Lockdown has inspired Penny Heyns to keep up her commitment to blood the next generation of athletes around the globe by taking to the Internet to run her Mental Toughness Online Coaching/Mentoring programme.

The champion international swimmer established herself as the world’s greatest woman breaststroker of the 20th century after becoming the only woman in Olympic history to win both the 100 and 200 metre breaststroke events in Atlanta 1996.

Ten years after that historic achievement, Heyns was recognised for her role in raising the profile of women’s sport, when she was inducted into the gsport Hall of Fame in August 2006.

Over the years, Heyns has been globally consulted to mentor, nurture and guide rising talent. She uses her vast international experience to provide unparalleled insights into what it takes to thrive at the top, and how to stay there once you get there.

Speaking to Celine Abrahams, Heyns talks about taking her mental coaching programme online during the global COVID-19 pandemic, the future of SA’s women swimmers, and what it takes to get to the top.

Penny, you currently have a Mental Toughness Online Coaching / Mentoring programme running. Please tell us more about the project.

Our newly developed Online Mental Toughness course aimed at Training Your Brain for tomorrows successes has been adapted from the very popular Mental Toughness Workshop that we have presented successfully over the past few years both in SA and as far abroad as the Middle East, Hong Kong and USA.

Based on accessibility limitations we were asked to form an online version which I’ve now successfully begun offering to my SA and International clients over the past two weeks (due to lockdown).

There are several sessions offered as well as the new Neuro Agility Profile (NAP™) Assessment which I highly recommend for athletes and students as well as anyone who wishes to improve their brain performance.

It provides the perfect opportunity for self-improvement and for athletes, especially to work on the mental aspect of performance.

During this period of lockdown and dealing with the global COVID-19 pandemic, what has been your word of advice to your clients?

We all in it together. We need to see this as an opportunity to get back to appreciating what’s most important, our loved ones and ourselves. Our modern lives are so rushed and full. This situation is forcing us to take stock of what’s most important.

Some people may waste the opportunity however I would hope and encourage us all to still create purpose in each day. Set routines and maybe use this time to work on those areas of your life that time usually does not allow for.

For athletes I suggest using modern technology and watching videos of the best athletes (whatever your sport), learn from them and then visualise yourselves doing the actions correctly. Imitative learning is the most powerful form of learning and the internet makes it so easy for young athletes to learn from the best.

For those who would want to join your project and receive coaching from you, how can they get involved?

For more info they can email me: [email protected]

What tips can you give swimmers who are looking to practice but do not have access to a pool?

As mentioned, I would google the best swimmers in whatever stroke and watch what they do. Pay attention to the details.  I teach stroke correction and swim technique on most weekends and most of the problem areas I see and corrections I make are things that I’ve learnt from watching videos of the current best swimmers in each stroke.

What do you think of the state of women’s side of swimming in South Africa?

I think it’s quite exciting the rise of female talent in the pool. I’m proud of our ladies and trust that they will continue to inspire more young girls in the coming years.

Do you think that more should be done to support and champion female swimmers?

I’m not sure how more can be done. Swimming is a sport that offers an equal playing field for both males and females. We are also unfortunately financially limited in terms of resources for all our top athletes.

Frequent high-level competition is very important and for our athletes to compete against the best means that most often they need to travel to Europe or elsewhere in the world. This is costly and hence not done as often as would be ideal.

What do you think of the upcoming talent with the likes of Tatjana Schoenmaker?

I think Tatjana is a very talented swimmer and has made impressive improvements over the past few seasons. I appreciate that despite all her wonderful achievements she has remained humble and even more importantly, true to her faith.

You have competed internationally and have ample amount of experience under your belt, what does it take to get to the top?

It takes clarity of vision, a firm belief and understanding of why you are doing what you are doing and a willingness to make great sacrifices.

What other programmes are you involved in?

FINA Bureau member (International Governing Body for Aquatics)

Chairperson of the FINA Athletes Committee

Athlete representative on the Compliance Review Committee of WADA (World Anti-Doping Agency).

Bureau member of CANA (Continental Body of Aquatics Africa).

Executive Board member of Swimming South Africa

Chairperson of Swimming South Africa Athletes Committee

Vice-Chair and founding member of AFSA (Aquatics Foundation South Africa)

Founding Board member of G4G Foundation (Going 4 Gold Foundation).



Photo 1 Caption: South African Olympic heroine, Penny Heyns, is sharing her international experience on a global platform to play her part in guiding future athletes through online training. Photo: Penny Heyns (Instagram)