I’m always intrigued by how age group swimmers handle pre-race talks. Our standard procedure is that each swimmer comes to see me before the race, and we talk about race strategy, breathing strategy and general level of race aggression. And then after the race, they’d come back and we’d see how those strategies worked out, what we needed to work on, and how we could change things for the better. This kind of talk basically sets up the focus for practices until the next meet.
At least that’s the idea, and I have quite a few swimmers who follow this perfectly. But for many others, the reality is far different.
There are always some swimmers who “forget” to come see me before the race. Which tells me they aren’t really all that serious about the race. And sometimes they talk to me after (when there’s really not much to say), and sometimes not. These also seem to be the same swimmers that try to minimize their warmups.
What amazes me are those who ask if NOW is the time to try out those technique changes I’ve been suggesting in practice. In case, you’re wondering, the answer is always no. Nobody has the time or mental presence to even think about technique changes during a race. It’s pretty much guaranteed that you’ll swim, turn and do your underwaters exactly the same way you do in practice.
Focus on Time or Placing
One of the things that bothers me the most is when I ask a swimmer how they want to swim the race, and their answer is a variation of “I want to do a [random, often ridiculous time they just thought up]” First of all, focussing on a time or a placing is NOT a strategy. It’s just an unproductive focussing on a result. Let’s face it, if you don’t focus on how to get that result, then you won’t get it.
Imagine if you have a school exam the next day, and instead of spending the evening preparing (studying), you spend it sitting down and intensely hoping you get an 80. It’s just not going to happen. Life doesn’t work that way.
I can work with this group, because I suspect the disinterest is really just their way to minimize their unhappiness in case they don’t do well. We’ll discuss their fears (i.e. going out too fast, dying at the end of the race, coming in last, getting DQd, etc.), come up with strategies, and often we’ll decide on race goals that don’t involve time or placing. Such as racing someone near in a lane near them, or nailing a turn and underwater, or speeding up during a certain length. The idea is to give them a way to judge their race in terms other than just time and/or placing. And over time, as their confidence level rises, they’ll focus more on succeeding, and less on not failing.
Each of these variations on the pre-race talk represents an opportunity for me to work with the swimmer. To understand their priorities and mindset, and to move them towards more productive races, and more targeted practices.
But life would be so much easier if they all just had our standard talk.