I'm not sure if this qualifies as a proper blog, but I just wanted to share a couple pieces of anecdotal evidence regarding psychological training. As Vealey indicates, most coaches feel that they don't have the time to build mental training into their practice schedule (2005). I felt much the same way, as we constantly battle with time use and prioritization of practice activities. After reading the chapters assigned for this week, I committed to taking 15 minutes of practice to focus on mental skills. We have discussed some mental skills before, but never spent time refining and practicing those skills during our scheduled time with the athletes. For 2 days before our first meet, we worked on practicing a visualization and focus routine that the swimmers could apply in the meet to ready them for their performances. To begin with, I picked out just a couple items from Vealey with the overall goal being to "stretch their comfort zones" and "effectively cope with the natural discomfort" of the competitive situation (2005).
The first item we focused on was to identify when and where purposeful and deliberate thinking was necessary. I suggested that swimmers reserve the time starting 10 swimmers before them for focusing and visualizing. We also discussed some tools for dealing with the distractions that would surround them during the meet, including their neighbors in line. The second focus item was using positive trigger words to help them remain focused. They were instructed to identify 3 words or phrases that they could use to focus and/or help them re-focus before and during their performance. The last focus item that we started with was the ability to "release" a performance and prepare for the next.
The coaches worked with the swimmers to help them develop this focusing routine and then the swimmers had time to practice for 2 days before the meet. They were also reminded before the beginning of the meet. During the actual meet, the swimmers were left to use the routine on their own.
On the day after the meet, I asked the swimmers to reflect on how they felt about the focusing/visualization routine. They were allowed to comment anonymously and the responses all seemed very honest. I realize that we have a lot of room for improvement, but was shocked by how little time we spent and how much the swimmers felt it helped. I have included some of the quotes below:
"I usually get super nervous and over-breathe. Not as bad as hyperventilate, but it speeds up my heart-rate so I need more oxygen making me panic during my figures. This helped me calm down and regulate breathing so I can focus more. I felt great about using it!"
"It helped my performance because I knew what to focus on while doing my figure. I thought it was a good idea."
"The mental training definitely helped me and improved my scores. I was pleased yesterday. It helped me calm down."
"It helped me stay focused! I was less nervous. I think it really helped me think while I was in the water. But, I would like to learn how to think upside-down!"
"It calmed me down, focused me. It helped me realize what I needed to do. My performance was better. I had more confidence."
So, take a couple minutes and give it a try!
Vealey, Robin S. Coaching for the Inner Edge, 2005.