By By Mike Gustafson//Contributor | Wednesday, June 14, 2017
Long, grueling, difficult practices have long been a pride point for swimmers. Competitive swimmers often tout that swimming is “the hardest sport,” articulating the rigorous practice schedule, difficult cardiovascular demands, and training intensity. Olympic gold medalists are not made at the Olympics. They’re made in the months, years, and decades before hand, often between the hours of 5am-7am.
And yet, swim meets are more exhausting than practices.
How can this be? How can a few events spread out throughout a morning be more difficult than a grueling three-hour onslaught of endless butterfly?
1. Waiting. And waiting. And waiting.
Is there anything more daunting than waiting? Specifically, waiting for pain? You know your 400 IM is coming up. Except you can’t just get up on the blocks and race. You have to wait two hours. Two hours of thinking, contemplating, and wondering. Two hours of envisioning. And throughout that two hours, you’re resting, sitting, stretching, hydrating — which sounds much easier than it actually is in execution. Waiting can be hard.
2. The intense rollercoaster of emotion.
Let’s face it: We’ve all tried to sleep during practice. At some point — maybe during warm-ups, maybe during a long freestyle set — you’ve closed your eyes. Swim practice is intense, but there are also some points that just feel monotonous. Swim meets are the exact opposite. There are long periods of waiting (see #1) and then incredible amounts of intense effort. The rollercoaster — the ups and downs — create an exhausting emotional ride. At swim practice, no one can see you miss a goal and cry; conversely, at swim practice, no one can see you conquer your goals. At swim meets, though, it’s all for the world to see.
3. The “performance” in front of peers/parents/coaches.
Performing in front of people is draining. People watching. Performing in front of parents and friends. Trying to publicly accomplish your goals is one of the least-discussed aspects of swimming that’s simultaneously the hardest. Often in life, goals are accomplished at desks or behind-the-scenes. In sports, it’s all out there. For everyone to see.
4. Overall swim meet yardage can actually exceed practices.
Between warm-ups, warm-downs, prelims and finals, every single race, that yardage can really add up. Five hundred yards here, a thousand there, and by the end of the day, you may have exceeded your practice yardage. Not to discount all the intense racing yardage, too.
5. After three days of neglecting life, life catches up.
Going to a swim meet is like stopping time: Homework stops. Social obligations stop. Every aspect of your life is about the swim meet: Prelims, rest, finals. And yet, by a swim meet’s day three, life’s responsibilities begin to creep up. That Monday morning test you’ve been worrying about? That awkward interaction with that person at school? That difficult presentation next week? Swim meets may have been a temporary respite from real life responsibilities, but that “return” to real life can be tiring. Swim meets, in many ways, are like vacations: Returning back to the real world can be stressful.
So, swim parents, just because your swimmer is “only” competing in a “few” events this weekend, that doesn’t mean your swimmer has the easy road. Swim meets are just as important to a swimmer’s training process as practices themselves.