The United States absolutely dominated the pool at the 2016 Summer Olympics.
USA Swimming took home 16 gold medals, and no other country won more than three. America's 33 medals were also greater than three times more than Australia, the country that won the second-most swimming medals.
How did U.S. swimming post such an impressive performance? For one, thousands of hours of training. But their X-factor was their mental preparation.
For months in advance, swimmers pictured themselves being successful during training and during competition. It's a technique that Keenan Robinson, the team's High Performance Director, encouraged the swimmers to use. One swimmer who used it to great effect was Cody Miller, a 24-year-old Indiana University graduate who posted an excellent performance at the Olympic trials to make the team.
"It was a lot of preparation. Visualizing. Just experiencing other meets, we have World Championships, we have World Cup meets, we have a lot of international meets. When we're at those meets, we're essentially preparing for the Olympics. For months, before I qualified for the [Olympic] team, every night before I fell asleep, I would spend 5 or 10 minutes just kinda visualizing what the atmosphere at Olympic trials in Omaha was going to be like. What the pool was going to look like, how it was going to look when I was standing behind my line. So all of those things were already determined in my head and how I was going to act when that time finally came," Miller said.
The results speak for themselves:
Miller's strong performance at the Olympic trials allowed him to compete in his first Olympic games. In preparation, he used similar visualization techniques and ended up taking home bronze in the men's 100-meter breast stroke and gold as a member of the men's 4x100-meter medley relay team.
Robinson stresses that athletes shouldn't just visualize themselves winning; they should also mentally run through the things they need to do to win, both during training and on race day.
"Cody didn't just say, 'Well, im going to show up to Rio and win medals. And I'm going to do that just by jumping in the pool.' He had a plan, a race strategy, a training strategy," Robinson said. "When you lie down and think about those things, you're going through means and methods to get to those points. Stroke counts, stuff you do out of the water—'I'm gonna spend 36 minutes every day foam rolling or using a lacrosse ball.' I think having a specific checklist instead of just an arbitrary walk through the clouds is important."
The takeaway is this—when you visualize, don't just visualize yourself winning. Visualize yourself doing all the things it will take for you to get to that point. It'll put a purpose behind your training and leave you with increased confidence when the time to compete finally arrives.
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