The State of Joe Swensson :: The Mental Side
Posted January 15, 2014
After a slow start to the season, it’s been very important for me to let go of the past races, reassess my current state, and make the necessary changes. I spent all summer training and conditioning my body at the U.S. Ski Team’s training center in Park City, Utah. However, the most important training that I went through was my mental training. I worked with Dr. Craig Manning, a sports psychologist based out of Salt Lake City who has many years of experience working with athletes from a variety of sports. His program is called “The Fearless Mind.” Three things that I’ve been practicing mentally are:
1. Be In The Present
2. Control The Controllable
3. Have a “Can-Do’ Mindset
It doesn’t necessarily show in my results, yet, but it has kept me from freaking out that I haven’t qualified for the Olympic team yet.
The most important lesson that I’ve learned from my mental training is to think about what I need to do while in the course. In the past, I’ve always thought about the outcome of the race, such as winning the run or beating a certain person. I’d get nervous in the start gate or my mind would start racing, then I’d start doubting myself. By being in the present in the starting gate or during my run, I am able to heighten my awareness and really focus on the skills that I need to execute. I’ll think about generating speed out of a roller section, keeping a low trajectory over a jump, or setting myself so I can pass someone if needed. Being in the present keeps you focused on the task at hand.
Mental training has also helped me to focus on the things that only I can control. Whether it's a delayed flight or lost baggage, bad weather, or someone with a negative attitude, I am able to ignore it and think about what I need to do to overcome certain obstacles. There are so many variables that can go against a ski racer, and you really can’t worry about all of them. When it comes down to race day, you have to focus on yourself and control only the things that you can control.
Ski cross is a sport where you constantly push your comfort level. There is never a dull day, and any course you are skiing always has a tricky feature or element that can cause frustration. In these situations it is imperative to tell yourself that you can do it and give yourself positive feedback. For example: rather than thinking about not overshooting that jump, tell yourself to make a strong press and keep your trajectory low so you will land in the right place. It’s like any other sport; in golf if you tell yourself don’t slice it, you’ll probably slice it. If you tell yourself to hit it straight down the fairway then you have a much better chance at hitting a straight shot.
I always thought about seeing a sports psychologist but was never proactive about it until this summer. In my first session I knew that seeing him was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. We were sitting in a conference room overlooking the gym floor at the training center in Park City. He told me to look out at the other athletes working hard and pushing their physical limits. Dr. Manning then said that every athlete training for the Olympics is putting a maximum effort into their physical training on and off the hill, however, most athletes rarely train their mental skills. He talked about how all of these athletes will be at their physical peaks and skiing their best, however, that does not necessarily mean that they will be performing their best. We talked about how so many times the most skilled athlete fails to win or come through in a big event because they make themselves their biggest opponent. I realized that the majority of the time the mentally strong come out on top and to be your best, you need to be focused, confident, and fearless. Working on my mental skills has changed my approach to training and to racing, and it has allowed me to truly believe in myself.
Joe Swensson, Killington Ski Cross Athlete