This month on Friday 13th April, Adam Kirk-Smith will achieve a dream.
On a date which has long been fear fodder for superstitious types, this youthful yet sage steeplechaser will walk onto a 400 metre athletics track in Brisbane to go toe to toe over 28 barriers and 7 water jumps in the 28th Commonwealth Games.
When I ask him what day he’ll be lining up on the track so I can flick on the TV from the comfort of my sofa, the unfortunate date doesn’t even register in his eyes.
For Adam, the goal was to be there; to make the team; to wear the green vest of Northern Ireland.
Who is Adam Kirk-Smith…
I’ve had the pleasure of many engaging therapy sessions with Adam over the last year and a half, and his uncompromising efforts with me have clearly matched the energy he puts into his sport. I’ve seen Adam’s dream seamlessly transition from fantasy, to attainable goal, to stepping stone toward even bigger goals. His lack of competitive background on an international stage has not hindered his drive (his closest Commonwealth experience previously was in Glasgow in 2014 – as a regular spectator). His rise has been quiet, measured, publicly un-noticed, exercising levels of sole focus and determination to be the best he can be today.
Adam clearly has a killer combination of both talent (he humbly denies this), and a good, solid work ethic, and yes, there is a competitive lineage throughout the Kirk-Smith household (his dad represented Ireland in hockey), but it takes more than genes and a t-shirt to land oneself a position to compete on the global stage.
Putting in the required hours is not something that Adam shies away from (more often than not he would run to my practice, down a cup of water, perform the mental exercises asked of him with aplomb, and leave at the same speed that he arrived), and he resolutely finds time for a variety of training events, from cross country running to track work, and from gym sessions to the local parkruns on Saturday mornings. So I wondered how could I approach this driven, accomplished individual to make a difference. What could there be to improve upon.
The therapeutic approach…
From the perspective of a therapist, there was clearly no need for my involvement with any physical training as his abilities are there for all to see. Besides, ‘on-track’ training is certainly not my forte. Not consciously anyway.
So, our goals together were to work on ‘marginal gains’.
Marginal ‘brain’ gains, to be precise.
Adam’s needs, not my needs of him…
For Adam, dwelling on past issues would only keep him ruminating in a negative spin, and running around in circles was something best kept for outside the practice room. As a Solution Focused Hypnotherapist, my aim was to keep him moving forward, guiding him from where he was, to where he wanted to be. His goals had to come from him; his needs, not mine, and importantly, at his own pace. A square peg, after all, fits perfectly in a square hole.
Athletes often make great therapeutic clients for they arrive already aware of the benefits of incremental practice, and an understanding of the need for commitment, persistence, and patience. Additionally, sportspeople are no strangers to the fact that progress often comes with occasional discomfort, especially when coached to stretch beyond existing capabilities.
Adam, with his ups and downs over recent years both physically and psychologically, was very aware of this, and he accepted that he would be challenged with mental exercises that would be simple, but not necessarily easy.
But easy isn’t what contenders want.
What contenders want, are results.
So, to those all important marginal gains…
Unseen, everyday stress can have a huge impact on the effectiveness of many aspects of the human body; the nervous system; the immune system; the endocrine system (hormones), to name a few. The smallest concern can have our minds and bodies enter a state of fight or flight, and a collection of worries can have our autonomic system constantly switching on and off those all-important repair and restore modes, making us feel like we are in a constant state of flux. And for an athlete, the requirements of both repair and restore are necessary, fundamental processes to compete at the highest level.
Injury and illness are the archenemies of all athletes, and how effortlessly these podium pinchers enlist the parts of the mind that can very swiftly have you spiraling negative beliefs; an athlete carrying a distant thought – such as a previous loss of form or even a personal, emotional concern away from the track – can turn the opportunity of being amongst the leading pack, into being an ‘also ran’.
And stress levels aren’t easily quantifiable for anyone – yes, we know the big things in life that can have us boiling over with anger or worry, but it’s the steady, unseen build of unresolved emotional residue that can catch us unaware, leaving us confused and untethered, and can pull us whirling into a vortex of uncertainty, fear and doubt. There is, after all, no ‘anxiety gauge’; no physical knowledge of current levels; no real-time understanding of spare capacity in our abilities to handle whatever situations life has around the corner. We are aware, however, when our finely balance system screams “no more!” and our bodies follow suit. And by then, it’s just too late.
And for Adam, that is not a place to be.
Not leading into the race of his life to date.
So we continue…
Adam’s goals within therapy ranged from writing, reading and engaging in activities away from the track, to more direct changes with diet, and importantly, more of that rest and restore stuff, so necessary for his body and mind.
And we continue – working to keep Adam’s anxiety levels as low as we can; working to keep him calm, rested and confident; working to keep his resolve as strong as it can be.
Fighting old gnawing belief systems and managing the approaching everyday arsenal of unwanted challenge. Keeping those goals beyond this stepping stone, in mind.
Core work isn’t just for the body.
Adam Kirk-Smith competes in the 3000m steeplechase in the Commonwealth Games on Friday 13th April at 10:30am GMT.
Adams (very good) blog can be found here – https://theanthropologuy.wordpress.com/
If you want to find out more about how I can help then please contact me.
Just remember, information on this site isn’t intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any illness. Individual results may vary and there are no guarantees you will experience the same results as others featured on this site. We’ll work together to develop a plan which works best for you and your individual needs.