By Mike Gustafson//Contributor | Monday, July 10, 2017
Every Monday, I answer questions from swimmers across the country. If you have a question that you’d like me to answer either online at USASwimming.org or in Splash Magazine, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
I have been swimming competitively for a year. Recently, I have noticed that when I get to practice I am full of motivation, but then halfway through practice I lose it. When we do descending sets, I think I'm going all out during the set, but when I finish, I realize that I could have went a lot harder. Also, I'm in the slow lane at practice and I feel as though I'm not dropping as much time as I should be. Any advice on how to stay motivated during practice?
One other thing, I'm in the highest group of my club, and I was the only swimmer in my group without fast enough times to make JOs.
— Stressed Swimmer
Hey Stressed Swimmer,
If you’re struggling with staying motivated during practice, try this trick:
In every practice, imagine there are two practices. The first half and the second half. Each half is its own “practice.” Each half has its own goals. When you leave one practice, you enter the second ready and motivated.
When you finish that first-half, get motivated for the second the same way you motivated yourself for the first. Think about second-half goals. Reset your mind. Catch your breath for a moment. And approach that “second half practice” stronger, mentally sharper, and ready.
Swim practices are very long — they can, sometimes, seem longer than other sports, like soccer or baseball. The length of a swim practice can be mentally and physically exhausting. It’s hard to keep motivation up through 60, 90, or 120 minutes of hard exercise, especially when you’re staring at the bottom of a pool the entire time.
It sounds like when you arrive at the practice midpoint, you get tired. If I were you, I’d prepare for that tiredness ahead of time. Think, “Okay, I’m going to feel tired halfway through this workout. What can I do ahead of time to prepare?” Sometimes, it’s nutrition or hydration. During practices, I’d drink fluids at the halfway point. Other times, it’s mental: Write a quote on your kickboard. Or mentally acknowledge, “It’s the halfway point. This is when I typically get tired.”
The two-practice trick may help you stay motivated. It’s like swimming two races at a swim meet. You swim your first race, break, warm down, then the second. If you swam both races back-to-back without pausing, you’d likely feel burned-out halfway. “You mean I have to swim a 200 butterfly now?” At swim meets, you have a break between races. In swim practice, you can’t take this break, of course. But you can plan ahead and mentally trick yourself into thinking about both halves as unique and different.
I used to do this when I trained two practices a day. It helped me laser-focus on each workout. At morning practice, I wouldn’t think about the afternoon. In the afternoon, I wouldn’t think about the morning. I’d only focus on the practice at-hand. It allowed me to give 100% in that workout without thinking about the future.
Try this trick. First half, second half. First practice, second practice.
After a while, you’ll be able to mentally break up practices into mini-practices. Instead of picturing swim practice as this big, long, very difficult endeavor, you’ll begin to see each practice as a series of sets and repeats with their own goals and their own motivations.
And once you begin to break up practices into these tinier pieces in your head, you’ll stop worrying about swim meets and teammates, and instead, focus with all your energy on the task at hand.
I hope this helps.