Mental Toughness Toolbox: Responding to Problems
By Alan Goldberg//competitivedge.com
There are a lot of things that can happen to you as a swimmer, both in practice and at meets that can potentially knock you off balance emotionally, undermine your self-confidence and sabotage your race performance:
- You can have a teammate who picks on you or who constantly beats you and then rubs it in your face.
- You can have a bad day or two where you're unable to make the intervals at practice and can't seem to get yourself to go fast.
- You can develop a nagging injury that limits your training and sets you back in relation to the competition.
- You can come down with a sickness that keeps you out of the pool for 3 months.
- You can get DQ'ed or lose an important race that you were supposed to win.
- You can fail to qualify for that really important meet while most of your friends are already going.
- Your goggles can leak during your best event and leave you nearly blind.
- Your coach can get angry with you. The list goes on and on.
Did you know that how you approach these kinds of “problems” both in and out of the pool can determine the level of success that you ultimately achieve?
Let me illustrate:
Bob Bowman, Michael Phelps's coach, wanted to teach his then-young swimmer that a lot of upsetting things can happen to you over the course of your career, and during a meet or race that can send your confidence and performance spiraling downward.
How you handle these mishaps, either before or during your event can make or break your race performance. So Bowman would sometimes purposely step on Michael's goggles without him knowing about it before a race to insure that they would leak, and Phelps had to figure out how to maintain his composure under pressure when these things suddenly happened.
As a result, Michael got really good at effectively handling these unforeseen, oftentimes upsetting events. His approach was that you can look at these unexpected upsets as a “disaster,” and an excuse to get emotional and not do well, or you can look at them as a “challenge,” and figure out ways of rising above them so that they actually make you a stronger, mentally tougher swimmer. And that's exactly what Phelps got incredibly good at! He would practice racing with his goggles leaking and figured out different strategies of coping with this so that if it ever happened in a big race, he would know exactly how to handle it.
It's common knowledge what happened to Phelps in 2008, during his 200 fly at the Beijing Olympics: Michael was going for his record-setting eight gold medals when his goggles started leaking shortly after the start. By the final 50, Michael literally couldn't see anything! Phelps responded by staying calm and doing what he had repeatedly practiced. He simply counted his strokes on the way to winning yet another gold medal!
This key ingredient in a champion's headset that you can learn to develop is very basic:
The problem is NEVER the problem.
The problem is ALWAYS how you REACT to the problem.
There are so many potentially upsetting things that happen to you in practice or before and during a meet that you have absolutely no direct control over. When you focus on these “uncontrollables,” you'll get nervous, lose your confidence and under- perform! However, with practice, you can train yourself to control your reactions to these problems so that, like Phelps, you begin to view them as a performance-enhancing challenge, instead of as a disaster.
So the next time something unexpected and seemingly “bad” happens to you and you start to get emotional, you want to ask yourself, “How can I use this situation to get myself stronger and mentally tougher as a swimmer?” You want to get curious in this way whenever upsetting things happen to you, and then practice working on effectively managing them. This attitude is a key component in the headset of a true champion!
As a sports psychology consultant, Dr. Alan Goldberg works with swimmers at every level. A presenter at the Olympic Training Center, swim coaches clinics and clubs around the country, Dr. G specializes in helping swimmers struggling with performance problems, get unstuck and swim fast when it counts the most. He works over Skype, providing one-on-one consultation with swimmers and other athletes around the world. Dr. G has written over 35 mental toughness training programs and books. In addition, he is a regular contributor to Splash Magazine.
For more FREE mental toughness tips and swim articles, go to Dr. Goldberg's website, www.competitivedge.com and click on “choose your sport” and then “swimming.” You can also visit him on Facebook, follow him on Twitter and sign up for his free, monthly mental toughness newsletter.
Want to get a head start on your mental toughness training? Dr. Goldberg's BRAND NEW 7 CD Swim Program with track-by-track Training Guide now available! All products in his store at a 10% discount for USASwimming.org. readers. Coupon Code at check-out: USASwimming. FREE SHIPPING NOW AVAILABLE.
Questions? I hope you'll feel free to contact Dr. Goldberg at Goldberg@competitivedge.com or call directly (413) 549-1085.