Control: Physical and Mental

Track your physical and mental energy levels. The goal is to be pumped up, yet relaxed and focused. Use a simple 1-5 scale (1= bored to 5= bouncing off walls) and learn your optimum energy level for practice and meets. Diffuse excess emotions - even the positive ones. Nerves that keep you awake the night before a meet will not help you perform. If a bad swim or some other setback at a meet makes you cry or get angry you will drain energy quickly. Acknowledge your feelings and set them aside. Some tools that can help you manage your energy levels include:

Rituals take your focus from uncontrollable outcomes like winning or losing to the process. What can you do right now to do your best? Routines, or rituals include what to eat or drink, how and when to warm-up or cool down, visualize the race, employ positive self-talk, etc. Just be sure that you know the difference between ritual, which is productive, and superstition - which is not.

Friends Joke with a friend to relax. Laughter is amongst the fastest ways to get calmer. Pump up by drinking in the excitement around you and cheering on a teammate.

Progressive Muscle Relaxation techniques can help fight the physical symptoms of pre-race jitters.

Breathing and Heart Rate Slow or speed up your breathing a little. Move enough to raise your heart rate. Your breathing and heart rate trigger your mental excitement or relaxation.

Focus Staying focused will help you control excess emotions - both positive and negative. Try these three exercises to improve your concentration


Arousal - The Psychology of Energy Management

From USA Swimming

Arousal can be best understood as having both a somatic (physical) and a cognitive (mental) component. This means that arousal has a physical effect on the athlete such as increased heart rate, increased muscle activation, increased sweating, high adrenaline, and so on. Arousal also has an effect on the athlete’s cognitive functioning (self-talk, concentration, images). Although these two components are often discussed separately, it should be noted that they are inextricably linked such that change in one typically affects the other.

An emphasis on fun and enjoyment (both in practice and competition) goes a long way towards preventing over-arousal. Keeping the emphasis on fun can help alleviate the pressure the athlete feels to perform well and the expectations he or she perceives from others.

It has been found that prior to competition athletes have a specific level of arousal at which they tend to perform their best (called the individual zone of optimal functioning or IZOF). The level of arousal related to best performances is highly individualized; meaning the athletes on the swim team will vary greatly in terms of their optimal arousal.

Here are the steps athletes need to take to manage arousal:

  • Be aware of the optimal arousal level and the factors that increase and decrease arousal.
  • Be prepared by developing strategies to increase and decrease arousal as needed.
  • Practice using arousal management skills in a variety of situations.

Athletes need to develop an awareness of the arousal level at which they tend to perform best. They should be aware of how they need to feel physically and mentally to practice and perform well. This awareness can be achieved by evaluating past races to identify trends in how they tend to think and feel prior to good performances versus poor performances. Athletes do not necessarily want to rid themselves of increases in physical and mental functioning. Instead, they need to know the level of arousal that is best for them and specific strategies to enable them to attain the appropriate level

To appropriately manage arousal, it is important to differentiate between things athletes can control and things they cannot control. Athlete must learn to control and manage their reaction to a situation or event that is out of their control (an uncontrollable, or UC.) As shown on the previous page, athletes can employ a variety of strategies to manage their arousal and attain the appropriate arousal level.

Athletes should prepare themselves with an arsenal of strategies to both increase and decrease their physical and mental arousal to attain a level that will be beneficial to performance. Having such an arsenal can provide athletes with a sense of control over their preparation and performance.