The Importance of Focus

As we get into the competition season, focus in practice and during meets is becoming more and more important.

Developing the ability to focus, and refocus if you lose it, can help out in nearly every aspect of life, including school, athletics, relationships, general problem solving and more. During swim season, having  a strong sence of focus is what will help you improve, and determine when (or if) you reach your goals.

As swimmers, it’s common to catch “black line syndrome” where during sets your brain just shuts off, you float into boredomland, thinking about songs, school, your cruch, what you’ll wear tomorrow, food, basically ANYTHING to keep from thinking about swimming. Guess what you should really be thinking about? Swimming!

High school season is short, it will fly by! Your time spent in the water during the season is extra valuable, and the quality of every stroke matters if you really want to reach your goals. So how exactly can you switch your focus from your dinner to your stroke? Stay in the present moment.

Check out this article from USASwimming.com on the art of focus before and during a race, how to develop good habits of focus, and how to continue to improve.


CONCENTRATION: THE MASTER SKILL OF MENTAL TOUGHNESS

BY ALAN GOLDBERG, PHD//SPORTS PSYCHOLOGY CONSULTANT

What you focus on both before and/or during your races will largely determine if you soar with the eagles or gobble with the turkeys!
Your training and health being equal, what you concentrate on at meets is the main cause of your best and worst swims. When you struggle with going faster in practice than races, faster in your off-events than your best ones or being unable to break through and get a certain time, faulty concentration is usually the main cause.

What you focus on as you go into a race will dramatically affect:

  • Your ability to stay calm and loose under BIG meet pressure
  • How quickly you’re able to bounce back from disappointing swims
  • Your level of self-confidence
  • Your skill in avoiding getting psyched out and intimidated
  • How well you handle adversity

Did you know that you’re ALWAYS doing a great job of concentrating, but most swimmers concentrate on the WRONG things?
That’s right! When you swim your fastest and when you totally fall apart under pressure and add gobs of time, you’re doing an excellent job of focusing! The key question here is, “ON WHAT?” When you go fast, your concentration tends to be on the RIGHT things both before and during the race, and when you struggle performance-wise, your focus is on all the WRONG things.

What SHOULD you focus on?
Championship concentration involves focusing on two, overlapping things: The first is the NOW, as opposed to the PAST or the FUTURE. Whenever you swim, your focus always has to be in one of these three “mental time zones.” The NOW is what is happening in the present and is the only time zone you have total control over and can swim fast in! If you’re stretching behind the blocks, three minutes before your race, your focus needs to be in the NOW on your stretching, not on your last race, (the past) or whether you’ll make tonight’s finals, (the future).

The second important target for your concentration is on what YOU are doing as opposed to what everyone else around you is doing. In other words, before and during your races, you want mentally to “stay in your own lane,” focusing on yourself and no one else. All too often swimmers get caught up comparing themselves, paying too much attention to their competitors or focusing on what others watching (parents and coaches) might think of them.

What does it really mean to stay in the now and in your own lane?
Staying in the NOW and in your OWN LANE means that your pre-race and during race concentration needs to stay on the FEEL of what you’re DOING before and during your swims. This means that if you’re behind the blocks pre-race, you want to focus on the feel of the stretching, NOT your thoughts about the race. Focusing on feel during your swim might mean that your concentration is on feeling long and smooth, how much water you’re pulling, your pace, feeling your chest pressing down just the right amount during fly or any number of other things depending upon what stroke you’re swimming. FEEL IS THE “GAS PEDAL” FOR FAST SWIMS!

Performance-disrupting distractions come from both outside and inside the swimmer!
OUTSIDE: Swimmers need to let go of all of the external distractions, such as who’s watching the meet, how their teammates or competitors are doing, the conditions of the pool, the clock, how crowded warm-up is, what their coach may do or say, who’s in their heat, their lane assignment, how important their race is and what’s at stake, their parents’ reactions to how they swim, etc.
INSIDE: Distractions from the inside encompass the swimmer’s thoughts about everything above as well as how they feel that day, whether they got enough sleep, how their training has been, whether they missed critical practices because of illness, how the taper went, the last time they swam this meet, how the season has gone so far, how they felt in warm-up, how big and fast their competition is, things going on in their personal or academic lives, etc.

Concentration is a two part skill:
#1) Recognize that your focus has drifted from what’s important
#2) Quickly return your focus to what’s important

What hurts swimmers isn’t that they lose their concentration. Breaks in concentration are absolutely NORMAL. What really hurts you, is when you lose your focus and you don’t immediately catch it and bring it back!

How do I get good at recognizing that I’ve drifted and then bringing my focus back?

