March 25, 2015
by Olivier Poirier-Leroy (via Swim Swam)
The path that fast swimmers take on their way to the pages of the record books are as varied and unique as they are.
Some arrive to the party late, not hitting their stride in the water until their late teens (or even mid to late 20’s), while for others they always displayed a glimmer of something special in the pool.
Regardless of the route they took to the top of the podium, fast swimmers know that there are certain inescapable realities and features of the trek to the top of the podium.
Technical proficiency. Having an environment that supports their success. As well as these 6 other under-appreciated truths of swimming at an elite level—
1. Wishing for your goals won’t make them happen any faster.
When you go to sleep at night, what do you fantasize about accomplishing with your swimming? If you are like me, it is the same couple of dreams. Over and over you ruminate over the details of swimming at the highest levels, of taking your abilities to their outer reaches, of slamming into the wall first, looking up at the scoreboard and feeling that satisfying warmth of achieving beyond what you or anyone else considered imaginable.
Having the goal is important—whatever it is, it acts as your North star, your compass—but having the daily schedule or routine in place to make it happen is absolutely critical.
Without the daily quota of work, without knowing what you gotta invest on a day to day basis, those dreams will never leave the quiet pillow of your bedroom.
2. Two athletes, training for the exact same amount of time, will produce two different sets of results.
What works for you won’t work for someone else in the exact same doses. And that is fine.
The journey is yours and yours alone—no two paths to elite swimming are the same. They all require varying amounts of work. Comparing the things you are doing to those who have been there is risky in that what a successful swimmer is doing now is rarely the exact same thing that got them to where they are.
Embrace the same broad concepts that propelled them to elite status—hard work, consistency, having a positive attitude—but comparing yourself to where Phelps was at a certain age, or how fast Franklin kicked at a specific time in her career is priming yourself for unreasonable expectations.
Appreciate the fact that your path is yours and yours alone.
3. Consistency trumps motivation every time.
There is a mistaken belief that in order to get jacked up and perform well at the pool, we need to be fully and thoroughly inspired. That every workout needs to involve a Cesar Cielo-style chest slapping, a Gary Hall-shadow box, and a Michael Phelps-themed thousand yard stare.
The problem with motivation is that rarely is it ever constant—some days we feel fully primed, ready to take on the world, while others we struggle through the day, grasping on the first passable excuse to tone down our effort in the pool.
Our performances in the pool are a reflection of the consistency we show at pool. It’s not a motivation contest, it’s a “who can show up most consistently and drop the most number of gangster workouts into the inventory” contest.
4. The sucky moments will teach you more than your successes.
Yes, failing at something we are working towards sucks. Big time. When you come up short, when you perform below expectations, when things don’t go the way they shoulda or coulda, it hurts. There is no questioning that. We begin to doubt ourselves, our talents, our training.
It’s precisely those moments that teach us more about ourselves than the biggest victory. We learn how resilient we are, how we deal with adversity, and perhaps most notably for whatever is next—what we need to improve on. There is nothing like a glaring setback to shine a bright light on the aspects of our training that we have been glossing over, taking for granted, or full-blown ignoring.
It might feel a little bizarre to imagine that braving our failures improves us, makes us smarter, better prepared, and in the end better swimmers, but that is exactly what you should be using them for.
5. Showing up isn’t half the battle… it is the battle.
The sense of starting over from scratch is one of the most frustrating experiences over the course of a swimmer’s career.
During the latter stages of my age group career I was brutal for this. I would train my butt off for a couple months, get frustrated when I didn’t see the progress I expected or hoped for, and then would fall off for a week.
By the time I got my head right again, I couldn’t help feeling like I was starting from square one. It took me a long time to figure out how to be more consistent in my own life (suspending expectations being the main key) and to dial in on the workout at hand, and not where my performance stood in the grand scheme of things.
Anyone can come to practice and do the occasional monster set. Fast swimmers understand that average speed matters more than flash-in-the-pan greatness.
See Also: The Pool Belongs to Those Who Show Up
6. Be ready so that you don’t have to get ready.
Being ready means that you are willing to push forward even when you don’t feel like getting started. It means that you don’t need conditions to be perfect in order to act. It means that you are ready to rock and roll whether you are training or competing in a dimly-lit 23 yard pool or a brand new 50m aquatic complex. Being ready gives you a mental resilience that becomes even more important as you progress in your swimming career.
When you are used to competing and performing at a high level in sub-standard conditions you are better suited to competing at your best when the circumstances are sub-optimal.
You can complain about how crowded the lane is in practice, but keep in mind that this is great prep for warm-up at meets. Fast swimmers use the hand they are dealt with and make it work for them.
Will you be ready?