Sunday, June 28, 2009

Summer Nationals: A look inside an athlete's head

Let's dip into the mind of an elite athlete who is about to compete at their biggest meet of the year or perhaps their life. What is this like mentally? What are they thinking? Are they stressed, nervous, excited, happy, unenthused (they better not be), etc. What's should you act or carry yourself in order to best support this athlete in their quest for success? I will focus this mostly on swimming but this generally applies to all elite and professional athletes across the board.

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 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 have only one shot to realize the win that go a best 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."


J said...

Its like the home stretch on your a baseball game... your running the bases trying to make it home! Best of luck reaching your goals, and thanks for keeping the fans updating on your journey. Your blog is as a good as article in The New York Times...this creative outlet is pretty impressive!

Whitney said...

Way to convey the pressure. You make it sound quite overwhelming.. as I'm sure it is. My hat is off to you and every other swimmer for being able to withstand such mental/emotional rigors.

Garrett said...

It's very fulfilling to hear that y'all get something out of my blog and enjoy it. Thanks for the continued support and for following me!

Donna Binkholder said...

Wow!!! That was a big look at the whole entire spectrum!! It has to be an emotional roller-coaster ride. I just don't get how some athletes at this level are so cool and calm. Good luck with everything!! Thanks for the update. Sorry I haven't been doing a good job at keeping up...I promise you still have a die hard fan and a follower. Love reading your blogs. Peace!!

Ty said...

Im glad you said these things because I read about so many fans thinking swimmers are rude at swim meets. I guessed that the swimmers are focused. Thats why as excited as I would be to see certain races, I would probably never even approach any swimmer at a meet. I know they're focused and dont have time for ANY distraction. Great blog GWG :)

J said...

Question: Is US World Trials going to be webcast or aired on tv? I know the NBC is airing the World Championships, but word on the US Trials? I love to watch some swimming before the football madness starts in August.

Anni said...

THANK YOU!!! oh my goodness that is EXACTLY how I feel in bi meets and stuff. People just don't get it, do they? I can't wait to watch worlds this summer!

Garrett said...

It is an emotional ride

Nah swimmers aren't rude...just focused

Yes they will be on a webcast

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