"Sport makes you feel as if you can do anything," says the coach and triathlete.
Raise Your Game: How did you first get involved in sport?
Martin Yelling: I started off doing sport as a runner at school. It culminated with me completing, probably the hardest endurance race in the world, which is the iron man triathlon in Hawaii. That's a 3.8km open water swim in the sea, 112 miles of cycling, and a full marathon to finish off.
RYG: How do you prepare for something like that?
MY: You start training a long time before the event itself. You have to qualify because it's a world championship event, so you need to do two or three events in a year.
RYG: Does sport make you mentally stronger?
MY: Without a doubt. Doing sport, particularly a tough endurance sport, makes you feel as if you can do anything. It gives you confidence to achieve things that you thought you couldn't in other areas of your life.
When you feel nervous or anxious in certain situations, you can remember times on the sports field where you felt nervous, but were able to take those feelings and still succeed and make the finish line. Just take those thoughts with you and use them somewhere else.
RYG: How important is it to set yourself goals?
7 February 1972
- Iron Man Triathlon
- Distance running
- Won Elite British Duathlon Championships twice (2002 and 2003)
- Completed Hawaii Iron Man triathlon (2008)
MY: It's very important. I use it a lot in my own sport. I have goals that are really important to me, my A goals. They're the ones that I don't have that many of. They invest your time and take your energy. They're the really important ones. Then you have smaller ones along the way, B and C goals. They're important, but they help you measure where you are.
I set huge goals for myself. Some that I think I can't do, that are really going to challenge, test me and push me to the limit. I set myself other goals that I'm a bit more comfortable with, that will help me along the way to the big ones.
RYG: Do you keep a written record of your training routines?
MY: Sometimes I find it helps to write a secret phrase down, or a word that'll motivate you when things are difficult. It's the reason why you're doing what you're doing, whether that's trying to get a university place or a GCSE result.
My motivation was making the finish line in an iron man race. Just making the finish became really important. To do that I had to do lots of things along the way to get there. I'd write a little sentence down. I might not share it with anyone, but it'd be clearly stamped in the back of my head.
RYG: When the difficult times come along during a race - what sort of things do you say to psyche yourself up?
MY: There are two things.. Firstly I'd trained very hard and I'd told myself that my body was an engine. My legs were big pistons that would go up and down, and the food that I ate along the way was the fuel for running that engine. I told myself that the engine was efficient, strong and never failed.
I would always say things in a positive way to myself. I would never say 'I can't do this.' I would never ask 'How much further is it?' It's always 'I know I can do this, I will do this, I really want this, I'm strong enough to do this.'
The other thing that I said to myself was 'If they can do it, I can do it.' The 'they' in this instance was a double amputee, a guy who'd had his legs taken off in a car accident above the knee. If he can do it, who am I to think that I can't. He was inspirational. It's easy for me to do this. I've got a genetic package that enables me to do this.
The great thing about watching the London marathon or Hawaii iron man is that everybody has a go. An 80-year-old nun finished the event. If an 80-year-old nun can do the event, I can do it.
RYG: What skills make a good coach?
MY: You need to be a good listener. You have to listen to the athletes that you work with. You have to be a good observer, so you can see how your athletes can improve. I don't believe that it's about telling people how to get there. A great coach supports somebody to find their own way there.
You need fantastic subject knowledge, and you need to be a good role model, maybe someone that's achieved something in another aspect of their life, and can apply a similar thinking to their sports coaching.
RYG: How do you improve someone's confidence?
MY: Gently. I try to remind them that they're successful at something, because we're all good at something. We're all really bad at telling each other what it is that we're good at.
It's about identifying something in your own life that you feel you already do well. There is something, you might just have to scrape around to find it. It might not be the most obvious thing, and it might not be applicable to sport, but there is something that every person is good at. If you can find that, you can scratch a bit deeper to find out what makes them tick to be good at that one thing. You take that and put it with the other things that they feel they're not so good at.
RYG: What advice would you give to young people when the chips are down and things aren't going particularly well? What can they do to pick themselves up?
MY: When you think the pressure's on, my first bit of advice would be to take some time out, and just reflect on things. Imagine yourself taking a step out of the room you're in, looking down on yourself and think about how bad things really are. That'll put everything else into perspective for you.
Take a backwards step and watch yourself for a bit. Decide what you can and cannot do to change something, and then go back into the room and make a couple of small changes.
If you've got the right mental skills you can apply them to any challenge that you meet.
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