“Baseball is ninety percent mental and the other half is physical” –Yogi Berra.
Although Yogi may have said a few screwy things throughout his career, as swimmers, this is the mindset we must have in order to be successful during championship meet season. We’re 15 days away from Atlantic Coast Conference championships, so the time to prepare is limited. All of the work in the pool has been done; there’s no question that we’ve pushed ourselves in our physical preparations, and have done everything possible in that aspect. Now as the attention shifts to the mental side of the sport, our bodies are given rest to build back up, and we must ready our minds to get the most out of our bodies come race time.
Every person has a different state of mind that will help him or her go the fastest. Some people need deafeningly loud, angry music to get them hyped up and feeling gnarly, ready to unleash fury against their opponents when the starting horn beeps. Others try to stay as relaxed as possible, in a peaceful mental environment that eliminates all distractions that would disturb their focus. Personally, I get very energized and involved in competitions, and have worked on not letting my emotions negatively affect my swims, but instead using them in my favor.
A problem that I encountered a few times in high school was taking my races out too fast, because I was not in control of my emotions. I would be way too charged up and didn’t know how to keep that feeling in check at the beginning of the race, and because I took it out too fast, I’d suffer trying to finish. Over time I learned to harness the energy and enthusiasm of the atmosphere. It is something that comes with experience, after participating in higher-level meets, and learning to handle those pressures and let them positively influence me.
Thinking back to high school, a great example of not letting negative emotions affect me was my ’09 Northern Region meet. In one of the most exciting races I’ve ever swum, Matt Benecki touched me out for the 500 freestyle title. We had swum neck and neck the whole race, and to lose by a split second killed me inside, to this day I haven’t been able to forget about it. However, the meet was not over and I had two relays left to swim. Instead of sulking over this loss and letting it bring me down, I used it as fuel to my fire and led off our record-setting 400 free relay in a best time that would clinch the Regional title for my team.
One of my favorite things that I’ve learned while at U-Va. is to feed off of the atmosphere of the meet and what’s going on around me. There is no song in the world that can pump me up more than the feeling I get when I watch one of my teammates destroying the competition in a race before mine. It’s a crucial for teams to learn how to do this in order to carry momentum throughout those physically draining meets.