Six Mental Training Tips for Swimmers

As an athlete, you spend hours in the pool training.  You work out physically in order to get your body into peak form.  You also use your mind more than you may think.  Many top athletes have found mental training vital to their success.  Mental training, in some form, is important to implement into your plan for success.  Just like physical training, it takes dedication to instill good mental habits and get into peak mental form.

The following article was written by Olivier Poirier-Leroy, a former national level swimmer.  He is the author of the recently published mental training workbook for competitive swimmers, Conquer the Pool: The Swimmer’s Ultimate Guide to a High Performance Mindset.  In his article he lists six mental training tips for swimmers that I have highlighted for you below.

Swimming – and sport in general – offers a rich proving ground for developing mental training skills that can serve you a great deal of good outside of the pool.  Mastering the process of setting and planning goals, being resilient in the face of adversity, and of learning how to squeeze the best from yourself will come in handy in life’s endeavors.

Here are six simple tips for making the most of the whirring, constantly-on, piece of grey mush between your ears:

  1. Block Out Negative Self-Talk. Easier said than done, but when it comes to crunch time, or you are staring at that mega set on the chalkboard, with panic welling up within you, you’ll feel the rising wail of negative self-talk.  Some of self-talk’s greatest hits include: “I can’t do this.”  “Way too impossible.”  “I stink at butterfly.”  “Blah blah blah.”  Self-sabotage at its worst.  This type of self-defeating inner monologue psychs you out before you’ve even lifted a finger.  When negative flavored self-talk shows its face, look for alternate ways to look at the situation (“It’s a tough set, but if I did do it…”), categorize the thoughts as realistic or not (“Do I have any factual basis to feel this way?”) and most importantly, get some perspective on the situation (“What is the worst that could really happen?”).
  2. We live in a world of permanent distraction.  Everywhere we look there is something shiny to occupy our attention.  When distractions begin to take root, it’s because we allow them the attention to sneak in through the door.  Put your head down and focus solely on the task at hand.  Don’t allow your mind to wander, or your focus slacken.  When you slip into the water be present with yourself and your swimming.  Instead of just going through the motions, focus and consider your technique, your streamline and turns, your breathing, the way your hand enters the water.
  3. Practice High Pressure Situations. Ultimately, the best way to be cool under pressure is to get used to it.  Embrace situations that require you to achieve at your highest level, and when that championship meet comes up at the end of the year, it will feel like another day at the office.  This doesn’t mean you need to wait until the next big competition to hone the skill of being mentally tough.  It’s stepping up when those challenging main sets get scrawled on the whiteboard.  It’s pushing through those last reps in the midst of that seemingly impossible swim workout when your lungs and muscles are screaming.  It’s making the lifestyle choices that sacrifice short-term pleasure for long-term gain.
  4. Develop Your Anchor. For many swimmers across the nation, chasing elite dreams happens in not-so-elite places.  The disconnect between our training circumstances and our goals can be deflating, but this is where having an anchor can be very useful.  An anchor is a quick mental countdown or cue that places us in a highly primed state.  It can be a simple countdown, a set of cues (chest-pounding, for instance), or a phrase or motto that you tell yourself to get yourself primed (“Let’s do this!”).  Developing a consistent cue that you use every time before a big performance – both in practice and competition – primes your body for high performance.  Think of your anchor as a switch you can use to put your body into mega-fast swimming mode.
  5. Have A Coping Plan In Place. You won’t nail all of your swims.  Things will happen that are out of your control.  But what you can control is how you deal with a bad swim afterwards.  Having a coping plan in place for those bad times gives you peace knowing that even if things go south you’re going to be just fine, which frees you up to focus on the event instead of dwelling on the what-if’s.  Your coping plan can include a designated amount of time to vent, doing an assessment of your swim, and whatever else you need to get you grounded and refocused.
  6. Focus On The Grind. Do you find yourself caught up in the results or possible outcomes for a competition that is still weeks and months away?  Often swimmers get psyched out by the big goal or meet that is still far off in the horizon and forget about the daily grind.  You can control your technique, your execution, your nutrition, showing up early; all of the seemingly mundane things that ultimately form the foundation for your success.  You won’t always be able to control the result – you are racing other people, after all — but you can control the one thing that will have the most profound impact on your swim, effort.

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