Esoteric Sports Psychology - for freediving
Understanding, acquiring skills and shaping attitudes.
Short version of a longer text. ©
The aim is to have body and mind working as one –
achieving a state of flow. Flow as a state where you
naturally do the right thing, lose sense of time,
and even lose a perception of self - where the
mental noise and inner conversation dies down and
you are what you do.
most obvious things that has to be trained would be: 1)
muscle, 2) cardio, 3) technique, 4) apnea, 5) warm-ups,
6) max attempts, and also training of 7) lungs and 8)
ears. Not forgetting to mention a close look on 9) diet
and 10) equipment, and of course finding a coach, or
simply an assisting dive buddy. Perfection in all these
areas will make a truly great freediver.
these areas need dedication and understanding in order
to reach elite level. It might seem a pretty
straightforward task of time and effort (if you know
what and how to train) but yet even if mastered it might
not be enough to be able to excel, or even reach your
In freediving, and indeed all elite sports you will fall
short if you haven’t mastered the mental aspects. You
spend hours on changing your body, and might only think
the rest is about willpower or just wanting it bad
enough. In some happy cases that might be fact, but
seeing your mind as something set apart from your body,
and thinking it is the body that does the performance
will not bring out your true potential.
Vision and goal setting
Setting a goal easy, reaching them can be difficult.
does not have to be a specific goal, or a number, or a
record – It is enough with a commitment to be better
than yourself, or pursuing a feeling, a vision of a
perfect dive. Numbers take care of themselves.
- Have your dream anchored down in your consciousness as
- It is important that your ambition poses a significant
challenge. Something you just might be able to
- No manual, coach, or system has the final say, you
chose what you feel is right. You set your own
- Usually it is not possible to create a true vision of
a goal until you have the understanding of the sport and
the way your body works.
- Your vision can not be bigger than the motivation or
discipline needed to achieve it.
- Have both long term and short term goals. Set general
goals, and specific goals.
- Write them down. Describe how it will fell when you
have achieved your goal.
- Tell yourself why you want to achieve this.
- Write down what you are willing to sacrifice to
achieve your goal.
- Write down what is missing to achieve your goal.
- Have only positive goals (no “I shall not…”).
- Celebrate and reward yourself after each goal you
- Be specific: write down: what you train, when,
where, and how.
- Ask yourself what exactly every exercise is good
for, what it will do for you.
Understand what kind of competence you are building.
“I do this because I want to achieve this”.
Confidence & motivation
Acknowledge that you are building a new personality. New
skills will need a new identity. Are you escaping from
another identity? That usually does not work. Why are you
doing this, who is this “new you”? - What does your a
fear of failure look like?
- And remember, at the end of the day you are not your
last results. It is not what you do, but who you are.
If you don’t believe in yourself you are in “dire
straits”. Confidence is the belief that you can be
successful at a task. It will create a relaxed mental
state and a carefree approach.
- First of all remember, you are a freediver, there
are no cooler sport, just by doing it you are success.
- Once you discover that you can do PB without any
warm-up dives you will earn great confidence. Its all
there, your diving skill is ready to be deployed. Just
get in the right mood, do your desired breath up and go.
Fake it till you make it. Copy the best, pretend that
you are fully trained and go the full length, who knows,
it might work.
- Give yourself arguments for why you are going to
In every training session you are adding a piece to the
- Understand that you are training many factors that all
together will build an athlete.
- The key attitude is to change your perception of time
– having a living conviction that small acts of today
are shaping your future.
See changes. Look back and see that you have changed.
Look for improvement, not perfection.
If progress is slow, remember you are building up to
an “evolutionary step”.
- Decide if you are motivated by structured
training, or intuition driven, or a mix?
- Determine if you are you a person driven by
positive or negative feedback?
- Give yourself credit, not for what you do, but
that you actually tried. Some people never even try.
- Fed up? Switch sport, try something else, at least
Performance & limits
not fear anxiety/stress – if it is there - just accept
it. Observe it for a while. It is not your perceived
weakness that is the problem, it is what you feel
about your weakness.
- Be sure to have many versions of warm-ups so you can
adapt to shortness of time.
- The purpose of warm up is mainly to get in the right
- Freediving is a mystery, even with the worst of
preparations you still can perform your best if you
manage to get your emotional state right.
- When at a competition site, make this your
arena, take a walk around it, every corner, express your
right to be in the way, to be seen, stroll around the
pool, imagine yourself in the pool.
Do not expect a good day or an easy run. Keep it in you
mind that it will not feel nice. Expect a long,
extremely long easy phase, but do not forget the
- Make sure your max attempt is the real thing, set a
date and a time (just like a comp) and start with a
When exploring your limits it might be a good idea to
forget about any set goals and just focus on the right
feeling. Let the numbers come to you, instead of chasing
- It can be very daunting to go for max attempts. Just
the thought can make certain people feel the taste of
failure. You must understand that a max attempt is not a
PB attempt – it is just to try to see how far you can
swim this day under these circumstances.
