Imagine working all year on one project....Hmmm I take that back. Imagine working most of your life and basically all of your adult life up to this point on one project. Every year is a new task, a new challenge, a new goal. Your competitors vary over the years but the goal remains the same...to be the best you can be (and no, I'm not talking about being in the Army). This job requires you to put your body and mind through extreme challenges daily. You often get scrutinized and second guessed which challenges your mental willpower. Sometimes there are periods when you think you cannot continue and almost think of stopping because the task seems so daunting and your performances have been so poor. Here's the real doozy...you have only one shot to realize the dream...to win that race...to go a best time...one shot to make the pitch...a matter of seconds to whoo the big-shot who is going to potentially buy your product. BOOM. Now it's over. In the blink of an eye you either made your year of work a success or a failure. I understand this may sound a bit harsh and/or over the top...but trust me when I say this is the mentality of many elite athletes. If you wonder how and why they get to the top, the answer for many is that they are literally this hard on themselves in their task for achieving perfection and/or their goal. Now do you get a sense of why this is such an intense lifestyle/period of the year?
Realize that each athlete is different. Each will handle pressure, excitement, nerves, happiness, dissappointment etc. in different ways. In addition, they will have different mental approaches to their big meets in order to put them in the right frame of mind to help them achieve their goals.
So what can you do? For those of you who haven't been around swimming or athletics at a very elite level it is important to know what you can/should expect from the athletes in terms of communication, moods, patience etc...Expect nothing. Not that you will get zero communication from them nor that they will be in a in a certain frame of mind or impatient, but it is always better to expect nothing in these situations and let their actions dictate the situation. A very well known sports psychologist named Jim who has worked extensively with the USA Swimming National Team puts it very simply. I've heard him say many times that at big competitions athletes will close themselves off from anything or anyone they think could potentially bring any kind of negativity into their life. Remember, there is only one chance at this. This is it. Don't take it personally if an athlete doesn't want you around or is unable to communicate with you during or around the meet. For me personally it is like this...My gas tank is only so big. I have only so much I can give and at the meet there is no reserve for anyone else except my family, coaches, and me.
Here are some things not to do or say. (these are all things people have asked or told me over the years haha). Are you nervous? Are you ready? Are you going to make the team? Did you hear so and so is planning on going _____ fast? I had a dream last night that you were going to die in a plane crash soon. What is your strategy for the race? You look overweight. Your start looks terrible. Only one more week until the big meet.
Try to keep it light. Don't bring up the competition unless they bring it up. Ask what you can do to help them. I always think the Golden Rule is wrong...It shouldn't be "Treat others how you would want to be treated." Everyone is different. It should be, "Treat others how THEY want to be treated."