May 5, 2021
Want to Swim at the Next Level? Stay Away From This Performance-Disrupting Mental Trap
by Dr. Alan Goldberg
If you really want to improve your chances of getting recruited
to swim at the next level, whether that be in college or at certain
camps or meets, then you must become aware of one of the biggest
performance-disrupting mental trap that plagues a lot of
Over the years, I tend to get the most panicked calls from high school juniors and their parents. There is always a familiar theme to their anxiety. The swimmer had brilliant freshman and sophomore years, dropping time and looking like they were well on the road to getting recruited to swim at the next level. Then, things suddenly shift in the wrong direction.
Often starting during the long-course season before junior year, their times plateau and they begin to struggle in their races. They become victims of overthinking before and during their races and, as a consequence, their stress level went through the roof whenever they compete. When this happens, their self confidence does a disappearing act and this further contributes to more disappointing swims. Poor swims, in turn, create even more urgency to go faster, which only lead to additional frustrating races.
So what was the problem here?
The common mental trap that these swimmers were regularly falling into is related to a lack of concentration both before and during their races. Instead of keeping their concentration in the NOW on what THEY were doing, one stroke at a time, they allow their focus to drift ahead to the FUTURE and their need to put up a fast time to meet a goal or impress a next-level coach. It's these two concentration mistakes (focusing too much on outcome and on what you think others, like college coaches or other competitors, are thinking about you) that can be MAIN causes of emerging swimmers struggling to perform.
Keep in mind that having a goal to want to swim at the next level and perhaps even get yourself a college scholarship is a fine goal to have! That kind of an outcome goal will motivate you to work even harder in practice, which is exactly what is necessary in order to successfully turn your dreams into a reality. However, you must remember that your goals are motivational tools for practice only! The sole purpose they serve is to get you to work hard today and right now in training, even if you don't feel like it! You never, ever want to take your goals with you into a meet, because when you do, you'll create too much stress and tension to stay loose and swim to your potential!
So if you really want to impress others (and even yourself) in your next swim, then you need to discipline yourself to do three key things:
1) Whenever you race, keep your focus of concentration on what YOU are doing and no one else.
2) Stay focused in the NOW on the FEEL of your race and away from the future and your thoughts about the outcome and implications of the swim.
3) Whenever you notice that your focus has drifted away from what you look like to the onlooking coaches, OR if you have jumped ahead to the future and the need to put up certain fast times, then you must quickly and gently return your focus to the proper place: Staying in the NOW and “staying in your own lane.”