) so really focus on creating value for followers so they feel they get lots of benefit by following.
  4. Decide what you would like the tone of your content to be. Do you want to be seen as funny and entertaining? Factual and interesting? An expert on your sport? A commentator on your sport. Choosing this tone early on helps you put out suitable content straight away.
  5. Take people behind the scenes – what more do they learn from following your page that they wouldn’t see without it. The daily routine of training may be dull to you but the life of an athlete is interesting to many people. If you are travelling to competitions shots from the country you are in are great, and any insight for how things are done differently in the country you are visiting.
  6. Put up your schedule of matches or races – with links to buy tickets or ways to get involved (even race themselves).
  7. If you have any tips or information you have been taught or told by the experts who support you (physios, psychologists, strength and conditioning experts, nutritionists) then share these. This technical expertise will be really well received.
  8. You can upload video directly to Facebook so it plays automatically in your friend’s news feeds. Facebook’s algorithm likes videos which are directly uploaded so they will get more exposure. Think about what might be of interest; particularly training or prep before competitions. A highlight reel of matches or races. Something which works well for this is a video diary around big events so people can see how your training is going leading up to your competition or big event. If you have a high enough profile you can host a Q&A to answer live questions yourself or for you to interview experts you work with.
  9. If you want to give extra thanks to sponsors and more value for their sponsorship you can give them some space on your page with their logo, reviews of their products and how you use them, run a give-away of their products, put up posts with discount codes, put up videos of you using their products or speaking to their staff at company days, thank them for their support. You can use your page to thank others who support you like your coach, physio, strength and conditioning coach, psychologist or nutritionist.
  10. You can share other people’s content: You can set up a Google Alert to find out if anything is posted about you online (it will send you an email if your name is mentioned on a website) and then share that. You can also use a website called Mention (mention.com/en/) to tell you if anything comes up online about your sport so you have access to the latest news and information on your sport to be able to share with your followers.

 

10 tips… for athletes to get their LinkedIn looking slick

LinkedIn

LinkedIn used to just be thought of as the site for job hunting but it is now used much more widely; particularly by journalists and conference organisers so if you are looking for ways to promote yourself, get sponsorship or have a platform for finding work when you retire being on LinkedIn could be really helpful. It has over 500 million members and is the fourth most popular social media site so there will be a lot of people on there who could be helpful to you. Think of it as your online CV.

To get your profile looking professional you need to follow the following guidelines:

  1. Professional profile headshot for your picture – no holiday snaps – you want to show you could do a great job as an ambassador for a company.
  2. Add in a background photo of something highlighting what makes you special; could be of you in competition, or on a podium or meeting school children.
  3. Put in current responsibilities or expertise – this is the first thing people read.
  4. Think about the key words people might use to find you. Athlete, runner, footballer, spokesperson, leader. Drop these into your text where it works.
  5. Have you got any videos or photos of your competing? These would be great to add. Also add any press cuttings or interviews you have done.
  6. Filter the skills and endorsements so they match what you want to be known for.
  7. Try to customise your LinkedIn URL so you are easier to find. If firstnamelastname is already taken add ‘athlete’ or your sport to the end.
  8. Make your summary stand out. 2000 Characters. Use them well. Think about the key words people are likely to search for or the search words you want to be found by. Add in anything which makes your expertise or experiences significant.
  9. Build your network quickly by adding friends, other athletes, competition organisers, college or university alumni (if you attend / attended), leaders and influencers in your sporting field, your sports governing body staff and key clubs in your area.
  10. Join some groups. Pick some for interest and a few to get involved with. You will then pick up on interesting debates, wider connections and if you are a member of the same group as another user, you can bypass the need to be a first-degree connection in order to message them. When you connect with someone it is not just them, it is their network. So use it wisely. And be careful when you receive requests from people you don’t know.

10 tips… for athletes who YouTube

YOuTube logoYouTube is a great way to create on online visual portfolio of your sporting career. It can show sponsors or coaches how dedicated you are to your sport and how passionate you are about it. Videos are also a great way to show off any specialist skills you have.

