Sunday, October 26, 2008

Practical Application of Mental Toughness and Use of the Gap

We shared the article from last week with our team. We reinforced several of the ideas focusing on the "Gap" concept. To recap...authors Rick Paine and James Robinson state that mental toughness is "an inside-out, self-leadership, principle driven, developmental process for athletes."

Mental toughness, they assert, starts, "out with self-awareness, with an understanding that (swimmers) could control their thoughts, emotions and thus their behavior...There is a small gap of time between the stimulus they receive and their response. Between each stimulus, such as the conclusion of a race, the human brain has a moment of time to create its response; the Gap. The decisions swimmers make in that moment of time either enhance or teardown mental toughness...All swimmers are capable of deciding what their thoughts, emotions and behaviors will be in the Gap. Human beings have the power of choice...Each choice (is) like a small thread of steel. With each decision to compete rather than fold, another small thread of steel (is) added and before long the habit of mental toughness (becomes) like a steel cable, strong enough to support them in any situation."

Finally they add the "typical club/high school swimmer will take approximately 23,000 freestyle strokes per week during training. Do you have any doubt that doing anything 23,000 times a week becomes habit? The question is, is it a good habit or bad habit?"

We thought the concept was so simply and clearly presented, not to mention accurate in our minds, that we began referring to it in practice. This last Saturday we constructed a workout that was designed to specifically give each swimmer a chance to practice their response in the Gap.

Here is the workout...

Warm up: 1500+/- 30 minutes
Main set:
Progressive to 80% on the final swim of each distance
swim 150 snorkel cruiser

progressive to 85% on final swim of each distance
150 snorkel cruiser

progressive to 90% etc
150 snorkel cruiser

- all swims - 95%
150 snorkel cruiser

then pick one, your choice...
1x100 or 2x50 running dive in fast suit...go for it

set=2475 + running dive.../60 min...900 of it cruise the rest at up interesting to see how they handle it by the end of the set

3975 + loosen of 500 = 4475

Some notes of explanation about this workout. These are senior level swimmers some with National/OT cuts. The pool is 25 meters. The work to rest ratios led to some very fast swimming toward the end of workout. On the running dive swims we had them put on a fast suit (no LZR or blueseventy). A sample of the times we saw were 100 frees in the 55-57 range for guys, 59-1:05 for girls, we had a 1:02 fly for a 14 year old boy and a 1:07 for breast from a 17 year old guy.

What we talked about all morning was the Gap. After the faster swims in each set they began analyzing how they were doing and it was interesting to note some became critical of how slow they perceived themselves while others were pleasantly surprised at their speed. As the authors mentioned above, each swimmer has a choice in the short gap of time between the stimulus (in this case, workout times) and the response. We believe that the response helps (or doesn't) the mental toughness habit.

There were 4 swims, one at each distance from 100 down to 25, at 80% effort; then 4 at 85%, then 4 at 90% and finally 4 at 95%. And then their running dive swim(s) in a fast suit. We practiced a fair amount of fast swimming with plenty of discussion along the way about the Gap. We have a meet in two weeks and we will be ready for it with more mentally tough swimmers.

You can use the workout above as a template and simply modify the distances etc. Most swimmers train without much thought to the concept of building mental toughness daily. We believe each day is an opportunity to build it. Let us know what you think!

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