The calendar has just switched to September and, as usual, I’m sitting on a plane heading to the annual American Swim Coaches Association (ASCA) World Clinic. While this week will be filled with seeing old friends, and learning more about swimming, I think I’m more anxious to get back to the pool than I have been in a long time.
This past year, we’ve witnessed so much history in our sport. Record-breaking record breaking — if that’s possible to calculate — but I can’t remember when more World Records have been broken in so short a time, not just at the top level of the sport, but also in Paralympic and Masters swimming. It seems as though training, enthusiasm, technique, and advances in equipment have all come together at the right time to yield tremendous results all across the board.
The question on my mind at this moment is: Can one season change your life? The next question is: Is it THIS season? While it took more than one season of training for the athletes at the Olympics to realize their dreams, it was being ready for that specific season that made it possible to make positive changes possible.
At this time of the year, the message I like to convey to swimmers is to act NOW to take advantage of the opportunity presented by a new season. Now — not January 1st — is the time for resolutions. Think ahead to how you are going to approach your next round of training. If you’ve already started your season, hopefully you did your mental prep work a few weeks ago but, if not, then at least you’re physically ahead of the many swimmers who will be gearing up over the next few weeks. The point is, you will have an advantage if, instead of plunging ahead with no plan, you take some time to chart a course.
As always, begin with the end in mind. How do you want to feel in February, April or May? How do you want to feel and what skills do you want to have when you’re on the blocks for your championship race? Will you be worried that you’ve slacked off in some practices, or will you be more ready to race than ever before?
Whom do you imagine is going to be in the lane next to you at the end of the year? If you have someone you’re used to racing, can you imagine what she did as training this morning, or will do this afternoon? Did she sleep in, or was she at the pool with intensity in her heart?
If you went to practice this morning, were you on time? Did you push off the walls with streamlined hands and pointed toes? Were you thinking about how your body moves through the water, and how your hands and feet connect with the water to pull you forward with more power and more efficiency? Were you thinking about your breakouts, your first breath, when to time your first dolphin kick, or underwater pull, or first stroke? Did you turn your head and take a quick breath, or did you know that you HAVE to get used to holding your breath just that extra instant because it’s what you’re going to have to do by the end of the year?
At the end of practice did you feel like you’d made progress, like you’d accomplished something positive, or did you merely finish what you were told to do? Are you going to make your coach responsibile for whether or not you accomplished your goals, or will you take responsibility for yourself and put in that little bit of extra effort that it takes to be successful? Have you looked ahead at your schedule to determine what meets you’ll peak for during the year, and not worry about the other ones? Do you have a dryland program planned, have you or do you plan on including stretching in your routine? Have you alerted your social circles that you may not be spending as much time out as you have, and that you expect them to respect and support you in this decision?
How’s the nutrition going? Have you decided to make sure that what you put into your body as fuel is productive, and not just wasted calories? Are you going to pack your lunch for school or work, or pick up the most convenient thing because you simply don’t have time to worry about that?
Are you studying hard? Are you up to date on your projects at work? Are you worried that you’re getting behind and that you’re so concerned with outside activities and life that you can’t focus when you’re at the pool?
When you look at these questions, you can see that there is a never-ending balancing act that occurs to be totally successful as an athlete. However, with ONE YEAR of focus, ONE YEAR of commitment to be able to answer these questions in a positive way, you could potentially change the course of your life. While that sounds like a big statement, I think that once you’ve tasted the success that comes with this type of commitment, it’s very difficult to go back to a standard way of life.
Taste success, and you’ll want more and more of it. The bad thing is that success doesn’t come easy, it’s extremely difficult to really be successful. While we’ll always be able to hold out people who are successful without working too hard, the people we’d really like to emulate, the people we watched this summer at the Olympics and Paralympics and World Championships, have always worked hard, and have had a lot of experience at balancing the questions listed above.
No one can be perfect, but balancing your life as a true athlete for one year, may bring you things you’ve never dreamed of.