  • You must spend regular time in practice deliberately working on this mental skill Throughout practice, for two minutes at a time, both during your warm-ups and through the main set, practice noticing when your focus drifts, and then immediately returning it to what you’re doing in the NOW
  • If you start thinking about what happened in school today, the past, quickly bring your focus back to your breathing pattern or keeping your stroke long as you swim
  • If you notice that you’re thinking too much about another teammate, return your concentration to your lane and the feel of how much water you’re pulling, one stroke at a time
  • In dryland training, focus on the feel of each exercise, one rep at a time

By regularly practicing this master skill of concentration, you will develop the ability to consistently swim fast when it counts the most!

See the origional article here.


 

 

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Balancing School and Swimming

It’s the home stretch, the last weeks of both the season and the school year. After the tiny teaser of freedom called spring break, focusing on either school or swimming can be difficult to say the least.

However, there’s no time to lose focus.

This is the most crucial part of the season. The hardest yards, the remaining meets and last chances to qualify for state or make finals at conference.

Keeping your focus on the task at hand, weather its swimming, homework, or enjoying the outdoors can be a saving grace at this time of the year. Read the following article (it’s short, I promise) that goes into a little more detail about what exactly I’m talking about.


Being a swimmer, you most likely have learned how to manage your time wisely. However, that doesn’t mean that it is easy to balance school and swimming. Although many college students have already been through their last final, most high school and maybe middle school (not sure about elementary school finals?) are still in session. Nearing end of the school year can be a stressful time for many swimmers. Focus will shift from a good practice to a good test and then back to a good practice and probably another good test. Your mind may be a bit overwhelmed with everything going on right now. The key is to focus on one thing at a time while focusing on everything as a whole.

What?

Well, let me explain. The moments before and during, focus on the test or the practice. Don’t let your mind wander from finding “x” to what workout will be like tonight. And vice versa, if your coach is telling you to focus on your pull, don’t try to figure out how to do the problem you skipped on your final. In other words, live in the moment and having fun living it. Each part of life needs some sort of focus because each piece adds up to the whole thing.

Each part of life has its own important role. School and swimming are just two important parts in it. Don’t forget about your friends, family, maybe other activities you do outside of school, and anything else. All of those put together fall into one complete puzzle. If you focus on life as a single entity, you focus on everything at the same time. Instead of shifting focus back and forth, the big picture focus will keep you on top of things. Need to focus on school? That’s part of life. How about swimming? That’s life as well.

Saying “I’m going to focus on life” is going to be easier than thinking “I’m going to focus on my two finals, helping my sibling, a dryland session, my chores, afternoon practice, and what I’ll eat afterwards. As long as you focus on life, you’ll be able to focus on anything and everything.

Via: Courtesy of @Swim2Win4Life and Swim Swam

Developing a Race Strategy that Works

As we get further into the season, and as you get even more experience with the sport of swimming, you’ll find that a few races stand out to you as your strongest events. Whether you’re a 200 IMer or a 50 freestyler, developing how you race is just as important as developing your skills as a swimmer.

Below is an article by Olivier Poitier-Leroy found on SwimSwam outlining various race strategies and their counter-moves.

This article is only a starting point.

As training sets get longer, pay close attention to finding your strengths and weaknesses. Once you’ve got a pretty firm understanding of where you excel and where you need work, think about how you can race to play up your strengths and downplay your weak-points.

Side note: A bonus of figuring out exactly what you’re terrible at is learning when and what to concentrate on during practice. Example: If you’re really slow at kick sets, you should work on your kick the entire practice, and work REALLY HARD during kicks sets. Having specific skills to focus on during whole practices can help keep your mind from wandering and keep you moving toward your individual goals efficiently by making the most of your training. 

Remember that your race strategy should be pliable. Don’t get caught in the mindset that if it worked once it will work every single time. If through training you begin to develop different skills and your strengths change, change your race strategy to emphasize your newfound strengths.

Start to play around with developing race strategies now, fresh into the season, so by the time the big meets roll around you’ll have a solid plan in place for each of your races. Read the article below for ideas, keeping in mind your strengths in each event. Once you have an idea, write it down and keep it somewhere that you’ll see it daily. Practice and fine-tune your race strategies during fast sets in practice, and try them out during meets. If something doesn’t work, toss it and start fresh. If something worked well, use it again!

Want more pre-race strategies? Check out this post about mental prep and this video about pre-race routine.


7 RACE STRATEGIES TO CONFUSE, DEFLATE, AND DEFEAT THE COMPETITION

The meters and yards have been stocked up, the taper has gone well, and you executed a fantastic shave down (hardly any cuts!). Now all that remains is to get up on the blocks and unleash that bottled fury of talent and hard work you have been stockpiling over the previous few months.

