By Mike Gustafson//Contributor | Monday, November 6, 2017
Every Monday, online at USASwimming.org and in each issue of Splash Magazine, I answer questions from swimmers around the country. If you have a question about competitive swimming, please email me your question at email@example.com, and I’ll try my best to answer.
I always read your advice for swimmers and it helps so much, but I have a question of my own. I have been swimming for 8 years. I love swimming, but lately, I have been having trouble getting faster. When I was seven, I got high point after high point, but when I turned 11, I just lost my speed. I have just been able to beat my seven year-old times. It makes me and my family confused. I finally decided to ask an expert what is happening. I'm 13, and yes, I have gained weight, but is that all that's slowing me down.
Sometimes, when we grow, our entire stroke changes. We add body mass, we add inches, and our bodies are completely different than when we were younger. It takes time to adjust to these changes. Especially in a weightless water activity like swimming.
Though I would agree that your situation is unusual, my advice, besides talking to coaches and other experts, is to keep doing what you would normally do, even if you were dropping lots of time:
Train hard, eat right, get lots of sleep, and stay determined. Focus on what you can do, rather than what you cannot. Find something positive about each practice, and try to improve one thing every single day. Cheer for your teammates when they do well. Communicate with your coaches when something doesn’t go right.
Mentally, this will be harder than physically. I know it must be so very frustrating to revert back to your older times, especially as you see your teammates do well. It is important to stay mentally focused and positive.
And really, this is the biggest challenge in sports: Figuring and understanding yourself, mentally, during times of turmoil, frustration, and pain. Almost every swimmer has some kind of time plateau during his or her competitive career. I did. So did a lot of my teammates. The time plateau can last for weeks, months, or years.
Your time plateau may have happened at an earlier age than most, but that doesn’t mean it’s really all that different than a time plateau experienced at age 17 or age 21.
My advice is, try to remember what your mental state was when you were seven-years-old. Try to remember what it was like winning those races, and what your approach to racing was back then.
Were you having fun? Were you smiling? Were you excited to race?
Try to harness that old feeling. Embrace it. Mimic it. I’m sure these days you feel apprehensive about racing. It’s a cyclical thing: You might get worried that you still won’t beat your old times; that worry, in turn, tightens up your muscles, distracts your mind, and actually serves as a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Though I can’t promise that, by returning to this childhood love for racing, you’ll drop times, you will remember what it was that you first loved about this sport. You will encounter so many of these kinds of challenges throughout your life. Everyone does. Everyone experiences a great challenge where the world seems to conspire against us, and no matter what we do, we lose.
But we will never truly lose if we control the things we can control. Our attitude, our nutrition, our sleep, our approach and perspective. This is a great challenge for you, to stay positive despite not dropping time in so long. But if you can learn to find something to enjoy, and if you can focus on that one thing that helps you enjoy the process, well, you’ll enjoy the process — no matter the result.
I hope this helps.