Swimmers Corner


Luck is when Preparation meets Opportunity and the
Courage to take a chance
.

If you can see it and believe it, it's easier to acheive it.  If you really want to maximize your potential as a competitive swimmer and reach the goals you've set for yourself, then you have to start today to train yourself mentally as well as physically. Without the right mind set and mental strategies you'll always swim slower than your capabilities. In order to gain the competitive advantage and swim like a winner, you've got to first think like one. Below are a few things that will help you realize your goals and dreams.

I BELIEVE! -- I CAN! -- I WILL!

Mental Toughness - Getting Started              Love it or leave it 

Swimmers Guide to Mental Toughness        Let it go

ABC's of goal setting                                          Staying in the NOW                      

Swim in your own lane for fast times              Unberdened swimming for yourself 

3 mental secrets to swimming fast                  Swimming fast under pressure                       

Focus - the right place at the right time          
Mental racing without tech suits     

Relaxation is the solution to
swimming excellence
                
 


 
MENTAL TOUGHNESS - GETTING STARTED (Back to Top)

Did you know that "races are won and lost before the start?" We know that this is certainly true training-wise. If you goof off, cut corners and don't put much into your training, then you'll never develop a good enough training base to swim fast when it counts the most. What might not be so obvious to you, however, is that many races are won and lost because of what goes on between your ears. That is, what you think about and focus on before and during your races, what I call your "mental mechanics", will determine whether you experience the thrill of victory or suffer through the agony of defeat.

This is why so many swimmers go faster in practice than they do in big meets. It's why so many swimmers go faster in their off events than their best ones. This is also why strong, well-conditioned swimmers will mysteriously "die" just 100 yards into their first race of a meet when there's no physical reason for this. Your mind is that powerful! Here's how it works.

Your pre-race thoughts like, "What if I get DQ'ed", "What if I swim slow", "She/he (opponent) is so much faster than me", "This is my last chance to qualify", "I don't feel good/fast today," or "I never swim well in this meet" make you nervous. When you get nervous, three critical changes happen in your body. Your muscles begin to tighten, your breathing gets faster and shallower and your hands and feet get cold.

These physical changes will, in turn, slow your swimming down. How? First, tight muscles will shorten your stroke and interrupt your stroke mechanics. Tight muscles will hinder your timing on your start and turns. When your muscles are too tense you'll tire much quicker because tight muscles are inefficient and just don't work well. Finally, tight muscles will be much more painful during your race.

Second, if you're breathing too fast and shallow before and during your race, you'll tend to take too many breaths, which will add precious seconds to your time. Furthermore, your rhythm will be thrown off and your muscles will tighten even more. Finally, too shallow breathing will completely wipe you out endurance-wise and make you feel like you are in the worst shape of your life.

Third, if your hands get cold you will lose that all important feel of the water. Swimming fast is about being able to feel what you're doing. What am I saying in simple English? G.I.G.O. Garbage in, garbage out! If you feed yourself mental garbage before or during a race, (What if, I can't, she's faster than me, etc.) you'll feel and perform like garbage! Negative thoughts kill your confidence, distract your concentration and slow you right down.

So what does all this mean for you? If you want to develop mental toughness and consistently swim fast under pressure, then you have to learn to develop an awareness of your thoughts, self-talk or what I call the dialogue of your "inner coach." If you are not on top of your pre- and during race self-talk, then you'll always end up frustrated with your times. Awareness is the key.

What can you do to begin to train your "inner coach" to work for you? First, review 2-3 of your very best races. Think back to these events and try to remember what you thought before and during the race. Write this down. Now review 2-3 really bad races in the very same way. What were you thinking about before and during these events. Next, compare the differences in your self-talk before your good and bad races.

After you do this, begin to keep a training and race journal. In it, keep a record of your thoughts and self-talk during practice and at meets. For example, what were you thinking about before and during that tough set? After you failed to make the interval while another teammate did? After a disappointing race? Write your thoughts down at night, after practice or the meet. Keeping track of your self-talk in this way will help you begin to get control over it. By becoming aware of how negative you are, you can learn to change it in a positive way. Remember, races are won and lost before the start.

 

A SWIMMER’S GUIDE TO MENTAL TOUGHNESS (Back to Top)

Understand and practice the following ideas and steps and they'll help you on your way to becoming a champion! Remember you can't go fast without using your head, and you can't develop mental toughness without consistent practice.

#1 Keep your Swimming Fun

Do not wait until you win before you start having fun. Champions go fast because they are having fun! When you enjoy yourself you'll be physically looser and will swim much faster. Make your practices and meets fun! If you're too serious and turn your swimming into all work and no fun you will definitely run into performance difficulties and be a candidate for burnout. Remember, fun and speed go together. If you find yourself dreading your meets, something’s wrong.

#2 Have Clear Goals

You can't get to where you want to go unless you know exactly where that is. Your success as a swimmer starts with a dream, a goal of how far you'd like to go in the sport. The more detailed a picture you can paint of this goal the better your chance of turning your dream into reality. Saying you want to be as good as you can or go faster are goals that are general and too vague to be useful. Qualifying for Senior Nationals, or going 50 flat in the 100 fly are clear, specific and more reachable. Your goals are like magnets which will pull you in their direction. The more specific and detailed you make them and the more time you spend thinking about them, the stronger the pull. Try to have your goals broken down from long term to intermediate to short term so that even on a daily basis you will have specific goals for practice. This will help you stay motivated over the long haul.

