Power of the mind
Training in the bag? Nutrition nailed? Then there’s one last area to think about to boost performance in the pool: your mind. Sports psychologists have featured in elite level sport for years and most pro swimmers have one in their back office army to help them unlock their potential. “The psychology of sport is important as it contributes to two things,” says clinical sports psychologist Victor Thompson. “Your performance and your enjoyment of sport. By working on it during training, your training will become more effective.”
But getting a mental boost isn’t restricted to the pros. All sportspeople can benefit from training the mind as well as the body. Here are four ways to start exercising those grey cells.
Draw up goals give you an aim
Goals help to keep you motivated, particularly as the winter months set in and the sofa becomes more inviting. “Set goals and review any existing goals you have so that they are desirable, doable and motivational,” says Victor. “Consider mixing things up a bit to keep motivated – where you train, what you do, what distances your swim, the intensity of your sessions and who you train with.” A goal could be:
- Aiming for a new PB
- Training for a new distance
- Training to do a triathlon next year
- Joining a swimming club
- Entering a race
- Trying out open water swimming
- Focusing on drills and trying new equipment to work through weak areas of your stroke.
Beat the mental demons
Negative thoughts can thwart your training, so it’s important to rationalise them before they threaten your performance in the pool, says Victor. “You have two options for dealing with the doubts, questions and criticisms that enter your mind. The first option is to engage with them: to ask yourself why you think this, where it comes from and to rebuff the negative thoughts. Your second option is to take a curious position and think something along the lines of ‘that’s interesting’ or ‘that’s another one of my crazy thoughts’.”
The aim isn’t to engage with or normalise them, but to see them as not necessarily true of worthy of your attention. “In a race situation, a good antidote is to have a good memory of all the training and preparation you have done ahead of an event, so you can draw confidence from this real experience.”
Remember it’s OK to move the goalposts if setbacks happen
Setbacks are part of any sport, but how you handle them is the mark of a strong mind. Whether injury strikes, or flu wipes you out for a month, it’s OK to move the goalposts sometimes to make sure your mojo returns. Get Speedo Fit challenger David learnt this lesson when an operation left him sofa-bound for a few weeks. Once he was back – and desperate to dive into the pool again – he revisited his goals and drew up some new ones with coach Dan Bullock to make sure he stayed on track.
Avoid comparing yourself to others
Unless you’re Michael Phelps, chances are you’ll come across someone faster than you in your local pool. If comparing lap times with a mate leaves you depressed rather than stirring up a healthy competitive edge, remember why you train in the first place. Those goals you set at the start are personal to you and your own training, so stay focused on your own goals, not how you match up to anyone else.