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How world-class swimmers manage anxiety.

Posted Aug 06 2009 3:25pm

If you'd asked me, I'd have guessed that Olympic-level competitive swimmers are all but immune to panic. To excel to that level, after all -- to cope with the pressure of competing against the world's best -- they'd have to have the ability to rein in their anxiety. But according to a recent New York Times article, anxiety and panic are serious problems even among world-class swimmers. To wit:
Her body was quivering and she was sputtering for breath. The swimmer in obvious distress was not a toddler who took a tumble into the water; it was a future world-record holder in the warm-down pool at the 2004 Summer Games in Athens.

The teenager Katie Hoff was having a panic attack and the fully-clothed man who waded in to rescue her was not a lifeguard; it was the United States Olympic coach, Mark Schubert, who soothed her by saying the anxiety that made her palms clammy, her heart race and her mind a tangled web was a well-known opponent on the world scene.

How swimmers learn to cope:
To inoculate its team members against any strain of performance flu, United States Swimming officials periodically invite them to seminars on using visualization techniques to achieve optimal performances run by people affiliated with the Pacific Institute based in Seattle. One of their speakers last fall was Brian Goodell, a two-time Olympic gold medalist who weathered a panic attack to win the 1,500-meter freestyle at the 1976 Summer Games in Montreal.

The aim is to turn the athletes’ minds into bunkers that fortify them against self-doubts.

Man oh man, I'd love to get me one of them bunkers.

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