#3 Make Your Practices Important

Use Simulation in Practice - Most swimmers spend the same amount of time practicing weekly. However, only a small fraction of athletes improve to their potential. The reason behind this lies in your practices. Practice does not make perfect, perfect practice makes perfect. Too many swimmers go through the motions in practice. They put their time in but not their minds or their emotions. They daydream during sets or wish they were elsewhere. During difficult sets they look for ways to “dog it”. You will compete the way you practice. Practice just like meets, mentally as well as physically, that is make your practices important, use your imagination to simulate meet or race conditions. Take a few of those long, boring, painful sets and pretend you're actually competing. Practice race turns, finishing fast, getting your pain to work for you, etc. The more important you can make your practices and the more similar to actual meets, the more you'll get out of them. Every chance you get, set-up specific race-scenarios in your head and then swim as if everything was on the line. If you consistently practice this way, the way champions do, you’ll soon find your meet times dropping.

#4 Focus on Your Race One Stroke at a Time

Not on Winning or Qualifying - You will swim your best when your concentration is on your race, one stroke at a time. You will choke-and swim badly when you get caught up with outcome thoughts (i.e. winning, losing, qualifying, times, etc.). The outcome of your race, which is in the future is totally out of your control! Swimmers who get distracted with this kind of future focus almost always swim tight and feel heavy. Stay in the now as you race concentrating on what you are doing, while you are doing it. If you find yourself thinking "What if ..." that's a reminder that you are mentally in the future and need to change focus.


#5 Concentrate = Recognize (Step #1) = Bring Yourself-Back (Step #2)

In order to swim as fast as you can you've got to have your mind in the right place. Concentration is the key mental skill to swimming excellence and mental toughness. Here's how to do it! Step 1: Recognize that you are mentally in the wrong place, i.e. in the future worried about an outcome or a swimmer in the next lane. Step 2: Quickly and gently bring yourself back to a proper focus. You learn to concentrate by catching yourself when you're not concentrating! This is the heart of championship concentration.

#6 Learn to Quickly Let go of your Mistakes and failures

Champions do one thing better than everyone else. FAIL!! When a champion has a bad race they not only use this failure for feedback ("What did I do wrong ... How can I improve") But just as important, they let it go quickly. In other words, they don't dwell on the past. When you hang onto your bad races and mistakes in a meet, the one thing you can count on happening is that you'll get more of them! Learn to recognize when your mind's in the past and quickly & gently let it go. Telling yourself things like /'Here we go again", "Why does this always happen to me" are indicators that your focus is stuck in the past. Only go into the past if your past is a positive, self-enhancing one!

#7 Stay within yourself ~ Swim Your Own Race ~ Stay Mentally in the “Here"

You will swim your very best when you can learn to mentally stay within yourself, focusing on what you have to do and are doing. Psych-outs and intimidation can only occur when you choose to start focusing outside of yourself, on another swimmer. Staying within yourself means that you have to want to mentally stay in your own lane when you compete. Thinking about someone else's best times, how fast they finish or how awesome they are will only make you choke and swim tight. Stay in the "here" by recognizing when you're in the wrong mental place and bringing yourself back right away to what you’re doing.

#8 Control your Eyes and Ears for Championship Meet Performances

Related to #7, learn to control what you look at and listen to, both before and during the race. That is, only visually focus on things that keep you calm, composed and ready to perform well. If looking at the gallery, or other racers, makes you uptight...don't do it! Instead look down at the blocks, or at a spot across the pool, or one on the water which keeps you relaxed. Similarly, make sure any things you "look" at in your mind's eye are positive and confidence enhancing. If you are using imagery and keep seeing a false start, either change the image or actively look at something else. Controlling your ears means that you only want to listen to things that will keep you calm, composed, and confident. If your self-talk is making you uptight change it! Or block it out by listening to a walkman. Control your eyes and ears for mental toughness.

#9 See what you want to have happen, not what you're afraid will happen

Winners in and out of the pool have learned to use their imagination (mental rehearsal and imagery) to help them reach their goals. Make it a practice to focus on exactly what you want to have happen, not what you're afraid will happen. Focusing on positive images will calm you down, raise your confidence, and increase your chances of achieving your goals. Practice mental rehearsal 5-10 minutes at a time, preceded by relaxation in an area free from distractions. Make your pictures (sounds, feelings) as vivid and detailed as possible, seeing, hearing, and feeling yourself performing just the way you’d like to.

#10 Let it happen = speed

When you swim your fastest there is an automatic, effortless quality to your performance. You are working hard without trying hard. It feels easy, yet powerful. When you get in to a meet situation you have to remember that inorder to swim your best, you have to relax and let the race happen. If you make your race too important, you'll get into trying too hard and will swim slower. Trust that you've done everything you need to, your body and muscle memory knows what to do, and then just let the performance happen. Swim with effortless effort.

#11 Swim with No-Mind to go fast

A corollary to #10, if you want to go fast you've got to keep your conscious mind and all of its' thoughts out of the pool. In your best races, not only did you swim on auto pilot, but most likely there was a no-thinking quality to your race. Conscious thought slows you down and distracts you. You want to swim unconsciously with no mind. In baseball Yogi Berra once said "a full mind is an empty bat." The same applies to you and your swimming. The more you think, the slower you'll go. Practice, in practice, doing "no-think" swims.


