By Mike Gustafson//Contributor | Wednesday, April 26, 2017
Championship meets are all about perfection, or at least chasing perfection. You train the entire season for one minute of racing. Often, thousands and thousands of miles of training and technique comes down to just 100 or 200 yards (or meters) of a single race. Swimmers often specialize for an entire lifetime just to perfect that single 100-yard breaststroke.
Specialization is a debate. When should swimmers specialize and begin training specifically for a certain distance or stroke? Age 15? Age 17? College? When should a swimmer simply acknowledge that he or she will never be a great 200-meter breaststroker, and instead focus on the stroke or distance he or she is “naturally good” at?
Almost every swimmer specializes at some point in a career. Since swimmers can only swim three or four events at a championship swim meet, swimmers pick those events which they can best perform. Which leads to specialization. But what happens when a swimmer begins to think of switching strokes, or events, or distances? What happens when a swimmer who trained breaststroke for five years begins dominating butterfly sets in practice?
I’ve never been a huge fan of specific specialization. Mostly because bodies change, mentalities change, and the sheer physical nature of a swimmer changes with age. Swimming off-events throughout the season helps keep a checks-and-balances on stroke or event specialization, because it allows swimmers to explore other events they may not even realize they could excel in. However, dual meet off-events are a vastly different beast than championship meet racing. Which is why I believe, once a year, it’s great to allow a swimmer to swim just one “off-event” at a championship meet.
Here are 5 reasons why swimmers should try swimming an off-event at a championship meet:
1. Swimming an off-event at a championship meet allows swimmers to get outside their own heads.
Specialization can sometimes lead to over-analyzation. Where every single inch of that 100-yard backstroke is analyzed and thought and planned. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, of course. Unless you get too caught up in it. By swimming an off-event at a championship meet, swimmers can get outside their own heads, if only for one event.
2. Sometimes, swimmers discover a new “good event.”
You know the drill: You swim a really fast 50 breaststroke once when you’re 12-years-old, and suddenly, you’re swimming breaststroke the rest of your career. Most swimmers have two or three championship meets a year. Swimming one off-event — one event they wouldn’t normally swim — at one championship meet won’t hurt anyone. Actually, it could allow swimmers to surprise themselves. Maybe that breaststroker is also really good at the 50 freestyle.
3. It’s fun.
Off-events are fun. Why? Because it’s something different. I wouldn’t recommend everyone swimming an off-event at a championship meet. But if a swimmer is too nervous and gets too wrapped up in pressure, sometimes it’s lots of fun to swim an off-event.
4. Re-learning how to race.
Championship meets are all about racing. But by swimming an off-event at a championship event, swimmers are less experienced in that event. So it comes down to grit, passion, and racing. I remember swimming 50 backstrokes at the YMCA Nationals. I was not a backstroker. But it brought me back to that awesome feeling of pure racing. Racing just for the heck of it. Racing in a championship meet with nothing to lose. I love that feeling, and sometimes it takes swimming an off-event to return to that feeling.
5. It makes you appreciate your best events.
Some people out there will scoff at this article. “Why waste an opportunity to swim something a swimmer didn’t really even train for?” And yet, swimming off-events at championship meets makes swimmers appreciate what they do well. When I swam that 50 backstroke at those Y Nats, I appreciated my breaststroke and IM events. I appreciated every aspect of what went into all that preparation. Actually, when I returned back to my better events, it made me understand those events even better. Like comparing and contrasting two races. One event, the 50 back, was a different experience than swimming the event I trained for, the 200 IM. I appreciated my better events and enjoyed the process of racing more.
So, if you’re a swimmer who sometimes gets too wrapped up in championship meets, in overanalyzing and over-thinking, try an off-event. Maybe this summer. While yes, championship meets are opportunities to swim your best, there are a few championship meets every year. Swimming a one off-event at one of them may not hurt anything, and it could lead to a new surprise, new discovery, new perspective, or new enjoyment.
Follow Mike on Twitter @MicGustafson.