I want to approach this subject indirectly. I want to walk around it before we get to the center, because I am not sure there is a center. We all know that the ideal attitude, to have before a dive, is relaxed confidence. Without relaxation and confidence little can be achieved.
In order to set up the ideal conditions for these vital prerequisites for a deep dive or competition several things have to be in place; if any of these pieces are not in place the dive is already compromised.
Lets list them , and deal with their relative importance in the overall picture.
Confidence comes in a large part from correct training then believing in your training.
Depth or distance should be approached systematically in small realisable increments. This is very important. If you can go down to 39mts and equalise on the bottom , then you are ready for 40/41 mts. This means you had the mental composure to check at 39 mts that you still had air in your cheeks and could equalise at that depth. Let’s look at the reverse side of the coin: if your last equalisation was at 37 mts or some unknown point and you rode it to 39 mts, how do you know you have the technique for 40/41 ?
Confidence comes from having all the elements in place. It is easy to exhaust our reserves of mental energy/courage by constantly in every practice trying to exceed our last personal best. Confidence comes from knowing we have mastered all the techniques necessary for the dive: equalisation, style, pacing, tactics – when to fill the cheeks, when to go into the glide, and memorisation of competition protocols.
If anything is missing in this equation the result is anxiety / stress. We have all noticed that some days nothing works and others that everything goes effortlessly well, like a well oiled clock, seemingly without any unusual effort on our part. Have you noticed that this tends to happen more often on days where we are without ambition, with a degree of the experimental in our attitude?
A lot of mental strength comes from avoiding the obvious training pitfalls and growing confidence coming from continuous small successes. One of the pitfalls is the “spoilt diver”. The spoilt diver is easy to spot – he takes forever ventilating on the line, he needs just a few more breaths, he needs total silence around him. There is confusion here amongst beginners; interval between deep dives should not be confused with dive preparation. The interval between deep dives is to allow time for the system to reset itself – to out gas CO2, and for the heart beat to return to an acceptable level. A very small part of the pre-dive preparation is actually O2 saturating, a very few breaths and packing will suffice. The rest is how long it takes you to get into the “Zone”, and this is largely habit. If you are interrupted you should be able to snap back into the Zone instantly. Train this, have somebody interrupt you and deal with it without postponing the descent.
During the countdown you should be thinking “when is he going to get this nonsense over with and let me get on with it? I am ready and have been ready for some time”. It should NOT be “the count has reached 7 but I need more air”.
Lets think for a moment of my personal dive hero Haggi Georgos Statti and all those great divers who dived breathold for a living – they dived or their families didn’t eat! They were the epitome of the Unspoilt diver.
The objective of good organisation is to avoid testing, as far as possible our mental reserves. It allows us to “let go” and helps to eliminate the unexpected. Detachment is very difficult to achieve in a state of chaos.
Organisation begins for the competitive diver with the selection of competitions he will attend this year. First he must consider his budget. A good General chooses his battle ground. Water temperature wind and wave and current play a part in the selection. The level of competition and dates – “where will I be in my training at this point?”. Time of travel and jet lag. In short is this my best battle ground?
Then there is organisation of my personal equipment and my time, also careful consideration of training and the all important rest days prior to the competition.
Organisation of our time is critical at the event to allow time for our predive routines, visualisation , stretching etc.
This question is not well enough understood. I mean here sleep as distinct from rest. Our records which go back as far as 1992 clearly show a strong relationship between sleep and breathold performance and performance in competition. The benefits of sleep are not clearly understood, we all know that; for instance weight training causes micro tears in the muscle which repair themselves in rest, and thus rest is the essential growth phase.
Sleep revitalises, but more than this for the freediver. When we sleep the brain cycles through 3phases- ? (alpha), ? (theta) and ? (delta). Each cycle lasts about 90 minutes. In the very low alpha /theta phase we get REM sleep , the dreaming sleep associated with the sub conscious mind. This is followed by the delta phase, the unconscious phase associated with the unconscious mind. During the first cycle of sleep we usually have a very brief period of REM measured in seconds and in the last cycle of sleep after 8 hrs and before waking we may experience many minutes of REM.
If you will pardon the metaphor this REM sleep could be seen as the “Evacuation of the mental bowel”. My understanding that in a state of mental constipation, an over loaded sub conscious, we experience stress and a lack of mental vitality an inability to cope. With sufficient sleep the opposite occurs, empowerment, vitality and relaxed confidence.
And here let me venture into the realm of conjecture. Another very important process is at work in diving – we experience Ischemia and Reperfusion (blood shift). This process produces a flooding of the system with ROS (free radicals), which causes post dive exhaustion. Our main defense is NO (nitric oxide), the most powerful anti oxidant known. My belief is that our reserves of NO are mainly replenished during sleep; all observations points to this.
SOME OF THE PITFALLS
Do not create unnecessary expectations by ourselves or others.
Don’t have rituals or mental crutches; don’t have lucky pieces of equipment.
In competition avoid careless social contact – it’s a waste of energy, and a chance remark runs the risk of striking the wrong chord.
Never compare yourself to others; this is your journey, and yours alone.
If all that we have discussed is in place, everything happens in a state of effortless, detachment and confidence – it is obviously a contradiction to concentrate on concentrating!!