Responding To What Happens To You

Julian Morales

Responding To What Happens To You


I am currently taking an EMT class a few times per week and we have been learning tons about the major incidents we could be exposed to. We have learned about everything from how to properly help someone having a nosebleed, to how to evaluate on the spot if someone has a pelvic fracture and how to stabilize that pelvis to limit internal bleeding. One of the most beneficial lectures we have had thus far has actually nothing to do with trauma, but about attitude. Our instructor on this night said, “We cannot control what kinds of incidents we respond to, but something we have complete control over are two things: How we treat someone and what attitude we choose to show up with.” This struck a chord with me on a coaching level because I often see athletes focus so much on what we cannot control, rather than the simple things in front of us that we can control.


We then learned a fascinating story about how the US government ended up choosing their pilots for the Apollo missions. Not only were they choosing the cream of the crop pilots from the Air Force, but they were going after the people that kept a level head and regulated their emotions in extremely stressful situations. They trained this skill to its apex with these Pilots. On a daily basis, these astronauts were exposed to a certain type of stress  Over a course of time, they were exposed to everything they could potentially be exposed to in space. 


The astronauts got so good at regulating their emotions and their stress, that there was a short report about a pilot/astronaut named John Glenn and how efficient he was in stressful situations. From take off to landing, including orbiting the earth for more than a day, his heart rate never got above 100 beats for minutes. Meanwhile, my heart rate tends to spike every time I think anyone is even the least bit upset with me (It’s really funny, and I'm actively working on trying to tell myself everyone is not always mad at me for something I may or may not have done). 


Unfortunately, sometimes the way we respond to something makes things worse. I had an athlete one season who was the master of self-sabotage. Any time they were the least bit nervous, the remarks would start:

“Well, that person is way faster so I have no chance.”

“I’m going to try to not add time.”

“Yeah I'm not feeling well, so we’ll see how this goes.”

“I suck at breaststroke so I'm not sure how this IM is going to go.”


The presentation about the Apollo missions and the pilots ended with a quote from Epictetus that read: “Who then is invincible? The one who cannot be upset by anything outside their reasoned choice.”


In relation to swimming, I believe there are two major takeaways from my experience in this lecture.


  1. Control what you can control: We oftentimes focus way too much on things outside of the realm of our control, especially in situations of more stress like championship meets. We cannot control how well the person next to us is doing, or if someone raises their voice at us at school; we have no control over what happens to us. What we can control is how we respond to the world around us. Walking into practice or on deck to a meet with positive body language and a great attitude is something that no one but you can control and it requires zero talent.

  2. Prepare for potential stress: John Glenn and the rest of the Apollo pilots were able to handle stress because they constantly practiced responding to stress. If you are 125 yards into a 200 yard butterfly, and that is the most amount of pain you have ever been in, you did not prepare correctly. We work so hard and prepare not to avoid feeling the hurt of a race, but to be able to stay on course when we get uncomfortable (getting comfortable with being uncomfortable). You as an athlete should make note of how badly it hurts at the end of a race and make sure you feel that way in practice every day to ensure you are getting better at managing how you react to the stress of fast swimming.