Tips On How Not To Lose Count In A Distance Swim

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Miscounting is one of those things that swimmers and coaches both hate in a practice (especially coaches!) But miscounting in a meet is guaranteed to get you a comment from pretty much every person you’ve ever known … and some you don’t.

It’s still very early in our season here, and I’m already seeing a lot of miscounting in practice. In fact, I often use a stop watch just to ensure they do the right distance. But, strangely, I kind of understand it. Let’s face it. Following that black line on the bottom can often be mind numbing, and the occasional loss of concentration isn’t all that unusual.  We just have to have tricks to be overcome this problem.

Here are 7 tips that can help you learn to count more reliably.

  1. Never count ahead!

Counting the distance when you get to the end of your next length is just asking for trouble. Let’s say you’re doing a 400, and you’ve just pushed off the wall after 100.  It’s so tempting to think, “next time I turn here I’ve done 150”. But it you zone out for even a few seconds, you’ll lose track of your distance. And it’s very likely you’ll remember thinking ‘150’ and assume at your next turn it’ll be 200. Always concentrate on the distance you just finished, and you won’t have that problem.

  1. Give the race some personality!

race strategy.jpgRather than just mindlessly swimming, try having a detailed strategy for the race. Such as:

  • 1st 100 – Sneaky – long and controlled and stay in touch with leaders but don’t lead
  • 2nd 100 -Poke them a little – pick up the pace, and see what happens
  • 3rd 100 – Make them pay – put on a little burst and watch them all panic
  • etc

The number of race strategies you can come up with is endless. By having specific thoughts scheduled throughout the swim, it’s easier to keep count.  More or less, it’s basically the same reason why people rarely miscount in an IM.  Each part of the race has its own flavour.

  1. Know Your Expected Finish Time

You should  know approximately how long a repeat or a race will take. For instance, you should usually know to within 10 seconds or so how fast you’ll do a 400.  So if you think you’ve finished and you look at your time on the wall clock or scoreboard, you should be able to instantly know if you’ve done the right distance. After all, if you expect 4:30 and the clock shows 3:55, you might suspect you have 50 left.

  1. Don’t chant in your head

chanting monks.jpgAlthough a very common trick, I advise against chanting the length number in your head.  Mainly because if you’re concentrating on chanting over and over, then you’re probably not concentrating on racing or your technique or your energy expenditure. Just get used to having multiple thoughts in your head, with one being your counting.

  1. Use a lap-counter (meet strategy only)

I consider this a last resort – basically a type of insurance. A lap-counter board just ensures that even if you zone out for a while, you’ll still know how far you’ve gone – assuming the people holding the lap-counter boards didn’t zone out themselves.  It happens.

  1. Use the Wall Clock (usually just a practice strategy)

Your very best friend for counting is one of those big analog wall clocks – the ones with 4 wall clock.jpgbrightly coloured arms 15 seconds apart.  The rules say that these clocks must be turned off during meets, and they usually are.  But if they aren’t  turned off, and you have trouble with counting, USE THEM!

This technique is easy enough.  Count in your head, as normal, but then verify that count by looking at the clock.

Here’s how it works. You should roughly know how fast you’ll swim each length, so every 100 or 150 or so, at the same part of the pool every time, sneak a peek at the clock. For analog clocks, most people can see the red hand the easiest.  Based on how fast you swim, you should know roughly where that red hand should be every time you look.  As an example, if you normally swim 35 seconds per 50 for a given distance, then every 100 the red hand should be roughly 10 seconds farther ahead than the last time you looked.  If the red hand is suddenly on the other side of the clock from where you expect it, chances are you’ve done 50 LESS than you thought.

Many meets these days have big digital scoreboards with a running digital clock on it.  The problem with relying on these clocks is that it takes excellent eyesight and a very long breath to read the numbers, but its possible.  I just wouldn’t rely on it for counting in a race. And don’t let your coach see those really long breaths!

  1. Take responsibility for your own swim

I’ve seen this countless times in both practices and even meets. The lead swimmer miscounts and stops early, and following swimmers stop as well, thinking they must have miscounted. It’s not a huge thing in practice, but potentially disastrous in a meet. The key is to take responsibility for your own swim, and be prepared to take advantage if someone ahead of you miscounts. Get good at it, and trust your counting!


Other Strategies I’ve Heard About

There are a lot of popular tips out there. Such as using letters instead of numbers. Or losing count 3.jpgassociating words with each length. And these techniques usually work just as well as using numbers … until you zone out. Then you’re back to the same problem again, at which point you’ll have no idea if you’re on elephant or gorilla. Or possibly iguana. Yup, feels like I’m on iguana now.


The Odd Stuff

  • – The worst counting job I’ve seen in a practice was when one of my swimmers did 250 and legitimately thought it was a 400. Got quite stubborn about it as well, until I showed him my stopwatch time.
  • – The worst counting job I’ve seen in a swim meet was when a decently fast swimmer was swimming a 100 SCM and miscounted, stopping at the 50.
  • – This isn’t really a counting issue, but I once had a swimmer take a minute off her 200 IM time in a swim meet – by not doing the BR leg.  She was ecstatic, until I asked her how her BR leg felt. The look on her face when she realized what she’d done was priceless.

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One thought on “Tips On How Not To Lose Count In A Distance Swim

  1. Hello Coach Rick,
    I’m sorry for commenting on a unrelated topic, but first off I just want to say I enjoy your blog overall. I remember reading in another post somewhere that you sometimes take your team to a training camp of sorts in the States.
    I currently train and work with a team in Japan. We’ve been talking about wanting to do a similar thing, but I’m not sure how to go about it. Do you have any tips on how to start such an exchange? Or just any information in general that you could provide would be greatly appreciated.
    Thanks for your time!

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