The start is what stops most people. Have you heard this before? Specific to athletes, many times they fall into the trap of not starting, or not taking advantage of the opportunity a beginning allows, due to fear of failure, feeling too comfortable in their sport or team routine, or not taking enough time at the beginning to really put in the work to start off strong. At the beginning of a swim season, there are multiple areas to spend some time, focus, and energy that will set this season apart from past seasons. Setting the proper foundation is pertinent in setting yourself up for your best season.
Here are 10 key areas swimmers can focus on to help navigate the start of their best season:
- Know what goals will make you feel you had a successful season.Understanding where you are heading is crucial to building a foundation. Knowing your best times, cuts you want to make, meets you want to swim, as well as long term goals with your career in swimming are all important and create your own definition of what success will look like for you. Everyone is different. Once you know what that looks like specifically for you, you can figure out how to achieve them through steps 2 – 9.
- Reflect on past seasons without emotional attachment.Priorities are yours to set. Based off your past experiences and swim performances, you can decide what your top priorities will be for this season. Take time to reflect on your progress and evaluate what you’ve done well and what you need to work on. This step helps you identify what’s important and what may be the game changer for you this season. The key here is to not carry over any emotional feelings that would influence your approach to this year. Work this step in a very professional and business-like fashion, no emotion. Keep it simple.
- Organize.Organize.Organize.It takes balance and commitment to manage a student-athlete’s life and busy schedule. Athlete’s must learn to organize their time and responsibilities. Creating a time management system that the athlete will utilize can stop disasters before they happen: missed obligations, not being prepared for tests or quizzes, not having enough time for school, swim, and social events, etc. Also, organize your physical life. Consider clutter in your space just as impactful as a lack of control in your schedule. Clean and keep organized your locker, car, backpack, swim bag, bedroom, desk, etc. Decluttering allows for a decluttered mind. Extra space allows more room to get better.
- Identify bad habits and remove them.Do you breathe off every wall? Stop. Do you never complete the full warmup? Stop. Do you go into races without a race plan? Stop. Don’t be afraid to admit your weaknesses. Once they are identified, you can remove these limitations and work on challenging yourself to become better. Some bad habits are harder to break than others, so do not hesitate to ask for help from coaches or teammates to stay persistent in your attempts to remove and replace them.
- Create routines of healthy habits.When you remove a bad habit, something has to go in its place. Your behavior affects your outcome. Results are found in your daily routine. Elite athletes have routines for everything. Athletes should create routines for their morning, bedtime, packing their bag(s), studying for tests, before, during, and after practices, meet days, prelim/final meets, races, how they hydrate and fuel their bodies for performance, etc. The more you brain is accustomed to a routine, the less you will worry and lose energy over things out of your control. An athlete’s time and energy are finite. It’s crucial to have plans in place to use every ounce toward being better versions of themselves.
- Be prepared for sacrifices.Knowing what’s important, your core values and beliefs, and your ultimate goals mean you will undoubtedly make sacrifices. For most people, it is really hard to not give in to instant gratification and what you want to do right now. For athletes, you must have the mental strength to keep your priorities and values in line with what you want and what you value. It’s not easy. If it were, everyone with athletic talent would be making money as a professional athlete. If you have decided that school and swimming/sports are important to you, it’s important to stay committed to that decision. Playing video games, or going to the movies, or getting tickets to the ‘best concert of all time’ with friends can be fun, and you certainly should still make time for stuff like that when you’re able to, but it should not be a priority over getting rest for a meet. You need to be prepared to miss things that can be upsetting. Athletes with a plan tolerate the discomfort of missing out when it aligns with their greater purpose and goals.
- Define your extra effort.Every athlete with a goal they have yet to reach, has to decide where they are going to put in extra effort. Will you do your own cross training outside of practice (running, yoga, Pilates, strength building, etc.)? Will you work on skills like reaction time, range of motion, recovery? Would it be beneficial to see your school’s athletic trainer, a physical therapist, chiropractor, massage therapist? Would it give you an extra competitive edge by meeting with a sport psychology coach, life coach, or psychologist? What about at school, working with a guidance counselor, tutor, study skills coach, test prep tutor or coach? There are so many things you could be doing outside of practice and meets that will help you strive to be your best. Pick what you think would be most effective to your progress and take advantage of those resources.
- Eliminate and avoid distractions.Even as a young athlete, you must take responsibility for your life. You are in charge of who you spend time with, how you spend your time, and how you feel. Everyone has a friend that seems to get in the way. They distract you while studying, want you to blow off a responsibility for something fun, or try and make you not care about something that you do really, really care about. You don’t have to sacrifice those relationships completely, but you need to limit that interaction. With technology and social media taking such a forefront in our daily routine, allow time every day to disconnect. Remove temptations that drain you or create unnecessary obstacles. To do this successfully, you must be selfish.
- Accept your role as a teammate.Nothing can be accomplished by you and you alone. You need coaches, teammates, fans, lifeguards, timers, drivers, and swimsuit designers. It takes a village. It is helpful to welcome teamwork and the team environment into your plan for progress. Sometimes the best teammates are not your friends either, so be open to working together with everyone. You never know who will spark just what you need to get better. Every practice show up with a smile, say hello to everyone, and understand that every single verbal and nonverbal action you do is creating your team culture. No one is off the hook and it’s everyone’s responsibility to work together and provide a helping hand.
- Believe.Creating a foundation for a successful season is not easy. You won’t be immune to self-doubt, worry, or negative thoughts regarding what you can do and what this season will bring. Being mentally strong means you don’t allow these thoughts to overpower your purpose. Reframe any unhelpful statements into realistic ideas surrounding your experiences with swimming, school, sports, etc. Believing in yourself is developed over time by establishing good habits, showing yourself you can overcome obstacles, adversity, and ridding yourself of things that hold you back. Just as you develop your physical strength, your mental muscle needs consistent practice as well.
If you are looking for support in starting your best season, contact Coach Abbi for a complimentary session by visiting www.absolutecoaching.org or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.