Athletes who focus only on physical training and neglect the psychological part of their sport are destined for disappointment. They are also missing one of the life-long benefits of participating in youth sports - the opportunity to build confidence, handle pressure and become more resilient in and out of the pool.
Most swimmers have an idea that their state of mind affects their practice and meet performance. However, few of them have systematically worked to build the skills they need to set inspirational and achievable goals, or use techniques like imagery, relaxation, and self-talk to work through stress or adversity. With help and hard work, champions learn to motivate themselves, control their energy levels, and maintain focus. They become mentally tough - confident and resilient enough to handle the good times and the tough ones.
Mental Tools to build Mental Toughness
Ninety percent of this game is half mental - Yogi BerraYou cannot neglect the mental side of your sport and expect to succeed. There are plenty of very fit, very talented young athletes who never reach their swimming dreams. It takes all three - physical training, technical training and mental training - to reach your full potential. The best athletes are mentally tough. They never stop believing in themselves, stay focused on their goals, and stay cool under pressure. They know that nobody is born knowing the mental skills it takes to do that.
If you wanted to build a house you would start by acquiring tools and learning how to use them. Then you would need blueprints - plans that tell you how to build the house. If you are new to building houses, you would expect to face some challenges. You might talk to people who have built houses before to find out what sorts of problems you were likely to encounter and how you could overcome them. That's what we are going to do to build Mental Toughness. We are going to learn the skills, develop plans to become mentally tough, and examine some challenges we are likely to face along the way.
Mental Training Tools
Sports psychologists call the group of tools you need to build mental toughness your Mental Toolkit:
Building Mental Toughness
The next step to building a house would be to have some blueprints - plans that tell you how to go about building the house. Mentally tough people are in control. They have confidence, love a good challenge, and have confidence they will be successful. Mental Toughness = Confidence + Resiliency. In this section we will look at ways to develop the components of mental toughness:
Next, we will look at some Special Challenges you can expect to encounter in your swimming career and discuss some ways mentally-tough competitors overcome them with the right mental toolkit. By looking at the obstacles successful swimmers have faced and the ways they have overcome them, we can learn to avoid or conquer the stumbling blocks we may face. These may include:
- Difficult teammates or coaches
- Loss of Motivation or Burnout
- Performance Anxiety
- Time Management Issues
- Unrealistic Expectations
- Lost Training Time - eg. injury or pool unavailable