Almost any basic reading about any kind of sport will tell you the same, mental strength is the most important aspect to increase your performance. You are your first enemy and as soon as you find a way to understand how your mind works, sooner you will find a balance between your physical abilities and your unlimited mental strength.
These two non motorsports articles will show you how to develop your mind to be prepared to perform effectively. Running and swimming are though disciplines where a non optimal mental state could throw an entire work season out.
- Belief. While repeating to yourself, “I think I can! I think I can! I think I can!” will certainly help, it’s good to have a couple of other tricks in mind.
- Relax. Physically letting go of tension while running is one thing (breathe through your body, gently rub your thumbs against your index fingers, and drop your shoulders), but mentally letting go of stress and anxiety is another.
- Visualize. Research shows that by imagining yourself toughing it out through the hard parts of the race a hilly section, or the final miles you’ll be better able to overcome them.
- Positive. Looking for the positive side of things makes them more manageable.
- Goals. Set short terms goals, like to maintain pace or keep running to the top of the hill. Achieving those little goals can give you confidence and energy to get through to the next portion of the race.
- Success. Have a couple of goals in mind that allow for a little wiggle room for a bad day or an emergency. The first goal is your perfect day scenario, the second is something you would feel happy with even if it isn’t what you really want, and the last is what you can live with if everything goes south.
- Plan. Make a plan. Putting the plan into practice allows you to focus on one aspect of it at a time before moving on to the next portion so that you are not overwhelmed by trying to do the whole thing at once.
- Flexible. You may need to make adjustments throughout the race to accommodate those unpredictable circumstances. And maybe, halfway through the race you’ll realize you were much better prepared than you thought you were and you can adjust your plan to include an even faster finish time!
- Gamification. One of my favorite games is to “race” a runner ahead of me. They have no idea that they are playing, of course, but it helps me focus and to feel like I’m achieving something, even if it is something small. Another game might be to hold your pace to the end of whatever song you may be listening to, or to run this mile faster than the last.
- Others. Being so attuned to your own body and goal can be overwhelming, and if you find yourself too much in your head, psyching yourself out or unable to think of anything but how hard it is, look around. Pay attention to other runners.
- Present. In the middle of the race, it’s so easy to zone out or to mentally “run ahead,” calculating how many more miles or how much more time or how we might feel when we get to a certain point. This can, again, be overwhelming and discouraging. If you find yourself thinking of how much farther you have to go and doubtful that you’ll make it, stop thinking about the future and what it may bring. Instead, reign your mind back in and look around you.
Race Club complete article here.
- Visualize your races weeks and months ahead of time. Visualization is one way to swim a perfect race. But you need to see yourself swimming your race over and over again, attentive to all of the details. Our Race Club athletes would do 15 minutes of visualization three times each week before or after practice to prepare them for race day. It was time well spent. If you need help visualizing your races, try the Optimal Focus, available on our website. It is a great tool to create more vivid images of your races.
- Pick one thought for the race. Since your brain is capable of thinking of one thought at a time, then pick one thought for each race. It may be head position, recovery, underwater pull, kick…but whatever it is, make sure that is the one thought that helps you the most to improve your overall technique.
- Anchor yourself in order to get into the zone right before your race. While standing behind or on the block, design some move or saying that will anchor your mental status and let you know that you are ready to race. Professional athletes do this all the time, before shooting a free throw or making a pitch, for example. You should do the same move before each race. Whether it is swinging your arms behind your back, like Phelps, or shadow boxing like Gary Jr, create a move that helps put you in the ‘I am ready’ zone.
- Have no fear. Nervousness is good. Fear is bad. There is a difference. Fear is allowing someone or something in the race to intimidate you. If you trained properly and have visualized yourself succeeding enough, then you have no reason to fear anyone or anything. Be confident in yourself and own the day that you race.
- Smile. A happy swimmer will usually swim fast. I only offered two words of encouragement to my children on race day, “have fun’. When they did, they swam fast. Competition was meant to be challenging but still fun. Smile as you enter the pool for competition. Enjoy the moment and you will swim fast.