Despite all the grueling work in the pool, we both know that isn’t usually enough. After all, swimming is 40% physical and 100% mental.

The race starts long before the gun goes off, from downplaying expectations for all those to hear, to feigning injuries, to the antics and mental warfare in the ready room, with the winner often being not necessarily the most physically fit athlete, but the one who is able to best stick to their race plan.

The mental back-and-forth doesn’t stop once the 8 swimmers hit the water. Often races are won and lost based on the strategies and tactics used over the course of the swim.

Below I share a few race strategies that I have observed and used over the years of swimming. They work best—like most things in competition—when your rivals have no idea what you are up to.

That is where the true power of these tactics comes into play—the less they expect it, the more it throws them off mentally. You are forcing them to react to you and knocking them off of their own race plan.

(There is obviously no guarantee that these will work. And as such with each I include the counter to each strategy. But they are worth knowing, both from an offensive and defensive point of view.)

SEE ALSO: How to Prepare for a Swim Meet

Here are 7 different race tactics you can use the next time you hit the pool deck:

1. Rope-a-Dope.

Want to utterly demoralize the competition? Let them swim their absolute hardest, and still watch you reel them in. This is a fun tactic to pull on someone. If you’ve been swimming for even a small amount of time you know how discouraging it feels to watch somebody methodically reel you in, so you know how effective it can be.

Counter: The competition, so full of confidence from their early advantage surges out to a stronger lead, perhaps so large that it cannot be overcome, no matter how deeply you negative split your race.

2. Hide-and-Seek.

In the shorter races it is pretty difficult to gauge where your competition is, especially when there is another swimmer between you and your main competition. By swimming alongside the swimmer next to you, and out of sight of your main competitor, you position yourself to be able to make a sudden move, hopefully pulling ahead quickly before they can react. Peek-a-boo!

Counter: The main drawback in this strategy is that you have to aware of where your competition is—he or she can just as easily disappear behind the cover of the swimmer beside you as well.

3. Outside Smoke/The Gutter Ball.

You purposely sandbag the heats and semi-finals in order to get one of the outside lanes, where it is mega hard to see you. When the final comes around, you drop a smoke bomb on everybody and zip out to a quick lead and are never seen again.

It was like you never existed until that fateful realization your competitors have when they touch and see you hanging off the lane rope at the other side of the pool happily chewing on your goggle straps.

Counter: Sandbagging your heat swims a little too much means missing the final entirely, so be sure of what you are doing. All it takes is for a couple swimmers to swim a little faster than expected to bump you completely out of those outside lanes and out of second swim territory.

4. Fast and Furious.

From the dive it’s go-go-go! No pacing, just blast out like a lunatic to as big a lead as you can muster on the first half and pray to anything and everything that you can sustain some measure of speed coming home.

Risky, but makes for great viewing (almost always gets the teammates and coaches on their feet), and also forces you to push yourself to upper limits of what your body can handle. There’s no saving anything, and if done correctly you leave nothing in the tank.

Some of the most agony I have every experienced is taking it out like a shot over the course of the front end of a race and then limping home.

An added benefit of this strategy is that it forces the swimmers in your heat to react to what you are doing from the get-go, thereby taking them immediately off of their own race plan.

Especially effective if you are not predominantly known for taking it out like the Tasmanian devil.

Counter: Hurts like a son of a gun. Watching some swimmers pull you in mercilessly on the last lap while you try to keep your stroke from completely and utterly falling apart.

5. Hot and Cold

This is more for you sassy middle and full-blown distance swimmers. Turn up the pace on the second 25 or 50 of each 50 or 100. On the “off” 25’s and 50’s focus on maintaining the distance and pace ahead or behind your competition.

Having those “off” legs of your swim will give you the illusion of rest, even though you are still crankin’ along.

Counter: After a couple times of doing this your competition will be fully aware of what you are doing and might do the opposite in order to gain extra ground on you (i.e. hammer down on one of your “off” lengths).

6. Mid-race Breakout

Again this is more for the 400 and up swimmers. At some pre-determined point during the race, somewhere in the middle perhaps, bust out and hammer down an exceptionally fast split. Picking up the pace suddenly and taking off will startle your opponent, and while they might give chase, the delay between you peacing out and them figuring out what is happening is sometimes enough to put an insurmountable lead into place.

Counter: If you try to sprint off, and no distance is gained, than you sense as though expended a whole bunch of fuel fruitlessly.

