For many swimmers, there are moments from their swimming journey that stand out as milestones in their career. For example, the feeling of that first tech suit, their first Zone team trip, or even a race that helped kickstart their confidence and career. Personally, one of the moments in my career that will forever stick with me was the feeling of being at my first national-level meet, which was the 2017 World Championship Trials in Indianapolis at the IUPUI Natatorium.
The USA National Championships are the pinnacle of the annual American swimming calendar. The amount of depth within each event, along with the added pressure from being picked for an international team brings together an atmosphere that cannot be found at any typical swim meet. any usual meet. Since qualifying for Nationals is a common goal among swimmers of all ages, I wanted to share my personal experiences along with what to expect when you attend your first national meet.
Big Names Everywhere
This concept can be overlooked by a lot of first-time national qualifiers. Because of the high level of competition at the National Championships, it’s no surprise that some of the biggest names in swimming will be in attendance. Every current and former National Team member, National Junior Team member, along with rising stars and well-seasoned veterans can be found in the locker room, warm-up pool, or preparing for their race. Anywhere you look, you’ll see a big name swimmer – and they’re there for the same reason that you are. My advice would be to try and not look at these athletes as “celebrities” but rather more as just other swimmers. With this mindset, you’ll have no problem hopping up on a block next to them when it’s time to race. if you end up in a heat with somebody who is on the National Team, you won’t be so freaked out that you have to go up against them. These “big names” are at the top of our sport, however, if you’re competing at Nationals alongside them, you can also be considered a big name.
Stay Within Yourself
It is very easy to get caught up in the action at these meets. Every year, records are broken and history is made with some of the fastest times and best races that the swimming world has seen. You’ve got the best seat in the house to witness these races. However, you have to remember that you are there to swim, not to spectate. Make sure to take care of yourself, warm up and warm down properly, and ultimately stay on YOUR schedule. Being a little selfish in this scenario is healthy, as you’re trying to take care of your swimming and show that you went to nationals to swim.
Remember Why You’re There
You’ve done the training. You’ve done the taper. You’ve made the meet. Remember why you’re there and put yourself in the best position to swim fast. Stay focused, but also make sure to remember that it’s another meet along the journey. Don’t panic if you don’t feel good the first day you get there, or if your pace is not where it should be. You know what works for you, as you deserve to be there with what you have done in the past. Have confidence in yourself and all that you have done to prepare.
Take It All In
Enjoy the experience while you can. If you attend one national meet, you’ll most likely be attending more in the future. Take in all of the information you can and use it for experience in the future. The more you learn from your mistakes and/or your successes, the better off you’ll be the next time you compete at a national level. Your new knowledge and experience will motivate you and allow you to set higher and more ambitious goals.