By Mike Gustafson//Contributor | Monday, September 11, 2017
Every Monday, I answer questions from swimmers around the country. If you have a question, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
I am very dedicated to swimming. I go to practice everyday, try hard and focus on both technique and effort in sets. I eat healthy, stretch, and have a pretty good mindset. However I have not improved in a long time, and am not seeing my hard work pay off in meets. How can I get better?
-Doing The Right Things
A while ago, I had a swimming teammate who sounds exactly like you. He did everything right. He went to practice every day (twice a day, often), tried his hardest, and worked on all the details. Even though he wasn’t the fastest, he out-worked the fastest.
The rest of us — the guys in practice he destroyed every day — always assumed he’d win an Olympic gold medal in no time. We assumed he would become an NCAA Champion, earn all the national and international accolades, and retire as one of the most successful swimmers ever.
It didn’t happen.
For many years, he didn’t drop time. He plateaued, like so many others. Even though his practice times decreased, his meet times stayed the same. Sometimes, he would swim slower in meets than he did in practice.
It was confounding. How could such a hard-working swimmer not drop time? How could such a swimmer swim faster in practice than in meets? No one could understand it.
The thing was, he spent so much mental and physical energy focused on swimming, it took over his life. Every movement, every action was geared towards swimming. Every nap, every time he walked across the parking lot, every second was spent thinking about dropping time. Almost to the point where it consumed him.
The turning point was when he began to explore non-swimming activities. Music. Social events. Different studies that excited him. When he found a little more balance in his every day, he began to drop time. He broke through that brick wall. He found a way to drop time in meets — not an incredible, Olympic gold medal’s amount, but some time.
If you’re doing everything right in practice, keep doing that. Keep working hard. Keep churning. Keep a positive mindset. Keep going.
But also? Tip the scales back towards a more healthy balance between swimming and non-swimming things. Find some balance. Get outside your head a little bit. Go to a concert. Take a walk every afternoon. Read a good book. Hang out with non-swimming friends. Go to the beach and yell at the top of your lungs. Buy a used bike and ride it around. Bake some cookies. Volunteer. Plant a garden. Take a new class you would never ever normally take. Learn how to draw. Play the drums.
Sometimes, we can get so caught up in a task that it devours us whole. It consumes us. We can care so much about something that we care too much — so much that it paralyzes us.
I’m not saying you’re paralyzed because you care too much. I don’t know you, or what your life is like outside of the pool.
But my advice to you, Doing The Right Things, is to keep doing the right things, and keep finding other, non-swimming activities to balance out your life a little bit. Find something you care deeply about that doesn’t have anything to do with pacing, flip-turns, or tenths-of-a-second. Find something that is all your own — not your parents’, not your teammates’, not your coaches’, but yours. Something that is yours. It could be drawing. It could be playing drums. It could be taking a walk.
And keep churning.
I hope this helps.