3 Reasons Why Your Mental Game is Important

Jun 20, 2015; Santa Clara, CA, USA; Michael Phelps prepares for the finals of the Men's 200M Butterfly in evening session of Day 3 at the George F. Haines International Swim Center in Santa Clara, Calif. Mandatory Credit: Bob Stanton-USA TODAY Sports
Photo Courtesy: Robert Stanton/USA Today Sports Images

By Courtney Bartholomew, Swimming World College Intern

During a recent recovery practice, I was social kicking with one of my training partners, Albert Subirats. First, it is important to know that I love recovery days. To me, there is nothing more rewarding after a hard week of practicing to finally get a practice where there is no heart rate, pace, or racing involved. Second, social kick is a gift from the gods. Put your fins on, grab your kick board, and find a friend or two to chat with!

While I was enjoying the social kick with Subirats, the conversation we had during the kick was something that intrigued me and forced me to think. After talking about puppies (I love dogs!), food, and what he was going to do after retirement, we started talking about our upcoming dual meet with Notre Dame the following day. I mentioned that we had lifted really hard that day and I was worried that my legs would be sore during the 200 backstroke the following day. Subirats stopped me right there and said “Swimming is 90 percent mental and 10 percent physical.” I gave Subirats a blank stare before asking his reasoning behind the comment.

While I do not completely agree with his statement that that swimming is 90 percent mental, I do agree with three reasons he mentioned as to why the mental game was more important than the physical:

1. Your Mind will Give Up Before Your Body

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Photo Courtesy: Kelsey Reott/ Westminster College

As swimmers, we can swim back and forth in a pool for hours. On top of that, we don’t just paddle around, but the sets are difficult and at times push us to the edge of our physical capacity. However, swimmers don’t need to only be physically tough, but also mentally tough to complete long, grueling practices that sap our energy.

The human body is built to withstand whatever is thrown at it. For example, the Navy SEALs complete a week during training in which they “sleep only about four total hours but runs more than 200 miles and does physical training for more than 20 hours per day.” Not only does this grueling week challenge the body, but it also pushes the mind to the limit. It is the mind that gives up due to lack of sleep and intense training, not the body.

As Subirats mentioned, “the mind will give up before the body.” As long as the mind does not give up during a race, the body will withstand the pain and finish it.

2. A Positive Attitude Goes a Long Way

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Photo Courtesy: Kara Sekenski

I know I am not alone when I say that I sometimes go into a practice with a negative attitude. “Do I really want to jump in a cold pool right now?” Is this practice really going to make a difference in my training?” “This race is going to go so badly, I can already tell!”

What I have come to find is that going into a practice or a meet with a negative attitude only makes my swimming worse. I let those negative thoughts affect how I warm-up and how I approach sets or races.

Not only will a positive attitude affect the way in which you approach going into a practice or a race, but it will also help inspire you to achieve your goals and give you the strength to not give up if you endure obstacles. Instead of thinking about how hard the practice was you did the Monday before a meet weekend, think about how that practice was good preparation for those races and how the outcome come be a reflection of that preparation. Not only will your positive mindset affect the way you swim, but it can also affect your environment and the people around you!

In thinking of the positives, you can trick your mind into feeling more prepared and ready to compete at a more optimal level.

3. Mental Preparation is Just as Important as Physical

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Photo Courtesy: Annie Grevers

Think about how many hours that you have put into the sport of swimming just in the last week. All of the laps, the lifting, the eating properly, and getting enough sleep. Now think about how many hours you have put into mentally preparing for swimming. It’s probably a lot more than you realize. That’s because all of those laps, all of the weights, each meal, and each good night’s worth of sleep contributes to the mental game. Just as a positive attitude is essential to affecting swimming, mental preparation for all of these activities is also a major key to unlocking success.

Walking into the pool each day for a practice or during warm-up on meet day all is part of the process to being mentally prepared when the time is right. Racing during the season is difficult because of the intense training the body is going through. However, each time you walk into a practice or a meet feeling mentally prepared during the season, is one stepping stone closer to being mentally prepared for a taper meet.

Next time you walk onto a pool deck, be mentally prepared to tackle your race or your practice. The more often your practice mental strength, the more likely it is to come into play when it’s the most important: during taper.

11 comments

    • May Hossam

      I’m sure that you loved the first part of this article so much, however, I believe that your body can do what your mind can’t even imagine, so stay positive and clean up your mind from negative thoughts??

  1. Kati Dawson

    Erin, read this one. ❤

  2. Michael Bryja

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