Peak Performance Sports Psychology Mental Toughness: Are you Anchoring to improve your Swimming Performances?

At The Race Club camps, our fifth and final point of peak performance mental toughness training is called anchoring. Anchoring is sports psychology that the swimmer does or says or thinks either standing behind or on the starting block, just seconds before the start of an important race.

The Anchoring effect to the swimmer is what the switch is to the light bulb. It is what the curtain-rise and spotlight is to the actor. Without anchoring techniques, the swimmer’s brain simply doesn’t get quite the same message that it is showtime. Anchoring psychology is the final and critical piece in the process of peak performance mental training. Without the positive thinking anchor, the peak performance is likely not going to be as good.

Every elite swimmer has a peak performance anchor. Some anchoring techniques are obvious. Some anchoring methods are not so obvious. I can assure you that each elite swimmer is saying or doing something right before that big race begins to get into the zone required of great performances. Anchoring is essential.

The fun part about anchoring is that each swimmer gets to design or invent his or her own peak performance anchor. It doesn’t matter too much if other swimmers in a race know what your anchor is, or even that you are anchoring. It is only important that you know.

An anchor can be as simple and subtle as licking the inside of your goggles or saying a few key words to yourself. Or the anchor technique can be as flamboyant as kissing your biceps (be ready to back it up!). You get to create your own. Just be sure you do that and don’t forget to use it before the big race.

Here are some of the most memorable anchors of all time:

  • Michael Phelps’ dynamic stretch arm swing on the block. You might have thought that this famous stretch was just a stretch. Not only did it tell Michael that he was ready to pounce on the competition, the loud slap on his shoulders of his hands also anchored to every one of his competitors that Michael was ready.
  • Usain Bolt’s ‘To di World’ Lightning victory pose. From the origin of a Jamaican dance, this pose became the fear of anyone that considered challenging Bolt’s title of the fastest human being on the planet.
  • Gary Hall Jr’s shadow boxing routine. Through his career, the boxing progressed to the raising of his clenched hands to both sides, then finally to kissing of his biceps, accompanied by the red, white and blue, Stars and Stripes boxing robe and shorts. Boisterous? Perhaps, but he always backed it up.
  • Amanda Beard’s teddy bear. Since the time she was a young swimmer, the teddy bear accompanied her to the starting block and waited there until she finished. Important? She probably couldn’t swim fast without that bear, but she did manage to win a few Olympic gold medals with the teddy bear on the block, cheering her on.
  • Michael Jordan’s bounces of the basketball at the foul line, followed by a single backward twirl of the ball in the air. He once hit 6 out 10 free throws with his eyes closed using that anchor
  • Stephan Curry’s biting of his mouthpiece sideways before every free throw to be over 90% successful.


What is your peak performance anchor going to be?


Yours in swimming,

Gary Sr.