Wisdom Wednesday Vol.8 - Meet Mindset

 Wisdom Wednesday Vol.8

Meet Mindset

The swimmers are on the block and ready to race. But who’s really ready? Getting mentally prepared prior to a swim meet is just as important as the physical preparation during practices. All the physical effort in the water could be undone if your head isn't in the right place during those final crucial moments before you walk out to the starting block. Distractions, doubts, worries and nerves can all play on a swimmer's mind in the hours leading up to a  race. Is she/he ready for this? As Benjamin Franklin said, "By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail."

While it may feel otherwise, nerves aren't necessarily a bad thing. It could show one of two things:

  • A swimmer has the desire to do well. He / She is putting pressure on herself/himself to make all the sacrifices made during training worth it.
  • A swimmer realizes that they didn’t put in the effort required at practices to swim at their best.

The latter may or may not be true. One swimmer’s effort is different than others. But for the sake of argument, let’s assume that all necessary effort was given during practices. What's important is to try and cleanse the mind of any nagging doubts or distractions. Of course, all swimmers are individuals, so what works for some may not work for others. So, practicing different mental strategies (like practicing in the water) before a race is crucial to success.

The following are some suggestions to help alleviate the nerves, doubts, fears or anything that can negatively affect a race.

Train / Practice with No Regrets

One doubt that a swimmer can erase from his/her head and use as a positive is effort at daily swim practices. Is he/she doing what the coaches ask? If only he/she had given a better effort at practice, been more consistent with making workouts, and had done the seemingly tiny things that would have added up to making a big difference. Let’s be honest, all swimmers have a bad practice or don’t really feel like practicing, once in a while. If you want to go to practice or feeling great at a practice, it’s much easier to practice without regrets. However, it’s the other “bad” days that sets the good swimmers from other swimmers. Powering through and giving more effort on these bad days makes a swimmer mentally tougher. If a swimmer is only willing to give a great effort at swim practices when everything is going 100% his/ her way, he / she will expect and require the same level of perfect circumstances in competition to perform your best.

But if a swimmer can still set an in-practice best time at the end of a long week of training when he / she might be tired, or if a swimmer can hammer out the main set on a bad night of sleep, or with an extra draggy drag suit, or in a pool that has “too many” swimmers in his / her lane, than you begin to develop the type of resiliency and mental toughness that becomes so important when you step up on the blocks. Don’t shy away from the challenging stuff in practice. Be the swimmer that is not only willing to take on the hard sets, but be the swimmer that will do it when circumstances aren’t perfect, ideal, or even close to either. Being uncomfortable is where the growth and improvement comes. Don’t underestimate the power of being uncomfortable. Swimmers need to challenge the comfort zone. This will provide the confidence needed to overcome difficult situations and provide positive feedback habit that will serve as encouragement again and again. Additional practice strategies to think about:

  • You’ll redefine how tough you are.
    • One of the peak moments in swimming comes when we surpass a limit or break past a plateau. These incidents are rarely by accident, and often come via bargaining with ourselves to push just a little longer (“Okay little buddy, let’s do one more rep!”).
    • Improvement comes via slowly inching the line of what we think is possible each day in practice, and this is difficult to do without the willingness to have the mindset necessary to do it.
  • You will learn to focus on the right things in training.
    • When you have a bad practice, does your thinking go immediately to: “I’m never going to achieve any of my goals” or does it go to, “Okay, somewhere along the way my process fell off the rails.”
    • Don’t know the difference? Having a sharper mindset will help navigate the two.

Positive Mindset

The mindset ultimately determines the result, whether in practice or in a race. The swimmers who stay positive in practice are setting themselves up for success. Positive swimmers are ready for anything that is thrown at them, whether their goggles fall off during the start or they swim a personal best. A positive mindset is arguably one of the most important tools for a swimmer to develop. Training, talent, and genetics can only take a swimmer so far. “Talent can win you games, but character and attitude win championships.” Swimmers typically fall somewhere between the positive mindset and negative mindset. A mentally tough swimmer has a positive mindset and a mentally weak swimmer will have a negative mindset.

