1. Arrive on Time
There is nothing worse for a swimmer than arriving late for warm-up for a competition. Lateness leads to an increase in anxiety for both the swimmer and the parent. For the athlete this will use up unnecessary energy before they even dive into the water to warm-up.
At most swim meets coaches like their swimmers to be at the pool ready to warm up at least one hour before the meet begins. If the venue has a separate competition and warm-up pool then the coach may encourage swimmers to arrive to warm up, one to one and a half hours prior to the estimated time they will race.
Swimmers should pack their bag ready to leave for the swim meet well before their planned departure time. When travelling to the pool, allow plenty of time for traffic and parking.
2. A First Class Warm-Up
The warm-up is a critical part of the preparation for swimmers leading into a race. Most swimmers will do a dryland and stretching routine prior to completing a warm-up in the water.
There are many reasons why a swimmer should do a proper warm-up leading into a race. They include warming up the muscles so they are ready to work and getting the heart rate up and circulating blood throughout the body. Swimmers also use the warm-up to get used to the pool they are swimming in, particularly if they don’t swim in the pool all the time. This includes getting used to the starting blocks and the walls at either end.
Swimmers will warm up for the races they will be competing in that day. For example if they are racing in backstroke and breaststroke events, they will focus specific parts of their warm-up to these two strokes. Once a swimmer has completed their warm-up, they should change into dry racing bathers and put on some clothes to ensure that their body and muscles remain warm prior to competing.
3. Prepare to Race
Racing well doesn’t just happen. Swimmers need to prepare to race. Every swimmer will have a different routine leading up to a race. Some will talk with friends until 5 minutes before a race while others will spend time by themselves, often listening to music. In many respects it was worth doing what works for each individual.
As the race gets closer, swimmers should begin focusing on what they are going to do in the race. Their focus should be on the process including their technique, planned pacing, starts, turns and the finish. Many swimmers will also visualise their up-coming race in their mind and see themselves being successful in completing the key elements of the race. If your coach is attending the swim meet, swimmers will most likely go and speak to them before each race to get some instructions or be reminded about their race plan.
Prior to competing, the swimmer will need to check in, either in a marshalling room or behind the starting block. Swimmers should make sure they leave plenty of time to prepare for their race and once they get behind the block they should be mentally ready to fire.
4. Race Hard – Put Yourself on the Line!
Every swimmer should put 100% effort into every race they compete in. Many swimmers will do this in important meets however will not prepare for or put the same effort into less important meets. The more often a swimmer can race putting in a maximum effort, the more quickly they will develop top racing skills and invariably improve their times.
For small meets that are not deemed as important to the swimmer, parent or the coach, it can be a real challenge for swimmers to motivate themselves and be professional enough to really have a go. Over the years I have observed many swimmers who are afraid to or just never “put themselves on the line” by committing 100% effort into their races regardless of the level of meet. The best swimmers will race hard at every meet regardless of their stage of preparation or fitness. Coaches should always encourage swimmers to put 100% effort into races.
The final hint in relation to racing hard is to think about the process when racing and not the outcome. This will ensure the swimmer retains the right focus in the race and will lead to better overall performances.
5. Swim Down & Debrief Like a Champion
Once a swimmer has completed a race it is time for them to speak to their coach and receive some feedback from the coach’s perspective on how they performed. Swimmers will also be required to complete a swim down in the non-competition pool if there is one.
When a swimmer speaks to their coach, the coach will provide feedback from their observations of your race. This will include a summary of what the swimmer did well and what they could improve. They will also provide the swimmer with split times in events longer than 50m metres and the swimmer and coach then discuss how they paced the race. Chatting with the coach immediately following a race will also provide the swimmer with the opportunity to provide feedback on how they felt throughout the race.
Completing a swim down as soon as possible after a race is an essential part of a swimmer’s recovery, especially if they have more events to swim. The swim down will enable lactic acid that has built up in the swimmer’s muscles to be removed from the body. It will also double as a mini warm-up if the swimmer has further events.