The Pole Vault Seminar: Holly Bradshaw, Katie Nageotte, Katerina Stefanidi, hosted by GB coach Scott Simpson
Special thanks to Stuart Weir on including these Pole Vault Webinars on @runblogrun.
Being a championship performer – dealing with nerves
One of the really interesting topics discussed in the recent webinar put on by English Athletics, moderated by Scott Simpson, GB National Performance Institute Senior Coach, and featuring Katerina Stefanidi, Holly Bradshaw and Katie Nageotte, was the different approach of the athletes to producing their best in the big events.
Katerina Stefanidi, photo by Getty Images / British Athletics
Katerina Stefanidi suggested that “there may be a genetic or biological component to it. Nerves and anxiety make us release certain hormones but people react to that differently. It’s not that one person is more nervous than another but that there is something chemically different happening in our brains. I also think that up to a point you can control it and work on it”.
She explained further: “When I was 15, I won the World Youth Championship and I didn’t go there as the favorite. I have competed from a very young age and I think that [performing well at big events] is something that has always been there. But I think we have also worked on it to help me physically and mentally – and perhaps ‘mentally’ is the most important for the pole-vault. I’ve been going into championships every year and – Rio was a little different – I’ve been able to get a season’s best in the championship. That is partly down to work, throughout the season but there’s also a strong a biological component to it.
“I think one of the reasons I do well in championships is because I don’t think about anything. It’s not that I don’t get nervous, I do get nervous but I allow my brain to shut down and let my body do what it has learned to do in practice. More than anything I am trying to turn my brain off, rather than trying to focus on anything.
“I think, in general, I do well under pressure – in many different things. That isn’t always the case as some people do well under pressure in certain situations and not others. I was always a good test-taker. But also because I’ve been pole-vaulting since I was 10 I have taken so many jumps and so many different jumps that I am able to come out of a bad run or a bad takeoff with a good jump. Take my 4.82 in London 2017, I almost stopped it but then made it. And if I hadn’t made 4.91, I would still have one with that 4.82 jump. That’s the kind of approach Mondo has ‘just move your hands and get over the bar’.
“When I was in college it helped me very much that I had that other aspect [of my life]. At times in school I was tired studying and couldn’t wait to get out to practice”.
Katie Nageotte, photo by Getty Images / British Athletics
Katie Nageotte identified the mental aspect as a weakness for her and described how she dealt with it: “I get very nervous but as often as not it works in my favour. I’ve heard that nervousness and excitement are the same chemical reaction in the body. That’s just how your body processes it. So I tell myself when I feel nervous that I am actually excited. Also, it’s a major championship so you’re allowed to feel that way. For me it comes down to focusing on the things that I can execute. Rather than thinking about doing something wrong, I focus on positives, like telling myself to move my hands really fast, to make it something that I can execute. That really takes the emotion out of it.
“Kat talked about shutting her brain down. Focusing on one or two things is my way of shutting my brain off – because I go very scatterbrained very quickly. I get very overwhelmed and feel the anxiety and my shoulders tense up. So by choosing one or two things to channel the energy towards that is my way of controlling the situation. I know when I do this and this, things will go well. The danger for me is that if I shut my brain off, I would be overwhelmed by other things. I have to channel in on one or two things not to freak out.
“Pole-vault is not a stress relief for me, the way Kat described it, that she could go to practice and forget about the stresses in life. For me that is the stress, not release from stress! So I have to go in very focused, force my mind to get in the zone. I say that because even still I deal with some of that and you have to find the right cues and mentally combat it. You have to be willing to say ‘I’m better than this. I’m tougher than this’.
Holly Bradshaw also acknowledged that keeping her emotions under control was a battle at times. “I’ve gone into competitions feeling so nervous because I want to win a medal or something that you’re not in the moment. So it’s important to focus on what you’re about to do and think about, for example, being strong off the back of the run. I try to think about executing the jump not worrying about clearing the bar – focusing on things that you can control like your processes”.
Holly Bradshaw, photo by Getty Images / British Athletics
Holly also added a practical point: “I think it’s so important what Kat said about the number of jumps you’ve taken and not to be searching for the perfect take-off. I used to think that if the take-off was horrible I’m going to bail; but it doesn’t matter if your take off is rubbish. That may not be your best jump but it gets you over the start bar and that’s the way you learn. If I have a really good session and training, yes it’s good to my confidence, but I don’t learn anything from it but if I have a bad session sometimes I learned so much from it. I think it’s important for young jumpers to realize”.
Elite athletes have great physical and technical skills but it is fascinating to get an insight into the mental part of bringing you’re a game to the events that matter.
You can watch the webinar videos on https://athleticshub.co.uk
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