These days, most swimmers train 11 months out of the year, anywhere from 2-5 hours a day, depending on what level they’re at. Some swimmers train 5 days a week, some 7. The yardage varies from a few thousand meters a day, to nearly 10 miles a day. This is all done to swim possibly 20 competitions a year, with the REAL focused competitions happening 3-4 times a year. Swimmers train to compete, and that can be a good thing because competition is a vital part of the total swimming picture. The lessons of competition can be dramatic. In competition, the focus is sharper, more intense. People take the sport seriously during meets.
But if we look at the big picture of the life of a swimmer, maybe there’s reason to find a new balance between the value we place on competition versus the value we place on training. When you think about it, the amount of time spent competing absolutely PALES in comparison to the time spent training. So maybe we should look a little closer at what actually happens during all that training. What can we do to embrace it as something more than a place to hone a great start or a killer dolphin kick.
When you’re at a competition, in the actual race, you’re all alone. It’s you against a random collection of people who happen to have an entry time similar to yours. For just a couple minutes, you have a shared experience with people you may not even know.
In training, however, you’re surrounded by friends, and typically friends who also have about the same performance level as you. When you’re training, you are building the memories of the sport that you’ll hang on to forever. If you look at the sport as a training activity, rather than an activity that prepares you for the occasional competition… trust me, those competitions will become MUCH more fun.
We’ve got it all turned around as athletes. The sport IS about training. It’s where we spend our time. It’s where we make our friends. It’s where we do things we didn’t know we could. It’s where, on a daily basis, we get to share experiences with our best friends, struggling together in what is, in actuality, a glorious process of pain and achievement.
If the sport was solely about our accomplishments during compeition, it would take way too long to get any payback emotionally. You KNOW when you’ve had a great workout. You feel a sense of accomplishment that you’ve just done something great. Maybe you worked through an injury, or made an interval for the first time. Maybe you REALLY worked a kick set and maybe… you made it through that kick set without pulling on the lane line.
The GREAT thing about swimming is that it’s an individual sport, plus a team sport. It’s the team, the friendships, the bonds that are built on a daily basis that help prepare you for those infrequent races. Without the support of the team, your friends, it’s the loneliest sport in the world. The black line on the bottom does not give anything back.
I was personally SO fortunate to be surrounded in my training by people who, many years later, are among my closest friends. We shared so much more than swim meets. We struggled through pain and agony on a daily basis. We supported each other, and we tried to beat each other every day. We challenged each other to train better, and it wasn’t always friendly. It was part of what made us who we are, and I highly encourage all young swimmers to understand this.
The sport of swimming is about training.
Embrace the training and competitions become… well… fun.
Embrace the training and competitions become less stressful.
The next time you go to workout, look at it as THE event. Look at it as the REASON the sport exists. Look at it as an OPPORTUNITY to spend time with friends, doing something healthy and challenging. Change your perspective of the sport, and you will absolutely become more successful as a swimmer.