TRIPLE Exclusive: Kristin Keim, On the Saddle and In Our Minds
When I last spoke to our “Dancer on the Pedals,” Kristin Keim, she was recovering from a bad crash and living in Boulder, Colorado. My, how things change?
Her life, as beautifully fluid as her movements on the dance floor and in the saddle, has once again undergone another transition. In the past year, the South Carolina native has moved further west to Northern California, and she is now actively pursuing a career that will have her dancing in peoples’ heads in hopes of helping them to excel on the pedals.
In my latest conversation with Kristin Keim, we discuss her latest passion, her return to racing, and her future involvement with the Triple Crankset.
Lenny B (LB): Since we last spoke, you’ve entered graduate school. What are you studying? What is your ultimate goal?
Kristin Keim (K2): Wow, yes it’s been well over a year since my last Triple Crankset interview and my how things changed. I ended up deciding to take a big leap a wee bit earlier than I had previously planned to pursue my goal of becoming a Sport Psychologist. I packed up my things from CO and road tripped with my dad out to NorCal to start school last October at John F. Kennedy University in Pleasant Hill. I finished up my first year of graduate school this past month and have been on the journey of a lifetime! It’s been a crazy year with many highs and a couple of lows to keep me on my toes and focused on my positive goals. Sometimes I need to be challenged mind, body, and soul to really appreciate and to work even harder at the things I’m passionate about in life. The program has been amazing, and to be honest it’s more than I could have ever expected. I’ve been able to work hands on with athletes of all ages and levels and even worked on life skills training through our LEAP program where I worked as a Sport Psychology Graduate Intern at the Orin Allen Youth Rehabilitation Facility. All these experiences have solidified my reasons for going into this program so I can help others realize how much potential they have by taking a peek into their mental tool box to enhance their performance. I was also fortunate to be accepted this past winter into the Doctorate program for Clinical Psychology and will begin that journey next week… yep, in four years I hope to be Dr. K2!
LB: In addition to furthering your education and practicing in your profession, you have also returned to racing. Has it changed how you mentally approach each race?
K2: Well let’s just start by saying that it was my mental resilience that actually got me back into racing this past summer. I suffered some complications and a very stressful flare-up of my Crohn’s disease just when I was starting to prepare for the 2009 road season with my new team Wells Fargo Racing. It was pretty bad and I was unable to ride for almost 5 months and I lost a ton of weight, muscle and fitness. Luckily, I have an amazing support system where my family, friends, teammates, and twitter followers (www.twitter.com/thek2) helped keep my spirits high and encouraged me to keep fighting. I’d like to give a special shout out to Mara, Kami, Kim, Yuki, Karen, Lyne, and yes you Leonard for all the support, laughs, and encouragement. I could list probably 100 names and I’m very grateful to have such amazing people in my life. Actually, it was around spring break when my mom and sister came out to visit that the new meds finally started to kick in and I saw a glimmer of hope that I was going to get back to my old self. I had been doing all kinds of mental exercises I might work on with other athletes like: positive self-talk, motivation statements, affirmations, imagery, and one of the most important to my situation, goal-setting. It’s funny because I owe a ton of my ‘comeback’ to a new friend I met out here who gave me some fun tips about training on Mount Diablo (at the time I was living at the base in Walnut Creek) so during my break I started riding and after a week or so the hunger started to grow inside of me again. He told me to just keep doing what I loved, which has always been climbing so I just went out and hammered Mt. D repeats for a week. All of a sudden I felt like my strength, focus, and passion for racing where coming back and I wanted to race… badly! One of the keys to starting up for my first race was to acknowledge that I was in no way prepared for an entire season and to just take each week as I could while balancing school, training, and life. I also tried to rely on my past years experience and did a ton of visualizing peak performances from other training rides, races, and enjoyable moments on the bike to spark that important mind/body connection. It was important for me to lie out short term and long-term goals where I realized that any of the racing and training I did this summer was actually a foundation for my 2010 season. I have come to terms with the idea that I probably won’t be able to do a ton of races but hopefully be able to support my amazing team with more confidence in my own racing abilities. By increasing my self-confidence I can increase my self-efficacy, which will lead to more productive racing and hopefully enhance my overall performance for next season.
LB: There are a great deal of popular misconceptions in your chosen profession, some of which involve someone lying on a sofa and talking about their parental relationships in some Freudian terms. Is that really the case?
