COACHING THE MENTAL SIDE
In a sport where peak performance can be as much about mental skill as it is physical talent, coaches who can educate athletes on the psychological aspects of competition will put their swimmers at an advantage.
This section focuses on the mental aspects of the sport of swimming and give coaches some tools to work with their athletes in this area. Topics include goal setting, visualization, race preparation and other mental skills required of athletes.
The ability to take another's perspective progresses in a predictable sequence and impacts both how an individual relates to others and overall behavior in the sport environment.
- At a young age (under 8 years), children are not able to take the perspective of others. They have an egocentric perspective. The young athlete's thoughts, feelings, ideas and needs are correct as far as they are concerned. In their view everyone else thinks and feels this same way.
- Gradually, children develop the ability to take others' perspective but still view their perspective as the correct view.
- The latter stage of development occurs when the individual can take and appreciate another's perspective.
Recommendation: Young athletes will often display behavior that is selfish and doesn't take others into account. Remember that they may not yet have developed the ability to understand others’ feelings or points of view. As they develop, enhance their perspective-taking abilities by pointing out how their action affects others. This can help them progress along the developmental spectrum.
Motivation is defined as the direction and intensity of effort. Ideally, we want to see young athletes motivated to approach success in swimming with great intensity. (Note: extrinsic motivation refers to motivation from the outside; intrinsic motivation refers to motivation that comes from within rather than because of material reward or consequences.) What is it that motivates young athletes?
- Younger swimmers (7-9 years) seem more extrinsically motivated while older swimmers are often more intrinsically motivated.
- Around age 9 years and older, young children begin seeing rewards as bribes. Under some conditions, bribery can negatively affect motivation.
- With age, material rewards (ribbons, medals, gold stars) lose their effect on motivation. If rewards are being perceived as controlling ('you have to swim fast to get a ribbon') it decreases intrinsic motivation.
Recommendation: Although developmentally it may seem that extrinsic rewards undermine intrinsic motivation, this is not necessarily the case. The key is not the reward itself but the message behind the reward. In order to enhance intrinsic motivation the reward must be seen as providing positive competence information rather than as controlling behavior. What is the message behind the award? Does the award signify great improvement or achievement? Tie the material award to the message it conveys to the swimmer.