Are you leaving your training and racing to chance? Here’s how a mental plan can help you overcome the big three mindset issues swimmers face.
It’s funny how far we will go with some things in our training in terms of preparation.
But when our performance craters, or the times don’t match up to expectations, it’s usually nothing to do with any of those things.
It’s not because you missed that patch of hair behind your knee. Or the racing suit “only” having 76% lycra.
Rather, it’s the choking. The fear of failure. An inability to deal with adversity at crunch-time. The lack of focus.
Those are the things we should be preparing for and spending more energy on.
And yet, for a massive number of swimmers, we don’t.
We prefer the white-knuckle, crossed-fingers approach: We show up, and hope to the gods of chlorine that our best performance will show up too.
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The Power of Using a Mental Plan to Dominate Your Swimming
As you can probably guess, there is another approach to this kind of “hope for the best!” strategy.
It doesn’t take a lot of time or effort (but it does take some consistency), and it will help you perform better from top to bottom in the pool. That means less wasted meters, better swim practices, higher levels of focus, more consistent swimming, and yup—devastating performances on race day.
Here are just some of the perks that having a mental plan will give you, the enterprising swimmer who wants to cold-rock their PB’s:
- The role of a mental plan for swimmers is to help you be more consistent and more effective in the water.
- They will be there for you, acting as backstops when you need them the most and in the times of your greatest adversity.
- They can be thing to help you turn things around.
- They can give you a sense of calm, a sense of control, and a slightly better than average amount of confidence to boot!
- Best of all—they are fully customizable and completely unique to you.
There are three different kinds of mental plans you can put together that will help you in all facets of your swimming:
1. What you need to get your mind right.
This includes relaxation strategies, visualization, self-talk. This encompasses the things you do before you get into the water for practice or competition.
Whether you need to dial up the intensity or turn down the anxiety, this is your plan for getting your mind right. Think of it as your personal mental warm-up.
This part of your overall mental preparation includes your warm-up in competition: So, for example, while warming up and doing some short bursts of speed to wake up your fast twitch fibers you’d simultaneously be doing imagery of how you want to look and feel in the water.
Look back at the times where you absolutely crushed it both in practice and in competition. What was your emotional and mental state like prior to getting into the water?
2. What you need to do swim your best.
This is the mental approach you take while you are swimming: the goal with this plan is to launch you butt-first into the mental state that helps you swim your best.
This can include how you are going to react if things go south (you miss a flip-turn and push off with your tippy toes), the performance cues you use while swimming (“Easy speed! Loose and fast!”) and how you are going to stay focused when distractions start to get all distractey.
Your task: Write out a list of short and quick performance cues that will help keep you mentally dialed in when you are swimming at a blistering speed.
As an example, one that I have taken to using when 10m away from the wall—to encourage a thoroughly deadly finish—is using the cue, “Hulk smash!”
It’s simple, to the point, and accurately describes the effort I want to be giving at that part of the rep or race.
3. What you need to do to bounce back when the chlorine hits the fan.
Yup, the old worse case scenario: you get injured and are out of action for a week of training. Or you completely bomb the first day of a huge meet. Or you have the worst swim practice of your life and it feels like your swim career is now over.
Your mental plan for recovery is exactly as described: all about getting you to bounce back in a flurry.
When this type of mental plan is in place it gives you the confidence to know that you can confront and overcome setbacks in the pool. Most powerfully, it gives you a sense of control even though what might have happened to you might not be in your control.
Although you are in the middle of a hurricane of adversity, you have your go-to checklist for swimming straight out of it like a torpedo.
Standing up and persevering in the face of adversity is a hallmark of champion swimmers and having a recovery plan is designed to boost your resilience to the down moments in our swimming.
Here are some random ideas of what you could put in your own bounce back plan:
When you are having a bad practice:
- Take five deep breaths.
- On the next length slow things down and focus on something technical. A high elbow catch. A more streamlined streamline. A more flippy flip-turn.
- Take it lap by lap. Remind yourself that swimming well inevitably leads to swimming fast, so commit to having the patience to not expect things to turn around automagically.
When you stink up the first night of finals at the big meet:
- Go for a walk that night to get some fresh air and perspective.
- Write out the negative self-talk you are having and reframe it (“Yeah, the first night didn’t go that well…but imagine how good it would feel to bounce back tomorrow?”)
- Write down three examples where you faced adversity and eventually overcame it.
Putting It All Together
Yeah, I know. Sitting down and writing this stuff out probably isn’t all that fun. Kinda like homework, probably.
But make no mistake, the confidence and fearlessness you get from having this kind of plan will take you and your swimming a long way. Additionally, you could easily fit all three of these mental plans onto less than one sheet of paper, so there isn’t really an excuse…especially when you consider the pay-off involved.
Just like putting in all the meters, spending all that time in the weight room, and making good food choices even when no one would be the wiser, being mentally prepared is a critical part of how you end up executing your race.
I’ll leave you with the words of legendary golfer Jack Nicklaus, who viewed being wholly prepared as the fuel for his self-belief and confidence, “As long as I’m prepared, I always expect to win.”
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