  1. Don’t feel you need to follow tick boxes on YouTube – videos can be as long or as short as you want. But start off with a couple to get your channel up and running. You don’t need brilliant video editing skills. You can usually do everything you need on your phone or laptop.
  2. It sounds very simple but think about the name you pick for your channel. It needs to be fairly sensible if you are to be taken seriously as an athlete. What may be funny now won’t be if a sponsor decides it is too out there to represent their brand effectively.
  3. Keep what you post fairly tame – no changing room shower shots, controversies, or outspoken rants. It isn’t worth the fall-outs of potential sponsor rejection.
  4. Think about the title you use for each video so it is easy for people to find it when they search.
  5. Leave really positive, encouraging comments on other athlete’s videos and they may come watch yours. Engaging on other people’s YouTube feeds will help highlight that you also produce great content. So be active with creating content and commenting
  6. Use your other social media channels to link to anything you put up on YouTube.
  7. YouTube is all about creating great content that people want to watch. If you have a team mascot then you can have great fun doing races or games with them before or after a competition and posting the video.
  8. If you have a tough strength and conditioning workout do little ‘shots to camera’ throughout it explaining what you are doing and why and post it up afterwards.
  9. If you have good nutrition then videos of you baking healthy sports specific food can be helpful for people. Making your own sports drinks or energy bars can give other people great ideas and is valuable content.
  10. Short video diary extracts for any announcements you make about your sport, matches or competitions or injury breaks you are taking will also be of interest.

10 tips… for athletes who Instagram

InstagramInstagram is brilliant for athletes as what you are doing every day creates fabulous aesthetics. It can give a behind the scenes peak into your daily life as an athlete with the ups, the downs and all the hard work. Here are 10 tips to get the most out of time on Instagram.

  1. If you feel sub-conscious or too shy promoting yourself perhaps think about it as not promoting yourself as a person but as an individual doing your sport to try to inspire others and bring more people into your sport.
  2. Set up a professional looking profile. The pictures can be the same as your twitter pictures with your headshot picture being you in kit and your background picture being a mid match or competition shot. In your biography you should include your sport and club and link to your club’s Instagram feed.
  3. Rather than think of Instagram as an online photo album it can be more effective to think of it as a way to tell your story – sharing videos of your training or straight after competitions will give some insight and help people see the journey you are on with your sport. This helps inspire and build a genuine connection.
  4. Remember our stories won’t always be perfect. In fact they almost never are. Our lives don’t travel in a nice straight line. We all have ups and downs and you will connect much better with people if you show this. Don’t do it to the detriment of your career (ensure you don’t post anything which gives your competitors one-up on you) but, where you can, be honest about the struggles and loses you have, and about the learnings and wins. This will make you a much truer ambassador for your sport and show you as an authentic athlete.
  5. Use hashtags so your shots can be found easily by people not yet following you.
  6. Don’t take yourself too seriously – have fun with it. Make beautiful pictures which authentically show your life – both the fun side and the hard working side.
  7. Follow others. This will help build up your followers and give you great ideas on what to share. It also helps you see great content you may want to share with others. Key people to search for will be other athletes, nutritionists, exercise experts (rather than influencers), psychologists, coaches and physiologists.
  8. Use filters. They make a big difference to how frequently they are viewed. A research project through Yahoo Labs found filtered photos are 21% more likely viewed and 45% more likely to have a comment made on them. So use them liberally.
  9. Every month or so look back through your posts, see which ones received the most likes and comments and tailor your future content more along these lines.
  10. If you struggle to think what content you could post consider including:
  • Photos from workouts and exercises – these can give people examples and ideas
  • Meals you eat which are great for supporting your training – with the recipe on another picture so other athletes can try making it too.
  • Quotes or tips which have helped you see things differently or inspired you.
  • Travel pictures of where you are training or competing.
  • It can be nice to sometimes have a theme to your pictures such as having your club mascot pop up in some shots or taking shots from a certain angle.
  • Join in ‘days’ such as Medal Monday, Transformation Tuesday, Throwback Thursday, Flashback Friday or SelfieSunday.

