Throw Back Thursday: Dreams

by Mary Lou Monteith
Published September 1995

There isn’t one of us whho doesn’t want to be the best we can be. We invest a great deal of time and energy into Masters Swimming because we believe in its pursuit of Fun, Friendship, and Fitness. However, I wonder how many of us have actually articulated our goals any more specifically
Than agreeing with the basic tenets of Masters Swimming.

Time and time again it has been demonstrated that the world’s greatest performers have not only honed their physical capacities to the maximum degree but have developed a repertoire of mental skills by consciously including psychological skill practice in concert with their physical practice.

The idea of the development of mental skills is not a new one, but it is an area that most athletes and coaches are less familiar and comfortable with than technical and physiological training methods. I would like to summarize some ideas that I have gleaned from various sources.

Goal Setting is, I believe, the most important element that underlies all of the other psychological skills. I love the story told by Canadian Olympic basketball coach Jack Donohue of a young man who scurried up to the ticket counter at the airport, slapped $200 on the counter, and said “Quick, give me a ticket.” “Where would you like to go sir?” asked the ticket agent. “Can’t you see I’m in a hurry? I don’t have time for that, just give me a ticket!”

Goal setting not only allows us to define where we would like to go but can also help us develop a step-by-step plan of how to get there. Properly established, consistently referred to, and adjusted when necessary, goals provide visible benchmarks of our progress and allow us to experience those regular doses of success to necessary for continued effort and motivation.

There are three important principles of goal setting to keep in mind.

  1. Personal: Goals must be something that you personally buy into. No one else can really dream your dreams. It may be helpful to discuss your plans with someone else but ultimately you must have personal control – they must be yours. You alone will feel the satisfaction of their achievement.
  2. Challenging but Attainable: Your goals must be challenging but generally realistic and attainable. Short term goals, especially, should be stated in terms of performance outcomes rather than depending on factors that may be beyond your control. You may have a dream of winning a certain event, but establishing a certain time goal provides a likelihood of success that is independent of anyone else’s performance.
  3. Long – intermediate – and short term: It is important to establish goals on several different levels and time frames. These very in degree of specificity and attainability. It is essential to lay out a series of stepping stones that pave the way towards your ultimate goal.

Long – term (Dream) Goals: These are your ultimate dreams of what you can and do, should nothing stand in your way. Let your imagination run riot and imagine what would be possible if example, you may decide you want to be the fittest person of your age in your country.

Intermediate Goals: A this level you should introduce a heavier dose of reality. You want to establish a challenging set of goals that you have reasonable chance of achieving over a period of time. These could be specific time objectives for certain events, the completion of certain test set, the mastering of a new stroke, the changing of dietary habits – the possibilities are endless. Decide where you want to be a certain distance down the road and proceed to the next step.

Short-Term Goals: these are, I believe, the most important and yet neglected goals. These should be phrased in such a way that they are 100% attainable, for then their achievement will deliver that feeling of accomplishment that is son essential for continued, positive motivation. Giving yourself the opportunity for frequent well-deserved pats on the back will reaffirm your determination to reach your intermediate goals and move you one step closer toward your ultimate dream.

To paraphrase Bobby Knight, another Olympic coach, everyone may have a will to win, but we really need to work on the will to practice to win. Swimmers need to look at weekly and daily commitment they are prepared to make toward the achievement of their long-range goals and define that commitment specifically.

Terry Orlick in his book “Psyching for Sport” suggests “you may benefit from asking yourself the following three questions before each training session.

  1. What am I going to do today (physical training/skill refinement goals)?
  2. How am I going to approach what I’m going to do today (e.g. with intensity, concentration, positiveness)?
  3. What am I going to do today to improve my mental strength (psychological training goals)?

I cannot begin to convey, in a short article, all of the ideas for the development of mental skills that I would like swimmers and coaches to examine, but I hope that I have been able to convince you of the importance of goal setting as the essential starting point for anyone who is prepared to devote a lot of time and effort in the pool as all of you already do. It certainly can’t hurt to 1) examine why you are willing to subject yourself to those grueling hours of torture and 2) find ways to reward yourself regularly for all efforts.


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