Having the Right Intentions as an Athlete | Case Study with Coach Rebecca

Today’s Topic: Having the Right Intentions as an Athlete

About Me

Hi everyone.  Welcome to Q&A with Coach Rebecca.  I’m Rebecca Smith, founder and director of Complete Performance Coaching.  I am here to do a little talk today for swimmers.  Every week I come on and answer questions and give my stories and examples so that you, whether you are a coach, an athlete, or a sport parent, can help your athlete increase their enjoyment and their performance.

If you’re looking for help in the mental training arena, we are a whole team of awesome sports psychology experts.  We specialize in individual sports such as gymnastics, figure skating, and swimming, as well as team sports like lacrosse, football, soccer, baseball.

If you are between the ages of 8 to 18 and you’re interested in improving your performance, then you can check us out at completeperformancecoaching.com.  If you’re more of a do-it-yourselfer, we have an entire online mental toughness training center at performhappy.com.  Check out either of those options to maximize performance and enjoyment.

Case Study

Today I’m going to give you guys a little case study.  I did a one-on-one session with a swimmer not too long ago. It was a really nice tuneup for this guy I’d been working with over the past handful of years, actually.  He came back and told me he had a big meet coming up and he really wanted to fine-tune his mental skills.  I figured since there is actually a lot of big swim meets going on this weekend in this time of year, I’d give you a case study and crash course in that last little tuneup before a meet.

Now, I don’t mean that you come to me saying, “I’m competing tomorrow and I’m a nervous wreck.  I have no confidence.  Can you fix me?”  (I do get those phone calls.)  This is for those of you who have already been doing this work, have been following the podcast, watching the videos, and hopefully joining us in the Perform Happy community.  I’m going to give you that last little thing that will ratchet you up to the next level as a swimmer, or as an athlete in general.

The 14 Types of Swimmers

I also have a freebie that you can download this week, which is for swimmers specifically, but if you’re not a swimmer you can still check it out.  It’s called The 14 Types of Swimmers.  This is basically a whole report on 14 different types of athletes, and it says what they need from their support squad, so that’s parents and coaches, and then a mental toughness tip for each.  If you’re on the newer end of the mental training spectrum, this might be a good place to start.  Decide – who am I in this document? Which of the 14 do I fall into?  What do I really need to be focusing on in my training?

On to the case study.  I highly value my client’s confidentiality, so I’m going to change some details.  I’m not going to use his name.  I’ll give you somewhat of a case study so that you can understand where he’s at and what my recommendations were.  Hopefully, those of you who are competing soon, or at any point, can benefit from this.

I Need a Tuneup

So this swimmer reached out to me and told me he needed a tune-up.  The first thing that I did was talk to him about how he was feeling about the pressure.  Now, over time, he has had different distractions. One of them has been people, which is probably the most common distraction that I see among swimmers.  They get distracted by who’s in the lane next to them, who’s watching, what college recruiters are there, what their coach is thinking, but mostly, it’s those people in the other lanes right next to them that can either make or break a swim.  My job is to help people, regardless of who’s next to them, get their best performance going.

Now, you don’t want to be the kind of person who can only do well if the person next to you is slightly slower than you or slightly faster than you because you can’t guarantee that.  That’s an environment where maybe you really do thrive when you’re just behind somebody, or they’re just behind you, or you’re neck in neck, or maybe that freaks you out and it makes you go out too fast.  Then you burn out and you run out of gas.

There are so many different scenarios, but my job is to help you swim your best race whether it’s just you in a lane by yourself, or if you have your biggest enemy, or your best friend, or people who are faster, or slower, or no matter whoever ends up in those lanes, you can swim fast.

What is Your Intention?

I checked in with him about that.  What was his intention for this meet?  Of course, everybody starts to think, “Well, my intention is this time to this 100th of a second, this cut, I want to make junior nationals. I always get subjective and objective.”  The times don’t lie.  The clock doesn’t lie.  The clock doesn’t change.  If you’re a gymnast, your 9.5 might be one thing to one judge and something else to another.

In swimming, a two flat is a two flat.  That’s it.  Your time is your time.  Of course, you go in thinking, “I want this time, I want this cut, I want to go to this place.  I want to qualify for this meet.”  It’s very outcome focused.  I don’t know if there’s anything that stresses people out more than that.

Focusing on Other People

So I check in and I ask, “What’s your intention?”  He tells me, “Well, yeah.  Of course, I know all my times, but my intention is to go out and show people that I’m fast.”  We checked in about that.  “Okay, is that about you deserving it because you worked hard and you want to swim fast?  Or, is that you want to prove to people that you’re fast?  Because that’s different.”

