Visualization Techniques for Synchronized Swimmers
Successful athletes in any sport use visualization as a part of their training. The process can take many forms—some imagine pure success, some see themselves overcoming inevitable obstacles, some just think of calming images or inspirational mantras. Whatever the method, visualization is a powerful tool to prepare for any sporting competition.
For a synchronized swimmer, an effective image could be something as small as a perfect crane position or as big as a flawless swim through of your team’s free routine. Don’t be afraid to aim high- seeing yourself as a capable synchronized swimmer is the first step towards performing well as an individual and as a member of your team.
Here are some guidelines for how to visualize, and when, where, and why to do it.
How to Get Started
These are just tips for how to begin, but keep in mind that visualizing is a very individual process and what works for some may not work for others.
- Close your eyes.
- Find a place that is quiet or use headphones to help block out the noise of a busier location.
- In your mind, see yourself or you and your teammates from the outside, as if you are a coach, a spectator, or sitting in a judge’s chair.
- Go above and beyond. Imagine doing things well that you haven’t actually achieved yet, or have trouble successfully repeating.
- Choose to visualize situations that aren’t related to your routine too. You can imagine the attitude you want to have on the pool deck, the feeling you want to have during warm-up times, or picture yourself standing on the podium.
- If you’re having a hard time, try watching some synchronized swimming competition videos, and then envision yourself in a similar situation.
Visual images are the most important tools for mental preparation, but you can also try to evoke your other senses: Imagine hearing your routine music (if you’re not already listening to it), the audience’s response, or the strong smell of chlorine in an indoor pool. If the meet is outdoors, imagine the feeling of the air on your skin. Will you be cold when you compete?
The better you get at visualizing, the more detail you can add. Try to feel your nose clip, or that one bobby pin that always goes in wrong and bugs you. The more complete your mental preparation is, the less stress you‘ll have at the meet.
When and Where to Visualize
Although it may be tempting to skip a quick visualization session during precious pool time, carving out just five minutes for it can make a difference. Have the team visualize the routine just before swimming it all the way through. It can become a regular part of practice as the first competition approaches and throughout the competition season. Try this:
- Hop out of the pool and sit together in a circle. If it’s too uncomfortable due to cold weather at an outdoor pool, stay in the water.
- Start by imagining the walk-on and deck work.
- Whoever counts that part during the actual competition should count aloud for everyone during the visualization.
- Play the music and visualize the entire routine with your team!
Between Warming Up and Competing
Schedule time for one last visualization session close to the time you compete. Wait until your done warming up, in your competition suit, with complete hair and makeup done so you can be totally focused. Make a plan:
- Talk with your team and coach(es) beforehand about competition day time line to make sure there is time for visualizing.
Rehearse that time line at practice before you leave for the meet. For example, warm up one routine, climb out and do your visualizing, then begin from the walk-on just as if you were at the competition pool.
- Consider having an exhibition before leaving for a meet. It helps prepare you for the competition day time line (including the visualization of course!). Wearing competition suits and headpieces in front of an audience will give everyone an idea of what to expect during the actual event.
- Find a good place to visualize at the competition pool that’s quiet and away from all the commotion.
When You Get a Correction
Visualizing doesn’t always have to be a formal or long, drawn out affair. You can use it to make quicker corrections during practice.
When your coach gives you a correction, you might notice that he or she tends to make a lot of gestures. That’s because they’re trying to give you a visual of what they’re talking about and the demonstrations will only become more exaggerated until you correct it.
Save your coach from an impromptu game of charades (and everyone some time) using on the spot visualization. As soon they tell you a correction, instantly imagine yourself doing the move or position correctly and then try again.
One of the best things about this aspect of your training is that you don’t need anything but time to do it.
Some sport psychologists believe that the best time to practice visualization is when you're lying in bed just before you go to sleep. If that doesn’t work for you, just find a place where you feel calm and focused.
Why Visualizing Matters
- Make you feel more confident before competitions
- Encourage team bonding
- Help you fix corrections faster, as seen in the example
- Help you reach a personal goal faster
- Allow you to memorize choreography more quickly
- Provide an opportunity to practice without a pool
- Support muscle memory if you are injured and out of the pool
Olympic pentathlete, Marilyn King, placed 13th in the 1976 Olympic Games in Montreal, then set her sights on winning an Olympic gold in 1980.
Tragically, in 1979 she suffered a spinal injury as the result of a car accident which left her unable to even walk for months. In an interview she said, “I decided then and there that I was not ending my career on my back and that I would be in the top three at the Olympic trials."
Since she could not do any physical training during her rehabilitation, King instead trained her mind. She watched videos of the sport’s top competitors breaking world records and visualized herself doing the same.
When she was finally able, she walked through the course where she would soon be competing in Olympic Trials and used the image of the actual route to visualize herself competing well with even more detail.
Without one full day of physically practicing the pentathlon, King placed second at Olympic Trials and qualified for the Moscow Games.
Do You Mind?
All synchronized swimmers realize the importance of working out their bodies, but what many don’t know is that training your mind is an equally, if not more, critical part of being a successful athlete. Use the methods above to get started with visualization, then personalize your routine and make it an everyday habit. Soon your mind will be as strong as your hard-earned physique, ready for anything from the smallest correction in practice to the intensity of your biggest competitions.