When a swimmer is positive throughout practices and meets, he/she has a huge advantage over those that aren’t.  Not to say that positive swimmers don’t have bad swims from time to time – they do. But you won’t see them throwing their cap and goggles and pouting in the corner. They talk it over with a coach, analyze aspects to improve, and move on. The response to those bad races or practices determines how fast a swimmer will bounce back. Positivity allows a swimmer

  • To learn
    • After a sub-par performance, take it as an opportunity to learn something
      • think of at least one way you know you can improve
      • train that aspect in practice
  • To boost confidence by feeling excited, happy, fulfilled, yet calm
    • helps you feel more in control
    • encourages your body to perform at its peak intensity while being relaxed and excited about the task at hand.

On the flip side, a negative mindset plagues nearly all swimmers from time to time. As noted above, everyone has a bad practice once in a while and similarly, no one can stay positive all the time. How the swimmer responds to those thoughts is what counts. A swimmer who is hit with negative thoughts before a race and allows them to take root and stay will under-perform. A negative mindset tells us that failure is unacceptable. Focusing energy on the task at hand becomes impossible and steals our joy in the sport. Mentally, a negative mindset creates helplessness, anxiety or fear, mental blocks, lack of focus and in some cases, injuries. Physically, a negative mindset will cause muscle tension, breathing difficulties, tires quickly because negativity saps energy and loss of coordination. Ultimately, a negative mindset tells a swimmer that, deep down, she/he isn’t confident in her/his ability to perform well and achieve competitive goals.

Negativity subconsciously turns a swimmer’s mind against his/her goals. Negative thoughts will come out victorious, if the swimmer lets them. It is okay to be disappointed in a race. it shows a swimmer cares. Develop a plan of attack and move forward!. Approach this as a challenge and enjoy the process. Additionally, focus on yourself and no one else!


Visualization and positive self-talk are powerful strategies. When a swimmer pictures himself/herself being successful the body responds to that. However, a swimmer must truly believe in himself/herself! If one believes that one is going to fail or not do as well as you are capable, one will – plain and simple. Many swimmers fixate on a desired result. He / She doesn’t give enough attention to the details in order to get prepared for a meet. This is done at practice. Too much thinking during a race can inhibit the ability to race. Swimmers need to do their thinking during practices and during visualization. Visualizing and practicing some very simple cues. These cues were simple, and that was exactly the point For example,

  • For the start and breakout: “Explode to the surface!”
  • For the first 25-50: “Easy speed!”
  • Build into and out of turns
  • For the 50-75: “Attack!”
  • The last 25: “Finish with everything you have!”

In a race you shouldn’t have to be thinking about technique—that was the point of those thousands and thousands of meters and yards in practice.

Swimming Fast Starts with Being Relaxed

If a swimmers gets lost in what the competition is doing, in the conditions of the meet, or on the high expectations, he/she will lose the relaxation needed to compete. Being ready to race means being relaxed (mentally, if not physically).

Think back to the last time you destroyed your best time. How would you describe the way you felt in the water? Relaxed? Like you almost could have gone faster? When you are relaxed, with slow and deep breaths, relaxed muscles, and a low heart rate you not only help ward off excess anxiety, you give your body a chance to perform in competition what you have been working on in practice. Learning to be in a state of relaxation before a race takes practice.

Be Adaptable

Doubt comes when a swimmer finds resistance to goals. It could be in the form of a lack of progress, injury, illness, or any other myriad of hurdles that will come along. When things don’t go the way one expects, adapt. Being adaptable is a hugely powerful trait that will help navigate through the minefield of setbacks that will inevitably happen.

Be Persistent

If a swimmer knows that a change is needed, don’t give up after a week. Keep working hard to change the thought pattern and train to not worry about what is outside of your control. Take a deep breath when if a feeling of negativity comes from anyone and anywhere. Because anxiety and stress can inhibit deep breathing, focusing on breathing from the abdominal area will open up the airways. Deep breathing will help the body relax, feel better and feel more in control. These changes will naturally increase the confidence and enable the best performance possible.

Night Before a Meet

  • Eat Right
    • Another thing a swimmer can control in the 24 hours before a race is a nutrition plan.
      • It's important not to eat anything different in the build-up to a race.
      • By sticking to a trusted and proven nutrition plan, a swimmer will remove any nagging doubts and allow a swimmer to concentrate on the race.
  • Prepare Meet Equipment
    • One of the main causes of unnecessary pre-race stress is being in a hurry the morning of a meet.
      • Many swimmers will like to pack their race-day swim bag the day before race day.
      • Another good technique is to have a pre-race checklist, to make sure nothing is forgotten