By Mike Gustafson//Contributor | Monday, April 24, 2017
Every Monday, I answer questions from swimmers around the country. If you have a question, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org, or ask me on Twitter at @micgustafson.
I am a 12 year old swimmer and I have been getting personal bests and JO cuts at practice. I then go to a meet and I am three or four seconds off the cut. I get really frustrated when I get the cuts during practice where it doesn't count and not at a meet. How can I swim my best at meets as well as practice?
Hi Frustrated Swimmer,
There could be many reasons you swim faster in practice than meets. At swim meets, do you get really nervous? The night before the meet, do you sleep? Do you get so excited that you can feel your arms spinning through the water, not catching anything?
If you swim faster in practice than in meets, I would experiment: First, monitor your approach to practices. How do you warm-up? Before practice, what do you eat? What sets do you do before you swim really fast? When do you swim fast? At the beginning, middle, or end of practice?
Once you self-analyze your practice performances, you’ll notice trends and patterns. Maybe you swim fast after training 4,000 yards. Maybe you swim fast on Friday nights, but not in the mornings. Maybe you swim fast when you aren’t thinking about anything.
After a month or two, and once you have a foundation of patterns, apply those “practice patterns” to meets. For example, if you swim fast after practicing for 6,000 yards, try warming-up 6,000 yards. Try difficult warm-up sets. Get your body going. Tire yourself out.
In other words, mimic practices.
Mentally, it’s harder to mimic a practice mindset. But you can do it. With acknowledgement, awareness, and mindfulness, you can re-set your brain at every swim meet. The best way I’ve noticed how to do this is through routine, and through music.
Pick a routine for warm-ups. Then, do that same warm-up routine every meet. In the water. Out of the water. Do the same thing. If you eat a banana before practice, eat a banana before a meet. If you laugh with your friends before practice, laugh with your friends before a meet. Also, I used music to help calm me down: I listened to the same album on repeat before every swim meet (Weezer, The Blue Album).
Listening to the same song over and over and over again might drive you insane, but for me, it worked.
Once you mimic your practices, you’ll notice “practice patterns” vs. “meet patterns”. Maybe, before meets, you get nervous. Maybe you think about goals too much. Maybe you put too much pressure on yourself. Maybe you worry about competitors, your body tenses, and you over-think.
If you experiment — if you try to keep all practice and meet factors constant — over time, you will see why you swim slower at meets. You might not be able to fix it right away. But you’ll know.
Don’t worry so much, Frustrated Swimmer. Every teammate I’ve ever known has had days where he’s swam faster in practices than in meets. It happens. Don’t beat yourself up. The good news? You’re training fast. You’re training hard.
In the end, in the long run, that is what matters. Stick with it. Stay the course. The times will come.
I hope this helps.