Mental toughness is arguably one of the most important parts of enhancing athletic performance- whether you believe that swimming is 50% mental and 50% physical, 90% mental and 10% physical or 60% mental and 40%physical. The bottom line is that we can all agree that mental toughness plays a role in athletic performance and without it your competition is going to thank you for not giving 100%. There are a lot of different takes on mental toughness strategies out there. The mental toughness strategies that I am going to tell you about are the ones that been tested in competition and that have worked for me in my swimming preparation. Before I get into what I want to talk about I would like to touch on mental imagery. I have tried this many times and my experience it is not very effective in helping you to have a great performance every time. When I used it I either felt so nervous before my race that I ended up messing up or I felt so relaxed before my race that I did not swim fast enough. The strategies that I have listed below have been proven to work and I am sure they will work for you also. Let’s get into it.
Before a big competition the excitement level is high. Coaches have high expectations. You are basically a ball of nerves filled with anticipation for your race to finally come up so you can swim. Everyone has advice on how you should swim your race as if they are going to swim it themselves. It is definitely a crazy and exciting time.This is prime time for your mind to run wild with though of winning or losing and how each outcome may impact your future. It is easy to think that if you swim hard enough, think lots of positive thought, and stop feeling nervous you will do well. But is that necessary true? A lot of athletes get caught up with what is popular and they tend to forget or ignore what works. In the case of mental toughness while preparing for competition- being mindful is what works.
Value driven behavior
I want to win a title at the NCAA, I want to make it to the Olympics, I want to…. etc. All those things are value driven behavior. Value driven behavior leads to mental toughness.
If you take nothing else away from this blog, take acceptance. Acceptance is a precursor to enhanced performance. Acceptance and willingness are significantly related to the achievement of personal goals and values. On the opposite side, avoidance is connected to short-term control, reduction, or elimination of personal discomfort. This is the process of thinking “I want to excel and I am anxious, angry and sad” vs “I want to excel but I am angry, anxious and sad.” It’s not about being positive and in a good mood all the time. It’s about simply noticing the emotions and coexisting with those emotions while accomplishing your goals. In essence this leads to developing incredible poise. Poise is the ability to function as required and desired while experiencing whatever thoughts or emotions are triggered by any given situation. Much of this information was taken from the book “The Psychology of enhancing human performance.” It is an excellent read. I have not doubt that any athlete (and many non-athletes) would benefit from this book. Please leave your comments below and don’t forget to subscribe for more information on enhancing athletic performance!
To dispel some common beliefs, mindfulness is not a form of relaxation or positive thinking (although it sometimes promotes sense of calm.) Mindfulness is not a trance-like state nor does it promote a blank mind. The goal of mindfulness is to pay attention to one’s thoughts as objects of attention. The goal is to become aware of experiences moment by moment. In short, mindfulness emphasizes the relationship we have with our thoughts. This shouldn’t be confused with changing the actual content of our thoughts. The concept of having a thought and buying into that thought are two different things. Thoughts should be seen as a marching band and you are the spectator. The band passes by… It is entertaining but you do not get involved in the actual marching. You can have the thought but not buy into the thought. The focus is on what you are doing and want to achieve.
To understand value driven behavior first lets define mental toughness. In the book “The psychology of enhancing human performance” mental toughness is defined as “the ability to act in a purposeful manner, systematically and consistently, in the pursuit of the values that underlie performance activities.” Think of a situation where you got upset at your coach. What did you do? Did you decided to leave because you couldn’t train anymore or stay and finish practice? Leaving indicates emotionally driven behavior. Work can not happen while in the presence of overwhelming emotion. Staying indicate value driven behavior- where work and emotion can coexist. It is not possible to eliminate all emotion. Instead, accepting the presence of emotions as part of being human and staying focused on your goals. This is what value driven behavior is all about. Value driven choices are the essence of mental toughness that all elite athletes want so badly. Keep in mind, the journey is the value and the destination is the goal. This takes constant work.