When a swimmer stands alone on the block with a lot riding on the outcome of a race one thing that absolutely must vanish is fear. Coaches are constantly working with their athletes in all sports to assist them in putting the result out of their mind so as to free them to do what they have trained their bodies to do. If you plan on being among the best at what you do you must devise a strategy for setting fear aside.
The following comes from Ken Bokelund who is a highly accomplished rock climber. This passage is in Shattered Air by Bob Madgic. It is a true account of catastrophe and courage on Yosemite’s Half Dome.
“Climbing for me has always been the strength of the body over the weakness of the mind. If you train so that you are very strong physically and you have mastered the techniques, then all that’s left is believing. Freeing your mind of fear is the key. This is very difficult to do, but when you can achieve it, then you are in true harmony with the rock. Fear is just one more thing to worry about and is very distracting. It can make you fall.
What sometimes happens when fear enters the climber’s mind is sewing-machine leg – a leg that starts shaking out of control. It happens to all climbers at one time or another and obviously is very dangerous when one is clinging to the side of a rock. But when you know you are strong enough to complete any maneuver, once that level of physical confidence is achieved, then you are able to put fear out of your mind. Climbing becomes a very simple pleasure. It’s just you and the rock. It’s a total clarity of being, a time when nothing matters, you’re moving without any thought, you’re in a place where time stands still. Even when you’re on a wall for days, when you get down, everything seems exactly the same, as though time never passed.”
If his analysis is correct – and our recent study on the subject of flow in sports suggests it is – then our training must absolutely give us command of our physicality and technique. As coaches we can then plan our training sessions with those two twin pillars of success…get the athlete into such great shape that s/he knows the race is much easier than anything they have already done and also get their technique where it needs to be automatically under any condition.
Fear often comes from uncertainty. Work diligently to obliterate uncertainty and fear will evaporate.
See you at the next meet to witness our progress!