#12 GIGO - you swim the way you think

The difference between your best and worst swims is usually related to your mental "strategies" just before and during your race. That is, what you think, say to yourself, and image both before and during your race determines whether you'll go fast or slow. It you program garbage into your computer (brain) before a race ("what if I false start”, “what if I blow my turn," or "he'll probably catch me at the finish and win") you will get garbage back out in your performances. Learn to “program in” good stuff and that’s what you’ll get back out.

#13 Be positive - nothing good comes from negativity

When you're negative or down on yourself you sap your energy, drain your confidence, and insure that you will swim poorly. Practice being positive about yourself, teammates, and coaches, NO MATTER WHAT.  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. Winners in and out of the pool are positive. "Can't," "Never," and "lmpossible" do not exist in the dictionary of their minds.

#14 Reframe Adversity

Learn to look at obstacles and setbacks as a way to get more motivated and to increase your confidence. Most swimmers complain bitterly about pool temperature, lane assignments, rain, and fatigue. The great swimmers use any kind of adversity to help them get the competitive advantage over their opponents. For example, you can do 1of 2 things with the pain and fatigue of a race. You can dread it, fight it, complain about it and consequently tighten up and back down from it=going slower; or you can reframe it. You can say to yourself "everyone in this race has to deal with this pain, and I'm mentally tougher to handle it then everyone else... pain and fatigue is an indicator that I'm going fast, that my body's working well, and a signal for me to move towards it, stretching it out and lengthening the stroke." Learn to think like a winner by reframing. When your swimming gives you lemons... make lemonade out of them.

#15 Act as if - if you- want to become a winner, first you have to learn to act like one.

Acting as if is the master strategy of champions. If you act the way you want to become, you'll become the way you act. Acting as if has to do with your posture or how you carry yourself physically. Watch swimmers after they've had a bad race and you'll see some interesting stuff. Their heads will be down, shoulders drooping, facial expression down, and they'll be dragging their feet. If you act this way physically -- like a loser, you'll perform like one. A winner's fall back position is to act as if. If you're totally intimidated and freaking out before a race, act as if: act calm and confident. Have your head up, put a smile on your face, pick your shoulders up and put a spring in your step - even if you’re dying inside. Show your opponent someone who on the outside looks in control.

#16 Learn to be your own best fan

It's real easy to be nice to yourself and supportive when you're winning. Champions, however, separate themselves from everyone else because they've learned to be supportive to themselves when things are going badly. Getting down on yourself for bad performances will not help you in the long run. It will kill your motivation and make you an unhappy camper. Learn to be your own best fan - someone who is here to share the success and to help you through the tough times.  After all, that’s when you need support the most, especially from yourself.

#17 You are not your races

Learn to separate who you are as an athlete and person from how you do in your meets. You are not the results of your races. If you have a great meet this does not make you a great person. More important, if you have an awful meet, this does not make you the scum of the earth. If you get caught up in putting your ego on the line whenever you compete, you can be sure of one thing, you'll take a fall a whole lot. A swim meet should never be viewed as a measure of self-worth and respectability. By you, your coaches, or your parents!!

#18 Learn to relax

In order to stay within yourself and swim your own race you need to have the ability to handle competitive pressure. For many, this ability does not come naturally. You can learn to stay composed under pressure by practicing one or two of the many relaxation techniques available to athletes. Probably one of the best is to learn to slow and deepen your breathing. By taking a few slow diaphragmatic breaths you can very quickly calm yourself down pre-race.  Practice at home sitting for 5 minutes at a time, inhaling slowly through your nose to a count of 4, and then exhaling to a count of 7- 8, and continuing this process for the allotted time. Every time you drift, you can practice recognizing that you've lost your focus and then bring yourself back.

 

THE ABC'S OF CHAMPIONSHIP GOAL SETTING (Back to Top)

Let's say that you want to go on a road trip for your vacation. Would you just simply pack up your things, hop in the car and then take off without having a clue as to where you were actually going? Of course not! You would have to have a specific destination in mind for your travels, a place that you'd really like to get to, otherwise you'd end up spending all of your vacation time driving aimlessly around. However, having a desired end point for your trip isn't enough to guarantee that you'll actually get to where you want to go. Just as important, you  also need to have very clear directions for the specific routes all along the way that will eventually lead you to where you want to go.

This is how goals work for you. First, you should have a big, scary/exciting far off destination, a long-term goal, that you'd really like to get to somewhere down the line in your swimming career. Second, you need to know what “routes” to take along the way to turn that dream into a reality. That is, you must have smaller, more immediate short-term goals that when achieved, will systematically lead you to your dream. To go as far as possible in swimming, you must learn how to effectively use both kinds of goals.

Your long term goal is what I call a “BIG ENOUGH WHY.” It's the primary reason why you train and compete in the sport. Your “big why” provides you with the “fuel” or motivation to keep on keeping on through setbacks and hardships. This long term goal can be as varied as making the Olympic team and medaling, getting a college scholarship, breaking a pool record, qualifying for Zones or getting a AA cut. 

There are two important rules to follow when picking out an effective long term goal. The first is ownership. Your long term goal must belong to you, and not mom, dad or your coach. Swimming is far too difficult a sport to do for others. Second, you need to be sure that your long term goal really excites you. It needs to be something that you really want to achieve. On a daily basis, your long term goal answers the question, “Why am I doing this?” If that big goal is exciting and meaningful enough to you, then you'll have a good reason to regularly train.

