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Aiding Sports Recovery Through Mental Resources: Professional Input from Human Development Specialist Karen Quigley

Karen Quigley HeadshotWe were delighted to welcome expertise from Karen Quigley, LMFT, BCPC, BCC and ACC. Karen has been a human development specialist for 26 years and founded True Form Coaching, a lifestyle and sports coaching company. Karen was also one of only 800 athletes from around the world to be invited to The Xterra World Championship, and she competed in 2014 representing the USA as an age group athlete - her techniques work!

We asked Karen about her approach to recovery for our customers using compression hosiery in the world of sports. Read her insights below and thanks Karen for taking the time to write for us!

Learn more about Karen and her work at True Form Coaching by clicking here.

1. How do you rate compression socks and sports gear in sports recovery?

Athletes view compression socks as helpful in recovery from endurance sports. Compared to sports pumps, compression boots that require a machine, and complicated equipment, compression socks are easy to throw into a suitcase, take on trips and can greatly enhance the speed of recovery. Though the other types of recovery are valuable, acquiring access is more complex. Research finds that light activity and active recovery can also enhance and expedite recovery, and coupled with compression socks you can’t go wrong.

2. Can you tell us a little bit about your background in sports?

"I grew up as a competitive gymnast. I aged out in adolescents, ice skated recreationally for a little during high school. During college I took up stress reduction activities like Aikido, yoga and light swimming for fun and recreation. After college, I stayed with social forms of exercise going walking, hiking, running with a friend and worked three jobs and became a psycotherapist. My main focus was forming a career and learning to competently help others."

"After the birth of my first child when I was 30 years old, I had some “baby-weight” on my body and started attending stroller-aerobics and signed up for my first running race, 8 miles. Training for the 8 mile race, helped me feel a lot better and allowed me to lose some weight. We moved to another state and I decided to start my own Strollerobics business. I discovered that exercise and psychotherapeutic work went well together and began to teach fitness and offer workshops which integrated fitness for body, mind and spirt. At the age of 40, I did my first triathlon, and discovered a great passion for competition, as I had once enjoyed as a gymnast. In a year and a half I started with a sprint triathlon (short distance) and worked my way up to a full Ironman in 2012."

"In these years the focus of my psychotherapy practice shifted to primarily working with athletes, as the intersection between sport and psychology obviously blends my passions. In 2014, I was invited to attend Xterra World Championships, and felt honored to have qualified with 799 other athletes from all over the world, at an elite level race in off-road triathlons."

"I have stayed with the trails and continue to race mountain bikes and enjoy xterra competitions. Many of my clients appreciate that I “understand” their challenges and struggles from the inside out, both as an athlete and as a professional."

"Learning to develop a solid mental game is what separates good athletes from truly excellent ones. Sometimes I feel like I’m cheating by having a solid mental game, because where I may lack talent athletically, I make up for in mental agility. I can train my brain to do more than I can my body at times, but it seems to be a nice advantage."

3. What mental and physical tools do you use in your sports recovery?

"Visualization is an important part of my mental strategies for both sport performance and recovery. I like to focus on the lessons learned from my last sports performance rather than the results or outcomes. When I can stay focused on what I’d like to improve upon for next time, I find that I enjoy the process of being a life long athlete. This helps me stay engaged in my sport year after year, I understand I’ll win some and lose some, but when I stay focused on what I learn, I win every time. Additionally, I appreciate the mindfulness involved during my sports performance, and during my recovery, I can practice being mindful both on and off the trails. The skills that help me to perform at my best during competition are also skills that help me generate a quality life. I appreciate and understand that I am responsible for generating my experience, and my perspective is my choice. This skill does not necessarily come naturally to me, but gets stronger the more I practice it. I find like any physical skill, the more I practice it, the more I can improve upon it, same goes for the mental skills, the more I focus my attention on it, the more I can strengthen my mental game."

"Last weekend, I had one of my best races of my life and .3 from the finish line at full tilt sprinting towards the finish line, took a wrong turn. I could have stayed upset and depressed about not receiving the outcome I desired, but I choose to allow myself 24 hours to feel my feelings, and allow them to pass. Then I switched my focus to all the personal progress and moments prior to that moment. There will be many more races in my future, and it’s those challenging or difficult moments that can become our greatest teachers, if we open ourselves up to receiving the lessons. In this case, I needed to trust myself, and not follow the crowd down the wrong path. I had suspected I knew the correct direction, but gave up my deep inner knowing to go with the masses. That lesson will carry forwards through many experience in my life and sport in the future, where as a first place finish will have only felt good momentarily and not been nearly as personally significant. Also, having had such a great race prior to that deciding moment, means I can easily recreate it again."

4. What advice would you have for someone looking to enhance their mental capability within their sport?

Mental skills training first requires an understanding about what specifically are the mental skills that you need to enhance for your sports performance. Chances are there are already skills you’ve created to help strengthen your mental game, possibly a coach gave you a tip or two here or there, but ultimately, I find that many athletes know it’s an important element of their sport, but they have no idea what the skills even are, or how to train them.

The first key is that they do not take any more training time and can be integrated into the physical skills training that you’re already doing. Most of the skills be be learned during other life activities and applied during sport performance. The biggest mistake is to wait until an upcoming event. Training mental skills is a daily practice, like physical training, even during an off season, it’s important to train physically and mentally. In fact, during the off season when training schedules are not as tight, can be an ideal time to sharpen your mental skills.

Here are a few skills that many athletes find helpful: preparation, setting manageable achievable goals, enhanced focus skills, stress management, learning to perform well under pressure, being confident, taking risks, handling unexpected circumstances, staying motivated and determined, balancing and maintaining energy and self care, balancing training with life responsibilities, communicating effectively with coaches, teammates, media and additional supporters, and learning to get into the flow with mindfulness.