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The Emotions of Sports: The mind tells the athlete to not give up

When fatigue sets in, athletes trust that their bodies will take them to the finish line

Posted: July 31, 2011 1:55 a.m.
Updated: July 31, 2011 1:55 a.m.

It’s been said that fatigue makes cowards out of us all.

So how do athletes find the courage to fight through it?

For starters, athletes must recognize the threat fatigue poses to their play.

“My dad always taught me, fatigue is just as much an opponent as the people you’re playing,” says former Golden Valley High basketball player and Cal Baptist commit Taylor Statham.

When athletes are fatigued, they lose focus. They don’t play as hard. Their motor skills slowly deteriorate.

Beating fatigue starts with conditioning – not just conditioning hard, but conditioning smart. And the training methods vary, because each sport is different in its own way.

For Canyon High graduate and USA Track and Field runner Lauren Fleshman, knowing how to back off is just as important as pushing yourself.

“If I’m in a workout and the purpose of that workout is to be fatigued and tired, then yeah, I push through it,” she says.

“But the absolute key to being an elite athlete is knowing when to take days off. If you don’t run slowly enough or back off enough, you’ll be like a soaked sponge. The liquid’s on the table and you can’t suck it up.”

Meanwhile, for a basketball player like Canyon High graduate and Caltech swingman Mike Edwards, having the mental capacity to push yourself past the limit is a necessity.

“(At Canyon), there were times when we’ll be conditioning, and I’m thinking, ‘I’m tired. I don’t want to do anything else,’” Edwards says. “Then they’ll be like, ‘(Let’s do) one more thing.’ Now, when I condition for Tech, I get super tired and then I’m like, ‘OK, one more.’”

Edwards adds that fatigue changes the way he plays as a game goes on. He says he usually hits a point in games where his shot feels different or stops falling altogether, and then he starts using his legs more. Defensively, he focuses more when he’s fatigued because he can’t recover as quickly.

Statham dealt with a different type of fatigue this past spring. He returned to play for Westwind Prep Academy in Phoenix after chemotherapy for testicular cancer.

“I remember that I couldn’t even breathe,” he says. “I had to sub myself out of the game. My body was just completely drained. The next three days I just slept.”

Beyond his condition, fatigue changed Statham’s game, as it did Edwards’.

“I would get tired and winded, so I really had to be smart with the basketball and use my moves,” Statham says. “It was more mental, just fighting through the fatigue.”

But fatigue doesn’t just set in during games. It can set in because of them.

The length of the season, whether it’s games, races or other types of competition, can wear down athletes.

“There’s definitely a point in the season where you fall into a rut,” Edwards says. “Practice, school, game. Practice, school, game.”

That’s why pacing yourself or your team during practice is important. Fleshman says that there’s a lot more attention to that issue when it comes to running training.

“It’s about choosing about which days you go to the well and the days you don’t go anywhere near the well,” she says. “There’s a big movement now, realizing a lot of people have sabotaged their success when what they could have been doing is choosing hard and easy days.”

That’s one way to manage fatigue. Any athlete who wants to prolong their career will find a way that works for them.
“If you’re not trying hard and not being excited about it, not having fun, then why are you doing it?” Edwards says.


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