K2: Funny because I just took a class this summer in preparation for the doctorate program that covered some of the mainstream forms of psychology like Psychodynamic Theory, Humanistic Psychology, Self-Psychology, Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy, and one that really interests me Positive Psychology to name a few. The focus of Sport Psychology in many ways takes a bit of each philosophy; I guess you could say it’s a melting pot of theories. One area that many people get confused about is the difference between a sport psychologist and a clinical psychologist. Most people working in this field are actually Sport Psychology Consultants who have earned their masters in sport psychology but do not hold their doctorate in psychology. A Sport Psychologists is typically someone who has their doctorate, is licensed to practice psychology, has training in sport psychology techniques and is a member of the Association of Applied Sport Psychology. Sport Psychology Consultants look to help athletes, coaches, and teams learn how to use various mental exercises and techniques in order to improve their overall performance but are not qualified to work with psychological pathologies, though we are trained to look for red flags and to make referrals. Since I have been on both sides as an athlete and now a future consultant, I’ve found that there are some deeper issues that many athletes have to face such as: depression, eating disorders, and substance abuse. These are issues that I would like to be able to offer consultation on if they happen to arise when working with an athlete. No matter what, my goal is to provide each client with the tools needed to help them become mentally prepared to excel as a person and athlete on their own. And no… there won’t be any ‘couches’ involved though maybe a bike ride or a chat at the start line.
LB: How does your profession differ from what a club or team coach might do for their athletes?
K2: That’s a great question and one I’ve already touched on a bit. So, instead of telling you how to eat, how many hours to ride and what zone to be in, I would be teaching you skills like imagery, goal-setting, positive self-talk, and helping you work on your concentration, focus and motivation through various techniques to reach your optimal level of performance. Just like training your body, you need to practice your mental skills for them to really help you in the long run. It would hopefully be a partnership between yourself, your coach and myself where we could all work together in synergy to facilitate a mind/body training program that would fit your individual needs.
LB: It’s often said that sports are 80 percent mental, but doesn’t that mostly pertain to knowing what to do and when to do it?
K2: Actually, I like to think that it’s 90% mental and 10% physical but I have my biases. (laughing) Knowing what to do and when to do it is a lot easier said than done for most athletes. Some of the things we help athletes become aware of are things that might help to improve their confidence or motivation by focusing on things that are in their control and how to use positive thinking to improve their athletic performance. The next step would be to figure out various times or places to practice these mental tools, whether it be in a pre-performance routine (like listening to music or doing stretches before a race) where the athlete can focus on the exercises. Each athlete will have their own set of mental tools that they will be able to choose from and over time become more aware of when and where to use them. It’s comes down to the basic idea that… if you think it, feel it, act it, eventually… you will do it.
LB: Psychology has long been considered a “soft science”. These days, isn’t cycling (or any endurance sport for that matter) all about the hard scientific data: Power, Watts, VO2max, and Strength-to-Weight Ratio?
K2: The same train of thought is actually presented in psychology. Many theories are not taken as seriously because there isn’t enough research and or data to back up the theory. Since sport psychology is a rather new field of study we are still on the verge of gathering more scientific data but most of the theories that are used with today’s athletes have been thoroughly studied, researched, and tested. It’s surprising how many research articles there are about sport psychology techniques and how they are very effective and in some sports almost as effective as actual physical practice. In most cases, the combination of using mental techniques with physical training will enhance performance but no matter what, the athlete will always need the physical aspect in order to reach their peak performance. If an athlete was to inquire about the hard scientific data, I would be more than happy to provide days worth of reading materials proving that sport psychology is a key ingredient to helping an athlete reach their full athletic potential.
LB: With our “microwave” society where everyone seems to want a quick fix to any of their issues, how would address that type of athlete in search of a “magic pill”?
K2: That is something I think many coaches, trainers, and sport psychology consultants have to face when working with athletes, especially since most athletes are highly motivated and determined to do or try anything in order to win. This is not to say it’s entirely a bad thing, there needs to be some focus on what we call extrinsic motivators such as focusing on winning. It’s when the athlete becomes desperate and losses focus on intrinsic motivators like their passion for the sport and might turn to illegal means of getting ahead by taking ‘magic pills.’ If an athlete really wants to work on their performance they must understand that it’s just as much mental as it is physical and that it is going to take hard work, dedication, and practice to reach their full potential…but it can be done. The best way to address this is to have the athlete create a list of why they play or participate in their chosen sport and what goals they have that keep them motivated. The athlete needs to understand that the only ‘quick fix’ will come from them internally and they must decide how hard they’re willing to work mentally and physically to improve.
LB: You make the distinction between clinical psychology and sports psychology. Once you complete your degree, would you be able to address the issues associated with clinical depression, as in the case of athletes such as Tyler Hamilton?
