Tuesday, April 2, 2013

8 Year Old Swimmer Uses Mental Management

This is an email we received yesterday from a father who gave us permission to post on our blog.  It is long but well worth the read.

Lanny, Heather, and Troy:
I wanted to share with you how the Mental Management System has impacted my 8-year son’s life.  My apologies that this is a long email, but one I am compelled to share as each of you was integral in this process.

MMS/With Winning in Mind was introduced to me by a former business partner of mine.  I have listened to it many, many times.  In October 2012 my eight year old son began competitive swimming.  Quickly it became clear that he has a very natural affinity for swimming…and more importantly competing. 

After his team’s first intra-team swim meet he showed that he had real potential in swimming.  He recognized how well he did and commented “Dad I think with some practice I could be pretty good at swim racing.”  Several weeks later he had his first meet and did very well for an athlete that had just begun swimming.  To be clear he is NOT a good swimmer relative to the other swimmers from a technique perspective, but he has lots of natural physical talent and he knows how to race. 

By his second meet he had started putting up state and regional qualifying times in various events.  By mid-season he had become one of the stronger swimmers on his team, and started getting times that put in him in the top-10 in the state.  However; he was running into a real issue with starting off the blocks which.  Essentially his belly flopped off the blocks into the water, and this was slowing his race times down.  He was the first swimmer off the block every race but his entry into the water was so bad that he lost a tremendous amount of time in every race which forced him to ‘catch-up’ to the faster swimmers…which he didn’t like.

At a race mid-season I recorded his events with my iPad.  Once we got home I showed him the video, after watching several times his comment was “Dad I might as well cannonball into the water”.   He then asked me if we could put together a plan to help him improve his entry into the water. As we had been listening to the WWIM CD’s in the car I said “let’s put together a plan for the rest of the season like Lanny talks about on the CD’s.”  

We then pulled the book version of WWIM out of my briefcase and put together a plan.  He identified the goals:
1-      Setting new team records in several events(which is insane based upon his time in the water, but they were his goals).
2-      Always race with the “A” relay in Freestyle and Medley(there was stiff competition on the team to have the four coveted “A” relay slots-this is a pure meritocracy).
3-      Qualify for State and Regional swim meets.
4-      Win Freestyle and Butterfly at State Meet.

I knew that he would not have the physical time in the water to flatten the upward slope that he was trying to climb, the only way to reduce the curve was with a mental strategy that augmented his physical practice.  We proverbially had Lanny sitting in the car, in my living room, at every swim practice, and every meet helping Zachary execute his plan. For the record the plan we developed had goals, a plan, action statements, and a pay-off to give roots to Zachary’s goals. 

His plan included swim practice, fast/effective race starts, sleep, eating, and mental preparation.  He decided to fall asleep each night rehearsing his races and creating the feeling of becoming a champion. We coined several phrases“Live like a champion”  and “Go slow to become perfect.  Become perfect to be fast.” He embraced these phrases as they embodied his goals. 

With his goals in mind we then devised a strategic plan to help him improve his dive/entry into the water and his swim strokes.  In short order, Zachary went from a novice with his dive/entry into water to looking like an Olympian(not much exaggeration).  With his amazing reaction time to the starter, and his repetition of mental practice he has become a very solid competitor and created results beyond the norm, particularly with respect to his short time competing. 

In an effort to provide context to his plan, and to demonstrate how anyone can replicate the principles of  WWIM, here is an overview of the plan we created: 
1-We worked on the actual dive itself by breaking down the competitive dive into small pieces then reconstructing into a comprehensive action.
1-We started by him standing behind the block then finding a “hole” for him to enter the water.  He then followed a script(below) and began with diving through a hula hoop(a visual “single hole”) then progressed to a full start but he always followed the script below in practice and meets. When he got frustrated, when he got to going too fast, when he was nervous, he learned to slow down and go through the script.  The script was THE key in improvement and results as he had the mental picture and feeling deeply imbedded through repetition. 

