Mental toughness in freediving

Posted on 12/02/2016 by Ant Williams
Pan Pacs

I got asked a great question today that got me thinking. An up and coming athlete asked “how do I become rock solid and unwavering mentally at a freediving competition?”

You know, what fascinates me about freediving is how much our performance on the day comes down to our mindset. It’s actually quite strange. On those days when you have your head together you can beat divers with bigger breathholds, better gear and even stronger technique. Sure a bunch of this comes down to who has done the hard yards in training, but most freedivers find that it’s their ‘brain’ that really stands between them and brilliant performances in competition.

Here are my three tips that I swear by for unlocking better competition performances: 

1. Build a routine

One of the most valuable things I did when I began freediving over a decade ago was to keep a journal. After every training session I would fill a page with notes on how I slept, what I had eaten, what I did during the day, and how I performed in the pool. For my longest swim I gave myself scores for air, head, legs and technique. Within a year I discovered a pattern emerging. Virtually all of my personal bests had a similar sequence of events happening before I swam. I began replicating this routine and refining it further over time. It is so well rehearsed for me now that I barely know I am doing it. But the effect it has on my state of readiness to perform is second to none. I attribute the ability to consistently swim within 3% of my personal best in competition largely to this one technique.

2. Learn to switch on

Switching on in sport means going from the ‘normal you’ to the power-ranger version. When people are nervous at a comp you can see it immediately. How they walk, their posture, what they say. The next time you are at a competition, pay close attention to your posture because a poor posture will make you less confident. Watch Amy Cuddy’s wildly popular TED talk if you need convincing. For an extra boost, find a catch phrase to change your perception of the competition. Mine is “I own this pool.” Yip, it sounds unbelievably arrogant! But I don’t actually say it out loud. Saying it to myself while walking around the pool helps me get fired up and ready to go. 

3. Chunk your swim

Staring down a 50m pool thinking about a huge distance you have to swim on one breath is daunting and it can throw you off your game. In training break down each long swim or static into 4 or 5 chunks with a focus phrase for each. For example in a dynamic swim:

0 – 50m                    “just the warm up”

50 – 100m               “flawless technique”

100m – 150m         “speed up now”

150m – 200m         “home stretch!”

200m+                      “GO GO GO!”

Play around with it and discover what works for you. Then before your swim begins, just focus on how you want to swim the first ‘chunk.’ This will help to calm any nerves and get you in to a state of flow earlier.

Good luck and hope to see you at a comp soon!