Why didn’t I think of that? Why didn’t I think that I needed mental training?

 In Competition, Focus & Awareness, Swimming

Mental training can be that one thing you have yet to think about. Most think that their problems are physical, so they work longer and harder, and this typically does not help.
I recently had this conversation with one of my high school swimmers. We had just finished up our 10th session. When I started to work with her, she had reached a point where she was completely freaked out about swimming. She was getting psyched out by other swimmers. She was afraid of taking risks which then led to more mistakes. She was overthinking everything. She rated her confidence as 3 out of 10. She didn’t even want to go to practice.

Seven sessions in, her confidence had increased to 7 out of 10. She reported feeling much better, lighter, happier, and more positive. Ten sessions in, she was back to being excited to swim. She had nerves but reframed them to excitement and now they are a source of positive energy. She takes each meet and practice one-by-one. She has learned how to zone out and not be affected by other swimmers.

We laughed together yesterday. I said to her, “wasn’t it easier than you thought? Have you been thinking to yourself, why didn’t I think of that?” She laughed and said, “yes. I have so much more control and it’s become more natural. It feels nice and it’s getting easier.”

Or, maybe you have thought of mental training and you’re just not quite sure where to start.

But it’s one more thing to do

Yes, it is one more thing to do but it is THE thing to do that can make the biggest difference and as you can see from the above example, it really doesn’t take long to acquire the necessary mental skills (a bit longer the older you are).

Mental training is not ‘easy’ but for most it’s not horribly painful or difficult if you do the work. The work doesn’t take a lot of extra time because it’s woven into your life and sport and the ROI (return on investment) is huge. Not only does this high school swimmer feel more confident and in control of her emotions, she has cleared the way to focus on swimming versus focusing on her nerves or negative thought patterns. And as many will say, the skills actually help in life as well.

The key issues we worked on

Nerves: She replaced negative thinking and overanalyzing with ‘I am excited to be here.’ She learned to reinterpret butterflies as positive and accept that nerves exist.

Intimidated by others: She set her own goals and expectations, which allowed her to focus on her race, and not someone else’s.

Pre-meet/practice: She realized that she needed to be calm and relaxed before a race. 30 minutes prior, she practiced using music, meditation, and motivational videos before a meet or practice to get her in that headspace. 15 minutes prior she took a couple of deep breaths. Behind the blocks she now smiled, shook arms, and took a couple deep breaths.

During the race: She focused on her race plan and used a mantra if she started getting hung up on swimmers in front of her.

Post-race reflection: What went well, what was challenging, and what do I need to work on tomorrow?

The outcome of her mental training

Nerves: She was not as scared or nervous. She realized the nerves gave her the positive energy she needs for her race.

Intimidated by others: She zoned out and focused on her race. This left her not as affected by others.

Pre-meet/practice: She was calmer, relaxed, focused, and ready to perform.

During the race: She let go of her times, the race outcome, and other swimmers.

Post-race reflection: She learned to find and focus on the positives, get the challenges out of her head and move from an emotional place to an action oriented place.

In ten sessions, this client has gone from not wanting to go to practice to dropping times almost every meet. And she feels good about swimming again. She recognized when to include mental training.

So why didn’t she think of all this?

Situations happen and we respond. We respond automatically the only way we know how, until we learn how to respond differently and more effectively. For this client, as well as many others, they immediately think the problem is something physical so they work longer and harder. In most cases, the problem is mental so working longer and harder doesn’t help; it actually makes things worse because the situation doesn’t change. We know what we know and we do what we do and it’s hard to think outside of that space.

Fortunately, people are starting to realize that much of what gets in our way is not physical; it’s mental and are reaching out to build their mental skills so they (athletes, musicians, entertainers, business leaders) can perform the way they want to.

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