7. Uber for Swimmers

Jason Lezak did this perfectly in 2008 in the 4x100m freestyle relay in Beijing. Bruce Hayes did it against West German superstar Michael Gross in 1984 in Los Angeles in the 4×200 freestyle relay. The swimmer’s version of a judo move, you use the speed of the swimmer next to you against him or her. Best done at high speeds (bigger the wake, bigger the draft), cozy up to the lane line and hitch a ride, saving that energy and nitro for the last burst into the wall.

Counter: Getting too close to the lane rope and mashing your face and hands on it. Your competitor could see what you are doing and move away so far that he gives away his glorious draft to the swimmer on the other side.


by Olivier Poirier-Leroy. You can join 9,000+ swimmers and coaches who read his motivational newsletter last week by clicking here.

Featured image by Mike Lewis.

Mental Game: How to Develop a Pre-Race Strategy

The 2016 Men’s swim & dive season starts tomorrow.

Our first meet is 11 days into the season, on March 10th, which doesn’t leave much time for non year-round swimmers to get in shape. While your body might not be 100% ready to rock quite yet, you can make sure your mind is in the best shape of your life by developing a pre-race routine now, and refining your strategies during practices.

Why is a pre-race routine valuable?

Being in the right mindset before competition can make or break a race. If you’re inconsistent with your preparation, you race performances are likely going to be inconsistent as well. Having a set routine that helps you get in the zone before races can help set the stage for an amazing performance. Once you learn exactly what you need to do to access beast mode, you’ll have unlocked the door to almost unlimited potential.

Start developing this routine now, at the beginning, so that when conference rolls around you know what works for you.

Below the weekly news is a great article found on Swim Swam about developing and implementing a pre-race strategy. Give it a read, and start to put together the routine that’s perfect for you.

Weekly News

  • There will be a Parent Meeting on March 3rd at 5:30PM at the LHS Pool 
  • The Season Information Packet can be found here. This includes the meet schedule, practice schedule, team rules, lettering system and more.
  • The team dinner signup/schedule can be found here. If you haven’t yet signed up for a team dinner, please do so, and thanks to those who have!!
  • Follow LHS Swim & Dive on Twitter for up to date information and meet highlights.
  • Athletic Release Forms must be turned in BEFORE a swimmer can get in the water.
  • Team Suit Order Deadline is MARCH 3rd. Order your suits at MI Sports. Team suits are REQUIRED for each swimmer.
  • Team Shirt Order Deadline is MARCH 3rd. An order form will be at practice. We’ll take sizes and place the order, you pay when the shirts come in.
  • Practice this week: M-W 3:15-5:20, Th-F 7:30-9:30

7 WAYS TO DEVELOP A KILLER PRE-RACE ROUTINE TO SWIM OUT OF YOUR MIND

The process of getting ready to swim fast is one that is sacred and unique to each athlete. We each have our own approaches to racing, our superstitions, our special meals, and so on.

For some swimmers they need to go somewhere quiet, and not talk to anyone before their race. They’ll zone out to some music, a towel hanging over their head marking “do not disturb.” Others are the polar opposite; they talk with teammates, joke around, and seem to not have a care in the world as time drains before race time.

In both cases, the swimmer is doing what is necessary for them to relax, to get primed, and to prepare to swim fast.

Developing a powerful pre-race routine that you can use to unleash fast swims consistently will ultimately come down to what works best for you. The mental and physical preparation required for an athlete doesn’t suit a one-size-fits-all approach, and even the suggestions from your coach or parents might not work best for you.

Ultimately, you will have to figure out what works best, what gets you in the zone, and what has you feeling ready and primed to swim like a demon.

BENEFITS OF BUILDING A PRE-RACE ROUTINE:

  • Places you into comfortable surroundings, which is especially helpful on away meets, where the pool, competition and even the language might not be what you are used to.
  • Helps reduce the distractions that comes with being at a swim meet, surrounded by heaps of friends and teammates who may be more interested in the social aspect of the meet than swimming fast.
  • It will reduce stress and anxiety by giving you a familiar set of cues to focus on executing.
  • Having a consistent pre-race routine has also been shown to make you 16.8 times more attractive. **

But where do I start, man?

Bad news is that there is no template that works for every athlete. The good news is that you have your own personal history to draw from. From this you can draw up your own personalized program. No matter how long you have been doing this by now you should have a good idea of what works for you, and what doesn’t.

Think back to the last time you swam out of your mind. Where you performed exactly as you hoped you would, where you swam effortlessly and quickly and achieved what you set out to do:

  • How did you feel before the race? Calm? Focused? Think back and try to remember what was going through your mind in the moments and minutes before the race.
  • Did you give yourself enough time to fully warm-up and stretch out before the big race?
  • How was your nutrition and hydration that day? Do you remember what you ate that morning?
  • What did you do to get focused in the 20-30 minutes leading up to the race?
  • Were you feeling exceptionally confidant that day? And if so, why?