Here is the script:
a-I step behind the block. I find my hole into on the black line.
b-When the whistle blows I step on the block and I find my hole.
c-When I step on the block my back is flat, my legs are ready to explode and I still see my hole on the black line.
d-when the beep goes off I explode off the block, I hit my hole and my body cuts through the water like an arrow.
e-I shimmer(dolphin kicking under water) in the water and explode to the surface.
f-my arms are motoring, my legs are kicking hard and I don’t need to breath, I am in first place and I know where everyone is in the pool.
g-I finish explosively into the wall.  “Zachary you are the state champion”.

(The most fascinating thing he did was remember what Lanny discussed about learning from the most successful, and to never focus on mistakes.  One evening driving home from practice he said “Dad it occurred to me that I could learn from the best.  Why don’t we find something on YouTube like the 50 meter free style race in the last Olympics and watch what the best of the best do to win.”

We found a five minute clip of the 50 meter championship from the London Olympics.  He watched that video so many times he ultimately emulated  Florent Manadou(gold medal winner from France)-he became an 8 year version of the world’s best striving to be an Olympian one day.  He watched in uncommon detail how each Olympic athlete entered the pool area, how they prepared physically and mentally behind the blocks, how they put their goggles on, how they stepped onto the blocks, how they stood on the blocks, how they entered the water when the race started, how they exploded onto the surface, how they raced each part of the race, including how they finished. To watch an 8-year old boy deconstruct how champions become champions then replicate was an amazing experience. )  
2-We worked on stroke efficiency and breathing.
3-He committed to eating more robustly, and sleeping more.  (He fell asleep to the script that we created based upon WWIM). 
4-He always went back to his plan reviewed it AND the pay-off. 

Now here is where it gets interesting-the results.

Zachary had a great sectional meet.  Results are as follows:
1-Medley Relay-DQ’d another swimmer left too early.  This was disappointing for him as they had the fastest time in state by a long shot but this served as a valuable lesson in sport and life.
2-He got 4th place in the 25 free in which he set a new personal record but also got him the #7 seed at the state meet.
3-He got 2nd place in 25 butterfly with a new personal record and the #6 seed at the state meet.
4-He got 3rd place in 25 backstroke with a new personal record and the 7th seed in the state meet. 
4-His Freestyle relay got 1st place by over 7 seconds and the second seed at the state meet.

One week later the state meet was held out of town.  The state meet was somewhat of a “disappointment” for him as the entire team seems to have missed the taper. (But compared to his newness still an amazing meet):
1-25 free style 6th place and new personal record by nearly .11 seconds(very disappointed with himself.  He wanted first place. Key to remember is that everyone ahead of him had been swimming in a competitive environment for 1-2 years longer than him.  We kept the focus on success not failure.)
2-25 yard butterfly 3rd place(slower than his sectional time).
3-25 yard backstroke 14th place(although seeded 7th) as he missed the start as his foot slipped.  Great lesson and an opportunity for perseverance.  
4-Freestyle relay-2nd place but entire relay didn’t swim well.  Again another lesson.

On the way home he was disappointed with results and he said “this is not what I planned, regionals WILL be better.” My wife and I discussed celebrating the positives and work on fixing areas that he can do better. We also discussed that he has only been competing 4 months and there are kids that have been competing longer that would be thrilled to have a “bad meet” like his.  We also reminded him that winning is a process that takes years to perfect.

The following weekend was the Midwest regional meet in Minneapolis.  This was a much larger meet as there were teams from many states in the Midwest competing and posed a much larger challenge. Because there were so many athletes competing the meet was held over two days, providing a new challenge requiring him to be physically and mentally prepared for a much longer time period.

Zachary qualified for a total of seven events at the Midwest Regional.  He ultimately swam eight events as he swam up an age group in a relay to fill a slot(more about this later).

