An Opportunity To Get Better

This is a really tough and unprecedented time to be a serious, competitive swimmer! With COVID-19 still raging around the country, forcing schools to go remote, making it difficult to get pool time and train the way you’re used to and creating so much uncertainty, it’s no wonder that so many swimmers I talk to are feeling lost. You have no clue what this short-course season is going to look like and whether you’re even going to be able to compete.

How are you supposed to work on your goals if you’re not going to be able to prepare for and get to race? And if there aren’t going to be any meets, how are you supposed to keep yourself motivated to train the way you need to in order to excel as a swimmer and achieve your goals?

If I could, let me offer you a helpful perspective to navigate these confusing, uncertain waters. Because you won’t have your normal meet schedule anytime soon this short course season, you actually have a “wonderful opportunity” right now to be able to take your swimming to the next level! While this might sound like I’ve been in the hot sun far too long, let me reassure you that I’m not delusional! 

Here’s what I mean by “opportunity.”

This is a perfect time for you to work on your weaknesses. This is a perfect time for you to take a really close look at your stroke mechanics, starts and turns and begin to work on improving them. Additionally, this is a perfect time for you to examine your mental weaknesses both in training and competition and to turn those into strengths!

During a “normal” season where you’d have a regular schedule of meets and would be racing be a lot, it would be very difficult to both work on your stroke mechanics and compete well. Whenever we make mechanical changes of any sort, we have to think about the changes and consistently work on them in practice until they become automatic and part of our muscle memory. However, when we’re competing and really want to go fast, we can’t afford to be thinking about technique either before or during our swims. 

The very best and only time to work on both your physical and mental technique is in training, when you’re not under performance pressure and have the luxury to just focus on the needed changes. Because of the pandemic, this is actually that perfect time for you to start to integrate these kinds of changes into your swimming. 

Sit down with your coach and ask him/her about what they think you need to work on that will really help you take your swimming to the next level. Have them shine some bright lights on your weaknesses! Do you have a hitch in your stroke? Is your breathing pattern slowing you down? Do you need to improve your underwaters? Understand that working on your weaknesses is the fastest and best way to get stronger as a swimmer. 

Plus, this kind of specific information from your coach will help motivate you because it will give you a clear direction for your training. Yes, you might not have a meet coming up on the horizon. However, if you know that you’re strengthening your weaknesses every time you train, and that this will eventually make you a faster swimmer, then you will get more excited about your practices and not feel like you’re just going through the motions in a purposeless fashion!

Almost all swimmers who go slower in meets than they do in practice, or go faster in off events than best ones, do so because they are making very predictable mental mistakes both before and during their races. Specifically, these performance problems are caused by two concentration mistakes. First, the swimmer goes into their event focusing on the future and outcome. They might be thinking too much about their time, the cut that they need to achieve or a specific goal. Since it’s a HUGE performance- disruptive mental mistake to bring your goals and expectations into a race with you, this future focus will always generate nervousness and can sabotage your racing!

Going fast under pressure demands that your focus of concentration stay in the NOW on the feel of what you are doing, one stroke at a time! Whether that means that you’re focusing on the feel of how much water you’re pulling, staying long each stroke or your tempo, etc., going fast can only happen in the NOW.

The second most common mental mistake made by swimmers is focusing too much on who they’re racing. If you are too caught up with needing to beat someone else, worried that they may beat you, thinking about their reputation, etc., then you will get nervous, tighten up physically and go slow! Swimming fast requires that your focus stay between your two lane lines! You need to focus on the feel of what you’re doing and NOT on what you think others are doing!

You can work on correcting these two mental mistakes each and every day that you train! If you’re the kind of swimmer who consistently “time travels,” allowing your focus to go from the past to the future, then you want to work on "staying in the now" during your practices. Find something feel-related to focus on (for example, staying long) and you want to be aware the instant that your focus leaves the "now," and then quickly and gently return your focus to the feeling of staying long.

Similarly, if you’re the kind of swimmer who gets too caught up with who’s around you, then you want to practice staying in your own lane. Again, find a feel-related target for your focus (i.e. your underwaters or how much water you’re pulling) and every time your focus leaves your lane and goes to thoughts about others, you want to quickly bring your focus back to the feel of your underwaters or how much water you’re pulling.

If you spend time consistently working on your mental and/or physical technique during this challenging and frustrating time, when things return back to some semblance of normalcy, and meets start up again, you will be pleasantly surprised with your results!