By Ros Dumlao//USA Swimming Communications Intern
With three Olympic Trials and four collegiate swimming years behind her, National Team swimmer Ashley Wanland still keeps swimming.
Wanland, 22, picked up the sport when she was 7 years old and said she’s still having fun.
Speaking in front of a large group of 14-16-year-old female swimmers at the National Select Camp, held Jan. 24-26 in Colorado Springs, Colo., Wanland passed on pieces of advice that helped her in the sport. Her appearance was on behalf of USA Swimming’s swIMPACT program, which is designed as a platform for National Team swimmers to give back to the swimming community.
“Think about why you swim every day,” said Wanland, who is in her fourth year on the National Team. “Why do you go to practice? Hopefully, it’s because you love the sport, and you love to race. That’s why you’re all here. That’s why you’re sitting here right now.”
About eight years ago, Wanland attended a similar camp hosted at the OTC as a member of the U.S. Junior National Team. Now, after graduating from the University of Wisconsin – Madison and completing her collegiate swimming career, Wanland continues to train in Madison while completing her graduate degree in athletic administration.
Her latest accomplishment came at the Minneapolis Grand Prix last November, when she won the100y breaststroke and took second in the 200y distance.
Wanland talked about what she wanted the swimmers attending the camp to take away from her speech and more.
What did you want the driving message to be for these girls?
AW: “I didn’t want to focus on my accomplishments and all my experiences. I wanted to make sure that they learned something and be able to take back with them and use throughout their swimming careers.
I thought of five main points:
1. What you put into the sport is what you get out of it.
2. Coaches and teammates are here to help you.
3. Make changes in your training.
4. Learn from your mistakes.
5. Believe in yourself and have fun. The cliché one, but I had to end with it.”
Sure it’s a cliché, but how did it (“believing in yourself and having fun”) help you?
AW: “The mind is really big in the sport, and it can have a positive and negative impact on your performance, depending on how you think and if you are having fun with the sport. Like right now, I honestly can say post grad, I’m having more fun swimming than I did throughout my college season. And I really think a lot of that has to do with pressure, and the sport brings a lot of pressure and intensity and competitiveness all the time that sometimes, you lose track of what’s important.
Try not to get caught up in the competitiveness and intensity that the sport can bring. Just have fun with it. Like I said, we love to race, and that’s why we’re here, and that’s when we perform at our highest level.”
What do you say to the young swimmers who have big ambitions and goals, like making the Olympics or aspiring to be Missy Franklin?
AW: “I think a lot of girls, swimmers, concentrate on that last big meet, that final goal, final time, final place they want to achieve. But more important is the short-term goal and how you’re going to get that final accomplishment.”
What were your goals, and what did you do to reach them?
AW: “I had this ending, a supposed time, but I didn’t just focus on that time. I concentrated more on how I was going to get there. And I’d have five objectives in my season that I’d like to focus on, like gaining more strength in my legs, how am I going to get to that point? And learning how to pull the most water in an underwater pullout; you can do that by watching video and working with coaches to get an effective pull down… So I concentrated on the little things that got me to that point.”
Sometimes, school and all that’s happening outside of swimming can cloud athletes’ minds. How long, or what did it take for you to finally realize what you need to do to improve and reach your potential?
AW: “Honestly, this is going to sound terrible, but I learned through my mistakes and disqualifications. I only talked (to the girls) about two disqualifications, but I’ve been disqualified for almost everything. It was terrible when it happened. I had all these setbacks, but I learned from them, like relaxing on the blocks. Or if my underwater pullout was illegal, maybe I needed to change that. Just little things like that. Then I started thinking, what do I need to do to get to the next step, and what do I do to prevent what happened from happening again.”
What kind of pressure did you face, and how did you handle it?
AW: “I think the pressure increased slowly as I got older than from when I first started swimming. There wasn’t that much pressure (when I was young) because I was in that ’I’m just going to go out and have fun stage. Who really cares what happens?’
And the more you start to improve and achieve things, the more added pressure is on you because then, it’s suddenly an expectation because people expect you to go this time, and they expect you to swim fast.
… In terms of handling pressure, I try not to lose sight of the big picture. My parents are good at bringing that outside perspective. They’re like, ‘You’re here to have fun and whatever happens happens. Don’t get caught up in the moment.’”
How about now that you’re competing in Grand Prixs, is there any pressure and how are you handling it?
AW: “Right now, it’s more of the pressure I put on myself because I’m not on a team anymore. My coaches are there to support me and help me. Definitely, the pressure right now, a lot of it is the pressure I put on myself. I’m handling it by setting goals and thinking about what I want to do, and if I don’t get there, then I need to start working harder and making adjustments in my training.”
You mentioned your parents and coaches as a support system. Talk about the importance of that support system for younger swimmers.
AW: “Right now, for kids that (were) at this camp, I would say it’s important for their parents to be behind them, but for parents to not bombard them. When they get home, it should be a relaxing setting. For coaches, for both B swimmers and collegiate swimmers, and post-grad swimmers, I think it’s important for coaches to bring a positive attitude to the deck every day because obviously, training isn’t easy. It’s really difficult to get yourself to dive into a cold pool of water, but it’s reassuring when the coaches say, ’You had a great practice.’ Swimmers need positive feedback. That’s how they respond, I feel, effectively.”
You specialize in breaststroke. How did that become your specialty, and what advice would you give other breaststrokers?
AW: “It sounds crazy, but after my knee injury, the only stroke I couldn’t do was the breaststroke. But slowly I developed (and) strengthened my leg muscles, and it turned out that was the only stroke I can do. …. I’m content with swimming the breaststroke because it is the stroke I have the most success in.
I’d say make sure that they change something in their training. And whether that’s working on their starts or their turns or their underwater pullouts, it’s huge in breaststroke. Especially in short course because you have three walls instead of one wall to push off, in terms of the 100 breaststroke.”
Wanland will be back in the pool, competing in the Arena Grand Prix Series at Orlando on Feb. 14-16. Orlando is the third of the six-meet Arena Grand Prix Series.