Ten tips… for athletes to grow twitter engagement & followers

  1. Follow other athletes in your team or club, athletes on the national team for your sport or other athletes in your sport you admire or are interested in their career path.
  2. Follow the governing bodies for your sports; at local, national and world level.
  3. Think about the companies whose products you currently use and companies you would like to be sponsored by and follow then, join in competitions and engage with them.
  4. Follow the media organisations and journalists who cover your sport, your local area or your hometown (if you have moved away) and retweet with comment any relevant stories they publish.
  5. Follow coaches and support experts in your sport – retweet any great articles they share.
  6. For all these people tweet them to say you have joined twitter and ask if there is anyone great you should be following. People often enjoy being asked for advice and offering tips.
  7. Check the big organisations in your sport, see who they follow, who are they retweeting and who they interact with and follow them.
  8. When you see anything of interest to others in your sport retweet it, sometimes offering your own comment.
  9. Put your twitter handle on your website, Facebook page, email signature and any printed material you do with sponsors so you can continue to grow followers.
  10. Do your twitter yourself. Some high profile athletes have an agent or manager tweet for them but this can feel unauthentic and followers realise they are getting something corporate and filtered rather than the actual views and perspectives of an athlete.

 

10 Tips… for athletes using Twitter

Twitter_Logo_WhiteOnBlueIf you are going to use just one social media site make it Twitter. It is a great way to publish information, engage with fans (your own and of your sport), to market yourself and appeal to potential sponsors. While most of the 1.3 billion people with accounts won’t see your tweets, if you work hard to build a great content feed and grow your followers you can make an impression on the people who can help your sporting career. Here are 10 tips to help use twitter effectively as an athlete.

 

  1. Have a professional profile name – not a comedy name you gave yourself years ago and thought would be a giggle. Your twitter name should be as close to your real name as possible as this is how people will look for you. If your name is already taken you can add your sport to it. The easier you are to find the more it will be used in the media and so you’ll great more followers.
  2. Have your profile picture be a professional headshot of you in your sports kit. This is often the shot a journalist would use or a company you are speaking for may pick to put on any information about you so it needs to be one you really like.
  3. Use hashtags as these are easily searchable and it means more people will find your tweets if they are trying to find out more about a subject. To find the best hashtags to use there is a tool called Hashtagify (hashtagify.me) helps you decide. You type in a keyword that stands out from whatever you are sharing and it gives you other important related hashtags.
  4. If you have any type of public profile in your sport put out news on your social media first. This means people follow you to hear news first and you reward  those who follow you with exclusives.
  5. Decide on your twitter tone and stick to it. You need to be yourself and authentic so let your personality and humour shine through, but ensure you don’t alienate anyone or be rude to others. Some what ‘not to do’ ideas from professional athletes who have screwed up can be found here. https://performanceinmind.co.uk/2016/09/28/the-ten-social-media-mistakes-athlete-make-most-often/
  6. Having a good variety of positive, professional and interesting posts is key. These could include information on kit or sponsors, charity or awareness campaigns you are involved with, match or competition comments, community work, training, nice comments about team or club mates, the build up to matches or competitions and thank yous to people for coming to watch you.
  7. Join in other people’s conversations. Only get involved in things you know about or want to learn more about but this will help you show you are an expert in your sport as well as competing in it. Learn from others and offer your opinions and sporting expertise.
  8. Use photos (they get on average 35% more retweets), videos (28% more retweets), quotes (19% more retweets) and hashtags (16% more retweets). If you have professional photos taken at competitions or matches and they go up online retweet them or ask to use them. These are striking and get followers attention.
  9. If you want to get the best engagement there is a tool called Buffer (buffer.com) which looks at all your tweets and measures what time people interact with you most. Then you can schedule tweets for these time periods.
  10. To make great content, take people behind the scenes of your life and your sport. Think about how you can be useful to your followers. Insight into your sport, interesting facts or figures, comments on competition will all be of interest to sports fans. Show people what it is like to do your sport. Changing room photos or videos (but these must not embarrass anyone else), training shots, little videos of gym routines can all be of interest.