What is it that makes you a nightmare to compete […]
At one time or another we have all been encouraged […]
When I ask this question to individual athletes and teams I frequently observe embarrassed laughter, and hands held halfway up indicating that, yes, indeed, it would be ok with me if my opponent would just kind of give me a break for once since this feels like a lot of pressure! As a former coach, I have certainly had this experience as well. Big meet, intense rivalry…It’s ok with me if these guys are missing one of their best swimmers since I really want us to “win.”
There is nothing quite like experiencing, or witnessing, moments of outstanding achievement, much like we are seeing this week at the high school and NCAA levels. This excitement and satisfaction is particularly meaningful, and more satisfying, when significant obstacles have been overcome on the journey. So, what accounts for these performance successes? According to Sport Psychologist Dan Gould, there are 7 qualities that define athletic success.
Ability to cope with adversity
Focus on the task
A sense of hope
Ok, so now we know what they are. That’s a start.
Can anyone expect more from an athlete than giving their best personal effort each and every day? Many teams and athletes believe that they are committed wholeheartedly, yet they continue to fall short of their goals. Why would this happen?
In achieving a peak performance all aspects of a swimmers preparation must come together at the same time, including a well-developed mind-set. For swimmers, this is especially important given the fact that the difference between happiness and disappointment is measured by less than one one-hundredth of a second.
Just as swimmers conduct a physical warm-up just prior to a practice or competition the best prepared swimmers have also developed a comprehensive psychological or mental warm up in order to put them in the best frame of mind for a great training opportunity or peak performance.
Everyone procrastinates to one degree or another: Why?
Lack of interest…rebellion…fear of being evaluated…uncertainty about the assignment…perfectionism…fear of unknown…not yet ready for the task…don’t know how to begin…false sense of security and optimism (I have plenty of time)…
Task feels too difficult, or we don’t know where or how to get started
Task feels time consuming and requires large blocks of time (You don’t have that)
Lack of perceived knowledge or skills
Fear of being evaluated by self or others
Most coaches will agree that the way to get the most out of a male swimmer differs from that of a female swimmer. While there are certainly exceptions to gender based motivation, there are cultural and biological differences in boys and girls that do impact the efficacy of strategic motivational interventions. Boys tend to place a higher value on winning, gain more self-confidence by outscoring their opponent, see competition and group play as more hierarchical, and therefore tend to become more sensitive to status.
Athletes at all levels experience the pressures of competition. Such pressures may come from parents, coaches, teammates or, most likely, from the athletes own expectations for their performance. While these pressures are quite common they are sure to limit an individual’s level of competitive intensity by taking the focus away from what they already do well, and putting it squarely on the outcome. Where do these self-imposed pressures come from, and what can athletes do to manage them?
It is fair to say that we live in a negativity culture.
Goal setting can either be a help or a hindrance, depending upon how we go about setting our intentions. An Outcome Goal makes a definitive statement about winning a race, or defeating an opponent. While these intentions can serve as great motivators in practice, they will serve as a detriment just prior to our competition. Why would I say this?
When we place the outcome of any experience in the hands of others judgment (which certainly hands them a great deal of power) or performance (we cannot control our opponent) we create anxiety and self-doubt.