Tomorrow we leave for Conference Championships, the event we have been preparing for all season long. We are shaved and tapered. Unlike many programs that do a midseason shave or taper, we save this till the end so that we can build to this weekend. Call it a flair for the dramatic. Like all great movie plots, we are reaching the climax. I am sure of one thing: This weekend will be thrilling.
All season long we have focused on training our bodies while at the same time engaging our minds with attention to technique. The mental/technique focus has allowed our athletes to prepare for every aspect of their races. When the swimmers are constantly trying to improve their technique while they are training, two things happen. During the season they are slightly slower than they would like to be. This is a good thing and takes some reassurance on my part. I have to keep them focused on LEARNING as well as DOING. They are supposed to use the meets throughout the season as lessons. Each week I have asked them to try and develop winning strategies and techniques. The second thing that happens is that they are incredibly prepared for the end of the season. They have met the physical and mental challenges of training throughout this season. Now, when it all counts, they can get up and simply RACE.
When we get to the meet, everything will be routine for them. In last weekï¿½s entry, I described how we have held mock championships for the past few weeks. Each dayï¿½s races of the meet have already been planned out. In our final week of taper we have been just relaxing and resting. We have put our energy into putting the finishing touches on what we started 25 weeks ago. Our motto for this taper comes from an Outkast song. In one of the verses from ï¿½Hey Ya,ï¿½ Andrï¿½ 3000 asks, ï¿½What is cooler than being cool?ï¿½ The answer is Ice Cold. At the meet we will be cooler than cold. Ice cold.
This week we have worked on swimming with ice-cold quiet confidence. The practices have been at a higher level of meaning than any others we have done this season. The athletes have shown me that they are indeed ready to get up and go. I can tell because of the way they are handling all the little details. Each athlete has been warming up in the way that he or she wants. Rather than me critiquing their swimming, the athletes are telling me how they are going to execute their racesï¿½down to the smallest details. This is one of the things that has been so rewarding about working with these athletes. They have internalized all of the messages and have shaped them into their own stories. These stories will be played out on the stage at championships. I like the story metaphor because no story is perfect, but they are their own stories. They control the plot and the central character.
At big meets, too many swimmers spend their time trying to make up for a season-long lack of attention to the details of fast swimming. They spend their time in pre-meet warmups trying to make up for what they havenï¿½t been doing all along. We have spent the past six months training race specifics. We have focused every day on starts, underwaters, breakouts, turns, and finishes to the point that they are now automatic. We have practiced to the point that EXCELLENCE in all these areas is automatic. There isnï¿½t enough time to think about the fine points of technique when youï¿½re racing fast. Perfection has to be in there ï¿½ hardwired into your muscles and brain. Our pre-meet warmup will be exactly that. Each athlete will have the freedom to do nothing but learn the pool and get ready to race, physically and mentally. They will not have to be mindful of their racing tangibles. They can just RACE. I think this is the biggest advantage to training with a technique focus for an entire season.
I have been real careful to shift the focus away from winning. Because we are defending champions this season, everyone expects us to win. My Dad always told me that ï¿½Winning is not something that you can control; doing your best is all that you can.ï¿½ Winning is far too often considered the most important outcome of a race. An athleteï¿½s time is a result of what happens in the pool. What happens in the pool is what we can control. If each swimmer executes his race to the best of his abilities, then he has won. He has achieved what no one can take away. He has done the best he can do, regardless of the result.
This is a bit of a personal note:
This has been the hardest entry for me to write. Every year it seems as if League Championships is the watermark of the season because it marks the end. These final days have been filled with sleepless nights. I am consumed with the same kind of nervous anticipation as my swimmers. The thing that gives me the greatest comfort is interacting with all of my athletes. Some of them I will never have the chance to coach again. I have learned so much from all of them and am indebted to them for that.
This is where I should heed some of my own advice. This season is not about the outcome of this weekend. It is about having the opportunity to work with some of the nationï¿½s best and brightest. I have watched each and every one of these athletes put himself on the line day in and day out for the past six months. In the greater scheme of things, this season of swimming will be fairly inconsequential in their lives. They will all go on to be successful people because of who they are, not because of the swimmers that they are. I am just happy to have had a chance to be part of their swimming careers. Seeing them give everything that they have for one final time this season gives me the greatest reward I could hope for. I am proud of everything that they have accomplished this year regardless of what place we finish in.