24 Things You Learn Becoming a Competitive Swimmer (Coaches’ Corner #20)

admin Coaches' Corner

By Jonathan Kraft, Coach SR2.

This article was brought to my attention by one of the SR2 parents – it is a quick read, yet very good! When you take a look at it, pay special attention to #2, 8, 16, 19, 24. While all 24 are true, these ones are especially important.

  1. You won’t always love the training, but you will love the results

Most of you guys are now in the thick of training, working really hard every workout just to stay afloat and setting 5 reminder alarms to ensure you get up in the morning. It is important to always keep your eyes on the prize… remember why you are in the water! For many of you, and the SR2 especially, you set goals at the beginning of the season – it is those goals that you must look to when things get hard. No matter how tired you are, dwell on the feeling of achieving those goals and how much better you will feel because of that accomplishment. Also, everything you do now is not lost, you are either building fitness for other sports that you prefer, you are making some great friends or getting an extra opportunity to hang out with already-established friends, or you get to just exercise and live a healthy lifestyle.

  1. Long Term Planning

Swimming is more of a marathon than a sprint… it requires a large input of time and energy often and (hopefully) a short race that in many ways grades your work over the past week/month/season. Seeing that short term pain, soreness and fatigue will be worth it in the long run goes a long way! Always remember that there is a reason you are in the pool and a reason your coach is hollering technical advice at you. The smart swimmers are the ones that realize going slightly slower in workout to solidify some key technique (evidenced by your coach incessantly nagging you about it) will be well worth it in the long run. If you lose a race today yet make the change… you will win the race tomorrow.

  1. The shelf life of moping is very short

New research has confirmed that a negative attitude and self pity are the leading causes behind poor swims (this is a joke, but I am sure if a study was conducted these would be the findings).

Letting one race completely derail your mental game is something that is all too often seen – this largely starts from dwelling on a poor race for too long and not letting a poor performance go. In all honesty, once the race is over, you have to set your eyes on the next race, the next meet. Whether you had an amazing race or a terrible one, finding a way to balance the highs and lows is critical for long term success. Moping drains energy and enthusiasm and often clouds your mind, inhibiting you from really achieving what you are capable of. In my experience, the longest ‘droughts’ without best times are sourced back to one race or meet not going well, and the swimmer’s inability to move past it. This gets perpetuated and grows into something far more severe and debilitating than a single poor swim. Give yourself 5 minutes to be upset, take that frustration, anger and sadness and use it as fuel for your next race… but never revisit it after that… if you swim another poor race, don’t dwell on ‘swimming two bad races’. Treat it like you just swam your first poor race. Once you have moved on from one race, it is over, leave it in the history books.

  1. Learn a lot about yourself while staring at the black line for hours on end (or the corner of the ceiling the painters missed 50 years ago if you are a backstroker)

This one is more personal and less objective. But, while I had been a swimmer, I found the swimming pool the most peaceful place, when life got stormy and stressful, the constancy and predictability of the swimming pool and practice brought me solace. As someone who severely suffered from anxiety and an overload of stress, the pool was where I could go to swim that anxiety out and really gain insight into what mattered in my life. When exams came around every year, I found the peace and comfort that came from the two hours in the pool training and tiring myself out in preparation for Summer nationals far outweighed the loss of a mere two hours of studying. It is inevitably hard to shut your mind down for the entire practice as you swim and stare at that black line, but it also provides this quiet, controlled place to really digest all the stimuli you have encountered during the day, contemplate big decisions and analyze important situations in your life.

  1. You are way tougher than you ever thought imaginable

This one is especially relevant as we are well into Challenge Week and you inevitably have come to terms with the difficulty and challenge of what your coaches are expecting of you. As a coach now, I can attest that often times I can see so much potential in each of my swimmers, and it is a rarity to see a swimmer seize that potential and truly achieve what they are capable of. Best times are always something to celebrate, but so often following a race I think to myself “man, that was awesome, but they are so much tougher and if only they had embraced the pain of that 3rd 25 instead of slinking away.” The truth is, you guys/girls are capable of so much more than you let yourselves achieve.

You limit yourself and define yourselves with ‘C statements’ – “I can do this, I can’t do that…” – but these are limiting mindsets. If you can achieve something, are you leaving room to exceed that? When a goal time is written on the board are you saying “I can achieve that”, or are you saying “I can be better than that, I can exceed expectations?” A slight change in your self talk can completely change what you are capable of. A tough lesson in life is that at some point everyone around you, every single person close to you is going to let you down. When this happens, you will need to make one of two responses. Firstly, you can be defeated and waiver on your self belief. If you put your value in what others think you can achieve, you will be let down 9/10 times. The second response is to keep the faith in yourself and push through a tough situation where everyone else has lost belief in you (is there any greater reward than proving all the doubters wrong?).

To reach your potential in swimming or anywhere in life, you have to be at the edge of what you think even possible, you have to be pushing and bumping up against your limitations as often as possible, stretching the fabric of reality you have woven over yourself. If you are not on the edge of your seat, of your capability… you are taking up too much space.