Cobber swimming and diving head coach Julie Lucier was featured in an article in the Fargo Forum on Wednesday. The article describes Lucier’s study of mental training and how she uses it with her team and other athletes.
Article reprinted courtesy of Fargo Forum and reporter Eric Peterson.
Julie Lucier’s first foray into mental training was when she was a freshman track athlete at Concordia in the late 1980s.
Lucier (her last name was Stenberg at the time) and her teammates did visualization drills in an effort to improve their individual performance.
“I had a bad feeling about it because of my experience in college,” said Lucier, who was a distance runner. “We were asked to visualize the whole race and I couldn’t do it. We weren’t told why we were doing it. We weren’t told the research and the background and why it was supposed to work.”
These days, Lucier is a believer in mental training and its benefits. The head women’s swimming coach at Concordia is writing a manual on the subject.
Lucier has been using mental training techniques with her team the past seven seasons and has worked with athletes from other Concordia sports teams over the last few years. This school year, Lucier is working with 50 athletes, including her swimming team.
“I developed a program for my team because I felt we weren’t as mentally tough as we could be,” said Lucier, who earned her master’s degree from North Dakota State, where she did her thesis on mental training.
Lucier has developed written tests (which can vary by sport) for athletes she mental trains to take an inventory in six areas – nervousness, concentration, resilience, motivation, confidence and uncontrollables. From there, Lucier can target those areas in which the athlete scores the lowest.
“It’s very rare that I have a college athlete with six lows,” Lucier said. “That’s never happened. Typically it’s four good sections and two lower ones, or five good and just one to work on.”
Lucier said in the last couple years, her swim team has needed the most work in concentration.
To illustrate how mental training can help with concentration, Lucier talked about a linebacker on the Concordia football team that she once worked with. He was an A-student in pre-med, a gifted athlete and knew the playbook inside and out. The player was in charge of calling the plays for the defense, but was misreading keys.
“I told his coach that I really felt like he’s a guy with a really narrow focus,” Lucier said. “It’s probably why he’s going to be a great doctor someday because people who can have a narrow focus are generally good at studying, taking tests.”
A linebacker calling the plays, however, is best suited by a player who has a wider focus. So Lucier suggested the player move to a position that required a narrower focus.
“He moved to defensive end and he was an all-conference player,” Lucier said. “That’s a simple thing. It’s challenging to teach an athlete to be wider. … In football, the nice thing is there are positions that need a very narrow focus and a wide focus, so a lot of times you can just switch positions.”
Katie Coleman completed her college swimming and diving career at Concordia last school year. She is a four-time school record holder for the Cobbers. Coleman said the mental training skills she learned helped make her a better swimmer.
“One of the most helpful things was taking the inventory,” Coleman said. “Being aware of what I needed to work on was super helpful. … By the time I was a sophomore, I was a believer.”
Lucier hopes to have a manuscript for her manual – which will be titled “Train the Brain” – done by the end of the year.
“I care about the theories, but I really want something that is practical,” Lucier said. “I think it’s really important to teach the athletes about the research.”