The majority of articles that I cover are around technique and ways to improve in the water but it's important to discuss ways to improve your swimming out of the pool. One aspect that I cover with every athlete early in our sessions is the "why do you swim?" This is an important question to me and it should be important to you too. Everyone who swims or does anything in their life needs to know the why behind what they are doing. Sometimes this why is significant like change the sport of swimming, or sometimes it's just "I don't want to be afraid of drowning". But it's important to have that clarity in your life.
For me, I never took this activity seriously as a kid. Coaches would have us do our goal setting activities at the beginning of every swim season and I would write down the ones that I thought the coach wanted to hear, or that my parents wanted to hear. They were never really the goals I should have been focusing on because they weren't a reflection of me and what I wanted my swimming career to be.
Before I share them, I should mention that my uncle was a fantastic swimmer in his day and achieved a ton of success in the water. Looking back he probably achieved more success than I ever did in my swimming career. In saying that, when I was younger I always felt I needed to match his successes with my own in order to be considered worthy. Without being aware of my own potential and my own career goals, I would live in the shadow of what I thought was expected of me based on the standard of his achievements. This lead me create goals like this:
- Win an Olympic medal by the age of 18
- Break a bunch of records
- Always win the big club trophy at the end of the year
- Make it to nationals as the youngest athlete ever
Sure these goals are still good and ambitious, but they drained the potential and the fun out of the sport. It made swimming into a job, rather than a great way to stay in shape, meet lifelong friends or continue to improve.
It's always good to have long term ambitious goals. Everyone needs them, but when you are in the midst of training, you need more realistic and reliable goals that with a little extra effort and the right coaching you can achieve. I'm not saying these goals need to be easy to achieve but they should be focused around things you can control and improve on. If you don't have a course of action to how to get there, then you won't achieve them. That became my problem. I plateaued. In fact, I plateaued hard. I was in a dark place. It was terrible. It put a lot of stress on various aspects of my life. I now associate that stress to lending a hand in my shoulder injuries that I got during this time. In fact, the stress caused me to quit for a few months. I was in a terrible mental state. I didn't enjoy training and wanted nothing to do with any pool...ever.
Thankfully, I came out of this dark time with a greater sense of why I swam, my motivations, my passions for the sport and I learned to love the sport again. But it took time. It something I never want to see any athlete ever go through.
As I got older, I started to understand how to create goals that fit into my "why". I began looking at my goals with more self-awareness of what I wanted to achieve each season. For example, one year my goal was focused around my turns, which had been particularly weak. My goals included having a tighter streamline, increasing my leg strength so I could have a better underwater kick than anyone else, learning how to not breath going in or out of my turn. Things that I should have been working on anyways, but had never put true focus on. These goals were actionable and fit within my "why". I could have fun achieving them without sacrificing my well-being to stress.
By having those goals written down and having the self-awareness that this was an area I needed to improve on, I worked hard to achieve each one of them. These goals were hard for me to achieve but not unrealistic. By the end of the season, I had one of the tightest streamlines and could generate more propulsion than most off of my turns. In fact, I started to find that long course was a bit disappointing because I wouldn't have as many turns to do (boohoo to me). This helped me achieve other goals. Ones that I hadn't focused on or even written down that year. The goals of getting to Nationals and making the top relay team consistently in the provincial which in turn broke a provincial record twice that year.
These additional achievements wouldn't have happened if I hadn't truly reflected on why I swam and what did I really want to achieve. Learning to look inward at yourself and understand who you are versus who the world wants you to be, can help change your life. This is a scary thing for a lot of people. They worry that if they look inside and ask themselves some really hard questions, they may not like the answers. Learning to accept that fear and be open to being full honest and transparent with yourself, in my opinion, is the only real way you can unlock your full potential and talent. So many people in society spend too much time living in other people's shadows or try to live up their other people's expectations. Spend time learning why you do the things you do, how you do them, and what makes you tick towards success, can help make you a happier, more successful person.
This took me a long time to realize. I firmly believe everyone should have goals. You should write them down and understand why you want to achieve them. This past year, I wrote down that I wanted to create a premium swim school that helps a wider range of athletes reach their potential in swimming. The goal continues into many smaller goals and steps to get there, but it's written down and placed in an area that I can see and review it daily. It keeps me motivated to continue to post articles here, share information about swimming on Snapchat, Twitter and Facebook, and helps me stay in touch with changes in the sport that I then bring to my swimmers in the pool.
When I work with swimmers on writing down goals, I try to teach them not to focus their goals on particular events or times. This only leads to the stress and darkness that I felt as a kid. I've seen other athletes quit for good because they reach that point when they can't break through the plateaus. Learn to make your goals actionable is key. They must reflect your "why" which will be different from anyone else's "why". Make sure you share that "why" and your goals with your coaches so they can help support you towards achieving them.
I believe that the only true way to unlock your full potential in this sport is to understand why you are doing it. Once you have a greater sense of your own self-awareness, the technical side of swimming becomes easy. The mental side isn't something that can be taught. It has be from you. You have to fully give yourself to the idea of honest reflection. Maybe you do this while you're visualizing or during a long endurance set, but take time for yourself and ask away. Don't be afraid of the answers you find. Embrace them.
I would love to know why you swim. What drives you to get into the pool everyday? Why do you stare at that black line? Feel free to share how you've reflected on yourself and what you want to achieve.