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Does IT Matter? (Coaches’ Corner, July 9)

By Jonathan Kraft, SR1.

One of the most common questions that can cross a swimmers mind is “Does IT matter?” The question could pertain to many different things: Does swimming this length really matter? Does doing this under water matter? Does bringing my water bottle matter? Does even showing up matter?

Often times, we get so distracted looking at other swimmers, and trying to make sense of what they are doing that we begin to lose track of what we are doing… or supposed to be doing. One thing that all of us can benefit from is gaining some perspective. On the surface, it may seem like that person is always swimming well at meets, and they never show up to practice… ergo I should not show up to practice either. But a little perspective on the situation may reveal a much different story under the surface.

You see, it’s the small details that build up to greatness. Greatness and perfection are not simply born, nor do they happen by accident. Rather, it is the culmination of many different details colliding at the right time into a thing of wonder.

For swimming, this is a swim race or a meet overall. All season long, you work on the details: the stroke details, the tactical details of a race, the details of what makes your body perform at its peak (e.g. how much water you should drink during the day/ during an effort, or how much warm-up you need so that your body is ready to perform its best). The “does it matter” questions also infiltrate all other aspects of life: Does it matter that I study for this exam? Does it matter that I show up on time? But the reality is that performance is simply the culmination of these details:  they either add up to something amazing, or they add up to something that amounts to mediocrity.

As someone who has coached swimming for numerous years now, it has become evident that it does in fact matter! The technical mistakes that I see swimmers make day in and day out are the most pronounced features of a racing stroke. If a swimmer crosses over all the time in practice, you can be sure that when they are on the last 25m of a race, there will be excessive crossing over. These details do matter: they are the whole reason behind practicing to begin with. When you come to the pool, you are not coming to an exercise workout – you are coming to a swim practice, to better yourself in some way to perform at a meet in the future. Each practice, you make the choice to care, try your best and succeed, or to sit back and cruise. … but be sure, that what you do in practice is what you will do when race time rolls around. You need to keep in mind that you are undoubtedly practicing what you are wanting to race.

Warm-ups are another frequently asked “does it matter” question. The answer is easy: Yes, warm-ups matter. Warm-ups are often more psychological training than anything else. Yes, it is important to warm up your muscles and get them stretched out and ready to work hard… but you are also training your mind, conditioning it to know when it needs to step up and perform its best. You see, every time you get in that cold, crowded pool, an hour later you will be racing at 100% effort. This means that your body is making the connection between being squished into a pool in the early morning with many other swimmers like sardines, and the need to be ready to race in a short while. Subconsciously, your body prepares you for this. Again, a small training detail that on the surface does not seem all that important, but in practice really does matter.

These details found throughout the sport of swimming are the cornerstones to success. And when they rear their heads, all swimmers are faced with an option: to care, to make it matter, or to simply let it drift on by with the waves. Be a swimmer who cares, a swimmer who makes those small details matter, so that when race time comes around, the details will be what set you apart.

In other words… train like no one else, so that you can race like no one else.

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