Competitive swimming was a huge part of my life in high school, and while I no longer swim competitively in college, it’s shaped me into the person I am today. Plus, I still get a thrill out of swimming for fun and keeping up with it to stay in shape. I may not get to enjoy the competition and teamwork aspects of swimming currently, but I still think of it as a beautiful sport and I’ve picked up a few tips and tricks along the way. Swimming is a precise and technical sport that encourages you to push yourself to new limits every day. I’ve learned that what you do outside the pool often matters just as much as what you do inside the pool. If you want to reach your swimming goals and beat the competition, then you need to be thinking about how you can better yourself every moment of your life, not just when you enter the water.
I’m no Olympic swimmer, but I think I know enough to impart my wisdom on less practiced swimmers. On the surface, swimming appears to be a simple sport. There’s no offense and defence. No ball to dribble or kick. No points. It’s just you and the water, and your goal is to slice through the water as quickly as possible to get the fastest time. Simple…but not really. In order to accomplish this feat, your movements need to be sharp and defined. You need to be focused and tune out everything else. You can’t let your doubts and insecurities get in the way of your performance. You don’t have to be perfect to be a great swimmer, because perfection is impossible, but you need to strive to do your very best to avoid letting yourself and your teammates downs. Here are some ways you can be at your best:
- Have confidence
Confidence is key in just about everything you do, but especially so in swimming. There’s nothing holding you back from accomplishing your goals, so push yourself harder every day to be the swimmer you aspire to be. Don’t make excuses for slacking off in your practice sessions; instead, give it your all no matter the circumstances and you’ll be a better person for it. Swimming teaches discipline. If you push yourself to do your best every time, then you will be more confident in your abilities and can prevent your nerves from getting in the way on competition day.
2. Be flexible
This goes both ways. It’s important to be flexible not just with your body, but mentally as well. It’s obvious that you want your muscles to be in prime condition for perfecting your strokes, so get in the habit of stretching a few times every day in the morning, at night, and before or after a workout. It’s also important to have a flexible frame of mind, according to Lindsay Mintenko, the National Swim Team Managing Director. Life is unpredictable, so anything could happen to potentially hamper your performance, but you shouldn’t let it. For instance, you could miss your bus on the way to the meet. You could have to wait in a long line to get your food at the Olympic village (if you’re an Olympian). Any number of things could go wrong. “The best you can do as you get ready for the Olympic Games, or even Olympic Trials, is to plan the best you can, but be flexible if things don’t go the way you planned,” says Mintenko. Mintenko speaks with the Olympic swimmer in mind, but this advice goes for swimmers of all levels.
3. Stick to a healthy diet
What you put into your body is pivotal for how your body performs, so maintain a balanced diet free of processed and fast foods. It’s not just about what you eat, but how often you eat as well, so make sure you don’t skip meals to avoid binge-eat later. Your body needs plenty of protein and enough carbs to fuel you throughout the day. Stay hydrated also with a sugar-free carbohydrate drink such as Powerade Zero, Gatorade G2, or Vitargo S2.
4. Avoid injury
Sometimes injuries are hard to avoid. I mean, it’s not like anyone actually tries to get hurt. But there are measures you can take to reduce your chance of injury, because if you’ve ever had a sports-related injury, then you know how annoying it is when an injury keeps you out of the game you trained so hard to compete in. Make sure you stick to your pre-hab exercises so that you’re not doing rehab later on.
5. Get enough sleep
I’m sure you’ve heard this before, and probably ignored the advice to get a full-night’s sleep. There’s always something keeping you up, be it homework, social media, or binge-watching the latest Netflix original series. Old habits die hard, but even if you just aim for one extra hour of sleep every night, it can have a positive impact on your performance. When you don’t get enough sleep, you peak growth hormone secretion is shortened, which can affect muscle mass, and your body will expend valuable energy recovering from lack of sleep. Try implementing some pre-bed rituals, such as putting your phone away an hour before going to bed, to get you to sleep sooner.
6. Encourage your teammates
You can’t be selfish in sports. Even though swimming isn’t a team sport, per se, in that you’re not working directly with your teammates to score points, but you’re working towards a common goal of getting the best individual times and beating the other team. You probably know from experience how encouraging it is to get support from your family members and teammates, so be sure to return the favor and spread positive vibes. Motivate and encourage your teammates and they’ll do the same for you, and you’ll be encouraged to push yourself harder as well.