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Navigating the Waves: Stress Management in Artistic Swimming.



As synchro enthusiasts, coaches, athletes, and parents we understand that the world of artistic swimming is filled with challenges, triumphs, and, of course, pressure. From perfecting routines to preparing for competitions, stress can reduce enjoyment, impair skill development, and stifle athletes' or coaches' performance throughout their careers.


Stress management is a very broad topic and too wide to be talked about in-depth in just one blog post. That's why today I wanted to focus on the basics of stress management, where I will talk about the importance of understanding stress and its factors - the education phase. Secondly, I will dive into the best practices and management strategies that can help in constructing positive coping responses - the acquisition phase. Lastly, I will stress the importance of implementing those strategies in a real-world environment - the implementation phase.


 


Leave a comment under this post if stress has ever hindered your performance during the synchro competition.


What were the consequences?

Did you find ways to cope with stress?






 

Understanding Stress in Artistic Swimming: education phase.


Artistic swimming demands precision, coordination, and constant focus. It's only natural that stress will be present in the pursuit of excellence. The first step in effective stress management is understanding its patterns, triggers, and symptoms. Is it the pressure of an upcoming competition, the desire for perfection, or the fear of disappointing oneself or the team? Identifying these stressors allows us to address them more effectively.


 

"Stress is a substantial imbalance between what we believe is demanded of us (competitive demand) and what we perceive our capabilities to be for meeting those demands (personal control), for situations in which success is important"

(McGrath 1970).


*According to this definition, it is not competitive demands themselves that lead to experiencing negative consequences of stress but, our perceptions of stress itself. Therefore, it is crucial to understand stress and how to manage it effectively.

 

When thinking about stress many of us likely realize that it comes with some symptoms. Some of them may be more noticeable than others, but I think it is important to understand the symptoms that may occur as an outcome of stress.


Here is a list of some of them:


Physiological

Psychological

Behavioral

Increased heart rate

Worry

Rapid talking

Extensive sweating

Inability to think clearly

Nail biting

Greater muscular tension

Being easily distracted

Foot or finger-tapping

Dry mouth

Inability to concentrate

Yawning

Increased adrenaline

Increased negativity

Frequent blinking

Frequent urination

Self-doubt

Poor eye contact

Lump in the throat

Indecision

Rapid, high-pitched speech

Elevated respiration

Feeling confused


Decreased blood flow to skin

Not feeling in control



I think it is important to add that the mentioned stress symptoms may not create negative emotions or impair performance. It may even prompt the athletes and the coaches to perform well. Even if an athlete or a coach experiences physiological and behavioral stress symptoms, it is important how they interpret demanding competitive situations. The influence of stress, then, depends on their ability to manage those demands, and it can either help or hurt their performance.


 

"Stress management is the process of reducing or eliminating the negative consequences of stress, particularly physical anxiety, and mental anxiety, to feel better, experience positive emotions, and perform up to capabilities."

(Burton & Raedeke, 2008).

 



Helpful strategies in stress management: acquisition phase.


After understanding what stress is, its symptoms, and the importance of the ability to manage it, let's move on to finding the best strategies that can help in stress management.


  1. Setting Realistic Expectations:


In the pursuit of perfection, it's essential to set realistic expectations. Remind your athletes (or yourself if you are a coach or a parent) that perfection is an ongoing journey, not an ultimate destination. While striving for excellence is highly desired, placing unrealistic expectations on oneself and others can lead to unnecessary stress.

Encourage a growth mindset, where mistakes are viewed as opportunities for improvement rather than setbacks.



2. Incorporating Relaxation Techniques:


Mindfulness techniques, such as deep breathing exercises and meditation, can be powerful tools in stress management. Introduce these practices during training sessions to help athletes and coaches stay centered and focused. Encourage them to use mindfulness not only in the pool but also in their daily lives to build resilience against stressors.


