Sep 3, 2004

Kids are back in school, teams are gearing up for the new season, and some have already started. It's the beginning of a new year. It's nice to see all your friends again and to get caught up with what they've been doing. It's so easy right now to kind of EASE back into school or EASE back into the water. That first report card -- or that championship meet in February or March -- seem so FAR away. There's plenty of time to set your goals, crack open the books or to work on your technique, right?


Now, to the reality of the situation. YOU DON'T HAVE ENOUGH TIME! The clock is ticking and you're already behind the eight ball. And if you don't have ANY goals in mind, then you are not even in the game! It doesn't matter whether your goal is six months in the future or four YEARS in the future, the preparation starts TODAY. Not tomorrow. Not next week when your dual meets starts, but TODAY. Yesterday is actually better, but yesterday is gone. You can't get it back. You either took advantage of it or you missed an opportunity.

If you walk into practice worried more about who will be in your lane, or if your boyfriend or girlfriend has shown up yet, your priorities are in the wrong place (that is, if you have "serious" goals and are serious about achieving them). While the social aspects of school and sport are important, and while competing and winning aren't EVERYthing, doing your best and improving your knowledge and skills ARE everything. It's GREAT to have friends in the sport, don't forget that nobody else can accomplish your goals for you. It's all up to you. Your friends are there to help you learn, to encourage you, to race you, to push you to your limits. You are there to do the same thing for them. Your friends should be people who are as committed to their goals as you are to yours. In every form of athletics, you (along with your coach and teammates) create the environment in which you train. You can't control your coach or your teammates (although your attitude can influence them). But you CAN control YOU. It's largely up to you to make your personal experience either positive...or negative. If you don't like your coach, your lane mates, your team, your school, or the set you're being asked to do, it would be easy to sit back and complain, or feel sorry for yourself. But it's just as easy to take control over your own head, and make the most of your situation. Ask yourself: What can I do here to accomplishing something for myself -- toward my goal?

In a way, swimming requires you to be a bit selfish. You MUST take advantage of every opportunity, and turn roadblocks in to opportunities. If you're a breaststroker who is being asked to swim backstroke, you can grouse about it...or you can see it as an opportunity to get better at something new and STILL get great conditioning. You MUST focus and work on every set like it means something specific to YOU. You have to focus on streamlined pushoffs, no matter what stroke you're swimming. You have to focus on every turn, your breathing into and out of the walls, the clock, the coach, the other swimmers, your hands, your feet, your head, your eyes, your rotation, your balance, your pull, your kick, your cadence...PHEW...the list just keeps going and going, and we've not even started talking about racing!

Swimmer's hand extending

Anyone who thinks this sport is boring because you keep going back and forth over and over and over again, hasn't begun to scratch the surface of his or her potential. Unless you have answered every possible question about your own personal swimming, you still have tremendous opportunities to learn and improve. What kinds of questions? Read the last paragraph and turn any of those points into a question that pertains to you.  "Your hands," for example. How do you hold your fingers when you send your hands into the water? How do you extend your hands forward in each stroke? Do you hands come over or under the water during the breaststroke recovery? Do you accelerate your hands through the pull? How do your hands exit the water when you finish each stroke? How are your hands pitched when you come into a turn or at the finish. What do you do with them on the start? Do you outsweep, insweep...or pull straight through with your hands on each stroke? I'm just getting started here. So you can imagine how many OPPORTUNITIES there are to learn about what you do.

OK. So let's say that you've defined your goals for the season. And let's say that you start TODAY to take steps to reach them. Now let's project into the future to the week before your championship or "goal" meet -- whether it's 6 months or 4 years down the road. No matter how great an athlete you are, I guarantee that you will have doubts about whether you've prepared enough. You'll wonder if you're ready. For that reason alone, I encourage you to keep a daily log of what you've done to prepare.

There's a great story about John Naber, a multiple medalist in the 1976 Olympics and multiple World Record holder. About a year prior to the '76 games, John was going to be up against an East German swimmer named Roland Matthes. Roland was the most dominant backstroker in history at the time. If I remember correctly, Roland had won every backstroke race he had swum since 1968. John knew that to beat Roland, he would have to break the World Record. At the time, he was more than a second off that time. He began to keep a log, and to give himself a credit for each GREAT thing he did in practice. John reasoned with himself that each credit he earned would be worth 1/100th of a second off his best time. John's definition of "great" was a truly great set, or the fact that he learned something that would significantly improve his stroke or race. A merely good practice wasn't good enough, in John's mind, to earn him a credit. He had to do something that even HE was impressed with, and he was an awesome swimmer.

By the time the Olympics came around, John had noted more than 100 great things in his logbook. He ended up breaking the World Record, winning the Gold Medal, and was within a couple tenths of a second of his predicted time.

In the days before a major competition, we all have doubts. But if you have kept a good logbook, you can gain confidence by looking back at your record of preparation. If you can review what you've done, you can enter your championship meet with NO sense of wonder or doubt. You'll be assured that you've done everything you could have, and that you were intimately involved in your sport even OUTSIDE of the pool. THIS is doing MORE than what's asked of you.

Get involved in your training OUTSIDE the pool. By keeping a logbook, you give yourself a way of viewing everything you've done during the entire season. Write about your ups, and don't be afraid to write about the bad days either. You'll be proud about how you battled through adversity and accomplished your goals despite the setbacks.

Besides, having a record of your swimming life story is going to make it MUCH easier to sell the movie rights after you win a bunch of medals at the Olympics -- or -- to keep for your kids after you qualify for the district championships.

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