Preparing to Win - Part 2
Just as a bad stroke can get ingrained in your muscle memory if your technique is not corrected, in the same way, thought patterns also get ingrained in your brain, and either help you or hold you back.
When I run a workshop or a mentorship session with a top athlete today, a lot of what he or she shares is similar to my own experience of stress on race days. Issues range from feeling too much muscle stress just before a race, to fear of failure and sometimes even, fear of success. Swimmers often talk to me about how their focus shifts pre-race, to worrying more about what the person in the next lane is going to do, rather than on their own swim! And then of course, every once in a way, I come across an extremely talented individual, the hardest worker in the pool, who is expected to win, but ends up being the biggest let down, because he or she let a number of these negative factors overpower their natural ability.
Some of best timings even at world meets have been recorded at relay swims. Yes, you do get the advantage of a rolling start, but the biggest factor for swims that shock the world have been that the athlete’s mind is focused on just that one thought of swimming for his team with little or no attention to what others are doing in the pool, and less stress. On a more personal level, there have been times when I have looked at the touch pad display and been shocked with the timings I clocked on relay times. It felt so easy! And that was because my mind was excited enough to ignore pain and negative thoughts that otherwise cloud focus.
Developing race-day equilibrium needs you to recognise the patterns you’ve unconsciously allowed yourself to develop and perhaps even nurtured unknowingly.
Race Tip 4: Blinkers on!
So many swimmers are held back from performing their personal best, because they are intimidated by what their competitors might do shifting focus from their own job in the pool. I tell my swimmers to always try and emulate race horses who race with ‘blinkers on’. It is a term I use with them so much, encouraging them to get on to the starting block and block out everything on either side of them, imagining if they must that they have blinds on, and essentially get into a mode of tunnel vision, looking only down their lane.
A lot of my swimmers react well to this, as their focus suddenly shifts from a fellow team-mate who may be intimidating, to understanding that the only control they really do have is on their swim and nothing else, and then focusing on getting that as right as they can.
Race Tip 5: Ring of Power
This is another one of my favorite visualizations that works beautifully for athletes who feel negative thoughts overwhelm them and influence them way too much leading up to their races, as well as on race-day.
This is how it works: Pick a favorite color, and visualize a ring of that color in front of you. Through your day, visualize everything positive you want from your race, and feel like you are investing every one of these positive thoughts into that ring. Imagine it becoming stronger, more powerful with every thought you add.
On race day, imagine that ring, powerful and strong, in front of you as you get on the blocks. Imagine diving through this ring as you start your race, feeling like you are literally diving into your ring of positive energy and carrying all that power with you through your race.
Make sure to choose your favorite color to attach to that ring which will give more strength to your thoughts!
One of the most stressful moments in my career was the qualifier I swam for the Beijing Olympics in Sydney. It was literally a do or die moment for me, and I went onto the blocks with a fair amount of confidence as I was at my physical best, but also with some negative thoughts clouding my focus.
I recognized that the negativity and fear clouding my mind would result in putting waste to my effort over two decades, ending any possibility of doing what I had set out to do. I distinctly recall asking myself why I’ve invested so many years of my life in sport, and my answer was simple - I did, because I love to race, I love to win and all my life I’ve only looked forward to racing. I recognized in that moment that I thrived on challenge, and by allowing negative thoughts I would allow fear and doubt to short change all my effort and chances of qualifying for being part of something I’d dreamed of for so long, the Olympics.
I got up on to those starting blocks, and chose to race happy, smiled through the start of the race and came out successful.
As simple as it sounds, I really want you to be happiest on race-day, always look forward to racing, and attempt being the swimmer who a coach can rely on, by saying, that no matter what his form is in training, he’ll end up racing like a champion!
Go be that champ, I hope this blog helps you get there!