If your long term goal is the final destination, then your short term goals are all the roads and highways that you must travel along the way to get there. Your short term goals provide you with both direction and a source of on-going motivation. Because your long term goal may be so far off, it's easy to lose sight of your progress week to week and month to month. By setting smaller, intermediate goals that you can work on during the year and then breaking those down into even smaller monthly, weekly and daily goals, you will have a better perspective of the progress that you're actually making. The successive achievement of these short term goals keeps your motivation to train high.  

One of the important differences between your short and long term goals, is that  very often,  your short-term goals are more about the process while your long term goal is about the outcome. That is, the achievement of these short term goals provides you with the “how “ to  reach that long term goal.          

SWIM IN YOUR OWN LANE FOR FAST TIMES (Back to Top)
     
One of the biggest and costliest mental mistakes made by swimmers at every level is getting too caught up with their competitors. You know what I mean. Before the race you "study" the heat sheet and freak yourself out by all the faster times you see. Or, perhaps you pick out one opponent pre-race and study his size and muscle development. Why is it, you wonder that their biceps are bigger than your thighs? Then too, you might think to yourself how you have never, ever beaten this swimmer. Or maybe you're OK until the race starts and this other swimmer begins to pass you. Then it seems like you spend most of your race in her lane thinking about her.

A few swimmers out there will actually go faster by focusing on an opponent. This type of swimmer, a "racer", always seems to get motivated by racing someone else and will perform better as a result. The "racer" has figured out a way to stay focused on his race while he races the guy in the next lane. However, MOST swimmers are NOT "racers" in this sense of the word. They get too distracted when they focus on or think about who they're going up against. As a result, they get too nervous, lose their confidence and stop paying attention to their race, all of which slows them down immediately! Mentally leaving your lane before or during a race is a great way to psych yourself out and ruin a perfectly good swim. If you're like most swimmers and you want to start swimming faster under pressure, then you have to begin to discipline yourself to STAY IN YOUR OWN LANE before and during your swims. This means that you want to keep your concentration on what YOU are doing. In general, every time your focus leaves your lane and drifts to an opponent's lane, you will quickly slow down. Why?

Because in order to go fast you have to focus on those things that help you go fast like your rhythm, keeping your stroke long and smooth, maintaining a proper breathing pattern, finishing your stroke, etc. When you swim well you automatically focus on these things. Because concentrating on these elements gets you to go faster, I like to call them the "gas pedal" in swimming. However, if you begin to get distracted by that "world record holder" in the next lane or that teammate you're real competitive with, then you will immediately "take your foot off the gas." In this way, moving your concentration over to your opponent's lane is like stepping on the brake pedal. Every stroke that you take in a race where you are thinking about who is in the next lane is a slow stroke!

So if you want to swim fast when it counts the most you have to learn to stay in your own lane. This means that the instant that you find yourself mentally drifting to an opponent either before or during the race, you want to quickly and gently bring your concentration back to what YOU are doing. If your focus drifts back again two seconds later, no problem! Quickly and gently bring your focus back! Every time you leave your lane you want to repeat this "bringing yourself back" process. As a swimmer, a break in concentration won't hurt you. What will hurt you big time is when you lose your focus and you don't bring it right back! You don't want to swim more than one stroke mentally in the wrong lane. So start today to practice swimming in your own lane. Pick something in your set to focus on, (i.e. the feel of the water, finishing your stroke, your elbow being placed in the right position, staying long and smooth, etc.) and whenever you find yourself leaving that focus and going somewhere else, bring yourself back to that concentration point. Remember, you can't swim fast if you're always spending time in someone else's lane.


STAYING IN THE "NOW" FOR VERY FAST SWIMS (Back to top)

I bet you never knew that swimmers have a brake pedal that they unknowingly use at all the wrong times. Here you are in your big race with 50 to go and tough opponents on both sides of you. Time to step on the gas and what do you do instead? You jam your foot on the brake and slow yourself right down! Or it's your shave and taper meet and your one big chance to finally make the cut in your best event. What happens? Halfway through the race you hit the brakes again and fall way off your pace!

So what's this mysterious brake pedal I'm talking about that causes so many swimmers to slow down when what they really want to do is speed up? It's nothing more than a very common mental mistake that swimmers of all levels make called "time traveling." Time traveling involves losing your focus on what's important in the "here & now" and beginning to concentrate on something in the past or the future.

For example, a past focus might be thinking about your last race while you're standing behind the blocks for your next one, ("If my first race is bad the rest of my meet is usually bad!"), worrying that you didn't train hard enough as you wait for the starter to begin the race, or focusing on how you always seem to swim poorly in this pool. A past focus right before and during your swims will always slow you down because it distracts you from concentrating on the things that help you go fast like your feel of the water, finishing your stroke, feeling long and smooth or kicking hard. Swimmers will know when they are mentally in the past because they use words and phrases like "here we go again", "I knew this was going to happen", "This always happens to me", "I can never break that time," etc.

Time traveling into the future involves mentally getting ahead of yourself. It's interesting to note that in too many 200's, the 3rd 50 is usually slower than the last 50. Why? Because during that 3rd 50 the swimmer starts to shift his or her focus into the future to the end of the race. Other examples of future focusing include, thinking about the time you want for this race, concentrating on needing to win, dreading how you'll feel at the end of the race if you're feeling this badly now and worrying about your next race before you've finished this one. A future focus is most often responsible for choking in swimming and is why a lot of swimmers seem to fall apart under pressure. Like a past focus, concentrating on these future thoughts makes you uptight and distracts you from paying attention to the things that get you to go fast.

