The swim season can feel like a grind.
There’s lots of early morning workouts, soggy towels and weekend-long swim meets ahead.
To help you make the most of the time spent between the lane lines, I’ve put together a checklist that will take you from setting awesome goals during those first few red-cheeked weeks of the season to those quiet final moments before you step up on the block at your championship meet.
Here’s a checklist for how to have the best swim season of your life.
1. Setting big goals (and plotting a big plan of action)
Whatever your goals are in the water, there are some proven ways to make your goals a little easier to grasp at:
Dream big. Go big with your dreams and goals. What, in your wildest dreams, could you achieve this season if you went all-out with your swimming?
Set goals that are realistic. Make sure your big dream isn’t out of this universe. The dream should match up with a realistic work schedule.
Write them down. Goals are just wishes until you take the time to fully form them to the point that you write them down. On paper. In the real world.
Build an action plan. What are the steps you are going to take to achieve your magnificent goal? What will your routine look like? What is your process? What kind of difficulties do you expect to face along the way?
Evaluate regularly. Marking progress is essential. Swimmers tend to work hard in the dark, hoping that what they are doing will be magically enough. Keep yourself honest and see if you are on track by evaluating progress regularly.
Pick an accountability buddy. Whether it’s your coach, a teammate, or your parents, have someone to sit down with each week for a quick progress report.
2. Practice (“We talking ‘bout practice?”)
There is no getting around it—the way you train is the way you are going to compete. Don’t treat the two things as inter-dependent this season. Go to the pool each day with a focus on developing the performance you want for yourself.
Regularly set goals for training. Training goals are an endless source of confidence and improvement. Set goals for attendance, yards at race pace, effort—if you can measure it, and it is gonna help you swim fast, make a goal for it.
Use positive self-talk during hard workouts. Your self-talk dictates your performance. Choose to use self-talk that will help you in the pursuit of your goals. You got this. I have done harder sets than this.
Technique, technique, technique. No matter how strong or well-conditioned you are, your technique is the ultimate judge in how fast you become in the water. You never stop improving your technique.
Get focused by counting your strokes. Swim practices can drag on, leading us to daydream. Count your strokes to keep yourself engaged and focused.
Find small opportunities for excellence. Excellence starts with a few sparks. Don’t fall for the all-or-nothing scenario. Choose a couple things to be awesome at each day. From these sparks, a wildfire.
Take care of yourself between workouts. Unplug from the sport when you are away from the water. Eat well. Get lots of sleep. Manage your stress levels. Be kind to yourself and to your body.
Celebrate moments of success. The gold medals and records are great, but it’s the countless glimpses of success along the way that give you true confidence. Note them. Celebrate them.
Self-monitor your effort. One of the simplest ways to keep your effort honest is to grade yourself after each workout. A simple ranking out of 10. Monitoring effort means it is important to you.
Write out your practices. Take a few minutes each day to reflect on your workout. See where you are doing well. How you can be better. If you are on track.
3. Dusting off the tech suit and racing like a beast
Oh yeah, the big show, the dance—whatever ya wanna call it. Competition.
Let’s sharpen those racing skills and pressure-proof your mindset so that you can smash some PB’s when it matters most.
Build a pre-race routine. A key method that elite swimmers prepare for competition is by having a pre-race routine. A little list of wins that carry them up to the moment they are standing on the block.
Reframe anxiety as excitement. Anxiety and stress are normal, and only cause problems when we try to suppress them and label them as bad. Embrace the butterflies—they are there to help you.
Have a race strategy. Performance cues and a race strategy are simple and powerful things to focus on when the stress of competition gets cranked up. Swim the race you want to swim.
Use visualization to prepare mentally. Use visualization as a way to do dress rehearsals of race day. The quiet before the whistle. The cold water. The way you feel in the water. Imagine it all, so that when it happens under pressure, you are mentally prepared.
Focus on execution and personal excellence. Winning a gold medal isn’t the same as crushing your personal best time. When you focus on doing your best, and not comparing yourself to other swimmers, you are more likely to do things that benefit your performance.
Remember the joy of competition. Competition can feel threatening, but it isn’t. Compete with yourself, compete against the swimmer next to you, and do it with a smile.
4. Making the most of the journey
The sport isn’t all gold medals, records, and perpetually smelling like chlorine. There is a lot that you get from the sport that has nothing to do with times on the clock.
Here’s a little list of ideas of ways that you can impact the sport, the next generation of swimmers rolling up behind you, and even find more intrinsic enjoyment from the seemingly endless laps in the pool.
Peer mentor younger teammates. The biggest impact you will ever have on the sport is the impressions you make on younger teammates. Take a moment to help a youngster on the team—you will rock their world more than you know.
Lead the cheers at swim meets. One swimmer chasing greatness can be powerful, but a group of swimmers chasing greatness together is unstoppable. Cheer for your teammates, whether they are lane eight in the D final or lane four of the championship final.
Be a positive voice in practice. Hard sets are ground zero for complaining. This kind of negativity is infectious and craters performance. Be the one to stay positive in the face of adversity.
Help take the lane ropes out. Respecting the team’s environment seems like a “who cares” proposition, but simple things like helping to take the lane ropes out is a reminder that we aren’t above doing the little things.
Thank your coaches, parents and officials. The sport wouldn’t be what it is without them. Thank them for spending their time and energy so that you can devote your effort and time to swimming like a boss.
More Stuff Like This:
The Swimmer’s Guide to Performance Anxiety and Pre-Race Butterflies. The stress and anxiety of competition is universal. Here’s how to navigate the sometimes confusing mindsets and emotions that happen before swimmers race.
This Mental Training Workbook Will Help You Swim Like a Rock Star This Season. Confused about mental training? Want to unleash pro mode on your swimming this year? Learn how this mental training workbook will change your mindset and help you pummel your PB’s this season.