The Mental Game

Since I am currently out at the United States Master’s Nationals in Atlanta, Georgia, I thought I’d take a brief break from the “Stop Fighting the Water” series and talk a little bit about the mental side of race preparation.

Physical training is critical in swimming, but there is no denying that success hinges on an athlete’s mental preparation. As an athlete it is tremendously important to learn how to best approach each race. A certain level of confidence must be developed, some nervous energy for the upcoming race along with a focus on each detail in a sequence that will help you swim your race the fastest.

Everyone has a different way of finding the “zone” before their races. It’s easy to psyche yourself out if your not careful; finding that “zone” really comes with experience as you begin to learn what prepares you mentally for your race.

Before the big meet began, I often would rehearse the race in my mind several times while relaxing or laying in bed. Often times I would picture myself racing next to my opponent, beating him off the last turn or the last wall. These visualizations gave me a chance to become familiar with what the pressures and atmosphere of the meet would be like. I knew exactly what to expect.

When I got to the meet, I found that I swam best when I followed my routine down as closely as possible. That way I didn’t have to worry about missing my race or being ready too early, because I knew exactly how long I needed. To rev up my energy systems and calm my mind, I would do a quick warm-up and then do some last minute stretching away from the pool. When I could, I would try to get ready a little ways away from the main pool so that I could relax and stay loose until my race came. As my heat was called up to the blocks, the adrenaline would surge and try to capitalize on the energy while staying as relaxed as possible.

The key for me was to stay relaxed and calm while capitalizing on the energy from my excitement for the upcoming competition. Everyone has a different way of finding this place. What’s yours?

- Paul