The trick to swimming fast when it counts the most is to keep your concentration in the "now" of the race. This is your "gas pedal" in the pool. This means that you have to focus on one race at a time, one lap at a time, and one stroke at a time while you swim. By staying in the "now" just before and during your swims, you will dramatically increase your chances of getting the times that you really want. Being in the "now" means that you usually focus on how the swim feels and nothing else.

So if you want to go fast when it counts the most you have to train yourself to keep your focus of concentration in the "now" of the race. This means that if you begin to notice that you're starting to "time travel", quickly and gently return your focus to the task at hand right now. By quickly bringing yourself back to the "now" every time that you drift, you will increase your chances of getting that fast time.

If you want additional mental toughness training tools to teach you how to better stay in the "now" and focus under pressure, go to www.competitivedge.com, click on Dr. G's products and look for his 6-tape series, SWIMMING OUT OF YOUR MIND or his two tape, meet companion, THE RACER'S EDGE.


3 MENTAL SECRETS TO SWIMMING FAST WHEN IT COUNTS THE MOST
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The Olympics are behind us and Michael Phelps has become the greatest swimmer who has ever lived (he’s only 27). As you watched at home, you may have wondered, how do the champions do it? On the biggest stage of your life with the heat of competition cranked up high, what do you need to do to swim to your potential?

Once you get to that big meet, your physical work and preparation is over. You’ve done everything to insure that your body has the physical capability to go fast. Now what you need is to keep your mind in a gold medal place. Swimming fast when it counts the most is all mental! The following three strategies will help you maximize your training and go fast.     

#1) KEEP YOUR PRE AND DURING RACE FOCUS ON PROCESS, NOT OUTCOME
One of the biggest mistakes that a swimmer can make is to get too caught up in the importance of the race, i.e. your time, place or what’s at stake. This “outcome” focus will make you nervous, tighten your muscles and slow you down. To go fast, your concentration must be on the “process,” on what YOU are doing in your lane, in the NOW.

#2 TRY SOFTER, NOT HARDER
When you make a race too important, you will tend to try “too hard.“ Trying too hard tightens muscles and shortens your stroke. It’s the game of diminishing returns: The harder you try, the slower you’ll go! Instead, you need to relax inside, focus on lengthening your stroke and “try softer.” Remember, your body already knows how to swim fast. Trust your training and let the fast swim come to you!

#3 STAY CALM PRE-RACE
Many swimmers unknowingly “lose” their races before the start because they get too nervous. Swimming fast is all about staying relaxed pre-race. To do this, try any of the following: Use your pre-race ritual; stretch; listen to music; talk to friends; distract yourself from the race; slow and deepen your breathing; joke around; focus only on things you can control.              


One of the greatest mental skills an athlete needs to learn is to focus. The ability to focus—to be in the right place at the right time, mentally—is such a critical aspect of swimming success. Whether it be to focus on your goals, on a specific part of your stroke, on certain parts of your body during warm-up, focusing is a skill that that is probably as important to your success as any other mental skill. To illustrate this, I want you to take a few moments to imagine yourself doing the activities below. 

First, imagine that you are standing about 10 feet away from a group of your friends. Each friend is holding a ball of a different size, color or shape. You ask each of your friends to hold up a ball, and you choose which one is your favorite. Choose only one. Now, on the count of 3, all of your friends—at the exact same time—throws his ball in your direction so that you may catch it. To only catch your ball, you have to be in the right place at the right time, mentally. In this case, you need to focus on the one ball that you want to catch, while ignoring all the others. Most of the time, you are able to do so because your focus allowed you to catch the ball as if it was the only one being thrown to you. 

Now, imagine if I asked you to identify two balls you wanted to catch, both at the same time. Your friends all throw the balls at the same time, and you attempt to catch two. More often than not, not only would you not catch two, you wouldn’t even catch one. Why? Because trying to focus on more than one thing at the same time limits your ability to focus on anything. 

Now, imagine that you are at a swim meet. At the meet are a variety of things that may catch your attention, some of which would be helpful for a proper mindset and some of which would not help your performance. Teammates. Competitors. Parents. The weather. The pool. The crowd. Your sore arm. The song that is going through your head. Your doubts. Your goals. Your swim bag. The snack bar. Qualifying times. Your coaches. Your race plan. Expectations. The amount of information – and potential distractions – at swim meets can be overwhelming. But it doesn’t have to be if you have a plan. 

Now, imagine that each of those things mentioned above – expectations, goal times, your parents, etc. – are represented as a different color ball that was held by your friends. Imagine, as you did in the first exercise, that you were to choose something very specific to focus on at a meet – during warm-up, behind the blocks, or during a race. It would be as easy to direct your mental energy at that as it would be to catch just one ball out of many coming at you. It would be easy because you have chosen very carefully ahead of time what you wanted to focus on, and in the process that would allow you to ignore, or block out, all of the other potential sources of stress or distractions around you. 

The key here is that you want to create a mindset so that YOU are in control of your focus, no matter what is going on around you. You certainly don’t want your environment, or what happens in it, to control your mindset. 

Before your next meet, write out one very specific thing you want to focus on in the car on the way to the meet, during warm-up, when you are standing behind the blocks and during your race. Just one specific thing for each of those four settings. Talk to your coach if you need help with this. Then, practice this most important mental skill – being in the right place, at the right time.