The week between the state meet and the regional meet he believed that he needed to practice hard. His brain was telling him to practice harder and more during the week based upon the results at the State meet.  As a former competitive athlete I encouraged him to focus on rest, and to trust the coaches training plan, he reluctantly agreed.  He attended practice, rested  a lot, slept, ate, and focused on mental rehearsal.  He went back to the plan he crafted and went into the meet feeling strong, rested, and ready to race. 

This meet was a great way to end the season with the following results:
Day 1:
1-1st Place in Medley Relay
2-6th place in 25 free(new personal record by .29 seconds yet he was a tiny bit disappointed as he did not set the team record which was one goal he had outlined)
3-5th place in 25 yard backstroke(new personal record.89 seconds) and an improvement upon his seed time.
4-1st place in Freestyle relay in fact he swam the first leg of the relay and delivered a 3+ second lead to the second swimmer.
5-10th place in 9-10 Age group 200 yard relay(swam up an age group to fill an empty slot on the team due to a team member not being able to attend the meet.  He was NOT the fastest swimmer the coaches could have used  based upon his time as he had only swam this distance twice during regular season in a meet.  However; the coaches thought he had best chance to put up best time as they felt as though he was the toughest mentally and had the best “upside” based upon his improvement all season. He took almost 5 seconds off of his time and he had the second fastest time on the relay-yes I was very proud of him J )

Day Two:
1-2nd place in 25 Butterfly(new personal record by .007 seconds he was thrilled and just missed team record).
2- 9th place in 50 freestyle he dropped 3.05 seconds and beat his seeding by 6 places. He was thrilled AND disappointed as he thought he could be in top 3.(he likes to win).
3-1st place in 200 free relay 8&U.  Set new team record.

At regionals he got three 1st places, one 2nd place, one 5th place, one 6th place, one 9th place, and one 10th place. 

This is an amazing result for a kid that had only been swimming 4.5 months.  Everyone that beat him in state and regionals had much longer resumes in competitive swimming.  He has found a passion that is fueling a new dream…to be an Olympian someday. 

He learned that proper practice is important. More important than “proper practice” he learned with the proper mental approach he can conquer himself and dream big dreams.

I told Zach I had tweeted at Lanny as we left for the Midwest Regional Meet.  All weekend he wanted to know what Lanny said.  “Dad he is an Olympian and I owe so much to him. He should also probably know me as I will be an Olympian because of him.”

As I wrap this up I wanted to share several things with you:
1-Without Lanny’s willingness to share the mental aspect of proper training I don’t think Zachary would view himself from the template that he does now.  Thank you Lanny, you gave our family a gift that my wife and I believe will leave an indelible mark on his life.
2-This program transcends time, sport, and participant.  The nuggets of truth shared are powerful and more importantly replicable. Without Lanny actually in the room we were able to follow the Mental Management System and realize the benefits by simply following the model outlined on CD and book.  The key is following the steps and implementing a proper application for the use.
3-Heather is a great ambassador for MMS.  I have talked with her 5-6 times over the years and her energy is contagious.  Thank you Heather! I am so excited to hear that there may be web based content soon. MMS is the gift that keeps giving to our family.  
4-As a father this has been a great lesson.  The time, energy, and effort to teach him MMS is worthy and an exercise every parent should have. He may never be an Olympian but he knows what happens with hard work, honor, and personal integrity(he laid out a plan and saw it through).
5-While he did not accomplish every one of his goals he has realized success and found something he is passionate about.  He now has a process that he can implement irrespective of sport, academic, or personal goal.  This is the greatest thing to come from the swimming experience. 

He begins his new swim season tonight after nearly three weeks of rest and relaxation. He is raring to get back into the water. I am excited for him as he has decided to accept an invitation from a swim team that has created countless division 1, 2, and 3 athletes and multiple Olympic Time Trial participants.  He has new goals and it will be interesting to help him enjoy the process and learn passionately. 

I can confidently say he has a great start to learning and becoming whatever he chooses in life. 

It is an incredible honor to have each of you on our team-thank you. 

Jeff and Zach from Iowa