By Lauren Caswell, Coach MV1.
You are putting in tons of effort at practice every day and your coach is very pleased with how much your stroke fundamentals have improved since May. However, for some reason, the best times that you easily achieved at past meets have all of the sudden disappeared. You are starting to get frustrated because several of your teammates are still dropping time at the meets while you are heading in the other direction. Self-doubt is starting to rear its ugly head. Swimming doesn’t seem as fun as it did a couple of months ago. What is happening?!
DON’T PANIC. All swimmers, including Olympic champions, have experienced what you are feeling. You are simply entering the “dog days” of the competitive swimming season. Your non-swimming friends and family call this time June and July (haha). Since I have survived many of these difficult times, I am pleased to offer the following 4 points that you will help you survive the cruelest part of swimming – the Dreaded Best Time Drought.
1.) Stop Comparing Yourself to Your Teammates.
All swimmers develop at different rates. Some swimmers improve through a series of breakouts where their race times improve dramatically over a couple of meets. These breakouts may be caused by something major, like a sudden growth spurt or something minor, like a small change in their technique or body position. Others will go down the much less enjoyable “slow and steady” path where marginal improvement occurs over a much longer period of time. It is critical to understand that all swimmers experience peaks, valleys and plateaus in swimming performance at different times. Rest assured, statistics show that the fastest Div 2 swimmer often is not the fastest in Div 5. Your current accomplishments are not a good predictor of how fast you will be swimming in the future – whether it be August or 2 years from now.
2.) Don’t Compare Your Race Times To Your Personal Bests, But To Where You Were A Year Ago
The next two months will be the most challenging of the summer. You will be exhausted, both mentally and physically. If you are not, you aren’t working hard enough! As a result, you won’t be swimming up to your best ability. It is possible you achieved your best times when you were fully tapered last August at Regionals or Provincials or when you weren’t so exhausted at the first meets of the year. A better way to measure your progress is to look back at your times from June and July of last year. Chances are you will be faster!
3.) Focus On Technique And Not The Clock
Unfortunately every swimmer, every coach and every parent looks at the clock at the end of each race. It is the only objective way to measure performance at the end of the day. However, your coach will be more focused on your technique than the clock. Did you make sure not to breathe into and off the walls? Did you make sure not to glide into your turns? Did you apply the technical changes that you have been working on in practice? If you did, your coach will be pleased regardless, even if your time is off your best. However, if you failed to execute the race plan, you may be disappointed that the coach wasn’t as thrilled with the new best time as your parents were.
4.) Talk To Your Coach
I can guarantee that your coach has gone through lengthy “best time droughts”. I can guarantee that your coach has battled self-doubt, has felt envious of a teammate who is having breakout while he/she is struggling. I also can guarantee that your coach has overcome these difficult periods several times. Your coach knows that hard work, a positive attitude, and support of your teammates and parents will lead you back to fast times in the pool.
One of my most inspirational memories as a young swimmer was when Canadian Olympian Annamay Pierse spoke at a Vikings event. She told us that she went six years without a personal best before she set a new World Record in the 200m breaststroke! I cannot think of a better example that hard work will pay off in the end. If you have the passion to battle through the ups and downs and plateaus, you will eventually reach your goals. Trust the process, believe in yourself, and most importantly have fun! A happy swimmer is a fast swimmer J