The answers to these questions will help give you a general idea of what your pre-race routine should look like.

If you are a little short on ideas for what works for you, or you haven’t had one in the past but would like to develop a routine moving forward, here are some ideas to help you get going:

1. Visualization.

We discussed visualization a little bit earlier this week, and how it can help hardwire the performance you want into your noodle. To make the most of this tool you should be practicing it long before the big competition.

Either way, sit down 20-30 minutes before your race and visualize it in glorious detail from beginning to end, burning the performance into your brain so that the moment you step up on the blocks you’ll get the sensation that you’ve already raced this race 1,000 times.

2. Simulate race starts (on land).

Before you step up on the blocks, go somewhere where you can still hear the starter’s gun. Crouch down into the racing position, and jump forward in sync with the starter. Doing this a couple times will get your brain and muscles firing and ready for the real thing later.

3. Walk the plank, err, deck.

One of my teammates back in the day used to do this; he would set a timer, and walk up and down the distance of the pool, trying to walk exactly as fast as he wanted to swim. He would simulate the breathing he was aiming to do as well; no breaths in and out of the turns, off the breakout, etc.

In his mind he would be visualizing himself swimming the race, while adding the relative speed by walking along the pool. So not only was he rehearsing the race mentally, but also incorporating the physical cues — breathing, speed — making the rehearsal even more real.

(Doing this can get tricky at a busy meet, with officials, swimmers and coaches milling about the pool deck; consider trying this at practice as well to give yourself a feel for how long the race will actually be.)

4. Avoid tinkering on race day.

The unrested, untapered meets, as well as practice, are the times to try out new stuff. Not in the minutes and hours before the biggest race of the season. There is always a time to try out something unique and new, and it is called training.

5. Go through the motions during training.

Practice your pre-race routine in the days and weeks leading up to the big meet. You can get as detailed as you like with this as well; getting up at the same time as you will on race day, go to the pool at the same time, and even include some all-out efforts in the water around the time that you estimate that you’d be competing.

The more you make your pre-race routine a habit, the less stress, the more focus, and the more confidant you will be feeling when it comes to crunch time.

6. Have your pre-start cues lined up.

Phelps has been doing the same double arm swing thing on the blocks since he was an age grouper.

Have a couple very simple movements that you perform in the moments before you get up on the blocks — a couple arm swings, chest slaps, fist clenches — combined with a couple quick action words — Let’s go! Focus! Let slip the dogs of war! — to let your body and mind know that it is GO TIME.

Having this set of cues, and using them consistently, will make priming your body automatic, which can become especially helpful over long meets or in moments where you are feeling distracted or overwhelmed.

(To make the most of this use it in practice as well before main sets or whenever you are doing max effort work to fully ingrain the cue.)

7. Remember that it’s up to you to be ready.

If your coach has prescribed a certain warm-up, and if after completing it you still feel like you need to shake some cobwebs loose, let her know! Also, just because your friends or teammates are getting out of the warm pool, doesn’t mean you need to if you aren’t 100% ready to go yet.

** Just kidding.


 

Olivier Poirier-Leroy is a former national level swimmer based out of Victoria, BC. In feeding his passion for swimming, he has developed YourSwimBook, a powerful log book and goal setting guide made specifically for swimmers. Sign up for the YourSwimBook newsletter (free) and get weekly motivational tips by clicking here.

Photo via Mike Lewis/Ola Vista Photography

Welcome to the 2016 Men’s Swim & Dive Season

This week, preseason practices kick off the 2016 season. While preseason isn’t required, it’s highly recommended that athletes get in the water ASAP. We have a short season, any little bit of extension will be key!

  • Tuesday and Wednesday practice will take place from 3:15-5:00 (no dryland)
  • Thursday and Friday practice will take place from 7:30-9:20am

Official practice begins on Monday February 29th, and our first meet is only 11 days into the season: March 10th vs. Poudre. We need to work hard, put in 100% effort right at the start so we can have a solid base for the season.

Once the competition starts, there’s no slowing down until Conference.

Requirements

Please have all of the below ready to go by the first official practice. Clearance forms are required before you can get in the water.

  • Physical Clearance forms are due at the end of this week.
  • Fins
  • Paddles
  • Buoy
  • Goggles
  • Cap
  • Water bottle
  • Lacrosse ball
  • Team Suit – Order through MI by March 3rd

 

See you on deck!

Image via: Marc