by Wayne Goldsmith and Bill Sweetenham
Swim meets, swimming competitions and swim carnivals: three ways to say the same thing – opportunity! Opportunity for the coach to assess the effectiveness of his or her training program. Opportunity for parents and family to support swimmers facing the challenge of competition. Opportunity for swimmers to learn how to face the challenge of competition meets and overcome that challenge and learn valuable lessons for future challenges.
Most swimmers face the challenge of competition at a swim meet with one goal in mind – go as fast as they can!
However, swim meets are much more than just going fast. With a little thought and planning swim meets provide opportunities to fine-tune swimming performance that training alone cannot.
The temptation at swim meets is to sit in the stands and yell and cheer for the swimmers of your team. However swim meets provide the coach with the best opportunity to fine tune his or her training program. Based on information gained under competitive conditions, the coach has a valuable feedback opportunity to see if the training program is working effectively and to gain information on the possible direction of the program in the future.
Focus on perfecting one thing at each meet. This might mean perfecting starts. It could mean perfecting turns. It may mean concentrating on streamlining. It could be fine tuning your race warm-up.
Aim to do one thing at each meet to the best of your ability. Warm-up well, stretch and do whatever is necessary to prepare yourself mentally, physiologically, technically and emotionally for competition.
Ideally, your pre-race routine has been developed, rehearsed and practiced in training many times before race day. From 30 minutes to one hour before racing try to turn off. Think about the most positive things in your life. Family, friends, pets, music, books etc.
However, as your event approaches think about your race (your own race) and your approach to the meet. Your approach to the meet should have been discussed with your coach before race day. Ideally a detailed plan should be in place to give your approach to the meet every possible chance of being effective.
There are many different ways of approaching a meet, each designed to develop a specific racing or competition skill:
1. The “only swim one event” meet.
Go to the meet and swim only one event. Focus on doing everything correctly from warm-up to swim down. Aim for 100% perfect.
Goal: Learn to perform under pressure and get things right for the big races later in the season.
2. The “do everything on the program” meet.
Swim as many events as you can at the meet. Aim to do your best as tough as that may be in every swim.
Goal: Learn the importance of a swim down and how to develop a tough attitude to racing. Learn to race well when tired.
3. The “do a PB in the heats” meet.
Aim to swim a personal best in the heats. National age, national open and international swimming are all about swimming a personal best in the morning heats, then recovering completely to come back and swim even faster in the evening finals.
Goal: Learn to swim fast heats to prepare for successful senior swimming and develop great recovery skills.
4. The “do a PB in the finals” meet.
Aim to save yourself a little in the heats (being careful not to swim yourself out of a finals spot). Come out in the finals and try to do a PB in the final with a significant improvement in some aspect of performance, e.g., faster speed and fewer strokes, faster speed, fewer strokes and less breaths.
Goal: Learn to concentrate on swimming faster late in the day with attention to swimming with great technique and skills.
5. The “lane” meet.
Aim to swim a time in the heats that will place you in an outside lane. If swimming in a seeded meet enter a slow time. Plan to win or do a great time from an outside lane.
Goal: Learn that all lanes are the same to swimmers who concentrate on swimming their own races to the best of their abilities.
6. The “swim long” meet.
Aim to swim in events that are longer than your ideal or goal race distance. For example, if aiming to swim 50 and 100m freestyle in the major meets at the end of the season, swim in 200, 400 and 800m events early in the season. If targeting 50 metre form strokes, swim 100 and 200 metre events early in the season.
Goal: Develop endurance rhythm and relaxation in longer swims to benefit shorter swims.
7. The “everything goes wrong” meet.
Aim to do a few things wrong on purpose. Get to the pool late. Forget your goggles. Don’t do a warm up. Swim in old, faded cossies. Try to swim as fast as possible – no matter what goes wrong.
Goal: Learn to handle any and every situation. Learn to overcome adversity. Learn to leave nothing to chance in your preparation for the important meets.
8. The “negative” meet.
Negative splitting, swimming the second half of your race faster than the first half, is an important swimming skill. Aim to negative split in all the events at a minor meet.
Goal: Learn to finish fast and strongly when other swimmers may be tiring and slowing down.
9. The “win everything” meet.
Look for a minor meet where the opposition will be of a lower standard than you are expecting to face at your major meet.
Goal: Learn to win. Build confidence from swimming your own race and competing well.
10. “The Challenge” meet.
Look for a meet where the opposition are older and tougher than the standard you are expecting to face in your major meet.
Goal: Racing against tougher opposition improves your own race skills and techniques. It also teaches you how to lose.
Why do you train? The answer is you train to compete!
Ask a swimmer going to a major meet what they think about their most recent results in a minor or lead-up meet. The lessons you learn from each swim meet are vital to your ultimate success. One idea is to start a “meets diary.” Buy a diary or notebook.
Take time to write down all the things you do at a meet. Note your warm-up, what you had for breakfast, what stretches you did, how long before the race did you warm-up, what did you do to relax before the race (i.e. did you read, listen to music, talk to friends, go for a walk, sleep in the stands), what you did in the marshalling area etc.
Learn from your mistakes. Learn what makes you swim fast. Develop a routine that gets your mind and body ready to race fast under any conditions and in any situation.
Competition is the best form of training. Use every competition as an opportunity and as a learning experience designed to help you achieve your goals.