Can Caring Less Make You Swim Faster?? (Coaches’ Corner #4)

admin Coaches' Corner

By Savannah King, Coach, SR1

With our first meet under our belts, the VIK Coaches had a glimpse at the energy that was buzzing around the pool deck (especially before your races). There were a ton of smiles and excitement, however the general consensus from the Coaches was that all of their swimmers were really, really NERVOUS.

A little bit of nerves can be a good thing (something I always called “Nervous Energy”), but a lot can be detrimental to your race. There is a happy medium between not caring before your race, and being so nervous that you can’t move your body through the pool. This is known as the Yerks-Dodson Law and can be seen below as a comparison between arousal and your optimal performance.

Sav graph

As you can see, there is a middle ground, which will allow you to perform your best.

Nerves are usually a good indication of a passionate swimmer and, as a coach, I love having passionate swimmers. It’s every coach’s dream to have a group of athletes that are inspired to work hard and to do their best in everything they do. However, sometimes this passion can blind us when we are in the moments before our races. It can put so much pressure on us to do well that we end up being in that JITTERY stage of the graph above.

In one of my courses I learned that there are two types of passion: Obsessive Passion, and Harmonious Passion (coined as the Dualistic model of passion by Robert J. Vallerand).

Here are some indicators from Vallerand’s research for Obsessive Passion:

Your self-image is completely tied to how you do in the pool. If you have a great workout you are riding high, but if things go somewhat okay, or worse, terribly, then you are down in the dumps for an extended period of time. The self-talk that comes along with setbacks is merciless and unforgiving.

You define yourself solely as how you do as a swimmer. You identify yourself as a swimmer and nothing else. Your identity is tied almost exclusively to how you perform in the pool. There should be other things in your life by which you can define yourself: student, entrepreneur, brother/sister, volunteer, coach, etc.

You “must” or “need” to train hard. When you use that self-directed voice in your head, what kind of language are you using? If you are consistently telling yourself things like, “must”, “need”, or “have to,” than you are almost sitting in the obsessive side of things.

You feel a ton of pressure to get things done perfectly in the pool. Because an overwhelming amount of your identity is tied to swimming, you place a ton of pressure on yourself to perform. Practices are to be done perfectly, or not at all. There is no middle ground in how you train. As a result, you don’t actually feel all that great about the training you do in the pool, even when it does go what could be considered well.

And here are the positive indications that you have a Harmonious Passion for your sport:

You don’t take bad practices personally. You know that sometimes things just don’t click, even though you prepared yourself as best you could for the training session. While disappointing, a poor practice doesn’t ruin your day.

You frequently enter a state of flow. You know those magical moments in your swimming where everything just seems to come together? Where the water bends to your will and you are able to perform at a high level without having to coerce the awesomeness out of yourself? Where time starts to fly by? That is “flow,” and it is something those who like what they are doing and are able to apply their skills and talents towards it frequently find themselves in. (We’ll certainly be touching more on flow in the future, so stay tuned.)

You meet your training sessions with a positive attitude. Going to the pool and swimming out of your mind is something you kind of look forward to. You take it as an opportunity to improve, to challenge yourself. You view it as a rewarding mixture of work and play, and as such, meet it with relative enthusiasm.

So, at the end of the day, even though you have put countless hours of hard work into this sport, it will not define who you are. When everything is said and done at the end of your swimming career, each race is only 1 in thousands that you will have swum. Keep the nerves in that happy zone between being asleep and I’ve-had-16-coffees-today-and-I-can-hear-colour type of buzzing energy. Spend more time saying, “that was a fun race!” than saying, “that was so bad!”.

At the beginning of the season Coach Laura told you to have fun, and I can’t stress enough how important that is. One thing that I regret the most in my swimming career is the moment swimming went from being the fun activity that I got to do every day, to the job that I had to go to so that I could accomplish my dream. The difference between telling yourself that you GET TO do something, rather than HAVE TO do something might be the small change in your mindset that can bring you from an average swimmer to one of the best. Stop stressing about the end results and start enjoying the process of getting there, and you will start to see improvements. I promise you.