Psyched Out by Psych Sheets

via USA Swimming website

Mike's Mailbag


Hey Mike!

What a lovely column you write each week! Thank you! I am swimmer who struggles mentally with psych sheets. It probably helps to know who else is swimming the meet and heat sheets are even more important to swim in the correct lane but looking at them gives me butterflies in my stomach. I start to doubt myself and my training and feel all weak inside. Do you have any suggestions on how to face the psych sheet? Or should it be faced at all?

A psyched-out psych sheet watcher 


Oh man. This is such a good question. Thank you for asking. 

Psych sheets always psyched me out. Because the entire purpose of a psych sheet is about ranking: Where do you rank? Do you rank at the bottom? Do you rank at the top? It’s inevitable to scan a psych sheet and then project this as a “future result.” For instance, if you’re ranked 1st, your perception is, “Okay, I’m ranked 1st, I better not lose.”

Psych sheets create these expectations in our heads, and it’s unfair. It’s unfair because these races haven’t happened yet. We haven’t yet even dove in, let alone warmed up, and already, some higher power psych sheet is determining predictions. 

You always hear from very successful coaches in other sports, “We don’t pay attention to rankings.” This happens all the time in college football. From the entire year leading up to the opening game, you’ll hear about what team is ranked first. What team is predicted to win the national championship. Mostly, these are media companies hoping to whip up various fan bases to get excited about the upcoming season, as well as the first few games. We all know what happens next: Most the time, the team “predicted” to win the championship rarely does.

Another example is March Madness: Unless you’re Kentucky (Michael Phelps), nearly anyone can win any game. The teams who do win don’t really care about their “ranking” or “predicted result.” These are not the teams who look at the odds and say, “Well, crap, looks like we’re going to lose.” The teams who upset favorites are those same teams who have coaches who say, “We don’t pay attention to the rankings.”

In swimming, psych sheets provide a time that a swimmer has already swum. This can really freak people out. You scan a sheet and you see, “Oh man, so-and-so went 1:38 in his 200 freestyle, and I’m at a 1:45, so there’s no way I can beat him.” Because swimmers have, in most cases, already achieved these times before, this can play mind games. You imagine these swimmers going these times – after all, if they did that time once, they can do it again, right?

To answer your question, “Should psych sheets be faced at all?” I once knew swimmers who never looked at the psych sheet. This was also something I couldn’t understand, though I was envious about it. As swimmers, we want to know where we are seeded, who we are competing against, and prepare for everything. I think that question is up to each swimmer: What kind of swimmer are you? Do you like to prepare yourself for your competition? I once knew a swimmer who would literally scope out his competitors in warm-ups. He would watch them. Watch them warm-up. Then he would imagine beating them. He would watch their technique and analyze how they sprinted. Then he would use whatever perceived weakness he could take away from that monitoring, and use it against them. 

But whenever I looked at a psych sheet, it had multiple effects: Sometimes I’d get really excited. Other times I’d get really scared. 

I can’t tell you whether or not to look at a psych sheet before a race. It’s really based on your personality, and how you like to approach races. But I will tell you this:

If and when you do look at the psych sheet, always tell yourself, “The race hasn’t happened yet. The race hasn’t happened yet. The race hasn’t happened yet…” 

If you’re seeded first, just remember: The race hasn’t happened yet. If you’re seeded last, just remember: The race hasn’t happened yet. 

Don’t let psych sheets psych you out. They are merely informational tools that tell swimmers how many people are swimming, and where they are seeded. But just like March Madness, anything can change. A lower seed can knock off a number one seed. A Cinderella team could rise to the top of NCAA basketball. 

Just remember the only rankings that matter come after the competition, not before. 

I hope this helps.

Sponsors (Partners)