RELAXATION IS THE SOLUTION TO SWIMMING EXCELLENCE
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These are some of the things you can do to stay calm when the heat of competition is turned up extra high.

#1 Stretch
Stretching is a great way to calm yourself and stay loose as long as when you stretch you keep your entire focus of concentration on what you are doing.

#2 Focus on YOU
Paying too much attention to your competition pre-race will raise your level of nervousness. Keep your focus on yourself before your race and you'll stay looser.

#3 Talk with teammates/friends
If hanging out with your buds pre-race keeps you loose and distracts you from thinking too much about your race, get in the habit of making that an important part of your pre-race ritual.

#4 Listen to music
A lot of swimmers keep themselves in control by listening to their favorite music. Be sure that the tunes that you play in your head are calming and don't wire you up for sound.

#5 Distract yourself
Many swimmers think too much about their race or opponents just before the start, and therefore work themselves up too much. Find other things that you can do pre-race that will distract you from these pressure-causing distractions. You can read, play video games, do homework (sorry about that), etc.

#6 Go somewhere relaxing mentally
I teach many of the swimmers I work with to go to a "safe place" in their mind's eye where they feel completely relaxed and far away. This can be a beach, a vacation spot, or anywhere else. If you mentally practice visiting this special place at night before bed, it will be available to you on race day.

#7 Do Diaphragmatic (deep belly) breathing
You can not freak out if you are breathing from your diaphragm. It is physiologically impossible. Learn to do diaphragmatic breathing. Sit quietly, inhale through your nose to a slow count of 4, pause, then exhale through your mouth to a little faster count of 7 or 8. Focus your concentration on the rise and fall of your diaphragm as you do this. Practice this at home for 4 minutes a day. When you're under pressure, one or two of these breaths will then help you chill out.

IT'S YOUR SPORT, LOVE IT OR LEAVE IT (Back to top)

I was talking to a collegiate athlete the other day who had been swimming since she was nine years old. One of the fastest swimmers on her team, jenny had a full ride to a D - I program. She was going into her junior year and from the outside looking in, seemed to have the world by the tail. She already held a number of school records, was All Conference and a major point scorer during Championships. There was of course the slight problem of her slump over the past several months and the minor fact that she spent so much time crying after practices. Perhaps this was related to that ugly little secret that Jenny had kept hidden all these years: She hated swimming! Maybe it was the fact that her father had pushed her too hard for too long. His obvious disappointment and anger whenever she did poorly certainly didn't help. The guilt trips he put on her whenever she wanted to take time off also took a toll. His sticking her nose into her training and those long conversations he'd have with her coach both annoyed and embarrassed her. Regardless of the reasons, Jenny hadn't really enjoyed being in the pool since her very first year.

Back then she absolutely loved the sport. She loved being with her friends, loved the hard work and looked forward to the challenge. Meets were great fun and she loved to compete. Unfortunately all that changed the instant her father figured out that she had some talent for the sport. So all these years Jenny swam to keep her father happy. She swam not to disappoint him. She swam to get the coach to like her. She swam because she was good at it and so she wouldn't let other people down. In sum, Jenny swam for all the WRONG reasons! Jenny didn't really have any goals of her own. It seemed that all "her" goals really belonged to her father or coach. How about you? Do you know why you're swimming? Do you have dreams of going far in this sport? Do you have big, far away goals that you want to achieve? Or, like Jenny, have you lost your direction and aren't quite sure why you get into the pool every day? Are you swimming for yourself or just to keep other people happy?

Keep this in mind if you have any desire to reach your potential in this or any other sport. Without love and passion for what you're doing, you'll never, NEVER be successful! If you don't love what you're doing it will be impossible for you to maintain the drive and motivation necessary to achieve swimming excellence. Your love of the sport keeps you going through all those hard practices. It motivates you to get right back up after a disappointing loss or setback. Your passion for swimming will help you ward off burn-out and survive the frustration of extended slumps or plateaus. If you love what you're doing you'll get more out of each and every practice. Passion and success go hand in hand.

When I talk with swim teams I'm always telling the athletes, "If you want to go fast, you have to HAVE FUN!" You have to enjoy the process. You have to love the pain and fatigue. You have to love the challenge and competition. The heart of all this love is knowing who you are swimming for. You can't have this love and passion without swimming for YOU. Just about every Olympian I've talked to over the years has this passion and knows that they are swimming for them themselves, not for their coaches or parents. These Olympic swimmers all report having parents who were smart enough to know that the sport belongs to the swimmer, not the parent. To love what you're doing and be successful in the pool you must have total ownership of your swimming. Whether you love going fast, the challenge, the quest to be #1, the competition, the hard work, the socializing or a combination of some or all of these doesn't matter. What does matter is that you swim for yourself, and because you like the sport. You'll never burn out or become a drop-out statistic if you keep that love and passion with you whenever you train and compete.

“LEARN TO LET GO. THAT IS THE KEY TO HAPPINESS.”

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Think of your goals in your sport. Think of how important it is for you to win that championship. Think about how badly you want to make the starting line-up or get that college scholarship. Use your goals to motivate you to train and then, when it counts the most and the heat of competition is turned up high, LET THEM GO. Success in athletics and life is a paradox. You will play that great game, win the title, score all those points, pitch the perfect game ONLY when you LET GO of the desire to do so while you are engaged in the performance.

