Mental Toolbox
"Choose your Attitude"
Welcome to the Mental Toolbox!
Reversal of Fortune
In 1984, Pablo Morales was the world record holder in the 100-meter butterfly and a shoo-in for the gold at the Olympic Games in Los Angeles, but he was touched out by Germany’s Michael Gross. Two years later Morales was again the world record holder, and by 1988 he was the butterfly favorite going into the Olympic trials. He finished third, though, and didn’t make the Olympic team in either the 100 or 200 fly. Dejected, Morales quit swimming and started law school. In the summer of 1991, Morales’ mother died; three months later Morales returned to competitive swimming. Critics said that at 27 he was too old and too out of shape after three years off. Less than a year later, Morales won the gold medal in the 100-meter fly at the 1992 Olympic Games.

When Anita Nall was 15 years old, she broke the world record in the 200-meter breaststroke at the 1992 Olympic trials and won three medals at the Barcelona Olympics. She was number one in the world in the 200-meter breaststroke for three straight years until she mysteriously began to get sick in 1993. One sinus infection and low-grade fever followed another. No sooner was Nall off one antibiotic than she’d get sick again and have to go on another. She couldn’t train for longer than a week and a half without taking several days off. Doctors couldn’t find anything wrong. Some suggested chronic fatigue syndrome; others said it was psychosomatic. The persistent illness took a heavy toll on Nall. Exhausted and discouraged, she considered quitting.
   After failing to qualify for the 1996 Olympics, Nall took the next year and a half off. She slowly got better, and in the summer of 1998 she began to train again. She also found a doctor who diagnosed an allergic reaction to milk and milk protein. Since she’s been on a milk-free diet, Nall is the healthiest she’s been in years. She’s training for the 2000 Olympics.
  Kristine Quance’s bid to make the Olympic team in her best event—the 400 individual medley—was foiled twice. In 1992, she came down with mononucleosis one week before the Olympic trials. At the ’96 trials, she won the event but was disqualified on rarely called turn violation. Last year, however, Quance won a national championship eight months after giving birth to her first child.
   There are dozens of other examples of swimmers reaching their peak after hitting bottom. Jim Dreyer, an open-water swimmer, was stopped twice last summer by unsafe weather conditions in his quest for a record breaking, 51-mile swim across Lake Huron. On his second try, Dreyer was two-thirds of the way across when 12-foot waves forced him to stop. With money and good weather running out, he tried a third time and made it, setting a world record in the process. 

