The swimmer’s season is no joke. For athletes who aspire to compete at the junior national and national levels, the season starts in September and usually ends in August. As a result, staying on point and focused can be challenging, and swimmers’ motivation can understandably waver from time to time.
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Here is your ultimate guide to motivation for swimmers, with eight ways to stay fired up all season:
1. Each week pick one extra for your training
Each Monday after our morning swimming workouts, we would get out 15 minutes early for a quick goal-setting session for the week. Our coach would ask us to write down one technique we would work on, and one “extra” that we would do above and beyond our normal training. For some swimmers, it was running stairs in the stadium next to the pool for 20 minutes before practice. Or doing 500 reps of various types of ab exercises after every afternoon practice. Whatever the extra was, it was ours to decide.
2. Focus on building habits
The secret to motivation for swimmers is not needing it at all. After all, having to get yourself amped up and motivated to go to every swim practice gets draining after a while. Sure, it is helpful in spurts, but motivation is fickle and dependent on things beyond just “wanting it” (sleep, for instance). When good training simply becomes habitual, gone is that agonizing and exhausting mental back-and-forth that happens before every hard workout.
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3. Partner up with a teammate
During the season, there are inevitably going to be dips in motivation. They may happen when you are bombarded with schoolwork, stressed out with family and work, or simply in the midst of a long stretch of cold and dark days of winter, when the last thing you want to do is leave the confines of your house. Join forces with a teammate to stay accountable to each other. This means making sure you both give top effort in practice, and also make it to all the workouts. Things always feel easier when you have a strong support system in place, and one way to cultivate that is to partner up.
4. Have short-term goals
Having season goals is important and helps us stay on path during those long months of training. But because the end of the season is so far off, we can sometimes feel disconnected from our long-term goals and settle into thinking that because it’s so far off, we don’t really need to give our best effort today (“I’ll start tomorrow!”). You can combat this by having short-term goals within your training and competition schedule. Training goals can be something like devoting more time each practice to freestyle drills, or even doing the prehab necessary to ward off swimmer’s shoulder.
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5. Keep your goals nearby
You have big goals for the season—so why keep them hidden? Having them out in plain sight will give you that sense of purpose when you feel yourself wavering. Katie Ledecky wrote “565” on her pull buoy for her goals for the 2016 Rio Olympics (3:56/8:05). Michael Phelps had his goals beside his bed, so he knew why he was waking up every morning for another morning practice. It’s likely there are things you want to accomplish this season in the water. Keep them nearby and in plain sight to remind you of what you are training for.
6. Sleep more
Sleep? What does that have to do with motivation? As it turns out, quite a bit. High performing swimmers know that sleep is a fundamental part of their tool set—essential for recovery and faster swimming. Sleep deprivation affects swimmers in different ways (particularly distance swimmers vs. sprinters), but across the board it increases perceived rate of exertion and impairs cognitive function. Plus, it makes many of us not a lot of fun to be around.
7. Use your setbacks as springboards for positive change
Over the course of a season, it’s inevitable that you will hit some bumps and detours. Whether it’s an injury, or performing below expectations, getting sick, or losing motivation, we all experience some form of setback at some point. The difference between those who excel and the rest? The ability to be resilient and to use failures and setbacks for positive change.
8. Pick a mantra
Each day or each week, pick out a motivational swimming quote or action word to use during your training. Write it down at the top of your log book, or even write it on your arm. Dana Vollmer, a four-time Olympic gold medalist, wrote a single word on her right foot when competing in Rio. “I try to find one word that when I think about that word, it’s energizing and it makes my whole body work,” she told Today.