Developing Mental Fitness & Toughness
By: Debra Resnick, Psy.D.
Learning to develop mental fitness and “toughness” will serve you well, not only in the pool, but also in life! Many of the mental strength skills that you need to reach your swimming goals will also contribute to a sense of empowerment and ability to cope in your relationships, family, school and work as well as boosting your self-esteem. Let’s
examine two important elements of mental training: Goal Setting and Motivation and
Coping with Setbacks and Pain.
I Goal Setting and Motivation
Asking yourself some questions about why you swim can help you set realistic goals.
Identifying why you swim can help your goal setting. Goals can be “external” or objective and also “internal” or subjective. Whatever it is be sure to set realistic goals. Here are three questions to help guide you in your goal-setting for swimming:
1. Identify up to 3 swimming skills you can already perform without any help.
2. Identify up to 3 swimming skills you can perform with some help.
3. Identify up to 3 swimming skills you cannot yet perform but would like to learn.
The first is your “independent” level. The second is your “assistance” level and the third
is your “frustration” level. Ideally, to maximize training and motivation, you want to be
incorporating all three levels. Your swim instructor or coach can help you translate these into more personalized goals.
To enhance motivation it is important to use some of the following techniques, which
will depend on your age and what you find works best for you over time. Some of these
strategies include the following:
1. Recite or write coping affirmations—they can be “positive” but it is more important that they are encouraging.
2. Develop awareness & accountability. Remember that your mind and your body are connected & this is supported by much research. The choices you make affect your thoughts, feelings, and ultimately translate into your swimming behavior.Developing awareness is the first step to change.
3. Join a team or group. Being a part of something “larger than yourself” can be a great motivator .This may be met by participating in an organization such as Swim Strong Foundation, your school team, or an adult master’s class.
II Coping with setbacks and pain
If you have been swimming for awhile, or even if you are just starting out, learning to
cope with setbacks, frustration and pain that eventually will come your way.
Here are some strategies that can help:
1. Accept that setbacks, frustration and pain are “part of the deal” Practice trying to “accept” rather than “fight” against these feelings or situations. Research on mindfulness meditation has been able to demonstrate that this approach is helpful.
2. Practice encouraging mantras. Mantras can be auditory—ways to encourage yourself mentioned above. Mantras can be visual. Mantras can be funny. Pick any Matras as long as it is not distracting.
3. Anticipate and rehearse problems you could experience. This is especially helpfulif you are competitive. Control what you can. Develop a “non-judgmental” attitude to setbacks. Re-frame failure as an opportunity to learn rather than beating yourself up.
4. Praise yourself for at least one accomplishment, no matter how small!
Goal-setting, motivation, coping with setbacks and frustration are extremely valuable
components of swimming and in life. This article reviews just a few ways you can practice these skills and learn to enhance and bring out the mental toughness that lies
Debra Resnick, Psy.D. is a Clinical Psychologist in private practice in Ft. Washington,
PA. She is interested in sports psychology and is a supporter of Swim Strong Foundation.