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Plan a route to glory and become the very best you can be

Hundreds of swimming competitions take place every year and many youngsters will have represented their clubs at county and regional championships – and some may even be heading to the nationals this summer. 

But what is the best way to help these swimmers plan and prepare? 

Here, Kevin Pickard, Swim England East Region Swimming Talent Officer, explains how they’re ensuring athletes maximise their own potential and become the best they can be. 

Where to start? 

Ideally, the start of the season offers a nice clear point from which to plan, but do swimmers think one meet ahead? One cycle ahead? A whole quad cycle ahead?

Whilst very few athletes will make it to an Olympic final and each swimmer will have different end goals, some principles are applicable to every single athlete.

No matter what level a swimmer attains, that pinnacle moment in their swimming journey will be the result of many years of highs and lows, successes and failures, wins and losses.

And, as such, if the goal really is to win an Olympic medal, there will be many processes and learning opportunities that will precede it.

Season-long goal

Firstly, establish a season-long goal. Break this down using the SMART principle (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, Time-bound) into medium, and then short-term goals. These goals will require focus, be this technical skill development or being aware of the type of fuels required for the body to function well across a six-day meet. 

An example…

“My goal is to win a medal in the 100m and 200m Freestyle at the Summer Nationals”

For these two events, we can see the fastest male qualifying times (averaged over three years) are 58.9 and 2:05.08. (this data is available on British Swimming’s Off the Blocks, which every swimmer, coach and parent should sign up to!).

You can break this down further with the coach and ascertain the splits required to achieve those times, the number of strokes required per length, distance off the walls and watch some videos of what ‘world class’ 100m and 200m Freestyle looks like. 

Every meet has a purpose

Action from the Swim England National Summer Championships 2018

At the summer nationals, there are heats and finals in those two events, so we are looking at four races if we are going to final for a chance at a medal.

Add in relays too in the 4x100m and 4x200m, again heats and finals, and suddenly a goal of medalling in two races could end up being six to eight races. All of which need to be at your best during a relatively short time frame.

At an Olympics, the added bonus of semi-finals will make a simple two-event programme become six races! 

How can this be rehearsed? Disregarding times and throwing in some in-season meets to rehearse. Six to eight events over a weekend targeting stroke counts, balancing of races (front end speed, back end speed, negative splits), fuelling for multiple events, racing warm-ups and swim downs, mental rehearsals, pre-and-post pool exercises and racing tactics.

Immediately then, every single meet has a purpose. Merely approaching every meet as a ‘qualifying opportunity’ for counties, regionals and nationals during the window is likely to work against achieving the long-term goal. However, treating every meet as opportunity to learn and develop some of those vital elements, that at the main meet of the year have to be executed well, will increase the likelihood of success. 

This is not a recipe to create an Olympic champion, nor is it the answer to all the issues swimmers face when approaching, and during, a competition. It does however articulate some of the things an athlete can do – regardless of their performance level – to improve their organisational skills at a meet, increase the likelihood of achieving their goals, and to make every meet an opportunity to move forwards. 

Most of this information is not new, or revolutionary, but was delivered by the region with the aim of ensuring more athletes, parents, clubs and coaches were supported. 

Taking control

During a World Class Development Day held by the region in April 2018, swimmers under 18 were asked to think about the ‘controllable’ elements that before and during the meets can be prepared for, rehearsed and implemented. The East Region Swimming Championships were used as an example as this is a three-day event with heats and finals, similar to nationals. 

We asked them to break down their meet programme (including potential finals and relay events) to include:

  • Travel to the event and to and from the hotel/pool.
  • Bed time/alarm time to ensure at least 8.5 hours of sleep. 
  • Pre and post pool routines on land.  
  • Warm up plan (to fit into 25 minutes warm up pool time available). 
  • Swim down (to fit into 10-minute post session pool time available) and mid-session post pool recovery routine. 
  • Meal planning across the weekend as well as snacks. 
  • Packing the bags before, or at least prepping racing kit, a day or two before the event. 
  • Agreed communication procedure for post-race technical feedback and ensuring this is coach only and not coming from parents (their role fulfilling the transport, accommodation, food and drink preparation and emotional support as required) – this keeps it simple and clear for the swimmer. 

The athlete could then plan their entire meet, print a copy and have this on them at all times, even adding actual times as session times are published the week prior, therefore avoiding the ‘ad-hoc’ method where too many things are left to chance. 

This approach helps to prepare the athlete by minimising the things that can clutter their mind and mean they are not focusing on the process goals for their racing that ultimately will dictate their performance quality. 

The World Class Development Day was a pilot event that sits within a much wider project the region is driving forwards called ‘Project 2028’.

This is a decade-long programme that has its roots in the 17-18 swimming season and will reach its crescendo in time for the Los Angeles Olympics in 2028. The aim is to revolutionise swimming in the region and raise the flag to other regions to offer similar investments in their respective areas. 

  • This article first appeared in the July-August 2018 edition of Swimming Times.

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