Lessons from a Pro Soccer Player's Crash Course in Mental Strength Training

Katie Giberson running the 2018 NYC marathon

Last week I joined over 50,000 runners in the 2018 NYC Marathon. It was my first marathon and an absolutely incredible experience, filled with the highest of highs and some pretty deep lows. While I had a physical training plan in place courtesy of the CdLS Foundation, a charity organization for which I fund-raised and ran, I felt somewhat unprepared for the mental challenge that lay ahead. I also knew that I was going to need to be mentally tougher than the average runner; I had injured my knee during training and was able to complete just seven and a half weeks of marathon training as opposed to the recommended sixteen. With about ten days to go, I reached out to my friend and sport psychology expert, Eva Bart-Williams, to help me come up with a game plan for the mental part of the race.

Eva and I spoke, first setting goals and then defining my motivations for running. She explained that having these things clearly outlined would help me maintain my focus and perseverance during the toughest parts of the race. Additionally – and surprising to me – she had me select a mantra to repeat to myself when I was feeling fatigued or hurting. Mantras are typically used in meditation and have proven physical benefits, but can also be used during physical activities to help the mind prevail over the body. Eva also assigned me homework: I was to create a schedule for the days leading up to as well as the day of the marathon, meditate twice daily for ten minutes, and spend five minutes each day visualizing my race.

The visualization was the coolest part of my mental training program. Eva recommended that I attempt to actually feel all of the sensations I would likely come across on race day: the sights along the course, smells, sounds of the crowd, taste of the Gu packets and electrolyte tablets, knee pain and general fatigue. The more specific, she told me, the better. I really got into this, and it was an incredible motivational tool during the race.

I am happy to report that the time, effort and energy I placed into this mental preparation paid off in spades. The journey to the start-line in Staten Island is lengthy and filled with cars, ferries, buses and walking. Despite this, I was able to be fully present and take in how incredible this event was. I noticed others who hadn’t likely prepared in the same way, as they were looking nervous to the point of being distraught and/or sick, and I quickly sent Eva a text of gratitude! During the run, which took me 4 hours and 53 minutes, I was deeply thankful for the mental exercises. I experienced horrible nausea and of course, total body exhaustion, but centered my mind by repeating my mantra and reminding myself that I had been here before countless my visualizations. Though it was so grueling physically and mentally, mind prevailed over matter and I was able to cross the finish line, almost with a smile on my face.

When I look back at my experience, Eva's initial words ring true: assuming that you’ve trained and are prepared physically, success on race day (or game day) is 100% mental. The athletes who are the most successful – whether in recreational, club or professional competition – are the ones who have mastered the mental side of their performance. I hope that reading this inspires you to take mental preparation seriously and make it part of your own training.

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Katie Giberson is an educator, a youth athletics coach, and a former pro athlete whose own college soccer journey adds valuable perspective to her role as CBW Soccer Elite's Head of Recruiting. Katie’s insight and expertise helps families navigate the college recruiting process and prepare to enjoy a truly rewarding college experience. You can reach Katie at

#Goals #Competition #Stressmanagement #Performance #Health #Gratitude #Mentalskills #Visualization #Sportspsychology #Meditation