By Mike Gustafson//Contributor | Monday, August 28, 2017
Every Monday, I answer questions from swimmers around the country. If you have a question, please email me at email@example.com.
I am fourteen years old and an okay swimmer. I am still dropping in my events, but sometimes it is disappointing compared to my practice performances. There is another girl my age who I race a lot in practice, who happens to be many seconds faster than me at a meet. However, at practice, I am able to beat her sometimes. I always happen to swim faster when I am racing someone at practice. During long course season, there was not a lot of lane space for our group. Therefore, before a meet, every time we did 200 pace 50s, everyone going to the meet was in the same lane so I was racing myself. Sometimes my times were not what I expected even though I was still trying just as hard. Especially before my races, it did not give me as much confidence as I would have liked. How do I become more confident?
In need of confidence swimmer
In Need of Confidence,
I used to be the same way: I often needed other swimmers to race in practice. When I raced my teammates, I was faster, more motivated, and better. When I swam on my own, I was just not as inspired. Even when I tried my hardest, without having a teammate there to push me, I swam slower.
For practices, it’s okay to use teammates to push you. That’s why we are on swim teams: So we can train together, work harder than we could on our own.
The problem comes when we begin to compare ourselves to our teammates over the course of a season, or several seasons. We race teammates in practice, we beat them, and when they beat us in swim meets, we lose confidence. You’re not alone. This loss of confidence happens to all of us, at one time or another.
First, you have to stop comparing yourself to other people. It’s good to race them, but it’s not good to compare yourself to them. Some teammates might just not be good practice swimmers, but excellent racers. Others might be excellent practice swimmers, but not good racers. Whatever the case may be, you should avoid comparing your overall career to other people, because then you lose control over the definition of your own career.
Second, try to race the clock as much as you race your teammates. It’s okay to use teammates as motivational forces, but over time, when you race them, your competitive fire towards them might turn negative. You want to be happy for your teammates’ success, not envious. Get in the habit of racing the clock. Set time goals. Write them down. Track them. Pay more attention to the clock than you do your teammates. Writing down your practice times during the course of a season helps. Over time, you’ll start to care just as much (if not more) about practice times as you do swim meet times (and spend less time worrying about teammates).
Lastly, if you need to, imagine racing someone not on your team. I used to do this. When I trained on my own some mornings, or when I was last in the lane and didn’t have anyone to race, or when I was first and way ahead of my teammates, I just imagined racing this one guy from New York. He was another YMCA swimmer. I had only raced him a few times at the YMCA National Championships, and for some reason, all I wanted to do was to beat him at the next meet. He was my age, my height, swam my events, and we had very similar times. So, I imagined racing him in practice. (And projected any negative competitive energies onto that imaginative image instead of onto my teammates.)
Look: It’s impossible to completely ignore your teammates’ success. But you should try to be happy for them, even when you don’t want to be. It creates a culture of positivity, which will, at one point down the road, rub off on you, too. When you are in practice and your eyes start searching for the next swimmer to race, instead, turn those eyes inward and race yourself.
Competition is how we become great. Racing your teammates in practice is a necessary component to becoming the best version of your athletic self. No one has gotten to an elite level on their own; they have raced teammates along the way.
But when that competition morphs from friendly to envious, jealous, and bitter, and when that competition begins to affect your own self-confidence, that’s when you need to adjust. Race yourself. Race the clock. Race an imaginary competitor. And no matter what, root your teammates on. It’ll help your own confidence, make you feel good, and make you swim faster.
I hope this helps.