As the Championship season approaches and with everyone looking forward to being at their competitive best, there are two fundamental questions you may want to consider in preparation.

  1. Do I love intense competition?
  2. Do I want my opponents to be at their best or would I prefer they are just a bit off of their game? (hint: your answer to this question also answers the first one!)

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.” What’s really going on here? What motivates this mindset? As we ask this question we can also be curious about the make-up of those few swimmers who truly thrive when the competition is at its most intense. In other words, What are courageous high performers doing and thinking that enables them to want, even need, their opponents to be all in, to match their intensity, and be able to respond in a way that communicates; “bring me everything you’ve got and let’s go race because I am really looking forward to this challenge!”

To successfully address the first question (‘what’s going on here’) we muster the courage to look honestly and directly into those thoughts and feelings that seem to be holding us back. What are our worries (looking bad, disappointing others, imagined misalignment between effort and results) and insecurities (people won’t see me the same way/I’ll be worth less if I get beat)? After all, they are just thoughts, and feelings. Nothing more than that. What are we afraid of, anyway? Where do we find the courage to look directly at these two imposters and be curious as to how they found their way into our thought train in the first place?

Strategy 1: Step Back

Simply step back from your worries and insecurities and, without judgment, be curious about their origins. Mindfulness practitioners would tell us that we are not our thoughts, that any thought is simply the result of our perceived circumstance, our culture, personality, social interactions, etc…By stepping back, we change our relationship to the thought and begin to see it as meaningless (it only seems true when we endlessly follow it).

Strategy 2: Examine Your Fears Directly.

Try facing your worries and insecurities. Look at them directly. Are they real or is your mind playing tricks? Is it really true that others would be disappointed or that your friends (true friends) would think less of you? Probably not. You are you. You’re already amazing and wonderful. No thought can take that away unless you allow it to fool you. So, just like we might do with a bad dream or a bully, we courageously face it down and become curious about its presentation to us, and ask (without judgment), what am I afraid of, really? How did my fear, or my ego, take over here? Nothing more is required.


Strategy 3: Transform Your Approach

As discussed above, we can also examine what it is about true high performance athletes that enables them to want, even need, the biggest challenge they can find. How did they get there? How do they make challenges fun? How can we?

First, you may want to consider looking at current or former high performance athletes that come to mind. Study them, listen to them, and learn vicariously through them. What is their approach and thought process? How do they transcend ego and embrace challenge instead? For extra-credit, try “Acting As If” you are channeling their energy, or already possess this skillset.

Second, re-frame your own thoughts and intentions about the race/meet. Transform your approach from a deficit perspective (I have to win/look good/what if I disappoint?) to a strengths-based one (I am going to make myself as tough to race as possible…I am your worst freaking nightmare!) that dares your opponent to match you in every way. What would it look and feel like if you approached your championship competition in this way?

The answers (thoughts, images, intentions, attitude) will put you in position to fully embrace the challenges in front of you and to commit with the fullness of your being. The best part is you already have these answers inside of you. In fact, you may already be imagining your solutions right now. So, what are your insights and/or intuitive reflections? What one action could you take right now to bring this about?

Good luck. Please let me know how it goes!


Dr. Peter Thompson was an elite level swimming coach for over 30 years. He currently maintains a private High Performance and Personal Development practice in Rochester, NY, and consults with high school and collegiate athletic departments. “Dr. Pete” is available for one on one, small group, and team speaking engagements via phone, skype, or at 95 Allens Creek Rd., Suite 324, Rochester, NY.;