How athletes can manage studies and sailing (1)

Singaporean sailors are no stranger to examinations or time management constraints. When exam time approaches, anxiety tends to increase. Athletes worry about how much time they should spend on studies versus on the water.  Pressure to do well in both is amplified by parents, coaches, teachers, and of course their own desire to do well.

Here are some tools that sailors can use to maintain their minds and bodies during the exam period.

1. Use Imagery

Michael Phelps Quote

Imagery is an easy way to maintain neural pathways, and enhance performance when an athlete cannot perform due to injury or time constraints. Imagery requires athletes to utilize as many of the five senses as possible making the image as vivid as possible. This takes practice.

Athletes can use imagery anytime they have free headspace. This means during the bus ride home, in the morning brushing their teeth, or at night laying in bed before sleep. Utilizing imagery to enhance performance is a great tool for sailors to use during injury, exams, or offseason periods.

Sailors can imagine themselves sailing in a particular type of wind, rounding top marks in traffic, or see themselves on the start line during the final race of a regatta. They can imagine coming back from a capsize and mentally checking back in to the race, rather than giving up. Using imagery to sail a race can have lasting effects on confidence.

2. Break projects into smaller pieces

During exams, sailors should set aside time to study, but not over-study. Studying in short bouts of 15 to 30 minutes at a time is shown to be more effective than studying for longer periods. During extended study sessions, the mind begins to wander and can lead to burnout.

When scheduling study time, sailors should include a short bout of exercise. This can include a short run around the block, or calisthenics such as body squats, push-ups, pull-ups, and sit-ups. This improves mental strength and reception by increasing the release of brain derived neurotropic factor (BDNF). Keeping these neural pathways intact and strong can help sailors return to training strong.

3. Set Goals

Muhammed Ali Quote

Goal setting is often overlooked as a necessary piece of athlete success. It is important to write goals down. Writing them down also derives a sense of responsibility to the goal, and confidence is built when items are checked off of your “to do” list.

Goal setting can help to provide direction of effort, as well as help to manage time. Parents can help sailors materialize, organize, and accomplish their goals, enhancing bonding, as well as understanding of sailors needs.

4. Make Time to Relax

During exam periods, athletes may tend to feel overwhelmed and anxious, and it can be hard to relax. However, simply taking a few focused deep breaths, and bringing the self, back to center, can be a good place to start.

Athletes can use this just before bed if they are having trouble falling asleep. This can also be used prior to an exam or competition where anxiety may be too high.

Be mindful that the longer you do this exercise, the more relaxed you may become. Different performances require differing levels of arousal. It takes practice to understand the optimal zone of arousal for specific performances, so practice this every day.

Summary: Keys to Success

Exam periods can be a stressful time for student athletes. Equipping them with the proper mental tools can help them prevail with victory.

  1. Imagery can be a useful tool to keep the mind sharp, and retain skills related to sailing during injuries, exams, and the offseason.
  2. Break down seemingly insurmountable projects into manageable pieces.
  3. Set goals: bouts of study time as well as bouts of exercise time
  4. Taking time to relax, and understanding how to utilize relaxation in critical times is key for attaining maximum athletic performance.

These tools coupled with the right amount of sleep and proper nutrition will set sailors up for success prior to, during, and after exams and offseason periods.

Life is full of choices and obstacles. Athletes understand this and are prepared to utilize their time and their minds wisely. Motivate, Overcome, Inspire.

This article was written by the Singapore Sailing Federation’s in-house psychologist, Johnathan Loper.

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©2016 Singapore Sailing Federation
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