A Swimmer’s Mental Toughness

As a swimmer, I had a lot of trouble taking the swimming out of my head and just enjoying the sport.  I was still am a mental head-case with a freak out before every single event.  Most likely the reason why it took me five years to beat my best time that I got in high school!

Mentality is a huge challenge to many athletes.  I know a lot of people who have had nervous breakdowns before competing.  There are also those kids at practice who constantly put negative thoughts into the heads of those around them (maybe that person is even you…).  The mind can be very tricky, and it is important that athletes are able to recognize this!

A few weeks ago, before a challenging meet, my fellow coaches and I sat down with the swimmers and talked to them about mental toughness.  We used guidelines from Alan Goldberg, sports psychologist from Competitive Advantage. 

Here’s a picture of Mr. Goldberg himself Smile

Though the document we used is supposedly swimmer specific, I feel as though some of these tips are good for any and all athletes to overcome some of the self-doubt and to become better mentally prepared athletes.

Here are some of the things I felt were most important to keep in mind as a swimmer or just any athlete in general to help become a stronger mental athlete!

  • Keep your swimming fun.  This one I find extremely important.  If you are putting time in effort into it, you have to enjoy what you’re doing.
  •  Have clear goals.  No goals = no good. “You can’t get to were you want to go unless you know exactly where that is.”
  • Make your practices important: use simulation in practice.  You have to make your practices important and treat the sets as though you are racing.  Practicing finishes, speed, etc will prepare you better when the actual competition rolls around.
  • Learn to quickly let go of your mistakes and failures. “Champions do one thing better than everyone else: FAIL!”  Those who are the best at what they do take their failures and use it to improve their future performances.  They don’t dwell on what the did wrong.  They learn from it!
  • Swim with “no mind” to go fast. In other words, keep your head out of the race.  Race on auto pilot rather than thinking about every possible thing that could potentially affect your performance.
  • Be positive – nothing good comes from negativity. This one if pretty self-explanatory.  “A positive attitude will help you overcome hardships and setbacks and keep you going.  A negative attitude will trick you into giving up too soon.”
  • Learn to be your own best fan. Champions are supportive of themselves through successes and when things are going badly. 
  • You are not your races. Athletes need to be able to separate who they are as an athlete from who they are as a person. 

I wish that some of the tips were painted on the tiles of the bottom of the pools I swam in.  Maybe that way, I would have  been able to enjoy my races and become less stressed about the time that appeared when I looked up at the clock after a few minutes of pushing myself to the max. 

Through good races and bad, we must realize that life goes on.  We are the only ones there in our minds all of the time, so why not take advantage of that and learn how to enjoy our training and competitions.  I know I could use a few nuts and bolts adjusted in my head in order to become less psychotic hahahah. 

The Goldberg website has psychology help for EVERY sport.  Check it out for more specific help for your sport…running, cycling, etc. 

Are you a mental athlete? This could be good or bad! Some athletes use their minds to visualize their performances and become better athletes.  I am a mental athlete in the wrong ways…



Filed under Life, Swimming, Training

10 responses to “A Swimmer’s Mental Toughness

  1. Chasing Fifty

    Excellent post. Like Yogi Berra said, the sport is 90% mental, and the other half is physical. Thanks for the great resources.

  2. I’m so with you there. In swim races I would get so nervous beforehand. I don’t know I talked myself out of some races that I know I could do better in.

  3. oh man. I always got nervous before each race. Even last year when I raced w/ the masters team, I was nervous.
    I also was always afraid I would get too tired for my next race, so I always held back. not a good way to go through a meet

  4. dayglows

    I was definitely a mental athlete in the wrong way as well. I would actually dread districts and states when I was in high school. I would be in the ready area scared out of my mind and I had so many moments where I’d get up on the block and it would take all my will power to not step down. It definitely held me back. It was definitely one of the reasons I chose to quit also because I realized it was giving me terrible anxiety. Negative thoughts of races would take over my mind as I laid in bed every night. I was one of those people who would swim times in practices that were very close to my times in meets.

  5. I have this stupid problem that I DON’T get nervous or pumped up before races. So I try to get myself some adrenaline flowing. My 50 free I am a nutcase about visualization when I’m behind the block. I have to have laser focus.
    Unfortunately I lack any passion for swimming. Never did like competing much but I managed to CARE during high school swimming. Now that it’s over I feel like I just don’t have anymore fake passion to give.
    Wow I could write a whole post myself on this one topic… good post!

  6. This is a great post Nikki… I used to get sooo so nervous before swim races (and run ones of course too!) and a lot of it had to do with being nervous about getting too tired. But that is what swimming/racing/sports are about! A part at least 🙂 I am getting better at embracing the fatigue and that has helped me to shake some of the nerves

  7. I think this list is great and can apply to any type of sport/real-life goal. I especially like the first one, to keep it *fun*-this always a motivator in anything one seeks to accomplish.

  8. This is a GREAT post!!! I could talk about sports psychology forever and swimming seems to be a huge psychological sport. I began running for fun and enjoyed it a lot more than competitive swimming.

  9. I am such a mental athlete! Being a diver, I always have to use visualization to get over a mental block or get myself to change something in my dive. Same with swimming too… I could make changes in my stroke if I could see myself actually doing the change. Kinda weird I guess but it worked for me!!

  10. It’s great you are learning things you learned to help other swimmers! Synchro is a very mental sport. Remembering the routine, corrections, what to do…it’s a lot! I’m not very good at visualizing, but I do need to remind myself to do things as I go. If that makes any sense:)

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