Mental Physical Technical Swimming


: Achieving the Mental Edge in Competition

Achieving the Mental Edge in Competition

30 Oct

Swimmers who possess the mental edge reign supreme in competition. Some instinctively have it, but most need help to acquire it. There are numerous mental edge strategies, but many fail in the real world of swimming due to the degree of complexity relative to swimmers’ ages and experience. The following five examples are swimmer-friendly, highly effective, and easily implemented in a competitive setting:

1. Respond to Doubts Immediately

It’s natural for doubts to pop up prior to competition. Responding immediately with truthful opposites can go a long way in counteracting negative effects. For example swimmers who doubt their ability to finish a 100 butterfly race successfully should respond immediately by reminding themselves how much butterfly they performed over the past thirty days. In addition swimmers should take the opportunity to list common doubts along with truthful opposites beforehand. That way they are prepared to respond should the need arise.

2. Space Out

This effective strategy involves turning down all external stimuli to a minimum. In doing this swimmers still operate at a level where they are fully aware of time or the next scheduled event, yet they float above all the unwanted distractions, pressures, and potential negativity that typically exist within a competitive setting. The holistic coach simulates race conditions in practice to provide swimmers with opportunities to space out on demand. Swimmers are also encouraged to use this technique at times of stress throughout the day.

Note: I often use this strategy in pressure-filled or negative settings.

3. Breathe In, Breathe Out

Deep breathing is nature’s way of calming the mind and body, making it extremely useful in high-stress, competitive settings. Swimmers are instructed to perform a series of deep inhales and deep exhales to the count of five whenever or wherever stress mounts prior to competition. Examples include on the way to the pool, during the swim-meet warm-up, while sitting in the stands, and while standing behind the block. In addition swimmers are encouraged to practice deep breathing at bedtime or at times of stress throughout the day.

4. The Ideal Mental State

In this strategy swimmers are instructed to identify their ideal mental state prior to a successful performance. Some may prefer a highly energized state while others a more relaxed one. Once the mental state is identified, the holistic coach provides swimmers with numerous rehearsal opportunities in practice. From here swimmers are challenged to recreate the ideal mental state in competition. Activities that interfere with this process, such as excessive socializing or video-game playing, are discouraged.

Note: At the 2008 Olympics, Michael Phelps competed in seventeen races over nine days, breaking seven world records and winning eight gold medals! How’s that for a mental edge?

5. Visualize

To visualize is to focus on positive mental images in order to achieve a desired goal. It works by creating neural patterns in the brain as if the person had already achieved it. Over time these patterns etch small tracks in the brain cells directing the person seamlessly to the desired goal. There are various forms of visualizing that can be used in competitive swimming. One involves visualizing a positive outcome in a variety of unfavorable conditions. For example, winning from behind, coming off a poor start to win, winning with goggles full of water, or winning from the outside lane. Swimmers who visualize winning in these unfavorable conditions are more likely to remain calm, focused, and confident should they arise in competition.

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