It is worth mentioning that there are many relaxation techniques that the athletes can choose from. Here is a list of some of them that can be easily learned and incorporated during your practice and competition:


  • diaphragmic breathing

  • imagery relaxation

  • progressive muscle relaxation

  • self-directed relaxation

  • music

  • cued relaxation



3. Emotion Management:


The heart of emotion management lies in the ability to regulate and control one's emotional responses. Stressful situations, such as competitions or rigorous training sessions, can evoke a spectrum of emotions, from excitement to anxiety. Athletes and coaches need to be adept at identifying and understanding these emotions to address them effectively. This is especially important when physical symptoms of stress arise and they prompt negative thinking and worry.



4. Development of basic problem-solving skills:

A competitive environment requires problem-solving skills from coaches and athletes to maximize their chances of success. Imagine situations such as; an athlete losing her nose clip during the routine, a swimming suit breaking right before your team's turn, or underwater speaker problems leading to synchronization errors. Those situations are not uncommon and coaches and athletes should be prepared to solve them with grace and calmness.


In my role as a coach, I maintain a catalog of challenging competitive situations, and at least twice a week, I allocate 10 to 15 minutes during practice to simulate one or two of these scenarios. This proactive approach ensures that my athletes are well-prepared for potential challenges, allowing them to maintain their composure and focus during crucial competitions.



5. Positive self-talk:


Encouraging athletes and coaches to cultivate a constructive inner dialogue can significantly impact their ability to handle stress. By replacing negative thoughts with affirmations and motivational statements, swimmers can foster resilience and maintain a focused mindset. Reminding oneself of past successes, acknowledging personal strengths, and visualizing successful performances can contribute to a more positive and empowering mental state. As a coach, fostering a culture of positive self-talk within the team can create a supportive environment where athletes can build confidence and effectively manage stress in the pursuit of excellence in artistic swimming.



6. Celebrating Achievements, Big and Small:


In the pursuit of excellence, it's easy to overlook the progress made along the way. Encourage your team to celebrate both big and small achievements. Recognizing your efforts fosters a positive mindset and helps mitigate the stress associated with constant striving.



Stress management strategies in real life: implementation phase.


To optimize stress management skills in athletes, it's crucial to incorporate previously introduced strategies into their practice time until it becomes second nature. Initiating the process involves employing imagery rehearsal as an effective method for athletes to simulate stress and utilize their personalized coping responses for effective management. When talking about stressful situations during the team meeting it is usually a good idea to create a hierarchy of stress-inducing situations, ranging from least to most stressful. This way athletes can progress through each scenario, advancing only when they've confidently handled the current stress level. Moving beyond imagery, athletes can test their coping responses in realistic simulations during practice, ensuring their effective transfer to real-life situations.



Conclusion:


In the synchronized world of artistic swimming, stress is an inevitable part of the journey. By understanding its sources, setting realistic expectations, fostering a supportive team environment, incorporating relaxation techniques, and strategically planning, both coaches and athletes can navigate the waves of stress with resilience and grace.

Remember, it's not just about the destination – it's about the journey, and the lessons learned along the way.

Dive in, embrace the challenges, and let the beauty of artistic swimming unfold with a balanced and stress-resilient team!


 

References:


Burton, D., & Raedeke, T., D. (2008). Sport psychology for coaches. Human Kinetics.


Gould, D., Finch, L., M., & Jackson, S., A. (1993). Coping strategies used by national champion figure skaters. Research Quarterly for Exercise and Sport, 64, 453–468.


 

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About the author


agata jedrzychowska online artistic swimming coach

My name is Agata and I have been an artistic swimming coach for over nine years. I have coached athletes from various countries from all age categories and levels of proficiency in the sport. Before sharing my knowledge online I have gained experience as a coach and a judge in various countries in Europe. I was a head coach for master swimmers in one of the clubs in London, leading the team to 6th place at the World Championships. I also worked as an assistant coach for the Youth and Junior National Teams in Switzerland and participated in the first Youth World Championship as an Icelandic soloist's coach. In 2021 I was a head coach for the U10 category and dominated all competitions throughout the season in all categories. I obtained my master's degree in psychology at the University of Derby in the UK.


You can reach me at:





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