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This “Shouts from the Stands” submission comes from Chris Fantz, head swimming coach at Lewis & Clark College.
Around my house, swim meet season takes its toll in predictable ways.
Clean laundry sits unsorted in baskets a little longer. Stacks of my kids’ artwork grow taller between sorting. Junk mail piles up.
Then my wife and I invite another family over for dinner. These are people with young kids like ours and they expect a degree of clutter. Nevertheless, we still clean up. It’s what you do.
Once our friends depart and our kids are in bed, I look around the house and soak in the residual tidiness. There is more floor space with the laundry put away. Flat, clean surfaces wait devoid of junk mail that has now been recycled (or hidden). I have a palpable sense I am more at ease.
This got me thinking about what other ways we can tidy up in life. Thinking always brings me back to swimming.
A swimmer’s championship season takes up a lot of space. We give days of time to big meets and they demand a high degree of mental focus. To not just survive, but also excel in these big-meet situations, we can do a lot to prepare our way in advance.
Just as tidying our living room or bedroom gives us the physical and mental space to relax at home, we can also clear the mental space to have a great championship. This helps to keep overwhelm at bay and lets us focus on the task of fast racing.
Hundreds of thousands of swimmers are also students. With enough forethought, you can complete homework assignments before the last minute. In the final days before a meet, you are better off sleeping or visualizing your favorite races than working late into the night.
This season, one of our college swimmers got dialed-in early enough that he not only completed his assignments for the week of the championship early, but he also finished his reading for the beginning of the week after the meet so he could enjoy the long weekend with his team and an easy heart. Then he executed by dropping multiple seconds in each backstroke race and an entire second in his 50 Freestyle.
There exists an opposite approach. Students can just as easily dig themselves into a pit too deep to climb out. Eight years ago, I was on deck coaching on the final day of our Northwest Conference Championship. One of our young men came up to me by the bulkhead during prelims warm-up. He looked elated. He said, “Coach, I just started feeling rested today because I pulled three all-nighters last week!”
Less than ideal.
His badge of honor, the infamous all-nighter, was really a bright flag he waved to signal his poor preparation and bad planning.
I share that story with our teams each year because every now and then we can learn from the mistakes of others. Success stories are fun, but oftentimes success is built on the shoulders of the bad decisions from which we learn.
Sometimes big meets land during a swimmer’s summer vacation. Other swimmers are past their school days altogether. There are still ways you can clean up your mental living space in the weeks before the big meet. Maybe you have a travel meet ahead and you need someone to feed your goldfish or your cat. Is your itinerary in order with airline details, hotel reservations, and a rental car or other transportation plan? Have you made a simple packing list? Extra goggles, swim caps, and your tech suit will come in handy. But, so will making sure you have your favorite sweatshirt and warm socks.
Just as for students, if you work a job, you can mentally move up your due date for key projects to a week before you depart. Create strict targets to clear your plate of major tasks or the biggest headaches early. Head into meet week with a little extra time to stare around your office or hit the foam roller you keep in the corner. Watch some Olympic swimming videos. Replay the special race that gets you fired up. Maybe it is The Relay from 2008. Maybe it is Rio. You know what gets your heart pounding. Watch that one.
Everyone’s preparation is different. If you think about it, you know what gets in your way. We can all tidy different things. The key is that there is room in our mind and our schedule for the act of enjoying a championship meet, cheering on our teammates, and swimming fast.
As the saying goes, failing to plan is planning to fail. Own this truth and commit to the non-pool preparations that give you the best shot at the racing you want.
Tidy up where you can. Make a little mental space for good thoughts and great swims.
About Chris Fantz
Chris Fantz has been the Head Swimming Coach at Lewis & Clark College in Portland, Oregon for 12 years. He has coached numerous conference champions and school record-holders and seen dozens of spectacular young men and women succeed in the sport of swimming before going on to graduate from college and make positive impacts on our world. As a swimmer, he was a member of two NAIA National Championship teams. Chris also hold a B.A. in English Writing and his M.A. in Psychological and Cultural Studies. He lives in Portland with his wife and two young children.