WWR manual chapter 11

11 Psychology

Psychology of WWR is a massive subject, as so much of a competitive performance is influenced by the athlete’s mental approach. From the ability to cope with external factors such as changed schedules or unexpected events, to the ability to visualise a race being executed well. All has a mental component to some extent.

11.1 Visualisation

The mental side of racing hinges around the ability to visualise, to be able to recall images and emotions to allow the athlete to master a new skill or to prepare for a yet to be experienced event.

Visualisation plays a part in:
learning a new skill - for example working on flatwater technique. The ability for the athlete to be able to imagine the perfect technique and to be able to feel the coordination of the muscles to achieve this ideal is a great asset.
Coping with new water - positive visualisation/reinforcement, visualise paddling a piece of water with confidence and making a good line down the river. Feeling the movement of the boat and the water, and the strokes needed to execute the moves. This is particularly key if the paddler is apprehensive about whether they are going to be able to paddle the water. An attacking attitude is a much better response than a passive one, as the water is able to take control.
Race rehearsal - extending from positive visualisation, visualising a good race run, the effort which is being expended and the discipline of the paddling. Rehearsal of paddling discipline is of particular importance in sprint events, when controlled aggression is required, rather than 'red mist' runs.

11.1.1    Technical Rehearsal vs Emotional Rehearsal

Technical rehearsal corresponds to visualisation of the routes, the strokes and feel of the water needed to make the moves. Emotional rehearsal is a little more abstract in that it is rehearsing the nerves and emotions that you are going to be felt before and during the race.

Sprint events are typically held on good technical water, and are fairly short in length. It is practical to rehearse the entire course in detail from both a technical and emotional perspective. The athlete is able to walk through in their mind the entire race run - feeling the extreme but controlled effort and the water movements needed to achieve a good performance. The rehearsal allows the athlete to achieve a state of readiness for 'controlled explosion'.

Classic events introduce a greater scope for mental rehearsal, particularly on longer courses where pacing is vital. A great classic performance is the result of great commitment from the paddler, without mental rehearsal the athlete is unlikely to be ready for the extreme effort and emotions that will be experienced during the course of a classic race. Rehearsal for a classic is less focussed on small detail than the sprint rehearsal due to the long nature of the course, but instead focuses on the commitment the paddler is going to make to the race, preparing for the emotions and sensations they will experience at certain points in the race. Only by being truly ready for these will the athlete race to their potential. The athlete achieves a state where feedback from the muscles is considered just that - feedback of how hard they are pushing, and not interpreted as pain.
The classic athlete will be capable of recalling the entire classic course in 'technical mode', and will make positive mental rehearsals of critical sections, but the majority of mental preparation will be focussed on 'emotional rehearsal'.

11.2 Pre Race Nerves

Everyone gets nervous, it's needed to achieve high performance - but it also needs to be kept in check. It's likely that the bigger the event the greater the nerves, as this will be the culmination of many months or years training and the nerves represent the uncertainty of being able to achieve the performance they are capable of. It is important that the athlete only focuses on the factors that they can control, and try to control them - and not worry about the factors which they cannot control (for example the water level, or how much training the other competitors have done).

There are some simple techniques and tactics to cope with nerves;
Only worry about what you can control, and control it (i.e. yourself)
Start to prepare for your race well in advance, prepare slowly to keep everything in check
Allow plenty of time to get to the water and warm up
If you are feeling weak and tired on the water - don't worry this is normal and common. Use relaxation drills to centre and calm yourself.
·    Find a quiet breakout, get hold of the bank, close your eyes, breathe slowly and deeply in through your nose and out through the mouth.
·    Listen to your heart rate - gradually calm down and slow down your heart rate.
·    When you are ready and calm and centred, open your eyes - really flex your muscles, think strong thoughts and take some good strong deep paddle strokes.
·    Feel yourself being really strong and powerful. Go through your race plan - and you are ready!