Mental Skills of Fast Swimmers
At a certain level of swimming, athletes start winning races not just because they are the strongest, have the best technique, or were blessed with the most genetic potential. At a certain point, everyone in the race is so strong and so well-trained that the advantage goes to the swimmers with the most mental fitness. In fact, weaker, less well-trained athletes can often find themselves on the podium because they’ve honed the following ten mental skills.
You must believe you can do something before you do it. Want to swim a best time in a race? First you have to convince yourself that it’s at least possible. But there’s a balance: don’t get so over-confident that you become complacent. It’s a bit like the tale of Goldilocks – you have to find a level of self-confidence that is “just right.”
Set realistic but challenging goals. Top swimmers set not only long-term goals, but also short-term goals that will get them to their ultimate prize. They use both process and outcome goals to propel them along the way. If you’re not sure of the difference between process and outcome goals, check out the article on How to Set Goals.
The world’s best swimmers have mental tapes they’ve created by imagining their races – every little detail of them – exactly the way they want to swim them. These swimmers play their mental tape frequently. They slow down the frames and see their races moment by moment. They can get so into the movie they’ve created, they can practically feel it happening.
The most successful swimmers can maintain focus on the right thing (and decide what the “right thing” is) at any given moment throughout the training and competition process. For example, at practice, are worrying about what your competitor is doing? Or are you paying attention to what YOU are doing? Top swimmers know when to bring their focus inward, and when to pay attention to what’s going on around them. They have figured out when to see the big picture and when to narrow their focus to only one (or a few) thing(s).
If you surveyed every Olympic swimming champion throughout history, they likely all had at least one thing in common: they each believed that they could win. Or they were thinking positively about something! There’s always at least one thing to be happy about. Practice finding good on a daily (or hourly!) basis, and you’ll be a pro by the time you need this skill at a big meet.
This is your fuel for the days when you are feeling run-down, distracted, or juggling life’s various commitments. Do you really want to drag your tired self to the pool before sunrise again? Maybe you do need a day off, or maybe you just need to tap into your desire. Remind yourself of your goals, and why you are training.
In order to swim fast, you have to have the energy and excitement to do so! On the days when your energy is flagging, you’ll need to psych yourself up. But too much energy – particularly from anxiety or nerves – can be detrimental to performance. On days when you’re so keyed up you can hardly breathe, you’ll need to know how to relax and bring your energy down into a more optimal range.
Inside everyone’s head there are many voices. Is yours the loudest? What is it saying? The best swimmers in the world use self-talk to support themselves, find or maintain motivation, and turn negativity into positive energy. Become aware of the things you say about and to yourself. And then take control of your thoughts so that they are contributing to successful main sets and personal-best swims at meets.
How well do you perform under pressure? What happens to you mentally when Plans A, B and C fall apart? Goggles break, suits tear, and races are often delayed. The best swimmers have the ability to re-focus, stay positive, and relax even when everything seems to be going “wrong.”
Regardless of whether you had a less-than-ideal workout, lost a big race, or won the world championship, life goes on! Even Olympians are multi-dimensional – they have friends, family, and non-swimming hobbies. (Although, the media would have you believe that they give up practically everything for the sake of swimming.) Enjoy the highs of your swimming career, ride out the lows, and know that no matter what, you are not defined by what you do in the pool. Keep your swimming in perspective.
Practice Your Skills
Train these 10 mental skills of successful swimmers, and you’ll probably not only have better races, but you’ll also get far more joy out of your swimming career.