As an athlete, you quickly learn to adapt to the demands of preparation and the whirlwind of what it takes to compete at your best. Half of the battle as an elite swimmer is your ability to make mental adjustments in order to set yourself up for success. In the same ways that you taper or rest before a big meet to help prepare your body, there is also a need for mental preparation. With summer competitions heating up, these next few months are crucial for physical and mental preparation.
Throughout my swimming career, I had a bad habit of getting in my own way when it came to my mentality, especially at high level meets. I could feel ready to go in the water but didn’t fully trust that I could overpower my mentality. I lacked the confidence that everyone else had in me and couldn’t figure out how to get out of my head and trust in myself. Swimming is such a mental sport and isn’t always about how hard you train or prepare physically. Of course, your body needs intentional preparation in and out of the water, but to prepare your mind is another battle in itself. It took me years to even begin to find confidence within myself and believe that I had control over my mentality. I am here to tell you that mental preparation can and should be just as much of an enjoyable process as physical preparation. It’s a time where you get to give your mind and body the rest that it deserves after days, weeks, months of exhaustive training.
You have to know that the work you put in during practice and how you take care of yourself is done and the only thing left to do is race. I’ve had conversations with elite swimmers and coaches on how to prepare mentally when you feel that anxiety creeping up before, or even during a meet. Some of the best advice I was given was from Gregg Troy (my former UF and professional coach). He said that “everything you do leading up to a meet is like putting money in the bank.” You invest in your training and prepare yourself for the goals you want to achieve when the time comes.
My older brother, Caeleb Dressel, has also dealt with mental preparation and what it means to be under pressure and put so much expectation on yourself. He gave advice on preparation for meets and how to manage emotions leading up to competition: “One of the hardest times for a swimmer is leading up to the meet itself. You go through taper blues, your body is going through a transition phase that can be very frustrating.”
Caeleb has great awareness when it comes to how he feels in and out of the water. One of the things that makes him an exceptional athlete is his attention to detail and the little things he does to help him stay focused on his goals and the task at hand. He has kept a logbook for as long as I can remember and he mentioned to me that keeping track of your training and what you go through is a way to physically see improvement over the years. Going through logbooks during taper can be reassuring in the sense that your body goes through similar changes each year. Caeleb would note if he “felt like trash” in a practice and look back on those notes during taper as a reminder that he is on the right track just in an awkward phase of taper. If you have something to fall back on as a reminder that this is part of the process, it can give you the confidence you need going into a meet.
Another exceptional advocate for managing a powerful mindset during competition, is our very own Beine Wellness ambassador, Lydia Jacoby. Lydia understands the nature of competitive swimming and how every season is filled with ups and downs. Coming off of the 2023 World Championships in Japan, Lydia embraced the outcome of her swims, especially in the 100 meter breastroke. In a post race interview, Jacoby commented that she was just “trying to be better than she was last year.” She was purely focused on how she could learn from her swims and move forward rather than holding on to expected outcomes. Every race is an opportunity to succeed, learn, and better yourself regardless of the outcome. Lydia embraced the competition and used last years performances as motivation for her exceptional swims in 2023.
Mental resilience is key to weathering the challenges that come with the sport. Lydia and Caeleb are two extraordinary athletes because of their ability to adapt and learn from the sport, regardless of how many ups and downs they face. Swimmers who have a powerful mindset understand that setbacks are a natural part of the journey. They use these experiences as opportunities to grow, rather than allowing them to dampen their spirits. Resilience enables swimmers to bounce back from disappointment, stay committed to their training, and maintain their focus on their long-term goals.
While the end goal of becoming better than they were before is important, successful swimmers understand that it’s the journey and the process that truly shape them as athletes. They appreciate the hard work, dedication, and sacrifice required to reach their full potential. By embracing the process, swimmers find joy in the day-to-day training and celebrate the incremental improvements that eventually lead to significant breakthroughs. As athletes conquer new heights, we are reminded of the limitless potential that lies within every one of us, waiting to be unleashed with the power of a determined and focused mind.