- A max attempt is a way to ask yourself: who am I?
-Pushing yourself is not easy, and even painful. Seeing
the physical reactions as something biological that you
understand will enable you to endure longer. What you
understand will make not you freak you.
Its only freediving– just do it.
Body/mental awareness & relaxation
- Awareness is the prerequisite for change, a necessity
in order to master relaxation, or reach flow.
- It will be much easier to attain this skill if you
like your body. You have to emotionally grasp that your
sense of self has to include your body. It is not an
appendix to the brain.
- Mind and body is constantly communicating and having
an effect on each other, they interlace, any dirt in one
part of the machinery and the other part is instantly
Identify how you react to stress. Observe your thoughts
and emotions when under stress.
- By switching between tensioning and relaxing –
relaxation will be deeper. The yoga position called “the
boat” is an example.
During relaxation visualize and tell your body to relax
deep in the muscles, body part by body part.
- Do psychic breathing – create a steady slow
airflow in and out by blocking slightly at the
epiglottis in the throat.
Get active, release energy: physical movements (jumping,
yoga, dancing, swimming, tensioning). You might even
have to use sounds, humming, singing and if applicable:
scream. You are the athlete, it’s about you, don’t care
what others think.
Stop, close your eyes and listen. Make a mental list of
all present sounds. Try to identify the smallest sound
of them all.
|- Chose one activity that you always do – and chose to
do it in slow motion. Like brushing your teeth, or
opening the fridge, or putting on your shoes.
- Do nostril breathing. Imagine only feeling air in one
nostril while breathing in – and then imagine only
feeling the other nostril when breathing out. Slowly
back and forth, right to left, and back. No hands
involved. You can add counting of breaths as well. Start
from 0 if you lose count.
- Observe how you evaluate and judge everything you see:
good, bad, interesting, normal, boring, weird, stupid,
fascinating. How you compare your self and how you
evaluate how everything relates to you. What it can, or
can not do for you.
Visualization - creating an image in the mind.
Rehearsing a challenge beforehand by visualizing will
prepare you in a subconscious way. Do it several times,
check several alternatives, look at it from different
angles. Preparation, countdown, how it feels, how you do
everything right. How you succeed, finish it perfectly,
hear the applause. Visualize it again, see it in slow
motion, freeze certain situations where you feel
stressed or nervous, smooth it out, solve it.
- A detailed “first person” view, or visualize it from a
third person, stepping back, getting an overview, seeing
- All senses or some specific ones:
Kinaesthetic (imagining how it feels when you do it),
Visual (just seeing it as a silent movie), Auditive (a
focus on the sounds), or you might be comfortable with a
more linguistic approach, talking yourself through your
- Visualization is a skill, practice by imagining
simpler things. Close your eyes now an imagine yourself
getting into your suit.
Close your eyes and remember your actions from the
second you woke up and onwards. Recount every movement
Reprogram the situation. NLP /
Words are thoughts, thoughts can control our emotions.
When in training, or during relaxation, when it flows,
when there is harmony, start using a cue-word that will
remind you of this feeling. Connect a mantra to every
kick or stroke. Load the word with positive feelings so
that you can use that word and return to that mental
state in the future when needed. Combine with
affirmations. “Gosh – this feels good”. “Wow – I am
Repeat positive commands to yourself, over and over,
"relax, focus," "I can do this”, “I like this”, “I have
trained for this”. Say
to yourself: “I might actually make it”. Give
specific commands: “Reach and relax”. “Kick and
Mind control games
- Plain work ethic, laziness will get you nowhere.
- Sometimes the training session of the day is nothing
but an exercise in discipline: the fact that you showed
up in gear is enough. It is not what you do, but that
you did it.
- Remember, it is not always fun.
- Short focused training, can be better than lots of
- Discipline is much easier the day you realize your
brain is always looking for a short cut, the easy way
- Observe and understand the “quitter” inside of
you. Note the thought right before you are about to
give up. What was that thought?
- Discipline is a choice to override the first
inclination to do something else.
- Cultivate habits, and remember, every time you
break a good habit, you are stepping away from your
- Are you a control freak? Well, then ease off. If
you are not a control freak, try becoming one.
– The athlete that is not looking for perfection in
every move while in regular training, will not magically
deliver it in competitive situation. Train according to
your highest intentions.
- It is about anchoring new habits in your muscular
memory, in your thought patterns, as well as getting rid
of old ones. It all comes down to care for the details.
Split a movement down to its ingredients, perfecting
them and assembling them all again. The thumb, the hand,
the arm, the torso, the full movement. Again, again,
until you are not thinking anymore, until you are in the
- Its not about the finishing line, the edge, the
surface – it is about the process. Focus on process.
It’s an attitude.
- If there are too many details, you might want
to bunch them in groups, simplify them and chose the
most important one. For instance, to focus on a certain
speed, or counting, or focus on reach - might solve