A few weeks ago I had trouble signing in to my email; I kept getting a message that said I was already signed on in another location. Because of this message, I decided to change my password, something I had not done in YEARS. Now, every time I sit down to log in to my email account, it tells me I have an invalid password – because I keep typing in the old one! After repeated entries, my fingers have memorized my old password. When I sit down at my computer and prepare to check my email, my fingers type in the old password without me even thinking about it.
This same thing happens to swimmers at practice and in meets. The repeated gestures made at practice become part of a swimmer’s muscle memory. When the swimmer goes to a meet to compete, it is highly likely that they will repeat the same gestures they have practiced over and over. If you always breathe on the first stroke out of your flip turn (despite constant reminders from your coach not to), then it is highly probable that you are going to breathe on the first stroke out of every flip turn in your races at a meet. If you have sloppy streamlines or you only touch with one hand on breaststroke in practice, chances are pretty good that when you get to a meet, you will do exactly the same thing. There is a reason that we call it “training.” When you are practicing, you are training your body to swim in the manner you want it to during a race.
Not only do the mechanical skills that you practice get repeated in races at a meet, but the physical ability of your body to push itself is enhanced (or limited) by the effort that you sustain in your day to day practices. As most of our older swimmers are aware, each practice is designed to work on different areas of conditioning. Many practices work on establishing a solid aerobic base – something that can positively impact swimmers’ performance, and even their health, for the rest of their lives. Some practices focus on developing speed, and other practices aim to lower a swimmer’s racing threshold. To be a successful competitor, swimmers must engage in and complete the workouts they are presented at practice in a mindful and committed manner. If you stop to adjust your goggles every time you feel winded, or you get out of the pool to go to the bathroom in the middle of the main set, your lack of preparation will show up in your races. Your body will memorize a time to take breaks. You may get to a meet and dive in to race a 100 freestyle and the first 50 feels great but then … if you’ve been shortchanging your muscles in practice, your body just won’t be able to muster up the speed and oxygen to have a successful second 50. “He looked good going out but then he just died like a dog.” The most successful competitors are those who are willing to push themselves beyond their comfort zone in practices so that their bodies adapt to more strenuous circumstances and can perform well during the stress of racing.
I won’t go into what happens when you miss practices that are part of your training cycle. But it is important to note that just showing up at the pool for practice is not enough to guarantee success at meets. Swimmers who wish to be good competitors have to be sure they are training their muscles to behave how they want them to. Swimmers have to be able to fix flaws in their mechanics at practice and repeat good technique until they have trained their body to swim in that fashion without thought. The sooner and the younger that a swimmer can accomplish good technique, the better. Likewise, swimmers must push themselves out of their comfort zone in practice so that their heart, lungs, and muscles can adapt to racing stresses. Consistency in good preparation is the key to becoming a successful competitive swimmer.
CONGRATULATIONS! To Blake Nowakowski who was recently recognized as a Scholastic All American by USA Swimming. Blake was also recognized along with Blake Proffitt and Ashley Mauzy as Swimmers of the Meet at the final High School meet this season held at the Jamerson Family Y.