A Secret to Better Figures

In an earlier blog article, Coach Leah described synchronized swimming figures for us – what they are, their overriding purpose, how they’re scored, and how she manages practicing them with her team.  In this follow-up article, Coach Leah reveals her number one suggestion for improving figures:
ANA Synchro Head Coach Leah Pinette
ANA Synchro:  If an athlete wanted to improve their figures, what’s the number one thing they could do on their own – stretching splits, strengthening their core? 
Head Coach Leah Pinette:  Flexibility and strength are important, but I think the most important thing is your mind and what you’re telling yourself before and during a figure.  I think the biggest thing that someone could work on if they’re trying to improve a figure is visualization of that figure.  When I was competing, I clearly remember slipping into the water to get ready to do a figure and I would visualize what I was about to do.  Maybe that’s why I excelled at figures and why I like them.  Being in the proper mindset is huge in synchronized swimming.
ANA Synchro:  Do you actively work on visualization with your athletes? 
Head Coach Leah Pinette:  Yes, we focus on it a lot.  Sometimes they don’t even realize they’re doing it.  When a girl does a figure for me, I’ll ask them “What were you thinking just now? What were you telling yourself?”  If they want to do great in figures, they have to be able to calm themselves and be positive in what they’re telling themselves.
ANA Synchro:  Is this something that comes naturally to athletes, or is it something that is taught and practiced, just like all the physical moves of synchro?
Head Coach Leah Pinette:  It does take practice.  I started at a young age.  Probably high school is when I started doing it for my figures.  I remember going to camps when I was on the New Canaan Aquianas, and Duke Zielinski would work with us on visualization.  And then, when I was on National Team, we had a lot of sports psychologists who worked with us on it.


ANA Synchro athletes do a "think through" of their routine before competition.
ANA Synchro:  Does visualization work for routines too, or just figures?
Head Coach Leah Pinette:  It definitely works for routines too.  Although, it took me a long time as an athlete to be able to visualize a routine.  We would do routines totally as a “think through” where we’d sit, listen to the music, close our eyes, and visualize the whole thing.  There are different techniques to it.  You can do it from the point of view of what you’re seeing and what you’re feeling, or you can do it as an outsider looking in. 
ANA Synchro:  Which way did you do it?
Head Coach Leah Pinette:  I’m a visual person, so I’d always visualize my teammates and what I’m seeing.  I could not visualize as the outsider looking in.  When I visualize a routine, I have to do it as what I’m seeing as I do it.  I wouldn’t see myself flying, for example, I’d see what I see as I was flying.
Coaching figures includes training athletes to visualize their figures going well.
ANA Synchro:  How do you know, as a coach, if your athletes are doing it properly?
Head Coach Leah Pinette:  I guess you never know.  I don’t know if my coaches knew what I was seeing when I thought about a routine.  Sometimes I actually saw some bad things in there!  I’d often see a routine going wrong!  So that was a hard thing – to be able to change my mind and do it correctly in my mind.
ANA Synchro:  That’s so fascinating that you’d visualize something gone wrong!  Because that’s just your mind making it up!
Head Coach Leah Pinette:  Exactly!  It’s your mind making it up!  That’s what I try to tell the athletes. If someone tells me “oh, this will be bad,” I say, “yes, you’re right!  If you think it will be bad, it will be bad.”  This is the power of visualization.  You have to think it’s going to go well.  You have to see it going well.
ANA Synchro:  Visualization seems like a pretty big topic!


Head Coach Leah Pinette:  Yes!  Someday I’d like to run a whole clinic on it.  And maybe we’ll get an expert to do a guest blog on the topic.  Stay tuned!