It’s the most wonderful time of the year: school is out, the holidays are coming alive, and you’re looking forward to spending quality time with family and friends. While that sounds relaxing, the reality is that if you’re a competitive swimmer, this time of year also means a grueling winter break training schedule. You likely have doubles filled with yardage, yardage, and a side of… yardage.
Instead of simply going through the motions and thinking you’ll reach your season goals just because you’ve put the time in, why not use this opportunity to build mental training habits as well? Here are five tips to make the most out of your winter training:
- Sleep. Many of our clients – shoot, many people in general – just aren’t getting enough sleep. Sleep is the key to recovery, learning, focus, and so much more. According to the National Sleep Foundation, teenagers should be getting 8-10 hours a night, while adults should be catching Z’s for about 7-9 hours a night. You’re likely not getting this amount on a consistent basis while school is in session, so get it now. It’s also not a bad idea to take a nap between practices! If you’re going to nap, try laying down for less than 45 minutes or more than two hours. It may take some trial and error before you find that magic number – and you’ll know you’ve landed on it when you wake up feeling rested and ready for practice #2 rather than feeling groggy and totally out of it.
- Set a goal for each practice. Hopefully you’ve written down goal times for your best events this season. (If not, take a few moments to consider this, make sure the times are challenging but realistic, and run them past your coach for some feedback.) Each practice is an opportunity to get one step closer to those times. On your car ride to the pool or during your warm up, set your focus for the day – whether it’s getting in some speed work, perfecting part of your stroke, or improving your turns. The little things do matter. At the end of practice, reflect on how you did and what you can do better in the second practice that day related to the same goal.
- Focus on what you can control. You’re going to be spending a boat load of time with your teammates, which can make you even more aggravated by things like them touching your feet, not letting you pass, or clogging up the wall when you’re trying to finish. Remember, all of these things are not within your control; the only thing you have control over is yourself. Be selfish with this time by focusing on yourself - your stroke, your speed, and most importantly, your attitude.
- Embrace the suck. Speaking of attitude… it’s going to be incredibly easy to complain about winter training. It feels good. Other people are doing it. But did you know complaining actually rewires your brain for negativity? Break the cycle by choosing to embrace the suck. You know this is going to be tough, but recognize that you’re capable of doing the work and that the effort will pay off in the end. If you’re tempted to complain, try thinking about something that motivates you, instruct yourself to focus on something specific, or tell yourself something realistic and truthful, like, “I’m half way through this set” (of course, only when you are).
- Prepare for upcoming meets. While you have the time and you’re already pulling doubles, take this opportunity to map out your routine for upcoming meets, especially ones with prelims and finals. Jot down how you typically prepare for a meet physically and mentally – the night before the meet, a few hours before it starts, 30 minutes before, all the way down to how you’re preparing for your individual events. Consider if each element actually helps your performance, and what else you might need to add or subtract. Have a draft ready to go for your next meet in January to test out and revise from there.
Abby Keenan is a certified mental performance consultant located in Atlanta, GA. She specializes in mentally preparing competitive youth swimmers to perform at their best when it matters most. To work with Abby on your mental game, visit intrepidperformance.com/contact.