By Mike Gustafson | Wednesday, March 21, 2018
When I was a young swimmer, our practice pool was separated out into distinct, very identifiable sections: On one side were the younger age group swimmers, toiling and troubling through the practice, attempting to survive 50-yard butterfly repeats, laughing, joking, carrying on. Then on the other side, there was the Senior Group.
The Senior Group was scary.
By scary I mean, intimidating. “The fast kids.” You could easily tell which group was which. Not only because one group was older, but because of their wake. If the age group sections were small dinky boats, the senior group lanes were fast, ominous torpedoes zooming through the water. Even their flip turns — fast, violent, perfect — scared me.
Then one day, my coach turned to me at the end of a practice and said, “Gus, you’re going to move up training groups on Monday.”
Jaw. To. Floor. He said it so nonchalant, as though he just didn’t realize he sentenced me to my death sentence: Death by a large 17-year-old butterflyer charging through the water. I was maybe 14 at the time. Not old enough to die due to being flipped on.
“Monday, you should train with the senior group.”
“See you Monday.”
The unknown can be scary. The first butterfly race. The first 400 IM. And the first time practicing with the “senior group.” So, after I found out that I was moving up training groups, I mentally freaked out. I stressed. I was anxious. Would I survive? Would I fail? Would everyone pass me? Would my arms fall off?
Of course, that first practice was completely fine. And I realized that I should have trusted my coaches: They know when a swimmer is ready to move up training groups. They know when it’s time for swimmers to take the next step in their competitive careers, just like they know when it’s time to sign up a swimmer for a 200-meter butterfly.
That said, now with the wisdom of an old, veteran, aged (re: out-of-shape) swimmer, I have some survival advice for swimmers about to move up training groups:
1. Don’t mentally freak out.
The beauty in sports is the challenge. Embrace the challenge. Embrace the difficulty. Fear comes from the unknown — fear comes from being inexperienced. But once you dive in, literally and metaphorically, you will gain more experience, and you won’t be fearful. Even just acknowledging, “I am scared,” can help you get over that feeling.
2. Trust your coaches.
Your coaches know you. Your coaches have seen you train. Your coaches know when it’s time to move you up to the next training group. Trust them. Even though you may question your own abilities, your coaches don’t. They are there to coach you. And even if you do struggle at first, they are there to help you along the way.
3. One lap at a time.
Did I get lapped moving up training groups? Absolutely. Every set. Did it motivate me to work harder? Yes. Was acclimating to the new training group difficult? Sometimes. It takes patience. You won’t be leading the lane overnight. You will get lapped. You will miss some intervals. But take the long-view: With patience and time and persistence, you will improve. Within a few years, I was leading those “scary” lanes that intimidated me so much as a younger swimmer.So, swimmers, if you’re about to move up training groups, don’t be scared. Remember that swimming is supposed to be fun, but also challenging. Embrace the challenge. You’re not going to die if someone flip-turns on you. Focus on one lap at a time, and just keep swimming.