Mike's Mailbag: Trusting New Training


By Mike Gustafson//Correspondent

Hey Mike!


First off I love your swimming articles and want to thank you for them.


I am a freshman in high school and am a swimmer and I just cannot seem to find happiness in swimming. I go to practice with the attitude of "because my goals are insane I need to train insane" I want to push myself further each practice however, I don't feel like our recently hired coach provides sets and practices that do so.

My parents don't trust or believe me so they won't let me change club teams. If I can't train intensely how am I supposed to improve and achieve my goals?

All this to say that swimming frustrates me and I don't know how to find the passion and fire I want and once had for the sport. Thanks for helping me out!

-A frustrated swimmer

Hi Frustrated Swimmer,

You're not going to get faster if you don't trust your coach. Trust is the most important thing between a swimmer and coach. When you're dedicating so much of your life to one thing, there will be setbacks and pitfalls and bad meets and maybe even bad seasons. Trust gets you through this. Trust is the light at the end of the tunnel where you say, "I know I'll end up better, even if I can't see where I'm going now."

It sounds like you don't trust your new coach.

I don't know your coach and I don't know you. I don't know what practices you guys do, so I can't write to you and say, "You’re right -- you should move club teams."

But I do know that swimmers are stubborn athletes. This stubbornness is both a good and bad thing, and it results from having spent so much time locked away isolated with our own thoughts in the water. We know our bodies and we believe we know how best to train them.

The thing is, we can be so stubborn about our training that we don't allow ourselves to improve with other types of training. Let me tell you a story:

My freshman year in college was the hardest year of training in my life. I was tired and so looking forward to a glorious, easy, end-of-season taper. Except that the taper that came wasn't that easy. It involved a lot of sprinting and a lot of intensity, and was totally different than successful tapers I had in the past. I began swimming like crap, sulking around, and being miserable. I had lost that trust with my coach.

One day an older swimmer pulls me aside and says, "Mike, you need to open your mind and realize you don't know anything. You think you know how to train and taper, but you don't. You have to trust our coach. He knows a lot more about how to swim fast than you do." It was blunt and honest and, upon reflection, even though I didn't want to hear that at the time, much needed.

So I tried it out and embraced the different style of training. I began to practice better, feel better, and at the end of the season, I had my most successful taper ever.

Frustrated Swimmer, you have to trust your coach. Give it a chance. You're only a freshman, so excuse me in saying this, but in the words of my own older teammate, you just don't know everything there is to know about swimming yet. Try this new coach out. Talk and communicate with that coach. Understand on a mature level why it is you do the training you do. Then go into practice with an open mind and give it a shot.

If at the end of the season, the program isn't a fit for you, switch. It's okay to change teams. It's okay to change coaches. Not every coach is right for every swimmer, but you'll never know without an open mind.

Paraphrasing an anecdote from the great book “Zen In The Martial Arts”, a book I suggest you buy, imagine your mind is a cup. When your cup is full, no new information can be contained -- it just spills onto the floor. But when your mind is empty and open, you can absorb new things.

Talk with your coach. Communicate. Tell him or her you feel like you aren't being challenged. And listen to your coach's guidance and training plan. Your coach might have no idea that you feel like you're not challenged enough. Or your coach might feel like he/she doesn't want to overwork you, since you're a freshman.

The thing is, I don't know your coach and your training routine. What I do know is this:

You won't get faster if you don't trust your coach. Open your mind and communicate on an honest and mature level some of your frustrations. Bring a parent to the talk. Tell your coach you want more challenges. Then listen to the plan and why you do what you do. Your coach should be willing and enthusiastic about explaining your training plan, and if your coach isn't, or gives one of those lame responses like "Because I said so," then perhaps consider a change.

Trust is like a house: It is built over time and needs a solid foundation. Know that you just don't know everything there is to know about swimming, empty your cup, and talk to your coach, and I know you'll be just fine.

Hope this helps.