By Ted Arnold
PHOENIX, Arizona, April 25. NEAR the end of every swim season, most swimmers begin to worry. The part of the season that I am referring to is the taper! During that phase of your training, your coach cuts back on yardage. Your coach may cut back on intensity, or he or she may cut back on the amount of really fast swimming that you are asked to do in practice. In any case, during taper you begin to rest.
Ask 50 veteran swimmers what taper feels like, and you are likely to get 50 different answers. In general, though, if you have been working hard during the season, at the beginning of taper, many swimmers actually feel worse. I believe that I can explain that feeling in the following way.
You begin taper with your body really tired and beat up. You have been pounded on by the daily grind of practice for so long, that I think that you are simply numb and you don't feel much of anything. As you start to recover, I believe that you finally start to feel how tired your body really is. The numbness goes away, and that's when you start to feel bad in the water.
As taper continues, however, you recover even more and for many swimmers the water begins to feel pretty good. They begin to swim faster, and each stroke starts to feel better, and the swimmer's speed increases. When you finally get to the championship meet, you are really ready to become "smoke on the water."
There are at least three problems that swimmers encounter here. First, in the early stage when the swimmer feels really bad, there is a tendency to panic. Swimmers feel that they will never be able to swim fast when they feel that bad, that close to the big meet.
The second problem, is when you start to feel better, your stroke feels different. It should feel different. You can actually feel the water now. Instead of welcoming that feeling, some swimmers become insecure and start to worry that they are "losing" they're stroke. The reality, of course, is that they are probably simply getting it back!
The third problem is mental. Much of racing is a mental process, not just a physical thing. To swim fast, you need to believe that you can swim fast. For that to happen, you need to overcome the first two problems that I have mentioned here. You need to be convinced that the taper has worked and that you really will swim your best.
Two things can help. First, you need to focus on how hard you worked during the heart of the season. That training won't just disappear. Second, if you are lucky enough to be on a really good team that has been doing this type of thing before, you will have seen the taper work on your teammates in the past. Not only that, but good teammates will constantly be reminding each other that the taper that your team does always works, and that everybody can be sure that it will work again.
The main think is that you need to believe in the taper. The rest is something that you need desperately and confidence is something that you need just as much. I usually give my swimmers the following thought to help them through the taper. Train Tough, Taper, Then Trust That Training! We summarize that by saying T – 7!