“If you’re focusing on other people and what they are thinking about you, what they expect of you, or what they want you to do or don’t want you to do, then it takes you out of the ability to be present in your swim and do your best.”  We checked in about that.

What to Focus On

Now, for you guys who are getting ready to go swim or compete, what’s your intention?  Is it all about outcomes?  Are you trying to prove something?  Are you worried about disappointing people?  Any of those things can take you out of the moment.  I’ll talk about what we want to be focused on in just a moment.

We talked about that.  He weighed it.  He’s got his team on top of mental training, which is awesome. They do a lot of work with goals, setting the outcome goals, and they also set the progress goals along the way of how they’re going to train and then the performance goals of how they’re going to perform.   go through all of these in various courses in the Perform Happy community.

He knows how to set goals.  He knows how to focus on times, but then, how to let them go at the right time.  It’s just getting it from getting psyched out by the competition to getting brought up by it.  The next thing I did was talk about some of the past successes he’d had in the recent past.

When was the Last Time you Nailed It?

For those of you who are getting ready to compete, think back to the last time when you nailed it. You got your personal best.  You beat that person next to you.  Think back to the last time when you were so good.  Hopefully, you have one of those.  Even if it’s just a moment in time.  It doesn’t have to be the whole race or the whole meet.

He said, “Oh, yeah.  This last meet, it was awesome.”  We went through what was it that made it awesome.  What was his mindset?  He said, “Well, there were people all around.  I was really hyped up and was super confident in my training.”  This is another thing that he could apply this to, because the first thing he did when we got on our session was he tell me, “I’m confident.  I want this.  I’m going to get it.  I put in the work.  I’m ready.”

The Right Mindset

I told him I believed him and that was a really great place to start.  So, he felt that way at his previous meet.  He knew that he had put in the training, and then he allowed himself to just trust it and go, “I did it.  I’ve done everything I can.  There is nothing left on the table.”

Again, this time he was like, “Yeah, I got extra private lessons.  I’ve been training my mind, been training my body, doing everything I possibly can, so I can fully trust that I when I leave those blocks I have everything I need to do what I would like to do.”  There doesn’t have to be any self-doubt, and there wasn’t.  That was his mindset.

Also, he realized that the competition made him go faster.  He was already primed to go fast, because he was in really good shape, mentally and physically.  Then, he was seated with a couple of guys who were right there with him, who pushed him.  The difference was, and I said, “Could you have gotten that cut in a pool by yourself?”  He said, “You know, I could’ve come close, but what happened was those two guys, they pushed me because there were moments where I was like, ‘Do not break stroke no matter what.  I have them.  I’m ahead.’  I went out fast, but it wasn’t too fast.  I have what it takes.”

You can Handle It

He caught himself in that race going, “Did I go out too fast?  Can I take these guys?”  He was so quick to go, “I did it.  I did exactly what I planned to do, and I can handle it, and I will hold it together no matter what.”  He was so motivated because he had these two guys just behind him that he was like, “Go.” For him, the competition was like a turbo boost.

Now, for a lot of people who I talk to, the competition doesn’t have that same effect.  It actually has kind of an opposite effect because they’re so in everybody else’s lane, they’re looking at everybody, worrying, “Where are they?” that they actually make a stupid mistake and botch a turn, or get their stroke count off, or take an extra breath, or do something that they wouldn’t have done in practice because they’re so focused on other people.

The Olympics

My favorite example of this was in the most recent Olympics.  Chad le Clos and Michael Phelps were both swimming butterfly.  There’s this picture of Chad le Clos, mid-stroke, looking over at Michael Phelps, and then Michael Phelps wins by two-tenths or whatever, not by much, and le Clos had beat him previously.

Then, there’s this whole thing about how le Clos was shadowboxing in front of Michael Phelps during the prep time beforehand.  So, Michael Phelps has his goggles on.  He’s got his eyes closed.  He has his sweatshirt pulled around his face. He’s completely doing his own thing, and le Clos is like, “I want to psyche out Michael Phelps.  Am I beating him?” He is so wrapped up in this guy that it caused him to actually physically change his stroke when he turned his head to look over at his rival.  Then, he doesn’t get the cut, and he doesn’t get the gold in this condition.