K2: After I complete my doctorate program, I would be able to work with athletes like Tyler who suffer from the disease of clinical depression. What many people don’t realize is that depression is a disease and that most people who suffer from it need psychological therapy in addition to being placed on medications to cope with daily life. I do not know all the details of Tyler’s case but I commend him for seeking therapy and I wish him the best with his future endeavors.
LB: Like with most things, you get out what you put in. How much of treating or helping out the athlete is dependent upon the effort they put into it?
K2: How we approach athletes is not that much different from what coaches expect from physical training. Just think, would you be able to race an entire season on 1 week of riding? No. The difference is that you can use your mental skills throughout the entire day if needed and adapt them to fit into your training, racing, and daily life routines. The key is to make sure you fully understand how and when to use the skills that your consultant presents. It’s a team effort and as a consultant we are in a partnership to help athletes become the best they can be without our help. With that said, it’s very important for the athlete to take their mental exercises seriously and to practice them just like they would riding their bike everyday. I like this quote, “A lot of people want a shortcut. I find the best shortcut is the long way, which is basically two words: work hard.” – Randy Pausch (The Last Lecture)
LB: I’m a lowly Cat 5 racer, how can sports psychology help me or is that type of help better reserved for elite athletes only?
K2: First off, there are no ‘lowly’ categories in world of sport when it comes down to how people perceive their own passion, dedication, and commitment to doing something they enjoy. So for starters we would need to work on changing your self-talk by possibly re-framing that as, “I’m and up and coming Cat 5 racer.” Making sure you are referring to yourself in a positive, productive, and powerful manner. To get back to your initial question… no, sport psychology consultants work with people of all ages, levels, incomes, cultures, and physical abilities. I would like to work with the Special Olympic athletes in the future as well as for the U. S. Olympic Committee. These skills can be taught and successfully used by athletes and performers of all types such as dancers, musicians, and actors. It’s funny because most of the techniques we teach could probably do just about everyone in the world some good at enhancing their own performance personally and professionally.
LB: Through your program, you have already worked with some younger athletes. Is it easier to work with minds that are readily impressionable as opposed to the adult athlete who may already have a bevy of ingrained beliefs/notions?
K2: This is similar to what most coaches deal with; it’s easier to work with new athletes or cyclists who don’t already have a set pedal form or way they’re used to training. The same thing goes with the mental aspect as well. I’m not sure if I’d say it’s easier to work with younger athletes though because the approach would be different since each individual presents a wide spectrum of issues we might need to work on. Younger athletes might also have a more difficult time understanding the importance of their mental training and it might take more convincing than it would be a seasoned adult athlete. In some regards, it might be easier to work with adult athletes because they might have a better time with understanding how the mind and body are connected and would be able to retain the material in order to practice it on their own. The focus with younger athletes is to help them start to become more aware of the mental side and then how to use their mental tools in order to help their performance. No matter what, I look forward to working with both youth and adult athletes as I continue down the road to becoming a Sport Psychologist.
LB: As the newest contributor to the Triple Crankset, you will be dropping some of your newly found knowledge on our readers. What are your hopes and aspirations for the “Mind Meets Bike” section?
K2: My hopes and aspirations for life are big and it’s a wonderful opportunity for me to start working on one of my main goals of writing a sport psychology book focused on cycling so these articles will kind of be my rough drafts so to speak. I will be focusing on spreading the word and concrete information about sport psychology and how it really can help all athletes at any level reach their full potential. Most of my articles will focus on using sport psychology techniques and exercises that can be adapted towards cycling rather it be a one-day crit, stage race, or a weekend century ride. One of my old coaches for cycling gave me the book Thinking Body, Dancing Mind by Chungliang All Huang and Jerry Lynch and it’s the book that sparked my own passion for wanting to learn and someday teach the mental side to sport. Another wonderful book of reference is Flow for Sport by Susan Jackson and Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi; flow is a topic that I will probably touch on throughout my articles. I come from a diverse background of experience in many sports which I think helps me understand the various stages we all go through mentally and physically as athletes and these will be some of the topics I hope to address. Overall, I would like to help each reader understand the positive, productive, and powerful capabilities they have within their mind when they meet their own bike at each race. The best part of this project was trying to come up with a name… it was an email I got from you about liking my idea of Mind Meets Bikes and how it reminded you of the song Soul Meets Body by Death Cab for Cutie. This is actually one of my all time favorite songs and here are some lyrics I think are perfect for what I hope to contribute…
“Cause in my head there’s a greyhound station
Where I send my thoughts to far off destinations
So they may have a chance of finding a place
where they’re far more suited than here.”