Managing Mindsets: Decorated Paralympian shares golden tips
By Greg Bach
Before plunging into the water on race day, Paralympic swimming great Jessica Long has already visualized what she wants to happen.
Her pre-race routine focuses her mind, manages her energy, and often leads to a medal being draped around her neck.
“I like to go to the pool when it’s completely empty and I just kind of stare out and in that moment set my intentions,” says Long, a 13-time Paralympic gold medalist looking to add to those golden accomplishments next summer in Tokyo. “I tell myself ‘this is your pool’ and ‘you are going to do great things’ and that gets me fired up.”
She also uses the time to recognize the nerves that are simmering and rather than try to ignore them she frames them in a positive light.
“I think it’s important to use that pressure in a positive way by recognizing that you have these exciting nerves,” she says.
Every athlete’s pre-competition routine varies, but Long encourages young athletes to dial up what works for them to clear any mental clutter and help them perform at their best.
“I stick to my routine and I think it’s so important for athletes to have a routine that can totally be their thing,” she says.
Originally from Siberia, Long was adopted at 13 months old from a Russian orphanage and grew up in Baltimore, Maryland. She was born with fibular hemimelia and did not have fibulas, ankles, heels and most of the other bones in her feet. At 18 months old, her legs were amputated below the knees so she could be fitted for prosthetic legs and learn how to walk.
She competed in Athens at the 2004 Paralympic Games at the age of 12, and also swam in the Paralympic Games in 2008, 2012 and 2016. She has her sights set on swimming in Tokyo for her fifth Paralympic Games in 2021.
TIPS TO SHARE WITH YOUNG ATHLETES
We spoke with the decorated swimmer about motivation, overcoming disappointment, and more. Check out what she shared:
Potent self-talk: On those days where the motivational tank may be running low, Long encourages athletes to lean on positive self-talk to help squeeze the most out of that practice session.
“Every day we’re expected to give our best and that can be really hard because you can be tired or sore and it can be hard doing the same thing over and over,” she says. “But it’s in that moment that you have a choice. You can be like ‘I can’t do this’ or ‘even though I’m sore and I’m tired this is going to be one of my best practices.’”
And when athletes are able to power through those rocky patches, they’ll be able to draw from those experiences moving forward. “Those are the practices that I remember most when I had no idea where I was going to get the strength to finish,” Long says.
Write down goals: Long writes out her goals – both short- and long-term ones – that help keep her dialed into the process. “I like seeing my goals written out,” she says. “I’m training for something that is four years away (the Paralympic Games) so that is obviously the end Goal, but in that four-year span I have short-term goals to reach within a couple months.”
The power of passion: Growing up, no one pressured Long to be a swimmer. She was able to pursue the sport at her own pace and on her terms – and her passion for it flourished. “My parents never pushed me,” she says. “It was always my decision.”
And she’s grateful she was allowed to choose her path.
“If you’re passionate about something you’ll go far and you can define your own success,” she says. “It doesn’t have to be a gold medal and it doesn’t have to be the Olympics, but if you are doing something you are passionate about you are already winning.”
The five-minute rule: “We have this rule on Team USA where you can have five minutes to be upset about a race because you put in a lot of hard work and maybe your race plan didn’t go the way that you wanted,” Long says. “But after those five minutes you have to suck it up and you can’t bring that negativity to the team.”
A love of swimming and competing: “I like taking off my prosthetic legs and I like the freedom,” Long says. “And I also love pushing myself. We’re trying to lower our times by tenths and hundredths of a second and I think that keeps it fun. You still have to have fun when you’re doing your sport. It’s supposed to be fun; it’s supposed to be challenging; and it’s supposed to be tough.”
Use these tips from U.S. women’s volleyball great Kelsey Robinson to help your young athletes navigate the all-important mental side of competing
Olympic gold medalist Jordyn Wieber, head gymnastics coach at the University of Arkansas, on the importance of young athletes experiencing failure and developing that all-important resilience to excel in sports and life
Former University of Michigan All-American gymnast Olivia Karas and her father Jim share what parents and young athletes need to know to help them navigate their athletic journey in their new book CONFESSIONS OF A DIVISION-1 ATHLETE: A DAD AND DAUGHTER'S GUIDE TO SURVIVAL
Former University of Louisville volleyball player Courtney Robison-Dixon, author of the new book LIVING IN REAL TIME, on helping young girls navigate the intense pressures imposed by social media and flourish on and off the court