You Have What it Takes

That’s what we don’t want.  What we do want is for you to be able to go, “I’m ready.  I have what it takes. This guy next to me   I’d like to know peripherally that they’re there so that I remember, ‘Oh my gosh.  My legs are on fire, but do not stop kicking.'” That was, for this swimmer in particular, something that worked really well.  We realized, okay, yes, even though he would swim fast by himself in that lane, those people next to him, he gets in the blocks and says, “Thank you, and thank you. Thank you for being here everybody.  You are the boost I need to get myself up to that next level.  You are the driving factor that will push me over the edge into a personal best.”

He saw that and said, “Yeah.  Okay.  Competition is good.  Competition works for me.”  That’s the key.  That’s why I have this list of 14 different types of swimmers because that’s not the motivator for everybody.  Some people need to be so focused in on themselves that it’s as if nobody even exists.  They need to be definitely aware but still focused in.

Some people need to be repeating a mantra to themselves while they’re swimming.  They need to be completely calm, peaceful, at ease, and just executing one stroke at a time.  Everybody needs something different.  That’s why I say look back at your recent peak performances and go, “What was I doing?  What was my mindset?  What works for me, and what can I improve?”

Focus on Performing

Then, there’s focus.  Ideally, you want the focus is going to be on just performing.  If you’re newer to mental training, you are more distractible, or you’re more stressed, you’ll want to have a strategy in place that you can actually pre-visualize.  You visualize not only your physical performance but your mental performance as well.

Anything you’re saying to yourself or focusing on, you’re doing it in your mind with a stopwatch running. That’s the key.  Now, you want your visualization for swimming to be real time.  You will leave the blocks. You will do your laps.  When you finish, you hit the wall, and you check your time, and it’s the time that you were wanting or even faster, but it needs to be really close to real time.  You need to be able to feel it, smell it, taste the chlorine in your mouth, feel the burn in your legs and your arms, see it from inside your own eyes.

Having the Right Intentions as an AthleteRacing Strategies

That’s another thing that this particular swimmer had a lot of experience doing.  We’d work on that “in the past” where we’d actually write out his whole race strategies and then he would record it.  He’d do an audio recording that was the race pace. If the turn was right on the right split, the turn was right on the right split.  Then, he finished and it was the right time.

Write Out Your Own Strategies

Here is a challenge for you.  Write out your strategy exactly how you’d go into it, exactly what you’d focus on, exactly what you’re really intent on doing as far as your strategy and your technique.  Record it.  Record your own voice at the right pace, and then listen to it. You can listen to it on the plane on the way to the big meet.  You can listen to it on the car on the way to practice.  Then, also, just do it without the recording.  Close your eyes, see it happening and remember your mental strategy.

This is basically like studying for a test.  You cram, you think about it.  You think about it so much.  You think about your technique and you think about your stroke.  When you get the meet, you climb in the blocks and you power your brain down because it’s already in there.

The training is in your muscles.  The training is in your mind, and you just dive in.  Those best performances are when you just dive in and it all comes together.  You’re not thinking, necessarily, and you’re not focusing on anything other than just the swim. Just be so present that you can make little adjustments based on who’s next to you or who’s not.  That’s my little crash course in fine-tuning – you want to figure out what your intention is.

Train Like No Tomorrow

Now, if you’re intention is just about times, or winning, or cuts, the time to use that is in practice. You train your butt off thinking about the time, thinking about the cut.  If you need motivation, think about that time.  What is the next meet you want to qualify for?  Think about the outcomes that you want, and that will push you to that.  It’s the end of practice and you feel tired.  You want to get that time so you keep going.

Then, you get to the meet and your intention is maybe just to go out and have a good time.  That’s probably the best intention you can set.  So, you go out and have a good time.  For this guy, it’s going out and win and just not lose, but win.  That was his.  That’s what got him going, was, “I want to not only go and swim fast, I want people to see how stinking fast I am because I trained so hard,” and that excited him, okay?

Have the Right Intention

That’s your intention, using the right intention for practice and for meets.  Then, focusing on the right stuff.  If focusing on your competition helps you, great.  For the most part, it’s going to come down to technique, mechanics, being present, and going back to the peak performances to make sure that you know what your idea mindset is.

You can download that free report at completeperformancecoaching.com/14.  That will give you the 14 different types of swimmers and what each of them needs to train mentally and what their support squad can do to help them.  If anybody’s interested in more mental training, you can go to performhappy.com or completeperformancecoaching.com and check out all the options you have.  I will see you again next week.  Thanks for joining me.

Is your gymnast struggling with mental blocks or fear?  Check out my FREE resource for parents.