By guest writer Julia Wilkinson-Minks (2008 & 2012 Canadian Olympian)
In light of Ryan Lochte’s tremendous triple at World Championships, Swimming World has been delving deeper into what it really takes to pull off such a feat. Although not all swimmers will face three swims back-to-back during finals at World Championships, most will have to step up multiple times at varying levels of competition. Yesterday, we explored the physical preparation necessary long before the swimmer even arrives at the meet; today’s focus is the psychological practice necessary to be successful.
Surviving and Thriving in Multi-Finals Gauntlets: Part One
Swimmers and coaches alike widely accept the fact that it takes hard work in the pool to swim fast. Early morning, long practices, and plenty of back-and-forth staring at that black line: that is what it takes to shave off time, right? Maybe when you are young. But eventually, as a swimmer plateaus and finds joy in taking off mere hundredths of a second, it becomes obvious that we need to do more if we want to see improvement. So we run laps, we lift weights, and we throw medicine balls. But sometimes, swimmers forget to spend time strengthening their psyche along with their body.
Swimming multiple events in a single finals session is a daunting task, and a swimmer will likely be more successful if they know in advance that this battle is looming at their next meet. Before arriving at World Championships, Ryan Lochte knew that, based on the events he was swimming, he was likely facing some serious overlap. A major part of his success was knowing beforehand what he was up against, and not being blindsided moments before he dove in for warm-up.
Swimmers need to be well informed of the events they are swimming heading into the meet, and spend time practicing positive self-talk, telling themselves how they will accomplish the task, and not dwelling on how the task will beat them down. Although back-to-back events may give a swimmer anxiety attacks when they first learn about it, knowing earlier rather than later will give the swimmer time to tell themselves that they will be successful.
And, if they aren’t able to get to that positive frame of mind? Well, maybe the event choices need to be reconsidered. After all, anyone who has ever watched a sports movie knows the cliche of “if you believe it, you can achieve it.” Well, maybe that isn’t exactly true, but what is true is that if you don’t believe in something, you most certainly will not achieve it.
Swimming a lot of events at a young age is a necessity if a swimmer is to be successful at this when they are older. A key element to building an athlete’s confidence is success itself. Ryan Lochte has always been a multi-trick pony, swimming all sorts of different events at everything from U.S. Grand Prix events to the Mel Zajac Invitational in Vancouver, including ones that fell back-to-back giving him little warm-down in between. When an athlete has already gone through a tough event schedule at a lower level meet, and succeeded at it, they will be more confident to attempt the same docket at their taper meet.
Swimmers need to actively work on their mental preparation heading into any swim meet, especially one where they are swimming a tough line-up. That being said, if the coach can provide opportunities to succeed in a similar albeit less competitive situation, athletes will have experience to draw upon. Memories can be the most powerful form of confidence for a swimmer.
Tomorrow, we will move beyond early preparation and look at what a swimmer needs to do at the meet in order to be successful under a heavy race load.
Julia Wilkinson-Minks is a two-time Olympian for Canada and was a finalist in the 200-meter IM at the 2008 Beijing Games. In 2010, she became Texas A&M’s first ever NCAA champion in swimming when she won the 100-yard freestyle. She graduated from Texas A&M with a degree in Speech Communication. Julia retired from competitive swimming following the London Olympic Games and now lives in Texas with her husband Shane.
Follow her on twitter @juliah2o