is one of the five disciplines required to reach a swimmer’s maximal performance. Along with nutrition and recovery, mental training is one of the most neglected parts of the training program. Yet, in the end, when standing up on the blocks ready for the final test of the season, a swimmer’s mental training or preparation may be the most important part of the program.
It is simply too easy for a swimmer’s mind to hurt his/her performance. It happens way too often. All it takes is one single doubt, one question, one negative thought….and an entire season of hard work and preparation can be lost. The sad part is that most athletes don’t even know or realize when they are allowing this to happen. They don’t understand when they are digging their own grave.
Nearly as bad as the doubts or negative thoughts that enter one’s mind before racing that destroy any chance of performing at the highest level, are the calculating athletes that over think their races. These swimmers will try to remember ten different things to do or not do during the race, oblivious to the fact that the human brain is capable of only one thought at a time. They may try to overanalyze how to swim the race when the analysis should have taken place weeks or months ahead of time. In my experience, the more intelligent the swimmer, the greater the likelihood of this over-thinking of the race will happen.
The great swim coach from Texas, Eddie Reese, graded all of his swimmers according to a “Killer Instinct” scale, with ten being the mentally toughest swimmers. I do not know where you fit on this scale from one to ten, but here are five ways you can improve your score:
1) Visualize your races weeks and months ahead of time. Visualization is one way to swim a perfect race. But you need to see yourself swimming your race over and over again, attentive to all of the details. Our Race Club athletes would do 15 minutes of visualization three times each week before or after practice to prepare them for race day. It was time well spent. If you need help visualizing your races, try the Optimal Focus, available on our website. It is a great tool to create more vivid images of your races.
2) Pick one thought for the race. Since your brain is capable of thinking of one thought at a time, then pick one thought for each race. It may be head position, recovery, underwater pull, kick…but whatever it is, make sure that is the one thought that helps you the most to improve your overall technique.
3) Anchor yourself in order to get into the zone right before your race. While standing behind or on the block, design some move or saying that will anchor your mental status and let you know that you are ready to race. Professional athletes do this all the time, before shooting a free throw or making a pitch, for example. You should do the same move before each race. Whether it is swinging your arms behind your back, like Phelps, or shadow boxing like Gary Jr, create a move that helps put you in the ‘I am ready’ zone.
4) Have no fear. Nervousness is good. Fear is bad. There is a difference. Fear is allowing someone or something in the race to intimidate you. If you trained properly and have visualized yourself succeeding enough, then you have no reason to fear anyone or anything. Be confident in yourself and own the day that you race.
5) Smile. A happy swimmer will usually swim fast. I only offered two words of encouragement to my children on race day, “have fun’. When they did, they swam fast. Competition was meant to be challenging but still fun. Smile as you enter the pool for competition. Enjoy the moment and you will swim fast.
When it comes to swimming at your peak performance, you need to be mentally tough. Start using these five mental training techniques today and you will see a big difference in your success.
Yours in swimming,