By Wayne Goldsmith and Helen Morris
1. Prepare Physically
There is no doubt that this one of the most important aspects of competing successfully. If you are not ready physically, your are simply not ready.
No one can expect to swim at his very best without doing the hard yards and meters in training during the months (and years) leading into the championship event.
This is particularly true when preparing for multi-round competitions in which physical fitness and physiological preparation play a major role in your ability to swim fast heats, faster semifinals and even faster finals in one or more events over several days.
The physical preparation in your training should be more challenging and demanding than the physical demands of your competition.
Another critical aspect of the physical preparation is the taper. There are three key principles:
Maintain frequency of training;
Maintain hard work throughout the tape; and
Significantly decrease training volume.
2. Prepare Mentally
Without doubt, the mental aspect of achieving a successful result at your first national competition is crucial. Many swimmers, coaches, clubs and parents build up a national competition to something it is not. This increases the pressure and emotion, and in this environment it is difficult for even the best physically prepared swimmer to achieve his goals.
The truth is simple: championship competition is just another event. Granted, it may be surrounded by a lot of hype, expectations, media, fanfare pressures, but it is basically just another event.
3. Prepare Technically
Championship races are won or lost by fractions of a second. The athletes who win at national competitions will be those who have prepared to do the little things well under pressure by practicing to do them will in training.
Under pressure, you will do what you’ve learned to do in training and will fall back upon your tainting habits.
If you have been allowed to cruise through training session without an uncompromising attention to detail in your technique and skills, these bad habits will fail you under competition pressures.
If you are to be successful at a national competition, it is essential that your training habits be technically outstanding so that when the pressure and pain of racing hits you (usually around the three-quarters mark in the event), your good habits will help you achieve an outstanding result.
4. Prepare Tactically
Tactics play a crucial role in swimming successfully at a national competition. There are many swimmers competing at a national competition who you are your coach do no know. There are other swimmers who you’ve never raced against. Therefore, it is likely you will face a completely new and wide range of tactical situations.
Here are some tactical issues to consider:
Do you have a race plan?
Are you able to stick to your race plan regardless of what the opposition is doing?
Have you learned to change gears (speed) when needed?
Are you able to change breathing patterns in free and fly to meet the competitive situation?
5. Prepare for the worst
If things don’t go according to plan, you should learn skills to adapt to any situation and to deal with difficulties:
Can you learn to race fast without a complete warm-up?
Do you have contingency plans for late flights, long waits, buses not available, lack of lane space, forgotten race goggles, lost bags, etc.?
A good exercise for your team to utilize is a “What If” scenario.
About a month prior to the national competition, get together with all of your teammates who are intending to race at the meet. Raise issues that concern
All of u. Your team should work through solutions to these “What If” questions and solve the problems as a group.
6. Practice preparation strategies in minor lead-up competitions
Guess what! You do not have to enter every competition expecting to win! Some minor lead-up competitions are the ideal place to practice the physical, mental, technical and tactical strategies that you’ll be utilizing at a national competition.
For example, here are some things to work on at minor competition two months before the national competition:
Practice dryland warm-up;
Practice eating and drinking between races to see what works best;
Practice recovery techniques such as stretching and warm0-downs; and
Practice pool warm-up
At a minor competition one month before the national competition, try the following:
Practice pacing strategies;
Practice any new start or underwater skills;
Practice mental rehearsal techniques;
Practice swimming fast early in the morning; and
Practice implementing race plan.
7. Have several warm-up strategies and learn to swim fast using each one
While a good warm-up can be important in achieving successful swimming performances, there are hundreds of stories about swimmers winning major events and breaking records after less than ideal war-ups. The key s to have more than one warm-up strategy.
8. Go to the pool prior to race day and do some reconnaissance
Reconnaissance is just a big word for being prepared. This is a time to be come familiar with your surroundings.
You need to now where the marshalling area is, where you can access the warm-up area and where to find a good spot for stretching. You should be able to locate a private area for a little “quiet time” before the race. You need to know where the bathrooms and locker rooms are.
In short: you need to know the environment in which you will be competing.
Confidence comes from knowing and being comfortable in the championship environment…and from confidence, all things are possible.
9. Control the controllable: Sleeping, Eating, Recovery…manage yourself
The ultimate responsibility for the performance belongs to you. You should be educated on how to implement an effective sleeping, eating and recovery strategy in the months leading up to your major event.
Over the week-long competition period, quite often it is not the best swimmer who wins; it is the best prepared and most recover swimmer who wins.
10. Learn to enjoy the experience
Confidence and enjoyment of the championships environment comes from knowing u have had a total and thorough preparation. You should go t the championships…
Knowing you have prepared to the best of your ability;
Knowing the competition environment and actual challenges it presents;
Knowing your opposition;
Knowing the event; and
Knowing you can overcome any obstacle or difficulty presented to you.
Then you can relax and enjoy the experience.