One of the biggest mistakes made by coaches and athletes is being too wedded to your outcome goals as you go into and during that all important performance. When it counts the most, you must LET GO of the outcome and trust yourself. You must trust your training, trust your hard work, trust your muscle memory and relax, letting the game, match or race come to you. This is the only way that you can be successful and this is the only way that you’ll ultimately be happy. Holding on to the importance of this performance and dwelling on all that’s at stake and how badly you need to win will only kill your joy, rob you of your courage and steal your heart in the process. When you LET GO of winning, it will come and find you. When you LET GO of going 3 for 4, your reward will be to go 4 for 4. When you LET GO of impressing the coach, only then will he notice you. To reach your goals, you must first let go of them when you perform.


STAYING IN THE "NOW" FOR VERY FAST SWIMS
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I bet you never knew that swimmers have a brake pedal that they unknowingly use at all the wrong times. Here you are in your big race with 50 to go and tough opponents on both sides of you. Time to step on the gas and what do you do instead? You jam your foot on the brake and slow yourself right down! Or it's your shave and taper meet and your one big chance to finally make the cut in your best event. What happens? Halfway through the race you hit the brakes again and fall way off your pace!

So what's this mysterious brake pedal I'm talking about that causes so many swimmers to slow down when what they really want to do is speed up? It's nothing more than a very common mental mistake that swimmers of all levels make called "time traveling." Time traveling involves losing your focus on what's important in the "here & now" and beginning to concentrate on something in the past or the future.

For example, a past focus might be thinking about your last race while you're standing behind the blocks for your next one, ("If my first race is bad the rest of my meet is usually bad!"), worrying that you didn't train hard enough as you wait for the starter to begin the race, or focusing on how you always seem to swim poorly in this pool. A past focus right before and during your swims will always slow you down because it distracts you from concentrating on the things that help you go fast like your feel of the water, finishing your stroke, feeling long and smooth or kicking hard. Swimmers will know when they are mentally in the past because they use words and phrases like "here we go again", "I knew this was going to happen", "This always happens to me", "I can never break that time," etc.

Time traveling into the future involves mentally getting ahead of yourself. It's interesting to note that in too many 200's, the 3rd 50 is usually slower than the last 50. Why? Because during that 3rd 50 the swimmer starts to shift his or her focus into the future to the end of the race. Other examples of future focusing include, thinking about the time you want for this race, concentrating on needing to win, dreading how you'll feel at the end of the race if you're feeling this badly now and worrying about your next race before you've finished this one. A future focus is most often responsible for choking in swimming and is why a lot of swimmers seem to fall apart under pressure. Like a past focus, concentrating on these future thoughts makes you uptight and distracts you from paying attention to the things that get you to go fast.

The trick to swimming fast when it counts the most is to keep your concentration in the "now" of the race. This is your "gas pedal" in the pool. This means that you have to focus on one race at a time, one lap at a time, and one stroke at a time while you swim. By staying in the "now" just before and during your swims, you will dramatically increase your chances of getting the times that you really want. Being in the "now" means that you usually focus on how the swim feels and nothing else.

So if you want to go fast when it counts the most you have to train yourself to keep your focus of concentration in the "now" of the race. This means that if you begin to notice that you're starting to "time travel", quickly and gently return your focus to the task at hand right now. By quickly bringing yourself back to the "now" every time that you drift, you will increase your chances of getting that fast time.

If you want additional mental toughness training tools to teach you how to better stay in the "now" and focus under pressure, go to www.competitivedge.com, click on Dr. G's products and look for his 6-tape series, SWIMMING OUT OF YOUR MIND or his two tape, meet companion, THE RACER'S EDGE.

SWIMMING FAST AND UNBURDENED SWIMMING FOR YOURSELF (Back to top)

Let me ask you what may seem like a really silly question? How fast do you think you’d swim if you went into your best events with a 150 + lb weight strapped to your back? Obvious answer: You’d be so weighed down that you wouldn’t be able to get off the blocks!  

Believe it or not, this is exactly what a lot of swimmers unknowingly do at many of their big meets. They consistently go into their races worried about disappointing mom and dad and/or their coach. When you do this mentally, it’s as if you are trying to swim while literally carrying mom, dad and/or coach on your back! While you might not be able to actually see this weight, the crushing burden of letting important others down is powerful and performance disrupting.   

If you get up on the blocks and you’re preoccupied with wanting to make your parents and coach happy, and fearful that if you swim poorly, they won’t be, then you will inadvertently be creating the most powerful performance anxiety there is. Your nervousness will go into the red zone, your muscles will tighten and your arms and legs will feel like lead! No child ever wants to disappoint mom or dad. In fact, as kids, we’re hard wired to want to make our parents proud of us. When we fail or have a less than stellar performance, it feels like we have directly disappointed those who matter to us. When this happens, we then worry that they will love us less for it, and for a child, this is a scary and threatening situation. 

Most parents out there would be absolutely horrified to know that you as their son or daughter were worried about losing their love if you didn’t swim fast enough. These parents would want you to know that their love for you is totally unconditional, regardless of how fast you go in the pool. Loving parents would want you to know that they were proud of you just because of who you were and that you didn’t have to perform in any way to earn their love, caring or respect. Loving, appropriate parents would want you to enjoy swimming completely unburdened by their own expectations. They would want you to swim just for YOU, because YOU wanted to and YOU loved it!

