The challenges of being unable to regulate emotions are numerous for elite swimmers. For example, anxiety, fear, or anger can negatively impact an athlete's performance, causing them to underperform or even make mistakes during competition. Emotions can also affect the athlete's ability to focus, leading to lapses in technique or poor decision-making in and out of the pool. In fact, the athlete's inability to regulate emotions could impact a team environment in a very detrimental or positive way.
As a coach, parent and athlete, it's essential to get curious about how you emotionally regulate in various situations. Things you should consider when building a winning culture.
How do we handle disappointment? Do we dwell on it, or do we move on quickly and refocus on our goals?
How do we manage stress? Do we have coping strategies in place, or do we get overwhelmed and shut down?
How do we respond to teammates' success? Do we feel jealous or supportive, and how do these emotions affect our performance and attitude?
How do we feel about our body image? Are we confident in the strength of our body or feel self-conscious, and how does this affect our motivation and performance?
How do we handle relationships with coaches, teammates, and family members? Do we communicate effectively, or do we avoid conflict and suppress our emotions?
By getting curious about these and other related areas, coaches, parents and athletes can gain a better understanding of how emotional regulation skills, or lack thereof, are impacting their sports experience.
Here are some tips to improving in the area of emotional regulation. These tips are for coaches, athletes and parents. Mind you, everyone's energy is connected and your emotional regulation, or lack thereof, will always have an impact on the environment and experience of others.
Teach your athlete's mindfulness techniques: Mindfulness exercises like deep breathing, meditation, or visualization can help athletes learn how to manage their emotions effectively. Most young athletes have never slowed down long enough to identify their emotions and develop skills to shift or pause in their emotional experience.
Encourage self-awareness: Encourage swimmers to understand their emotional responses and how they affect their performance. This self-awareness can help them identify triggers that cause negative emotions. The more an athlete understands what activates them emotionally, the easier it is to develop skills to navigate those emotional triggers.
Practice positive self-talk: Positive self-talk can help swimmers remain focused, motivated, and optimistic, even during challenging moments; however, many swimmers whisper negative, defeating and limited beliefs to themselves often. This is a great place to start challenging that self-talk and reframing it in a more empowering way.
Develop coping strategies: Help athletes develop coping strategies to deal with negative emotions, such as progressive muscle relaxation, distraction techniques, or seeking social support.
Encourage mental toughness: Train swimmers to develop mental toughness, which involves building resilience, self-confidence, and the ability to adapt to challenging situations.
Remember, emotional regulation is essential for elite swimmers to perform at their best and achieve their full potential in the pool. By teaching swimmers how to regulate their emotions effectively, we can help them succeed and build a winning culture. As a coach, parent, or athlete, it's essential to check-in regularly and get curious about how well you are regulating yourself emotionally. By doing so, you can improve your skills, positively impact others around you, and everyone can enjoy the sport we all love.