When most think of mental toughness, their minds automatically go to sports. Mental toughness is vital for success in any sport…especially swimming.
According to Mental Toughness, Inc., mental toughness is defined as, “the ability to resist, manage and overcome doubts, worries, concerns and circumstances that prevent you from succeeding.”
When I think of mental toughness, I think of my swimming career pre-college.
You would think the first thing that came to my mind was the successes—the fun practices, the moments I finally got that time I had been pursuing for what seemed like ages, the high school records that bear my name or the medals hanging on my wall.
Surprisingly, those memories—while they may be my favorite swimming memories— weren’t the first ones to pop into my head.
Instead, I thought about what happened before the successes, the trials I faced before I won that medal or broke that high school record.
The dreaded slumps, the mental weakness and the days I really didn’t want to get out of bed for practice.
We all have those don’t we?
There are some of you that may be in the place I was for 75% of my high school swimming career. You’re not alone! We’ve all been through this at one point or another. It’s normal and, fun fact, you don’t have to stay there!
There is ALWAYS light at the end of the tunnel. Seriously… I’m speaking from experience here.
So, let’s dive in. (Pun definitely intended).
Mental toughness is something that all athletes struggle with, but it is something that is more readily addressed in the swimming realm.
Alan Goldberg, a leading sport psychologist addresses this specifically when he says, “In practice, swimming is 95% physical and 5% mental. In competition, swimming is 5% physical and 95% mental.”
If you can’t put aside your insecurities and doubts and worries in a race, your performance is guaranteed to suffer.
Mental toughness doesn’t come overnight, it requires training yourself in practice to silence negative self-talk and be positive.
What you say to yourself matters. It does!
When you begin to entertain negative thoughts such as, “This is too hard” or “I don’t want to do this” or “I’m not fast enough…” you are sentencing yourself to a less than best performance.
When negative thoughts enter your brain, your muscles react to that thought, whether you realize it or not. This leads to swimmers standing on the blocks with tight muscles and a sluggish reaction time.
Kirk Mango, a hall of fame gymnast, emphasizes this. “Attitude and belief about what one can accomplish are essential to any possibility of achieving anything,” he says.
If you don’t believe you can do it, you won’t. It’s as simple as that.
So, maybe you have been stuck in a vicious cycle of negative self-talk. Does it really make that big of a deal?
Yes, it does. Let me give you a personal example. When I was a senior in high school, there was a high school record I had been pursuing ever since I was a freshman. Time after time I fell short.
There was a pattern. I would get ready for my race, think about the time I needed to get and then I would beat myself down by not believing in myself.
It was when I learned how to re-frame those negative thoughts into positive ones that I finally achieved my goal. All it took was for me to believe in myself.
Developing your mental toughness is vital for your success as a swimmer. Here are a few steps that will help you start believing in yourself, and, in turn, help you achieve your goals.
- Practice Positivity in Practice. What you do in practice you’ll do in the meet. Guaranteed.
- Re-Frame Negative Thoughts into Positive Ones. Instead of thinking, “This set is so hard, I can’t do it,” tell yourself, “This is a challenge that will help me prepare for my more difficult races.” It can be hard at first, but re-frame that negative thought as soon as it gets into your head.
- Take a Deep Breath. When you are being bombarded with insecurities, it can be easy to become overwhelmed. Take a deep breath and remind yourself that you are ready for this.
- Write Down Your Goals. Don’t just write them down, however. Next to each goal, write an encouraging note to yourself, reminding yourself you are capable.
- Surround Yourself With Positive People. There is nothing that will drag you down faster than a negative person. Who you hang out with is who you will be like!
- Come Up With a Mantra. This mantra can be an encouraging phrase or Bible verse that you say to yourself in practice or in a meet that helps you remain positive.
- Smile! Smiling has been proven to release negative energy from your body. SMILE.
- BELIEVE IN YOURSELF. A lot easier said than done, right? Maybe, but the more you practice believing in yourself, the more you will.
This is how you accomplish your goals.