schematic illustration of a human brain with clipping pathWhat is your experience with sports psychology and mental skills training?

Is it meeting a psychologist or mental skills professional at an office and talking quietly about attitudes, anxieties and ambitions?

Or is it having a mental skills professional come to the training centre and do a “motivation” lecture or a mental skills training session on relaxation, focusing, visualisation / imagery and attitude?

Time to take mental skills training out of the office, away from the training room and into the pool.


The Fourth Variable – Engagement:

In a recent post on my site I talked about the fourth aspect of designing and developing training programs: Engagement.

In the article I suggested that in traditional programs, coaches write workouts in terms of the “big three” physiology variables: Volume of training (how much to do), Intensity of training (how hard to work) and Frequency of training (how often to do it).

However, this is old thinking…because it assumes that training adaptations are all about physical training and exercise physiology. Coaches and athletes know that there is another key determinant of training adaption…engagement – (how engaged the athlete’s mind is in the training activity).

The central argument is this. No matter how well designed the set and workout might be, it is the athlete’s approach and attitude to completing the workout that largely determines the outcome.

A brilliantly designed training set, sculptured perfectly in terms of heart rate, speed, volume and lactate levels, will not be performed optimally unless the swimmers have engaged in the set and are committed to performing the set to their full potential.

Competitive Swimming is not just swimming fast.

Remember that competitive swimming is not just about swimming fast – anyone can learn to swim fast.

Competitive Swimming is….swimming fast, with great technique and skills, under pain, pressure and fatigue.

If competitive swimming was only about swimming fast – then we would just train the body.

But…competitive swimming is about maintaining speed and technical excellence when the body is enduring pain, pressure and fatigue and it is the swimmers who can best integrated mind and body to work together in harmony in these conditions who prevail.

And it all starts with training set design and workout planning.

How can you integrate “engagement” with the physiology “big three” – volume, intensity, frequency?


Old way (physiology model):

Training set is 16 x100 metres (volume) on 2:00 minutes holding a speed of PB plus 10 seconds (intensity).

Enhanced Mind – Body way:

Training set is 16 x 100 metres (volume) on 2:00 minutes holding a speed of PB plus 10 seconds (intensity). Key mental skills learning (engagement) – At signs of fatigue, work with swimmers on relaxation under pressure and on breathing techniques to learn how to manage pain under fatigue and pressure conditions.

Find Opportunities to Enhance Mind-Body integration:

In every workout, there are opportunities to teach lessons which can make an incredible impact on the swimmer’s mental abilities for competition.

At times of pain, pressure and fatigue during workouts, opportunities emerge to teach swimmers life lessons and mental skills that can not be replicated in an office or classroom.

This is the key: we all want swimmers to master the mental skills necessary to compete successfully in the pool.

So it makes sense to shift our mental skills training focus into the pool.

If Gold Medals for 100 freestyle were handed out for winning a race around an office, let’s do our mental skills training in high buildings…..but it is all about mental skills mastery in the pool.

Optimal performance in any field of endeavour comes from the integration of the mind and the body working in harmony.

Next time you are writing a training program or training set add in engagement – the critical fourth dimension in training – and teach mental skills at every opportunity.

Wayne Goldsmith