Do you want to take your training and racing to the next level? Do you want to better handle stress so that you more consistently swim to your potential? Would you like to be able to develop the mind of a champion?

If you're serious about your sport and have some big dreams that you desperately want to turn into a reality, then the one thing you need to “grow” as an athlete is your awareness of what I call your “mental strategies.” Awareness is your key to change and the key to performance excellence! 

Let me explain:

Your “mental strategies” are nothing more than what goes on between your ears both before and during your training and racing. This involves your last-minute thoughts as well as where you put your focus of concentration. Your thoughts, or what's called your “self-talk,” and how you handle them can greatly affect your confidence and motivation levels, your ability to stay calm under pressure and how fast you swim. Additionally, where you put your focus of concentration will also dramatically determine how mentally tough you are and whether you're able to swim to your ability. 

For example, if both your thoughts and focus go to the wrong things, that is, worries about disappointing others, how big, strong and fast your competition is, the times you need and worries about not reaching them or how bad you think you feel in the water, then you will make yourself nervous, lose your confidence and swim well below your potential. However, if you're better able to control your self-talk and focus, and keep them on what you're doing in the water, on your race strategy and the feel of your movement, one stroke at a time, then the performance results you'll get will be so much more to your liking!

In order to learn to develop winning mental strategies, you must first become aware of those that you're currently using. Specifically you want to become aware of the mental differences between when you swim fast and when you struggle! 

For example, when you swim fast, whether that's in practice or at a meet, what do you tend to think about and focus on before your swims? Is your mind quiet? Are you totally caught up with executing your race plan? Are you focusing on the feel of your swim like staying long or how much water you're pulling? Take a moment right now to think back to some of your best performances and try to remember exactly where your thoughts and focus were for these, both before and during your swims. Jot down what you discovered about your mental strategies that go with fast swims.

Next, think of some of those really bad swims you've had in the past. Can you remember what you were thinking about both before and during those swims? Were you caught up worrying about other swimmers? Were you being negative and questioning your ability to swim well? Were you thinking about how bad you felt in warmup or your upset over a previous race? Were you evaluating yourself while you were swimming? Write those thoughts and focus down on that same sheet of paper and then compare them with what you came up with for your best swims. 

Understand that swimming fast and swimming slowly is not a random kind of thing. It is directly related to what mental strategies you are using. This little exercise will help you begin to develop that all important awareness of the mental differences between your best and worst swims. This awareness will then put you in a position to help you begin to recognize when you're starting to make mental mistakes. Without that awareness, you will be unable to correct these mistakes. However, with an awareness that you're starting to think about or focus on the wrong things, you'll at least be in a position to be able to correct those mistakes before they result in a poor swim.

Remember, awareness is the foundation of change and the key to developing mental toughness! Take some time when you train and after races to work on developing this all important awareness of your mental strategies. This will be your key to more consistently swimming faster when it counts the most!