No matter how much you train or how prepared you are for a competition, sometimes things just don't go the way you and your coaches have planned them to. This can be tough for any athlete. There are several ways to deal with this disappointment. Some are more beneficial and proactive than others. A terrible swim can be especially difficult for younger athletes who don't have the experience to fully cope with it. It is up to the coaches and parents of these young athletes to help them navigate this flood of negative emotion so that they come out on the other side smarter, faster and more confident in themselves. Teaching swimmers how to be prepared for these low moments can help them in and out of the pool.
Learn from your mistakes
One thing I always tell my athletes is that every swim, good or bad, is an opportunity to learn something. There are always ways to improve. That's why our sport continues to get faster and faster every year. Having a good swim is a great way to learn what worked but having a terrible swim gives you far more to learn and adapt from. It might be anything from why it's important to count your strokes in Backstroke instead of running headlong into the wall (I've done this...it isn't fun) or how you could have dug deeper and pushed a little harder during the backend of a long race.
Sometimes a bad swim isn't during a competition but a week of workouts. Maybe you don't have a good feel of the water or your turns have felt sloppy all week and you don't know why. I know I've dealt with both of these situations recently. In fact, I had a few training sessions last week that were brutal to get through. Every turn felt off and my arms felt like they were just going through the motions of a pull with grabbing any water. I felt like I was beached whale struggling to get back into the water.
Dealing with these upsets can be challenging. As I mentioned, it's worth looking at these situations as learning experiences. The way I tell athletes to learn from each swim is through meditation or visualization. I'm not talking in the traditional sense. I mean taking some time by themselves to think about each stroke. This can be done during their cool down, while they are laying in bed at night, or just off to the side of the pool deck.
In the same way that I suggest visualizing before a big race, I believe that this works for after a swim. Even if it was the worst swim in your life, there was probably a lot of positive moments in it as well. Now I don't recommend you dwell on the good parts. Focus your learning on the negatives. Why was that pull terrible? What made your turn sloppy? Analyzing each component is the only way you'll start to understand how to improve on it.
Talk it out
I also make sure that each swimmer spends time talking to me after their swim. This can be a time consuming process for the coach, but if they truly care about improving a swimmer's abilities then it's all worth it. I know that this is one of the last things athletes want to do after a bad swim. A swimmer's emotions are running high and sometimes things get said that athlete doesn't really mean. Talking about the good, bad and the ugly of a swim can help improve a swimmer's understanding and rein in those emotions so that learning can begin. A coach has the experience and knowledge to see things that the athlete may not have realized happened during their swim. Depending on the emotional level of the athlete, I'll send them off to do a cool down first or take a shower, but I always make sure we talk their race through before they race again.
With all the technology we have now, you can take this analysis a little further. Using smartphones, cameras or video can be quite beneficial in learning about a swim. I recommend that every club has at least one of these items that they can use occasionally during practice and always during races. Other sports have been doing this for years through game footage. Teams take the time after big games to analyze what worked and what didn't. Swimmers should be doing the same thing. If your team can front the bill then getting a recording device that does underwater as well can be extremely telling in how a swimmer is moving the water past their body.
One thing that many athletes do is continue to dwell on these poor swims even after they've gone through and learned from them. This is a mistake. Once you've taken all the information from your swim that you can, move on. I know this is easier said than done but if your mind is still thinking about all the negatives, it will cause the rest of your body to feel defeated, unhappy, even sick. Move on to your next swim in a positive manner. Use your techniques for preparing for a race to put your mind back into the competition. Your mind is your greatest asset during competition. If it's thinking negatively then your swims will be poor but if you have a positive mindset, then the sky's the limit. Don't let your mind hinder your performance just because you had one bad swim.
Getting upset and angry about a bad swim won't help you in the long run. Becoming the best swimmer possible means learning how to use that disappointment and other emotions as a way to gain experience and improve. Taking the time to analysis your swims through meditation or visualization, have in-depth conversations with your coaches and finally reviewing footage of your technique will help teach you to improve on your weaknesses and turn them into strengths. Once you've done that move on and get ready to step up for your next performance.
I'm curious to know what you do after a bad swim. It doesn't have to be race, maybe it's a training session. Leave a comment below to let me know how you turn these negatives into positives.