This is why it is absolutely critical that you learn to swim for yourself. This means that when you approach practice and meets, you do it just for YOU! In other words, your goals and motivation should always come from inside of you and not be about making those around you happy. The goals that you pursue in this sport should be all yours, regardless of how grand or modest they might be.    

This also means that you learn to keep your pre-meet and pre-race focus of concentration on YOU and NO ONE ELSE! Worries about disappointing mom, dad or the coach means that you’re NOT keeping your concentration on YOU! When these kinds of “others” thoughts come up, you want to quickly return your focus to yourself and your swim. In addition, it’s critical that you learn to keep your focus in the moment, on what’s going on right NOW instead of allowing your concentration to jump ahead to the outcome and consequences of the race, (i.e. how people may be upset with you if you don’t go fast enough).

When you get up on those blocks you want to be totally unburdened by concerns with other’s expectations. You want to feel that you’re not swimming to prove your self-worth or lovability, but that you’re swimming from your heart, for the love of the sport. It’s only then that you’ll be able to consistently swim freely and fast!             

 

THE BIGGEST SECRET TO SWIMMING FAST UNDER PRESSURE
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Do you ever wonder why so many good swimmers seem to fall apart at the big meet? How come they tend to go faster in practice than at Championships? Why does someone always go faster in a relay or off event than he would in his best event? There's a one-word answer to all three of these questions…PRESSURE! There's much more pressure in the bigger meets and your best events than there is in relays or practice.

Pressure tightens a swimmer's muscles, chokes off their breathing and robs them of their confidence. Big meet pressure can make a well-conditioned swimmer feel completely out of shape after just 75 yards of her first race of the day! It can turn your arms into Jell-o and your legs into lead. Pressure is what 7- time Gold Medalist Mark Spitz was referring to when he said, "racing is 90% mental and 10% physical." If you can learn to handle the pressure of competition, then you will start to swim to your potential. If that sounds good to you your next question should be, "HOW do I do that?" I thought you'd never ask. To swim fast under pressure you have to learn to relax. The biggest secret to swimming fast when it counts the most is to keep yourself loose and calm. The more relaxed that you are, the faster you'll go. Relaxation is the key to speed in the pool. Unfortunately, not too many swimmers understand this important connection. As a result, they go into their races and put far too much pressure on themselves. "I've got to get my cut." "I have to beat Jenny!" "I've got to make finals." It's these kinds of pre-race thoughts which will make it impossible for you to relax and, as a result, rob you of your speed.

The bigger the race, the more important it is for you to stay cool and calm before the start. This should be your goal before every one of your important races. If you accomplish this goal, I can almost guarantee that you'll swim the way that you want to. However, too many swimmers, coaches and parents don't focus on this pre-race goal. They get much more caught up in the "outcome" goal (beating someone, time or place). Outcome goals will take care of themselves if you make staying relaxed and loose before your events your primary goal.

With FINA and USA Swimming's recent ban of all hi-tech suits, the sport has been abruptly moved backwards in time, (no pun intended). Now if you really want that record or cut, you're going to have to earn it the “old-fashioned way,” relying solely on yourself, your commitment to excellence and good old-fashioned, hard training.

For some swimmers this will create a major crisis of confidence. Suddenly they will notice that not only are they no longer going as fast as they used to with their hi-tech, performance enhancing suits, but now their endurance and buoyancy will also feel compromised. It's enough to give the average swimmer an overwhelming case of pre-race jitters and self-doubts.

So if you're mourning the loss of your LZR Racer, dry your tears and listen up! There's still a way that you can come out of this whole thing with the competitive edge.

First, you have to understand the obvious which you can put to work in your favor: The playing field in swimming is now leveled. We are back to basics in the sport! With the help of the now-banned suits, swimmers who didn't work as hard on their body or conditioning were provided a way to artificially cut corners to become more competitive. These swimmers can no longer do this!

What this means is that starting right now, all of the control for how well you do is completely back in your hands! If you're willing to regularly push yourself outside of your comfort zone and put the time and work in, then it will pay off against other swimmers who fail to consistently do this.

Second, the swimmer who handles all of these suit changes the best mentally is the one who will consistently come out on top. What you need to know here is that the problem isn't really that you can't use your fast suit anymore. Instead, the problem is how you react to not being able to use it. If you think pre-race that you can't swim fast without your “magic suit,” if you continually bemoan the fact that you no longer have your secret weapon available, then you'll undermine your confidence and tighten yourself up enough so that you won't perform to your potential!

Having to go back to your old suit is now one of those “uncontrollables” in the sport. There's absolutely nothing that you can do to change it. So instead of pining away for those hi-tech aided fast times that you used to regularly swim in the past, you want to keep your focus of concentration on only those things that you can control in the NOW. For example, you can control your work ethic every day. You can learn to control your pre- and during race focus of concentration. You can also learn to control your overall focus when you train. Discipline yourself to keep your concentration in the NOW on what you're doing and away from the past.

Along these same lines, watch out for the daily mental trap of measuring your progress by comparing what you're doing now, time-wise with how you used to swim with your old fast suit. If you train and race with the expectation that your times should immediately be as fast as they used to be, then you will be consistently disappointed and mightily discouraged. Those fast times of the past should be mentally left in the past. They have no constructive value for you in your present training and racing. 

It's a whole "new" world out there when you reace and you want to use FINA and USA Swimming's recent rulings to give you the mental edge.