Swimming demands a unique blend of physical prowess and unmatched mental acuity. While the need for rigorous training and conditioning is undeniable, the often-overlooked weapon of a successful swimmer’s arsenal lies in their mental performance and how they direct their attention. This week we delve into the benefits of mindfulness in our technique early on to ensure high performance throughout the season.
Mindfulness and Technique
At the heart of every stroke, turn, and dive is the delicate interplay between the body and the mind. The mind orchestrates complex movements and regulates our responses to the physical and mental stress we endure. The trap is that sometimes our swimmers do these things on autopilot, leaving their mental and technical performance to chance.
In the highly competitive world of our sport, for age group swimmers and Olympic hopefuls alike, self-awareness is a superpower. Mindfulness is like a swim coach’s insurance for success. By cultivating mindfulness in our team we can ensure our athletes will be more coachable in their technique.
When To Focus On Technique
The answer is always. However, using the early season to spend a little extra time on stroke development is a common and effective approach many coaches use today. You can think of early-season stroke work as a warmup for the season.
By slowing down and immersing your athletes in the basics of streamlines, the nuances of each stroke, and the intricacies of their turns, kicks, and dives, you, their coach, can help them achieve a level of amphibiousness that raw strength or force alone cannot deliver. The best way to do this is with drills.
With drills, swimmers become more attuned to their body position in the water, the precision and angles of their strokes, the rhythm of their breathing, and more. Over time, with mindful practice, they will learn to synchronize all these things at once.
Swimming fast can be boiled down to two simple principles.
#1. Decrease Resistance In The Water
The Swimmer’s First Law: Your body in motion will stay in motion until it touches water. The dive is the fastest part of a swimmer’s race–there’s no resistance other than air. Once the swimmer hits the water, the drag coefficient skyrockets. At this point, it is all about minimizing drag (technique).
#2. Maximize Propulsion
If you throw a weightlifting adult with no swimming experience into the pool and have them race an average age group swimmer, the stats would be in favor of the age grouper. Strength alone doesn’t make up for lack of technique. By increasing propulsive forces, we can increase our speed. Ideally, this combined with great technique means some PBs.
If swimmers train toward these simple principles beginning early in the season and are mindful of their technique when doing so, our team record boards will be rewritten every year.
How To Practice Mindfully
For the swimmer, this is as simple as identifying what part of your technique you and your coach want to focus on for the day (or set) and paying attention to what it feels like to execute that movement. Notice how that movement affects your efficiency, your energy, and your speed. Notice what happens when you make small changes to that movement. With repetition, you are building a library of memory in your body for how to move through the water efficiently and quickly.
It is natural the mind will wander elsewhere, so when you recognize your mind has wandered, come back to what your focus was on. If you begin a set with a focus on your catch and then you realize you’ve started to daydream about the upcoming weekend, simply bring your attention back to your catch.
For the coach, bringing mindfulness into your training session can look different ways. For some, it could simply be a group discussion before water time talking about what it means to be aware of your body in the water, or how self-awareness affects your training and racing.
For others, it could mean holding a meditation or breathwork session before practice. For other teams maybe it is engaging in some yoga and a no-talking stretching session where athletes have the opportunity to feel how their bodies react. More and more teams and elite athletes are incorporating visualization, yoga, meditation, breathwork, and a general focus on mindfulness into their training. Spending more time early in the season discussing and educating athletes on mindful swimming can have amazing results–immediately.
Early Season Mindfulness Means More Than Pretty Strokes
Each season brings with it new pressure and stress. The weight of expectations, the desire to perform, and the fear of failure can create a mental landscape cluttered with distractions. By slowing down the mind and focusing on technical skills, swimmers can direct their attention to what they can control and immerse themselves in the meditative rhythm of their strokes.
The mental shift of redirecting focus towards technique early on mitigates the negative impact of early season stress on the body and empowers swimmers to harness the energy that stress produces and channel it into their practice.
One of the greatest strengths of a swimmer, and one that can really set them apart, is the ability to make real-time adjustments to their stroke and energy based on the feedback their bodies provide. This means better form and better energy distribution over the course of a set or race. Early season stroke work helps add this tool to the arsenal each season.
If they want to really stand out, swimmers will need to develop awareness of their emotional states and how to regulate those too. As swimmers practice technical skills they will also become more attuned to their mental states. Given that our emotions drastically impact our performance, this is essential.
Another reason to consider more early season stroke development is the longevity of an athlete. A common pitfall among competitive swimmers is burnout, brought on by an incessant pursuit of speed without adequate attention to recovery and skill refinement. By embracing a balanced approach that values technical precision through mindful swimming, teams can establish a foundation for consistent improvement and longevity for their athletes. Consistency in practicing technical skills ensures a steady upward trajectory, as opposed to the peaks and valleys often associated with a singular focus on speed. The small goals met in stoke development instill a sense of purpose and fulfillment that guards against the emotional toll of potential burnout.
In the arena of our sport, the mind is an untapped reservoir of potential. By investing time in education of mindfulness and how it relates to great technique (and therefore fast swimming) early in the season, coaches can bulletproof their athletes’ and teams’ season. This approach not only optimizes energy utilization and reduces anxiety and stress but also cultivates a heightened awareness that translates into improved technique decision-making during races. It also cultivates consistency and long-term success, safeguarding against burnout and ensuring a fulfilling and enduring swimming career. As the waves of competition surge, it is the swimmers who navigate the waters with a serene mind and precise technique who will consistently succeed.