How many of us talk to ourselves? I mean before, during, or after we swim - I know I do, and I'm sure most everyone else does as well. What we say makes a huge difference in how we perform. Negative words can crush a performance; positive words or affirmations can result in a swimmer doing what they may have previously thought impossible.
Misty Hyman's performance in the 200 Butterfly (2000 Sydney Olympics) is a great example. Misty stayed relaxed and positive by telling herself she was trained and ready. And was Misty Hyman's self talk for the 200 butterfly successful - I'd say so! In sport, talking to yourself is called self-talk, and it's a cost-free way to improved practices and races. It should be part of every swimmer's (really, every athlete's!) sport psychology or mental toolbox.
Self-talk can be broken down into several categories depending upon how and when you do it. A few of these self-talk categories are: Practice Performance, Practice Technique, Meet Performance, and Meet Technique.
- Swimming Practice Performance Self-Talk Use this to help you stay on track during a tough swimming set, or when you just don't want to put out the swimming effort the way you know you should. Repeating words to yourself, over and over, takes your mind off of the negative and moves you towards the positive, helping you perform better. Tell yourself things like: "Hard work is good!" "I feel strong!" "Push this repeat!"
- Swimming Practice Technique Self-Talk This comes in handy all the time. Using words or a count as you move through a stroke can make your technique much better. This includes thing like: Counting 1-2-3-4 to coordinate arms, legs, and breathing in butterfly. Using cue words during a breaststroke pullout, like stretch, out, together, down, slide, kick. Repeating a word or series of words to remind you to keep doing something, like kicking in backstroke.
- Swimming Meet Performance Self-Talk This happens before you swim, during your race, and even after your swim. Before the race, you might assure yourself that you are ready. Tell yourself about how you prepared for the event, and that you are set for a great swim. During the race, some of those practice performance self-talk words or phrases can be used, like "I feel strong" or something similar. After a race, review both the good and things that happened and the things that you would do differently if you did the race again. Frame them in a positive light - "next race, I will take 4 breathes on the first 25" rather than "next time I won't breath so much going out" - and you will get better results. I imagine your coach will go over the things that you can improve upon and will also remind you of the highlights of the performance.
- Swimming Meet Technique Self-Talk This is very similar to swim meet practice technique self-talk, only you want to simplify it as much as possible. Rather than think of a long series of words while you swim, you may knock it down to just two or three - or maybe just one. You might also alternate a "technique" word with a "performance" word. Something like "STRONG - KICK - STRONG - KICK" could be used, with the words timed to help you maintain a good stroke rhythm.
There are many ways you can help your swimming. Talking to yourself is an easy, simple way that every one of you can make yourself better in workouts or meets. Practice it every day and let me know how it goes.