How often have you caught yourself wondering what separates the top athletes in the pool from the mere mortals? Sure, genetics have a part to play, as does the environment and support system they are surrounded with. But very frequently it’s as a result of a blinding and burning internal fortitude.
In other words– mental toughness.
It is one of the most often cited factors behind athletic success, with 83% of a group of intercollegiate coaches ranking mental toughness as the critical aspect to determining success in sport.
Does that sound like something you might be interested in?
Here is a 7-question checklist that you can use for you or your athletes to keep them focused on being mentally tough on a daily basis (you can also download the list as a pretty little PDF further down):
Did I manage my own swimming and not worry about what others are doing?
Swimming being a competitive endeavor and all, it is a bit natural to get caught up in what your fellow swimmers are doing. That being said, problems develop when we place too much attention on the efforts of others, or allow someone else’s swimming dictate how we are going to swim that day.
I will never forget the deflating feeling of my coach telling us all about how a 15 year old named Ian Thorpe was crushing world records across the globe. To hear about someone so young going so fast was the opposite of motivating. It only served to highlight where I was in comparison. It took me about half of warm-up to stop feeling sorry for myself and to remember that I couldn’t control what someone quite literally across the world was doing.
Did I smartly bounce back from any setbacks?
You and I both know that sadly not every workout will go down as the best one ever. You’ll have a bunch of good ones, a few great ones, and a few stinkers.
For those moments that you don’t exactly light up the pool, where your workout appeared otherwise wasted, did you struggle through regardless? And more importantly, did you emerge from it smarter and better informed for the future?
For example, if you can draw any reasonable conclusions for why the practice was not good? And no, “Because I didn’t feel like it” isn’t a suitable enough reason, or at least not good enough to insure that it won’t happen again down the road.
Did I stay focused on the stuff that matters?
Life has a way of distracting us. Things will always come up that we cannot possibly foresee to shatter our attention. And then there are the things that we do to take our own eyes off the ball. Getting caught up in the melodrama of friends. Spending time and energy on distractions and unforeseen circumstances. Or simply wandering off mentally while working out.
Mentally tough swimmers (and people in general) don’t allow the distractions to get in the way of the task at hand.
Did I work my butt off?
Mentally tough swimmers don’t look for excuses to not work hard. They feel the soreness, sense the fatigue, acknowledge all of the excuses—and then proceed to work their butts off anyway. Even if the results weren’t perfect, did I give a killer effort at practice?
Did I display heaps of perseverance?
Mentally tough swimmers don’t give up. They simply don’t. They continue pushing and prodding past what others think possible, which only serves to reinforce the notion that they are indeed imbedded with this characteristic. (So that is good news—the more you display it, the more you will believe that you are actually mentally tough, and thereby be more inclined to use it. Nice little self-feeding loop there!)
In what you were asked to do today did you find yourself calling it quits prematurely? Did you pull back early, even though you could have gone further? Possibly one of the most rewarding aspects of being mentally tough is continuing on long after the swimmers in your lane have quit or dropped out.
Am I trusting the process?
Even though the ultimate goal is still a ways off, remember to have faith in your abilities, your training, and the plan set forth with your coach. You understand that while not every step will go perfectly, that your trust in the overall direction you are headed in is still correct.
And perhaps most importantly…
What do I have to be grateful for today?
Sure, this might not seem like it fits in this little checklist, but a little bit of gratitude can go a long way. Especially on those days when it feels like we need to summon every last ounce of willpower and motivation in order to get ourselves psyched up to hammer down on a workout.
Click here to download this little list as a printable PDF that you can use as a daily reminder to swim mentally tough. Woop woop!
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