Taper Time (and how it helps the swimmer well beyond the meet)

Hi All,

It’s an exciting time of the year. Some may think I am talking about the cooler weather, but I am actually talking about Taper Time. Taper is a word used in many sport disciplines. It broadly means a phase of a season where the body actualizes all the gains made during previous weeks and months of training. In essence, we are getting the athletes physically and mentally ready to swim fast.

We did have some swimmers taper for their District and Regional championship the past couple of weeks. For the record, the results were fantastic. This weekend, we have swimmers competing at their high school state championships as well as the SYS meet. Your staff is excited to watch our swimmers attack their races and strive for best times.

You may notice I said best times. At non taper meets, we are looking for technical improvements, race strategy implementation and the like. At taper meets, we are expecting best times. It is our hope that some of our swimmers use an early season taper meet to qualify for season ending target meets. This approach helps us avoid the, “I have to make a cut” syndrome later in the season; which is not the best way to approach swims. 

While early season taper meets are somewhat different from season ending ones, they do share many things in common. Below is a list of some of the important consistent themes:

  • Wear Your Best Tech Suit - Our program is not big on wearing tech suits outside of major meets. Tech suits do give one an advantage is they can help reduce drag and increase buoyancy. 

  • Rest, Rest Rest! - Your body heals and strengthens with rest.  This is not the best week to go line dancing or try to learn roller blading, for example. Get all school related work under control and relax when you are not at the pool or school.

  • Nutrition Matters - While we are cutting down the yards, our bodies don’t need as many calories. It’s important to make the right food choices year round, but at this stage, added extra processed calories won’t be in your favor. Eat whole foods as close to natural as possible. 

  • Stay Hydrated (more than just water) - The effects of slight dehydration can make the difference between a best time and a disappointing swim. It is important to stay hydrated now through the conclusion of the meet. Adding a Nuun tablet to water once or twice daily can help (no more than 2 please daily). While water is great, the combination of the added ingredients will help keep the athlete balanced and ready. 

  • Flexibility Is Important - We do a team stretch before or after swimming each day this time of year for a reason. Staying flexible increases your body’s range of motion. That leads to more distance per stroke, rotation, etc. This translates into more power and speed. Stretching also helps us prevent injuries. Take the stretches seriously if you truly want to succeed.

  • B+ - I say often, “B+. It’s not just a blood type”. What you say in your mind translates into the real world. The more positive your thoughts are, the more likely your results will be positive as well. I ask the swimmers to learn to listen to their inner and outer dialogue with themselves.  Once they become in tune with that, they can learn to stop negative thoughts and replace them with positive ones. It’s a skill that takes awareness and practice. Watching and listening to them at this early season taper meet can help them getting better at that important skill as the season and their career progresses. 

  • Have FUN! There should be some nerves at a taper meet. If there weren’t, then the event would have no real meaning to the athlete. Successful swimmers learn to use nerves as energy to help fuel their performance. If you see your child or teammates getting too anxious, try to help them to relax. Deep controlled breathing is the best way to control the bodies reaction to fear. Remind them that they are prepared and will do great. You can even tell them a funny joke to help change the mood.

Let’s be real. While our program has a strong history of hitting our tapers properly, things happen. Sometimes a child misses a turn or a finish during their swim. I have seen goggles break during a swim or a swim cap come off in the middle of a longer swim. Sometimes the athlete was just not mentally ready for peak performance. If a swim doesn’t meet expectations, we have to learn to rebound and reset.

Everyone will not swim perfect at every taper. If we have some swims that are off, we have to analyze; not criticize or judge. What went wrong? Was it one of the unfortunate reasons mentioned above?  What is the preparation like up to the meet? Did the swimmer come to as many workouts, dryland sessions or clinics as possible? Where there technical issues that need to be addressed? Was the race strategy implemented properly? I could go on. 

The takeaway here is to address what were the limiting factors of the performance and make a plan to correct them. No drama, no issues no worries.  I have seen swimmers have a bad first swim and it ruined the rest of their meet. I have seen others learn from it and go on to have successful future swims. Much of the difference is mindset.

If you label a swim that did not meet expectations as an opportunity to get better, you can rebound and reset. If you see it as a personal tragedy, odds are it will affect your next swims.  Let’s keep it all in perspective. Long term success is not possible without near term failures. All high performing swimmers have failed at some point. It helps them learn, correct and grow.

I have been fortunate to experience this sport from almost every angle possible. I have seen the highest of highs, the lowest of lows and everything in between. Through this experience, I have identified traits I call, “Championship Behaviors”. These are the ways real champions act in situations, good and bad. Taper is a time where we can foster the growth of these behaviors in our athletes. Meet by meet, season by season, the athlete should fill their tool box with the skills and attitudes they need to excel. 

For me, this is the real magic of taper. We get to watch the swimmers mature right in front of our eyes. And, by the way, when a person internalizes the mindsets and behaviors of a champion, they succeed well beyond the confines of the pool...and that is why I feel like I have the best job in the world.

See you at the pool - Rich