National Team

10 Swimmer Goals for 2013

1/3/2013

By Mike Gustafson//Correspondent

A friend of mine does not make New Year’s Resolutions. “Studies say that most New Year’s Resolutions are broken after a few weeks,” she told me. “So, instead, I make New Year’s Goals.”

The New Year is a perfect opportunity to better yourself or accomplish something you’d like to do, no matter if you label these “Resolutions” or “Goals” or “Happy Fun 2013 Opportunities.” If you’re a swimmer who practices one-handed breaststroke turns, doesn’t listen to your coach, frowns, complains, or cuts yardage during warm-ups and warm-downs, you might still get best times at the end of the season, but imagine if you did the little things right? How fast would you be then? How much more enjoyable would the entire swimming season be? The commencement of a new year is a great excuse to change some of these things, focus on self-improvement, and become a better swimmer…

Here are some New Year’s Resolutions/Goals/Happy Fun 2013 Opportunities for swimmers:

10. Embrace cold water.
"Ahhhh." That’s the trick. Instead of staring 10 minutes at the cold, deep puddle of blue, anguishing how cold the water will be when you dive in, instead, audibly sigh, like you’re entering a nice warm hot tub, “Ahhhhhhhh.” Then leap in, and do it again. “Ohhhh that’s the good stuff.” Embrace that cold water. You’ll be shocked how your practices improve with this simple trick. During the first 100 of warm-ups, I imagine I’m somewhere on the Equator and jumping into this 75-degree-pool is the only way to cool off. Once this becomes habit, you’ll soon be leaping into freezing pools with a smile, and confused onlookers will be standing there, ogling at you, “That guy is so weird, he’s a cold water fiend.”

9. Listen to your coach, especially during taper.
Swimming is largely an individualistic sport. Swimmers take pride in their bodies, training, and tapers. This individualistic pride can sometimes backfire. Swimmers don’t know everything about swimming. There’s a reason you have a swim coach: Most likely, he or she knows more about the nuances of the sport than you. Listen to them. Especially during taper. Once, I thought my coach was leading me astray during taper. We were practicing harder than I thought we should have been. I had a few terrible practices, and then complained in the showers. An older, wiser teammate sternly approached me, “You don’t know what you’re talking about. You think you do, but you don’t. You have to trust our coach. This taper will work for the season and training we just did.” I took his advice, embraced our coach’s practices, and had a great taper and dropped lifetime bests. I never imagined such an aggressive taper would work, because that was not what I was used to – but it did. Listen to your coach. Simple to do, but some swimmers don’t.

8. Understand every practice.
In the above point, I advocated listening to your coach. However, you must also ask your coach questions if you don’t understand something. There’s nothing wrong with asking questions if you ask to acquire knowledge (and not to complain, or be sarcastically indignant.) Every set -- and every yard -- should have a point. Swimming is like nutrition. There is no room for junk food. So if you don’t understand why you’re doing a particular set, ask your coach. He or she should explain to you the exact purpose of the particular set or drill or exercise. (And that explanation should be beyond, “Because I said so.”) Coaches: swimming is a two-way street. If you want a team of robots who do exactly what you say, you’re not helping your swimmers grow. Swimmers need to understand exactly why they’re doing certain things. If they do, they’ll embrace your coaching more, and you’ll see better practices.

7. Stop comparing yourself to others.
My father used to tell me, “Only worry about what you can control.” Easy to say, hard to do. Stop worrying about so-and-so from across the state who is a 13-year-old prodigy breaking every record. Don’t stress about the person in the lane next to you standing 6’8’’ and taking out a 400 IM under world-record pace. Swim your own race. Practice to better yourself. Unless you’re Michael Phelps, there will always, always, be someone faster than you. Once you stop looking around at others, you’ll focus squarely on yourself, and that’s when true self-improvement comes.

6. Work on your weakest part.
You’re only as strong as your weakest link. Work on the weakest aspect of your swimming. If you have terrible turns, spend extra time after practice to work on them. If you are a terrible kicker, tell your coach you’d really like to spend time kicking. Identify a weak part of your stroke or event, and improve on that. Sounds simple, but I can’t tell you how many swimmers blindly train with no identification of the weakest part of their swimming. When I swam, I always died in the last 100 of my 400 IM. So my coach spent an entire summer giving me long, painful, difficult distance freestyle sets. But it worked. The next season, the last 100 – which was once my weakness – became my strongest ally in my 400 IM. Improving a weakness takes work, but the payoff is worth it.

5. Jump into the pool with enthusiasm.
The more enthusiastically you (safely) jump into the pool, the better your practice will be. This is another one of those tricks that, with time and practice, becomes habit. If you’re the type of swimmer who is last in the water, who spends 10 minutes “fixing” your goggles before practice, adjusting your cap, jogging back to the bathroom, missing warm-ups, worrying about the next two hours, instead try just jumping into the pool with enthusiasm. Be first in the water. It’ll do wonders for your mentality and workout.

4. Stop the before-bed iPhone/Facebook/Twitter/Email usage.
Swimmers are constantly sleep-deprived. Early mornings, long workouts, and huge time commitments mean that swimmers’ schedules are packed. Don’t waste your time checking your phone before bed, playing Words With Friends for an hour every night. A coach once told me your body rests best between 10pm and 2am. Make it a goal to be in bed by 10pm and not check your phone or email or computer before bedtime. You’ll sleep sooner, rest better, and wake up more refreshed.

3. Compliment yourself.
Michael Jordan used to positively self-talk himself to success. Do the same. Tell yourself, “That was a great set” or “You’re a phenomenal swimmer, Mike!” These little internal comments, added up over time, are like a piggy bank of confidence. Make small little deposits throughout your day, and you’ll see your confidence skyrocket. It might sound silly, but it works. Conversely, using the confidence piggy bank theory, if you say negative things to yourself, you deplete your “confidence bank.” Comments like, “You’re going to lose, you’re not very fast, you’re just not a good swimmer” will hurt you. So if you catch yourself saying things like this, tell yourself something positive. With practice, you’ll start to believe it.

2. Smile.
Studies have been released that even if you force yourself to smile, you become happier. There’s just something to smiling. And if you watched Missy Franklin and the rest of the “Smiley Club” this summer, you know happy swimmers are fast swimmers. Even simply forcing yourself to smile, scientifically, improves your mood. When you’re having fun, smiling, and enjoying yourself, you’ll enjoy the process, and likely, you’ll swim faster.

1. Make one small goal a day.
Running a marathon can be daunting. 26.2 miles? Yikes. But if you just concentrate on the first step, then the step after that first step, than the next step after that, eventually, you’ll get there. Make small, easy-to-accomplish daily goals. Actively choose one small thing to work on every practice, like a specific turn, pullout, or stroke technique. This especially works if you are having a bad practice. Don’t give up on the whole practice if you’re not swimming well. Don’t quit if you’re just not mentally into it. Instead, pick one thing – one specific thing – to focus on. You’ll feel more accomplished and you’ll improve, step-by-step. Remember swimmers: the sport of swimming is like a marathon. It’s a long, arduous journey. You might focus on the end-of-season best times and crossing that finish line, but the real magic is in the journey itself. What difference does finishing a marathon make if you took a shortcut to get there? Make one small goal every day. Focus on the journey. Small, little improvements, over 26.2 miles (or an entire swim season), will make all the difference.