Help Your Child Be Fast at Meets


                                                      Part 1, by Brian Bolster OAQ

Swim parents are a dedicated lot.  They sacrifice afternoons, evenings, weekends and vacation time to chauffeur their swimmer to and from practice and meets.  They volunteer.  They wait all day in all sorts of weather for a few swims that often last less than 5 minutes cumulatively.   They rearrange dinner times, spend lots of money in club dues, entry fees, travel expenses, swim suits, goggles, swim bags, etc.  They offer emotional support and perspective when their child faces disappointments, and they celebrate with them when they drop 3 tenths or get a new time standard.  You are a loving and dedicated lot.  And with all that goes into this endeavor, you  want to make sure you are doing all you can to help your child succeed.  

With that in mind your first order of business is to pick the right team, one that reflects your values and goals, with a professional coaching staff that teaches the children the sport of swimming and all that it entails to be successful, even as the life lessons that are an essential part of the process are being instilled.  
Once you’ve done that, your role is to parent your child while the coach coaches them.  So what does that look like at a meet, performance wise?  

Many parents with the best of intentions, think it is wise to give the swimmer a few last minute tips, be it on technique, or toughness, or to be aware of placing, making finals, or a goal or time standard to shoot for.  While this may feel good for the parent, it is not good for the swimmer or their potential outcomes.  
Here’s why:  
Swimming fast is all about getting into a Flow state called the Zone, performing complex tasks with automaticity, neural motor programming on auto pilot.  Happiness and joy help because they relax the mind and help get the swimmer into the moment.  Overthinking, stress, worry and fear are corrosive, because they cause neural overloads in the brain that degrade performance significantly.  

Owen McCormick was a very good swimmer, one of the best we’ve had.  He finished as a Jr. National qualifier and a multiple CCS and Far Western Finalist.  At Far Westerns in 2014 he was swimming the 100 meter back.  After the best warm up of his life, he was ready and we both knew it.  But then, on the way to the blocks his thoughts went back to a past disappointment at the same pool a year before, and then to the future as he resolved to make it back for finals that night, and how much that would mean to him.  
In those moments just prior to his swim, Owen made all three of the classic errors that kill the Flow state.  He thought about the past, the future and himself, in how he would be affected by the outcome, “the three intruders who are likely to keep us out of flow,”  in the words of author Steven Kotler who wrote the book on Flow state peak performance, ‘The Rise of Superman’.

Owen was way too tense, stressed and mechanical.  He went out slow, and came back even slower despite racing hard?!  Armed with my 23 years of coaching experience, once we talked I knew what had happened.  In his zeal to swim fast, Owen had abandoned the process that he had learned and trained to be successful.  We discussed changing it up for his next race, by smiling, having fun, focusing on the process and not the outcome and racing the way he trained, with winning habits which are trained effective behaviors.  Owen showed great mental toughness and heart, did what his coach asked him to do; and it worked!  He dropped 3 seconds and made finals the next day in the 200 meter free.  

More to come,