SIX KEYS TO SWIMMING IN THE ZONE
by Dr. Alan Goldberg, reprinted from November-December 1995 Swimming Technique Magazine
You look up at the clock and can’t believe your eyes. Even though you’re surprised, you somehow knew it was going to be a good swim right from the moment that you hit the water. This race had that very special feel that seems to come around all too infrequently. Maybe it was the sense you had just before the start of being in your own little world, aware of everything yet strangely oblivious to it all. Maybe it was that calm confidence that seemed to settle over you at pre-race. Perhaps it was a physical feeling of energy and power that surged through you as the race began.
In the water your strokes felt smooth, strong, and powerful. You went out hard but don’t remember feeling much in the way of pain or effort. You had that magical feel of the water! Everything seemed to just come together by itself for this race. You were smoke on the water! Effortless effort. Poetry in motion. It’s that one moment that makes all your sacrifices and those long, painful hours of training worthwhile.
You were swimming in the zone! If only you could prepackage those feelings and that performance state so that you had it at your fingertips whenever you wanted! But unfortunately, there’s nothing more elusive in competitive swimming than finding the doorway to the zone and keeping yourself in it when it counts the most. While there’s no guaranteed formula for consistently unlocking the zone’s power, following these six guidelines will significantly increase your chances of opening up that doorway to peak performance for those big races:
1 PRE-RACE THOUGHTS AFFECT YOUR SWIM The thoughts you have prior to each race directly affect how your body changes rate and depth of breathing, your level of muscle tension, your heart and pulse rate, etc. Consequently, all of these have a profound effect on your endurance, feel of the water, smoothness and efficiency of stroke, etc. Races are won and lost before they start, so be aware of the quality of your self-talk.
2 KEEP YOUR FOCUS OF CONCENTRATION IN THE RACE, NOT IN YOUR HEAD When you swim in the zone, you are not thinking, you are simply doing. You are in the experience, not in your head. This means that you may be concentrating on the feel of the water, your stroke or kick, or focusing outside on something visual in your lane. When you think, you will always add time. You can’t think yourself into the zone. Instead, you have to be in the experience of the race.
3 SWIM IN YOUR OWN LANE One of the biggest mental mistakes made by swimmers that prevents them from entering the zone is focusing too much on what’s going on in the next lane. When you swim fast, you are mentally swimming in your own lane. Your opponent’s size, reputation or swims are all “uncontrollables” and a pre- or during-race focus here will help you to swim to your potential. To get to the zone you must first be aware when your concentration leaves your lane and then quickly return it to what you’re doing.
4 HAVE FUN In swimming terms, fun (passion) equals speed. The more fun you’re having before you swim, the faster you’ll go. Fun is one of the key passwords that will get you into the zone. When you’re having fun, your body is relaxed and the accompanying emotions will power you to a peak performance. Getting too serious before a race by making it too important will kill your enjoyment of the sport and slam the door to the zone in your face.
5 TRUST AND LET IT HAPPEN When you swim in the zone, you’re powered by effortless effort. You work hard without trying too hard. Your peak performances come from a “letting it happen” mindset. You can’t force a good swim out of your body. You have to step back, trust your training and let that great swim come out. A pre-race reminder that you’ve “paid your dues” and are ready will go a long way toward helping you swim your best.
6 SWIM IN THE NOW When you are in the zone, your focus of concentration is naturally in the “now.” This means that you are paying attention to what is going on in the moment rather than worried about things in the past or what’s going to happen in the future. A past or future performance focus will block your path to the zone. As a swimmer, the only “time zone” that you really have control over and power in is the “now.” When you find yourself drifting from this proper focus, quickly bring yourself back.
CONGRATULATIONS! To Blake Nowakowski who was recently recognized as a Scholastic All American by USA Swimming! To all our swimmers and families who competed in the Ten Miler!