Sunday, May 22, 2011

He who chases two rabbits, does not catch either.

Since I started coaching, I have found that over thinking plagues a lot of youth athletes. I see it all time at swim meets. More times than not, its pressure that the athlete puts on themselves. "I want to make this cut," "What if I don't make it?" What will my friends think?" What will my coach say?" "What will mom and dad say?" "Why can't I perform as well as Timmy?" "I suck at sports" ”I don’t want to race against her, she’s so fast!” etc. These are often the things that are spiraling in our athletes head

Some times pressure is caused from over bearing coaches and/or parents. Most of these coaches and parents don’t mean to be over bearing, but simply wants their child to succeed and are not sure how to help. Some times it can be caused by a swimmer that was given two totally different race strategies, one by mom or dad, and the other by their coach, and now the athlete has no idea which one to follow and is stuck asking themselves “Do I do what coach says and disobey mom and dad, or vise verse?” Either way, all these scenarios cause the athlete to think too much about their race instead of focusing on the right things.

I want to start instilling the right focus into our athletes when they go into swim meets. I want them to have the best possible experience, which is to be successful and happy. Dr Alan Goldberg, a sport psychologist who works with elite athletes, say’s that “Practice is 95% physical, while meet performance is 95% mental.” You have to do the work at practice in order to train the body, but once you get to the meet, all that work can go down the tube with out the correct perspective and mental strategies in place.

As I mentioned above, over thinking is a huge performance hinderer. Often athletes think about the “UCs,” or uncontrollables. “UCs” can consist of a swimmer’s opponent, water temperature, or anything else that they can not directly control.

Another big topic on their mind can be their goals and swimming cuts. Goals are great to set and achieve. They are great motivators for practices and give you something to work for. However, at a meet, all they do is add pressure to the athletes. Earlier in my swimming career I had a goal of breaking the minute in my 100 free. It was my last shot of the season to break the minute. I had to drop 4 seconds. I was so nervous and it took everything in me just to calm myself, and even then I still had few butterflies in my stomach. I ended up dropping 3 seconds and going a 1:01, a good swim, but the point is that the only good all that nervous energy did was tense my muscles up. When we leave the goals at the practice pool and go to meets with the perspective of, “Let’s just see how fast I can go this time,” racing becomes a lot more enjoyable and can cause the seconds to fall off personal bests.

John Leonard is one of the founders of the American Swimming Coaches Association (ASCA). I had the privilege of hearing him speak at the Eastern States Coaches Conference in 2008. One of the most memorable lines he quoted was “He who chases two rabbits, does not catch either.” Meaning when giving athletes pre race advice or tips, you should only give them one thing to focus. Coach John would only give his athletes one thing to focus on during their race. “Johnny, just focus on getting your hips up after every stroke of your 100 fly.” “Just do this.”” Just do that.” When a coach or parents gives the child too many things to focus on during the race they tend to over think their race and end up adding time. I have always tried to give my swimmers just one rabbit to focus on, but have caught myself in the past of giving 2 or more things to focus on during their race.

So what should our swimmers be focusing on? When the mind thinks, it thinks in linear sentences and neural activity takes place in the front part of the brain. Dr. Goldberg states that athletes should not use their thinking part of their brains at all, but should use their hind part or the part that senses feeling during their races. Athletes should keep their focus between their lane lines and should be feeling out their strokes through out their race, one stroke at a time. “Does my stroke feel like it does in practice?” What they successfully grasp this perspective they are no longer thinking about what they should be doing. They know what they are doing, because they know how it feels from practice.

When athletes just focus on that one rabbit, keep their focus inside their lane lines during their race, and there is nothing left to think about, all pressure flies out the window. With out any pressure holding them back, athletes will begin to drop more time and begin to enjoy swimming even more. Swimming becomes a lot more enjoyable and a passion for the sport begins to develop or become stronger. They will gain a perspective that racing is FUN, and that’s the way it should be.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Florida to spectate the Disney Half and Full Marathon... Again.

Yesterday, my cousin and I drove down to Florida. We left at 4a. Way to early, we both barely got any sleep the night before and she almost past out an hour into our travels. I took over and after about 3 hours, I even began to doze. She napped and then took over where I began to nap. The great thing about leaving so early is that we get here early. We made the trip in about 12 hours. With a 30 min stop for lunch and about 3-4x10 min stops for gas and restroom stops. We arrived about 5p, checked into the Radison resort. The same resort I have been to every time for this event the last 4 years now.

We managed to run over the ESPN sport center here at Disney for packet pick up. The excitement was in the air. A nervous, excited, and anxious tension in the air that you can't really explain unless you were here or have been to a big race expo. We grabbed our goody bag which had three tee shirts in it. That's when it hit me, and hard. I'm signed up for this huge two day event, a Disney Half-Marathon that's tomorrow and Disney's Full marathon on Sunday, but I am not running... Practically every one else here picking up their stuff is running, but I have to sit on the sidelines again once again. It was quite depressing and all I really wanted to do was go back home. The feeling just sucked. I'm here for my cousin though, she's running her half marathon tomorrow. She's quite stubborn, which makes her very difficult to coach. I love her to death, but it's frustrating. The full is on Sunday. She is quite nervous about the whole thing. I tell her to just focus on tomorrow. We'll worry about the marathon when we get there. The weather this weekend here is predicted to be perfect running weather with a low in the mid-40's rising to upper 60's/lower 70's. I'm a bit envious...

Afterward, we still had time so we ran over to Downtown Disney. There were some really cool shops, including a new one where you can build your own remote control car. I wasn't so much into the RC cars as I was the real cars they had. There was a competition Corvette (drool...), a Corvette pace car, a beautiful Dodge Viper, and two black pick ups, a suped up Dodge Ram and Ford F-150. They were all gorgeous. I'll post pics later.

Today, we've practically done NOTHING! We woke up, she went out to starbucks and walgreens to run errands, while I went for a mile run to test my knee out. I haven't ran in over a month. It felt good, but my knee started feeling sore after a mile. So I stopped, iced up and did some mobility work. Later we ate lunch and relaxed some more. I did some tri coach work and she read and talked to her boy. Later dinner at Ihop where we played the IQ Test game, those games you typically see at Cracker Barrel with the golf pins, we both got down to two pins, niether could complete the game completely.

I love the weather here, but I'm already looking forward to getting back home. I have class starting on Monday, which I'll miss day one for the drive home. I want to get back to my coaching, both swim and tri. I have some potential clients that I am meeting with this weekend here in Florida and at home once I get back, so I am excited to get things going. Championship week is right around the corner for swimming too. I've got a big couple of months ahead of me and I'm ready to tackle it one day at a time.