Are You Swimming Stressful?
Many things can cause athletes to feel sports related anxiety.
Athlete anxiety- particularly pre-race anxiety, is usually attributed to fear of failure, also known as atychiphobia, which, in its most extreme cases, leaves athletes so afraid of failure they withdraw from competing at all.
Personally, I’ve had several really promising athletes suffer from fear of failure, which has led me over the years to spend lots of time researching ways to help the kids I coach cope with such feelings of nervousness and stress.
What have I learned? The cause of such phobia aren't cut and dry- nor are the solutions. Communication is important. Talk to your swimmers. Reasons for their fear might seem inconsequential but remember the reasons they give might only be superficial, while the real causes are more likely complex and deeply personal. Remember most fears may not seem logical, but they are to the person they affect. And it should be noted that such anxiety does not just affect athletes in the pool, but in every aspect of their life. While swimmers are diligent about training their bodies to compete, mental health is often neglected.
One tool I have found to be hugely helpful in fighting off -fear of failure- is mindful meditation.
What is Mindful Meditation
Mindful meditation is the practice of actually being present in the moment, which in turn trains us to become more mindful throughout the day, particularly during difficult situations.
How Does It Help Swimmers?
During practice mindfulness can be used to help swimmers stay focused and in the flow, which increases body awareness. During competition it has been shown useful in lowering heart rate, decreasing stress, while increasing relaxation... thus optimizing performance. Because it helps induce the relaxation response, lowering heart rate, relaxing muscles, and counteracting the harmful effects of stress on the body, it is proving to be a great recovery tool.
How beneficial is using meditation as a training tool? USA Swimming has partnered with mindful meditation app Headspace to provide training and resources to our top swimming athletes.
Meditation Versus Visualization
While meditation is an exercise in restfulness, used to help the body heal from stress, visualization- inherently more active- is a method of using the mind to influence your body. Meditation allows the mind to concentrate while the body relaxes. Both visualization and meditation allow the mind to influence the body and are excellent ways to incorporate mindfulness into your dryland workouts.
Meditation- How to get started
Set a timer. You are just beginning so start small- 5 to 10 minutes.
Find a comfortable place to sit.
Feel your breath and follow the sensation as it goes in and out.
It is inevitable that your mind will wander. Once you notice that you’ve wandered, simply return your attention back to your breathing.
When the timer goes off and you are ready, gently lift your gaze. Open your eyes and take a moment to take in your environment. Notice how your body feels. Notice your thoughts and emotions.
That’s it! It is that simple & also that difficult.
Visualization- How to get started
Grab a pillow, yoga mat, or a towel and find someplace quiet to lay down.
Close your eyes and breathe in deeply.
As you breathe, imagine yourself preparing for your next meet.
Then visualize your event.
Visualize your start, your swim & finishing strong.
Focus on the details.
Open your eyes.
Take a couple deep breaths and sit up.