   Early in his career, Olympian Tripp Shwenk damaged his right arm so severely in a water skiing accident that doctors told him he’d never use it again. Not only did Schwenk return to swimming, he set an American record in the backstroke and made both the ’92 and’96 Olympic teams, medalling twice in Atlanta.
   Collegiate standout Martina Moracova was recently diagnosed with hypothyroidism, a condition that almost killed Olympic track star Gail Devers. Moracova was hospitalized for six weeks and had her thyroid removed last summer. Today she is well into her comeback bid for Olympic gold in Sydney.
   Backstroker Bobby Brewer missed qualifying for the 1994 World Championships by three-hundredths of a second. Days later, doctors discovered a bulging disc in his back and told Brewer to take three months off. Three months turned to nine months and emergency surgery. After surgery, Brewer was told he’d probably never swim again. Brewer spent the next three months in bed, dropped out of school, and battled depression. The he slowly worked his way back to qualify for the 1995 World University Games, where he won the 100-meter backstroke at the USA Swimming National Spring Championships and was ranked number two in the U.S and sixth in the world in that event.
  Collegiate swimmer Jarrod Marrs fought shoulder problems for four years. When rest, rehab, and cortisone shots didn’t work, he tried surgery. After surgery, he couldn’t dress himself and could only feed himself only by resting his head on the table. While his shoulders healed, Marrs kicked through each practice. In February 1996, after nine months of kicking and only one of swimming, Marrs qualified for the NCAA’s. At the championships, he finished in the top eight and made All-American. In 1997, Marrs qualified for the Pan Pacific Championships and finished third in the 100-meter breast. In his last two years of college, Marrs made the NCAA’s and All American in the 100- and 200-meter breaststroke. Last summer, Marrs won a silver in the 100-meter breast at the Pan American Games in Canada.
  Obviously, There is no such thing as a clear path to success. Elite swimmers struggle with the same setbacks as you do, and their strategies for dealing with them are ones you can use, too.
Craig Townsend’s Mind Training - Pain is Good
Reverse Psychology - Pain Is Good! Pain is often be more of a mental barrier than a physical one. Some time ago I wrote about how it’s possible (through the mind) to actually delay the feelings of pain at the end of a tough race or training set - or even make it disappear completely! This is possible because your mind has the capacity to release morphine into the bloodstream, a chemical which is one of the most powerful painkillers known on this planet, and a chemical which is used daily in hospitals for accident victims. There will, however, be many swimmers out there who still experience pain at the end of races, and so this tip is designed for you, to help you overcome pain by using a new mental attitude. To perform at your best, it’s essential to ’make a friend’ out of the pain. You see, the more you hate the pain, the more painful it will become, and the more it will slow you down! So here are a few different approaches you can try, just experiment with them and see which ones work best for you, because no two swimmers are the same. If pain ’hits’ you at the end of a race, one approach is to think to yourself "this is going to make me swim even faster, because the sooner I finish the race, the sooner I’ll be over the pain". In this way, you are actually using the pain as motivation to swim faster, by turning it into an advantage instead of a major liability - and this works much better than ’hating’ the pain. Another approach (which has had some great results) is to see the pain as a ’process’ instead of a ’place’ - this means that instead of thinking that you are IN pain, think to yourself that you are MOVING THROUGH the pain. Move through the pain, instead of being in it - this makes a big difference mentally! Sometimes your mind may even ’switch the pain off’ altogether, if it’s convinced that you have completely moved through it (it does this by releasing morphine into the system). This means that it’s actually possible to move ’through and BEYOND’ the pain, which is much better than being IN it! Another comforting thought some swimmers use is to remember that all your race competitors are going through the pain as well - but you know that you will handle it better! Going through pain in one thing, but no-one wants to go through it alone! So remember that every other swimmer is probably experiencing it, and it will just be a matter of who handles it best (and makes sure it’s you). Last of all, pain is an emotional thing. Don’t let it take you over emotionally - because once it does, it’s got you. Remind yourself that it will only be a temporary feeling, not permanent, and that it can only dominate you if you allow it to. Don’t allow it. Stay strong mentally, and you can dominate the pain, instead of the other way around.

The Mind controls the body, and the mind is unlimited. The best of success, Craig Townsend  
Craig Townsend’s Mind Training - Five Minutes
The most vital time for a competitive swimmer is in the five minutes before each race.

This is the time that makes or breaks a swimmer – often from this time they will end up on the block either mentally prepared or beaten before they start.

During this time the mind becomes ‘programmed’ for a particular result, from being bombarded by a host of positive or negative thoughts – and these determine the quality of the swim to come.

These thoughts can come in several different forms – some will be mental images (pictures) which float through the mind, physical feelings, and also a constant stream of inner dialogue (words) which are voicing how you feel about the race to come.

It is crucial during this period that the mind is firmly directed to think positively about the approaching race. The conscious mind will always try to challenge the swimmer before a race, it will throw doubts, fears, worries and anxieties at them to test their mettle, but it’s their response to these thoughts which decides just how well they’ll go in that particular race.

Each time these negative thoughts must be completely erased or ‘squashed’, and replaced with something more positive. This is vital. Doubts, if not erased immediately, gather ‘fuel’ and become stronger and more intimidating, and they do not direct the body towards strong performances.

Even worse, the mind knows exactly what thoughts to use to scare a swimmer before a race begins - they could be worries about their own ability, or intimidation and fear of other swimmers. This can make them very difficult to overcome if the swimmer is not careful.

