Photo: Marcopako via flickr
This summer everyone will be watching Michael Phelps to see if he can make a comeback at the London Olympic Games. Amy Shipley at the Washington Post interviewed the 14-time gold-medalist and his longtime coach, Bob Bowman, about the mental strategies Phelps uses to dominate the competition.
“He’s the best I’ve ever seen — and he may be the best ever — in terms visualisation,” said Bowman. “He’ll see [what he’s up against] sitting in the stands, and then he’ll see it in the water. And then he will go through scenarios – what if things, don’t go well?” Like if his suit rips or his goggles break. “And then he has this database, so that when he swims the race he’s already programmed his nervous system to do one of those. And he’ll just pick the one that happens to come up. If everything is perfect, he’ll go with the perfect one; if he’s got to make a change, he’s already got it in there.”
Having a plan for every possible scenario gives him confidence so that he can just concentrate on swimming, and nothing else.
Even though the past few years have been tough — and he’s often said he wants to quit — Phelps said “the only thing you can control is yourself. If I have a bad race, I can put that behind me and I know I have another one coming up. I don’t know how I do it, I don’t know why I do it, it’s just something I’ve done.”
And that’s another part of his strategy: not overthinking it. Bowman won’t let Phelps see a sports psychologist or talk about swimming with his counselor for that every reason. Bowman also says he’s never seen Phelps “choke” — no matter the losses he’s had in the past few years — and that Phelps puts himself in positions during practice where he has to psychologically come through.
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