By Ted Arnold
I would like to address some factors outside of the pool that can have an influence on a swimmer's success. All swimmers can easily do some of these, while others are reserved for elite athletes with nearly unlimited budgets. As you read further, you should have no difficulty figuring where you fit on this scale.
One of the most commonly abused factors by teenagers and many college students is the challenge of getting enough rest. Young people want to socialize frequently, and often want to do so at rather awful hours of the day. You need your sleep. When you are training really hard, it is vital that you get enough rest so that you can train at your very best. Both your body and your brain need the rest that only a good night's sleep can bring.
During the school year, by the way, a little planning can make your rest and recovery a lot easier to do. For example, I can't count how many times a swimmer has told me "I have to miss practice today because I have a paper due tomorrow." I usually ask, "Was it assigned today?" Clearly, the task should have been carried out during the entire time from assignment until due date instead of waiting until the last minute. If the project is properly planned and created over the allowed time period, three things will happen, all of them good. First, your grade will probably be higher, second you will be able to get enough sleep along the way, and third, you won't have to pull an all-nighter and miss practice just to get it done.
Other homework assignments and a lot of basic studying and reading can be accomplished on weekends rather than on weekdays so that you can get more sleep during the week. In the summer, you need to get plenty of rest at night because there are usually so many fun things to do during the day. We swim coaches don't make life any easier when we schedule morning practices as early as we do, but that is usually dictated by pool availability. The secret here is "Early to bed and early to rise," makes a swimmer fast without compromise. (My version)
Some national programs have massage therapists on their training staff. World-class athletes get a massage immediately after practice so that they recover faster in order to be more effective at the next practice. For most programs, the cost of this is too expensive. However, if you just happen to have one of those chairs in the house that will give you a vigorous shaking and thumping by all means climb aboard as soon as you get home. Parents, they only cost about $2,500. No problem right?
There are an increasing number of "recovery" drinks on the market. Some of these taste horrid, while others are reasonably yummy. What they all have in common is they really do speed up the recovery process so that your next practice can be more effective. They contain a precise combination of sugar, and protein, along with various electrolytes (salts) that replace things that were used up or lost during practice. Would you believe that you sweat a lot during practice? You need to find a product that YOU find drinkable. Read the label. It should have both carbohydrates and protein in it. It really helps if it tastes good too.
The key idea here is too try to do everything in your power to maximize the effect of each and every practice that you do. The ultimate goal is to prepare to swim fast!
Ted Arnold is a semi-retired coach with more than 35 years of coaching experience. He has coached high school, USA Swimming senior and age group swimmers throughout his career. Several of his high school pupils achieved All-American times, and one of his age group swimmers was a national top 16 entrant who is still listed by USA Swimming in the top 50 in the 50 back for her age division.