The first step to overcoming negative thoughts is to notice them. Then you must erase them. Finally, you replace them. Notice them, erase them, and replace them.

For instance, just before a race you might catch yourself thinking "I’m not good enough to win this race", as you are noticing the other swimmers in the marshalling area. As soon as you recognize that this is a negative thought, it must be erased mentally, the way you would delete something off your computer screen.

This can be done effectively by inwardly saying to yourself ‘cancel that’ immediately after every single negative thought. This will eventually become an automatic ‘trigger’ for the mind to demolish that negative thought entirely.

Next, follow this by mentally repeating a positive thought to yourself, something that makes you feel good just by thinking it - eg. "I’m getting better all the time".

Try this every time you feel challenged by doubt or fear, and eventually most of these thoughts will evaporate and disappear. Remember, it’s not just your thoughts that are important, but your reaction to them that counts. Once you’ve mastered your mind, you’ll have mastered your body.

The Mind controls the body, and the mind is unlimited.

The best of success, Craig Townsend

The specific expectations of each team member should be clear.  A few of the simple but critical factors that will lead to fast swimming and team unity are listed here.
1.      Push off strongly using proper streamlining off every start and turn.
2.      Know your times in practice.
3.      Execute two-hand touches where applicable.
4.      Swim strongly to the end of pool.
5.      Count your Stroke Cycles.
6.      Take responsibility for your actions and accomplishments of team goals.
7.      Care for, support and appreciate fellow teammates and the coach.
8.      Decide to make it work.
9.      Commit to being a better person.
10.    Support team philosophies.
11.    Be positive -  between sets.  Work is a critical factor for success.
12.    Encourage teammates with positive feedback at the end of sets.

a.        Relax one minute and establish the environment.
b.       Perform a flawless fifty on your PACE or in a GOAL TIME.
(1)    Sit with back to pace clock or second hand.
(2)    Start all swimmers with a BEEP on “0”
(3)    Visualize fifty and look at clock upon touch to see the time.
PURPOSE: Reinforces goal time in mind and exact, positive skills needed for achievement.

“A Definition of Success” -        Anonymous
To laugh often and love much;
To win the respect of intelligent persons and the affection of children;
To earn the approval of honest critics and endure the betrayal of a false friend;
To appreciate beauty;
To find the best in others;
To give of one’s self without the slightest thought of return
To have accomplished a task, whether by a healthy child, a rescued soul, a garden patch or a redeemed social condition;
 To have played and laughed with enthusiasm and sung with exultation;

 To know that even one life has breathed easier because you have lived

 This to have succeeded.

Preparation, Focus, and Attention to Detail
This speaks volumes about preparation, focus, attention to detail. We all can learn a ton by internalizing this one:
"For us, it was definitely quality. A simple scenario: we race over two kilometers and take about 220 to 240 strokes per race. Our aim in training was to work on various aspects of our preparation so that on race day, our boat would go half an inch faster per stroke that every stroke of our opposition. We knew that we weren’t the biggest or strongest guys in the competition, so we had to look at other ways of generating boat speed; this in a sport that is built on strength and endurance. So our focus was on our quality and efficiency of movement, particularly in our technique. If you look at the margin we won by in Atlanta, it equated to roughly two-thirds of a second per stroke quicker than the second boat"

Nick Green rower, one of the famous Australian "Oarsome Foursome"™, who won the Gold Medal in Atlanta


Has it ever seemed that the harder you try, the further away from your goal you become?   This is often experienced by swimmers whose desire to achieve a major goal becomes so all-consuming that they have trouble thinking about anything else.  This often creates the situation where (much to their frustration) the goal appears to be moving further away from them instead of getting closer.
This brings us to the subject of trying too hard in races, instead of just focusing on the race itself. I am not talking about going into races without trying, quite the opposite - we can get more from our mind and body if we just allow ourselves to do what it is we’ve been trained for, instead of over-trying. It is important to have an intention or goal when you race, such as achieving a certain time, but these thoughts must only occur before (and never during) the race.

