Sport Psychologist may be the answer
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    Jane Herries

    Is there a sport psychologist in our orienteering community I could contact, or can anyone recommend a young one?

    I would like to talk to a psychologist about how an orienteer could learn to channel their thoughts when they come upon someone else during their race. It’s common that when two or more people meet up on a course someone will momentarily loose focus. Maybe an expert could shed some light on how to minimise the lack of concentration at this moment.

    I have never heard anyone give a specific solution to how to lower your stress level when another competitor appears on your radar during a race. Is the topic formerly discussed by an expert at High Performance training camps?

    I am trying to work out if this would be a unique problem to orienteers? Do we need to find a specialized psychologist interested in helping us in our sport? (I can only think that racing drivers might have same circumstances when another driver is on their tail attempting to pass).

    I once heard a NZ World Champion say in a speech, “If you have a problem in your racing, work on that problem until it is eliminated.”  I would like to have a chat to a good sports psychologist to find out how orienteers can best try to eliminate this specific issue in their racing.



    Really interesting topic Jane. I know when I am racing, I tend to say hi as I come across people and it is seldom that I get a steely focussed non response. I am always impressed when someone doesn’t respond and think “I should try to be more like that”. Something I will be working on for a long time I think…


    Roger Woodroofe

    Hi Jane,

    The answer would make a great coaching OrienteeringNZ blog post! I cant help with your request for a contact person. I’m sure its not just orienteering specific or sports specific.

    As a collector of books I suggest some may contain helpful tips/techniques. This is just one example of factors which may impact concentration/focus.

    1. Carol McNeill’s 2010 book – “Crowood Sports Guides – Orienteering” chapter 14, Pg116 mentions ‘distraction by others’ in a list of “Some of the Demons of Concentration”. There are quite a few references in the index relating to concentration. Pg 67 ‘Loss of Concentration’ section mentions using trigger words to help and refer to Chapter 14.
    2. The 2010 book “Sport Motivation – Training your mind for Peak Performance” by Ken Hodge. I picked up an earlier 1994 edition of this book in a clearance sale. I see there is a 2004 and a 2010 paperback edition. You can see a select list of his publications and contact details here (He may be able to suggest a student with an interest in the area?)

    There are likely other books in local libraries with keywords/titles like “sport focus” “sport concentration” and online resources too.


    Nick Harris

    Some deliberate practice might help? Training sessions to simulate the distractions where the aim is just to keep focus. Also, do as many mass start races, relays. loops races etc… as you can. I mean, it doesn’t give you a ‘thought process’, but it does familiarise you with the pressure, which must be a large part of the battle?  Even armed with a thought process you’re still going to need to practise it, right?

    I’ve often wondered whether we in NZ just don’t get much practice at running amongst other competitors?  I assume that in parts of the world where fields are larger there are more runners on your course and more runners total, so concentrating whilst around other people is just a natural thing?

    Anyway, best of luck with it. I’d be interested to hear how you get on, or if anyone else has been down this path before.


    Lizzie Ingham

    Hi Jane,

    Really interesting topic! I think sports psych is definitely under-rated or rather just not considered much/at all by orienteers down our way. But can be invaluable. I’m absolutely no expert, and have only just started working with a psychologist, but so far its been really rewarding. I personally don’t know any sports psychologists in NZ, but they’re undoubtedly around.

    What’s most relevent is called ‘mindfulness’, and has been a hot topic in sports psych over the last few years. A couple of articles below to give the gist – it’s all about present-moment awareness and focus. There’s some simple exercises that are easy to get started doing by yourself. At the Aus HP camp in January we were introduced to the smiling mind app, which is a bit tedious to begin with, but good.

    You’ll find a lot of examples given in articles are from golf – where the mental side comes into things a lot. I think Orienteering and golf have a lot of similarities really – except orienteering is obviously way cooler, and comes with the added complexity of being in oxygen debt most of the time!

    Anyhow, hope the articles help, and finding a sports psych, or just a good psychologist  is well worth the effort if possible!



    Eduardo Morelló

    Hi everybody,

    (first of all, sorry if a make a few mistakes writing, english is not my mother language).

    About Jane´s question: yes, a sport psychologist may be the answer. As an sport psychologist and orienteering runner (also), I now quite well what the problem is about. It could take a long time and words to explain all the theories behind the problem (miss focus) so I will give you a small explanation about how I will face the situation with and athlete.

    1. There´s two differentes types of thoughts, the one´s that HELPS, and the one´s that doesn´t HELPS. Example type one: “run to the stone and after run to find de path”. Example of type two: “is this runner in my cathegory?”, “do I know him?”, “is he looking for the same point than me”? Both of them are type of thoughts we use to have while running.

    2. All of this thoughts, are the self talk, which is the voice that is speaking to as all the time inside our heads. The problem appears when the selftalk is saying something different to the thing that is really important in a particular moment. While running, remember the example one (till the stone and till path) is exactly what I need to find the point. Obviously, example two is not helping me to find the point and then, the catastrophy is served: shit! I make a mistake! I did it again! I´m lossing 30 seconds! I have to run my race… and all the staff that come´s with a mistake, resuming, lost focus so lost time.

    3. Unfortunately, there´s no way to prevent losses of focus (is happening all the time). Fortunately, what we can do is training to keep the focus for a longer periodes and even so important, be very quick focusing again in the main cues of the activity (it doesn´t matter if running, driving, cooking…), or what is the same, be aware about if what we are thinking helps me in that moment or not. As Lizzie said, mindfulness can be a very useful tool (I use it with my athletes and of couser, with my self very often).

    Well, the only secret once you have the plan is training, training and training. The sport psychologist can´t help you with a “masterclass”. He can help you with a plan that you have to execute one time, two times…. and all the times you need to improve your performance in that point.

    Hope it helps and give a small idea of what a sport psychologist can do!

    Best regards from Spain!



    Jane Herries

    Thanks Lizzie and Edu for your excellent input. Its new to me but I have come to realise that “mindfulness” is being used by top athletes and CEOs world-wide now.  Convincing evidence of its powerfulness was included in the 6O Minutes documentary shown on NZ television last week. In this they showed how after only a few day’s training you could control the brain’s activity remarkably. Hope others saw the programme.

    They also stated in the discussion that we know how to train muscles well now and training the brain was to be the next great leap forward for the western world.

    If you missed it see

    So, Lizzie, it has just become my mission to get mindfulness training incorporated in the O-Camps so that it becomes the norm for our elites in the near future. I am now on the hunt for a good presenter then. I see there are 4-week courses starting in Auckland and Wellington almost monthly. Worth looking into. Who could I sponsor to go a session and suss it out? Maybe you Dwayne?


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