The old days of psychotherapy involved passively lying on a couch while talking about the past. For Dr. Jim Taylor, those days never existed. The bay area sports psychologist keeps athletes off the couch and helps them focus on a successful future.
Dr. Taylor’s vast sports resume includes triathlon. He has competed in the Escape from Alcatraz and Ironman Lake Placid and Ironman Coeur d’Alene.
byteclay.com recently spoke with Dr. Taylor about how to overcome a fear of open water swimming.
Mark Davis: A lot of people might want to do a triathlon, but are scared of swimming in open water. How do you help someone overcome such a fear?
Jim Taylor: First of all, recognize that swimming in open water is just naturally scary, especially in salt water. Just acknowledge that it’s a pretty natural reaction. Second, examine what the fear is. Is it of rough water, or is it of sharks, or is it of not being a good enough swimmer? Identify the real cause of fear. Then progressively work toward an end goal, maybe Alcatraz. Start off by getting some good instruction, assuming they are not afraid of swimming in a pool. Then learn as much as they can about the open water experience, what it’s like, the cold, the temperature, the currents, the waves from a coach, ideally. Learn about those kinds of issues and have the tools to deal with them. How do you swim in rough water? What do you do with that initial shock when you jump off the ferry at Alcatraz? Use information as power and information can override fear. Also, address the physiological components of fear. For muscle tension, learn some relaxation. Tight breathing, take deep breaths. Positive self-talk; I can do this. I am prepared. Then progressively work from being comfortable to swimming in a pool to swimming right offshore at Aquatic Park, where it’s shallow, where there’s no real danger. Then, just build confidence. The fear is either built on the unknown, or a bad experience. Steadily build competence in swimming in open water as well as confidence, that is, I have the ability to swim in these conditions. Just be patient and work through the different steps of difficulty from a pool, shallow water in Aquatic Park to doing a lap around the near buoys of Aquatic Park, to doing a lap around the perimeter of Aquatic Park. Also, have a swimming partner you can each rely on, to support each other and to be there just in case something happens.
MD: The good old summer camp buddy system, which is a good idea anyway. Recently there was the first-ever sighting of a great white shark devouring a sea lion in the water near Alcatraz. Do you have advice for people afraid of sharks?
JT: Yeah, don’t do Alcatraz. It’s an iconic event, but life won’t change if you don’t do it. Statistically speaking, even if there’s been one sighting, the chances of being attacked are very slim. But if it’s that strong a fear, do Folsom, do something in freshwater. Triathlons are supposed to be fun. If swimming is that uncomfortable, do duathlons. They are just as rewarding, just as fun but you don’t have to deal with the swimming part.
Next up: Dr. Taylor discusses when enough is enough. Stay tuned…