Mental strength is one’s ability to overcome adversity which comes from a desire and passion to achieve goals. It’s one’s grit. It arguably has a bigger role than fitness in reaching long-term success. After attending the “National Letter of Intent” signing ceremony on Thursday, November 10 at SUA, I was amazed at the strength and effort it would take to be sitting in the same place as these five athletes. Seniors Kendyl Ferrara, Josie Grote, Lauren Schuermann, Brynna Walchle, and Isabel York celebrated their commitment to continue their athletic careers in college. Not only did this accomplishment require time and dedication, but focus and a willingness to overcome adversity.
Jill Meiring, St. Ursula Academy’s assistant athletic director and varsity basketball coach, describes the importance of the combination of physical strength and mental toughness. “While conditioning your body, training your muscles, and practicing your skills are extremely important in achieving success, the mental aspect of sports has a tremendous impact on an athlete as well.” She adds that grit requires exercise and practice by “working through tiredness, soreness, [and] mental challenges.” Having played basketball at Denison University, Coach Meiring understands the efforts to reach the collegiate level of a sport. She goes on to explain the idea of grit in sports.
“Some individuals do not display that mental toughness until they are a part of a team. When their performance affects the team, athletes tend to exhibit more grit and desire to overcome a challenge.” In most sports, such as soccer or basketball, the team element is a part of the game. However, this is not always the case, as in the individual sport of swimming. Kendyl Ferrara ’17, 2016 State Qualifier for the SUA swim team and college commit to The Ohio State University, notes how the unique influence of a team in swimming helps her. “I think that having a team atmosphere helps because it gives you a support system when the sport gets tough. It is also what makes the sport more fun for me, especially at practices.” Kendyl’s coach, Ed Bachman, believes that swimming is an individual sport because “its challenges solely rest upon that person. The demons are all within each person to try to conquer, and no one else can assist in this task other than by offering encouragement.”
As a 2016 All-American, Kendyl has accomplished much in her swimming career due to her ability to find a delicate balance between the mental and physical aspects of swimming. She placed 11th in the 1500 freestyle and 22nd as a member of the Anderson Barracudas national team in the 200 freestyle at the 2016 YMCA LC Nationals. Kendyl additionally earned the Honorable Mention All-City title for Division I OHSAA, and placed 12th in the 500 freestyle, and 3rd as a member of the SUA 400 freestyle relay at the 2016 OHSAA State Meet. She said, “I stay focused during practice by reminding myself that hard work pays off in the end, remembering the goals I have in mind, and what I need to do in practice so I can achieve them.” This mental strength is not something that comes naturally to all swimmers. Swimming is a fight of your mind and your body.
“Mental toughness is something an athlete has, or doesn’t have,” adds Coach Bachman. “A coach can try to ‘teach or demand’ this attribute of an athlete, but my experience has been this is not very effective.” It is up to the swimmer to come to practice ready to work and perform to her best ability. The desire to work and continue pushing at the tiring and toughest moments defines the mental strength of a swimmer. He continued, “It must come from within! When the swimmer wants to make the change, it can happen although it usually is a very slow change over time.”
Swimmers everywhere can agree that it is difficult to stay focused during a practice, especially during the longer and more straining workouts. Yet we do it anyway. We make a commitment to the sport exceeding 20 hours a week; this time includes 5 AM practice, staring at a black line at the bottom of the pool for hours at a time, and intense dryland workouts. We do the same thing every day and work for the same results: to be successful by swimming fast for a single meet at the end of the year. The sport requires intense physical training, but also a strength that cannot be seen or easily explained.
Mental toughness is the silent power behind swimming and many other sports.