Received a great email from a young swimmer this week via the YSB newsletter.
I had to repost it here as well as an extended version of the answer that I gave her with her blessing (thanks Ashlyn!).
The question was something I certainly experienced as a young swimmer on several occasions, and I know is very common with age group swimmers (and even a few of you masters swimmers as well).
I swim a lot and I recently moved up a squad and I’m not feeling too good about my swimming because they’re all faster than me.
First of all, congrats on getting moved up a group!
I always loved getting leveled up a group. I drove a long line of coaches a little crazy because I was consistently asking to train with the older kids (that’s where all the cool kids are, after all!) and wouldn’t stop bugging them until I was training with the top squad.
Those first few weeks of training with a new group were always awesome.
The new environment was always a big boost. Adjusting our surroundings can inflict immediate, measurable impact on our swimming, and training with new swimmers feels like hitting the refresh button on our motivation levels.
A new coach, new swimmers to race against in practice, and new types of workouts almost always provide a jolt to our training.
But more specific to your dilemma, the main reason I really enjoyed leveling up was because there was no pressure on me to swim fast!
Each day I would go to practice and try to keep up as much as I could, and for as long as I could, to the faster and older swimmers (much to their occasional chagrin).
During each set, and each rep, I would make it my personal mission to maintain the pace, or on the infrequent occasion, catch one of the swimmers ahead of me in the lane.
With each practice I took it as a challenge to keep up with them for as long as I could.
But I can understand why you feel pressure.
You want to make sure that you belong, and feel sensitive to the fact that the rest of the group is cruising along at paces and intervals that were until recently unfathomable to you.
In many ways, you feel out-of-place, or possibly even undeserving of being where you are at.
But what if I told you it’s the older swimmers who are going to feel pressured by you? That they are the ones feeling pressured to stay ahead of you, and not the other way around?
After all, to date they have been the big dogs, kings and queens of the mountain, and along comes you, the little upstart. They want to keep their place on the totem pole, so the pressure is actually on them to swim fast and maintain the status quo.
The next time you go to practice take your best shot at them.
You aren’t expected to beat them, so you’ve got nothing to lose, and you’ll be surprised at how fast and resilient you actually are.
(Beating them in warm-up or drill sets doesn’t necessarily count, but can be a stepping stone to challenging during the main sets.)
You have nothing to lose, so the next time you hop in the water rise up and challenge the swimmers in your new group.
And the best part?
The improvement you will see from challenging yourself each day like this will be absolutely unreal.