Often when we obsess or focus too much on what we want, it actually drives our goal further away from us. The key is to relax, allow your body to do what it has been trained to do, and trust that this will be enough to succeed.  

This also applies to a swimmer who may be being overly pressured by an outside influence, (such as a coach or parent) about achieving a particular time or goal.   This creates extra tension in the mind and body of the swimmer, making the goal far more difficult to achieve.   The key is to make the goal enjoyable so that the swimmer desires to achieve it without feeling too much pressure about time deadlines.

Susie O’Neill’s coach Scott Volkers said this week that her attempt to break Mary T Meagher’s 200m butterfly record would be fought as much in the mind as in the pool.

After twice coming close in the Pan Pacs in Sydney last August, Volkers said her best chance of breaking the record lies in keeping her mind off breaking the record, and not getting involved in the public and media hype about it.

He went on to say "if she thinks about the world record while she races, she won’t break it. It’s as simple as that. She needs to think about it while she trains but she can’t afford to think of anything when she races except for racing. She has to be relaxed and rhythmical and attack the races" he said.

Volkers helped O’Neill overcome the media hype of possibly becoming most successful athlete in Commonwealth Games history in Kuala Lumpur by teaching her a simple visualisation technique - telling her to swim as if her lane was draped with black curtains along both sides of her lane. This allowed her to swim as if no-one was watching, and allowed her to swim her own race, not worrying about the other lanes.

This is a fabulous method to use when the ’spotlight’ is on you and you are feeling the pressure of being the favourite. As mentioned in a previous tip, most swimmers are either ’underdogs’ or ’frontrunners’, meaning they prefer to either go out hard and lead the race all the way (a frontrunner), or otherwise come from behind to win (an underdog).  

For those who have trouble being frontrunners, this technique could work very well, as it reduces some of the pressure associated with being in front. Try this whenever you are feeling the pressure of being in the spotlight - if it works for Susie O’Neill, it’s definitely worth a try!
The Mind controls the body, and the mind is unlimited.

Setting Goals     

  • "Goals are dreams with a time limit," 
  • Setting goals gives you a "road map" to future success in swimming or any other ambition. If you want to go to New York City , you could just drive east. But doesn’t it make more sense to look at a map and devise a plan? A lot more people succeed with planning and hard work than by accident.
  • Goals should be far-reaching and challenging. We were put on this Earth to make something of ourselves! How great can you be? Setting easy goals and having them come easily is just not living life to the fullest!  
  • "Possibility" (what might or could be true) is just a little further reach than "reality" (what is or will be). Your goals should reach into that realm of possibility.
  • There is no real failure in trying, in dedicating yourself to being your best. If you don’t make your distant goal, aren’t you still a better person for setting those goals and working for them?

Using Positive self-talk 

  • Visualizing your goals; "Seeing (and Saying) is Believing"
  • Write your goals down, and put them where you will constantly see them. Find a place in your room, or in your notebook, or on a piece of your equipment. The more often you see it, the more it will be part of you and your consciousness. BE CREATIVE!
  • Try a "stair step" diagram, with your ultimate goal at the top of the stairs in the upper right hand corner of the page. Draw a number of broad steps down from the top to the lower left; the number of steps should correspond to the number of years or seasons to your ultimate goal. Then start to fill in the intermediate goals you’ll need to accomplish to reach the top. Write down daily goals beneath the steps. These are the supporting attitudes and skills you know you will need for success. You can use this method for other goals as well!
  • Keep a journal to help you track your progress. Find your strengths and weaknesses. Give yourself a pat on the back when you deserve it. Most of all, know where you are at all times on your journey. Know your times!
  • Use post-its or index cards to remind you of your daily goals. Spend some time each evening thinking and writing what you want to accomplish the next day. Carry it with you the next day until you achieve it. Consider doing the same for your meet goals.
  • Talk about your goals with your coach, your family, your teammates and friends. It’s great to have support and help along the way, to have other people believing in you, too. This can also get you through the hard times, and keep you focused.