5 Things I Learned at Open Water Select Camp

Photo Courtesy: Caitlin Daday

By Caitlin Daday, Swimming World College Intern

Open water is a whole different sport. Though it falls under the same heading as pool swimming, open water is more of a game rather than a race.  Having done a dozen or so open water races throughout my career, I did not know what to expect at this past week’s Open Water Select Camp in Ft. Meyers, Florida.

Looking back on the week, I learned so much more than I ever could have expected. From psychology to strategy, much of what I learned will not only benefit me in open water but also in pool swimming and life in general. Though there was too much to put into one article, I chose the five lessons I felt were most important.

1. Distance swimmers are a special group of people.



Photo Courtesy: Caitlin Daday

I admit, I am definitely biased in making this statement. But most would agree that distance swimmers are different, almost our own species. We do crazy amounts of yardage and swim for long periods without stopping. As a result, distance swimmers are naturally driven. It takes something more to do what we do.

So as someone who thrives on this lifestyle, being surrounded by people exactly like me is just about the greatest thing. It is amazing to be a part of a group of people who are all willing to push themselves as far as I do. In 10 years of swimming, I have never done such tough practices while still having so much fun. I found this week that I love what I do and am a part of a special group of people.

2. Hydration is key.


water bottle

Photo Courtesy: Andrew Pennebaker

If I could describe the camp in one word, it would be hot. Being outside in the sun has its perks (great cap tans), but it also has its consequences. Namely, dehydration. In order to survive in open water, you need to drink a lot of water. When I say a lot of water, I mean it; you should be drinking around 10 glasses per day. In fact, if you are ever thirsty that means you are already dehydrated. Basically your water bottle should be your best friend.

Dehydration is serious in that it not only affects your physical performance but your psychological performance as well. It makes you feel more tired, as if you are working harder than you actually are. You also become unable to focus on what you are doing. Tired and distracted are two things you never want to be when swimming a 10K. Even the slightest dehydration is bad, and it is essential to stay ahead of the hydration game in order to be at your best.

3. Stay centered.



Photo Courtesy: Caitlin Daday

One part of camp that had probably the greatest effect on me was the sports psychology. Psychology is important to any sport, but as a result of the length and conditions of open water, it plays a very significant role. Staying centered means keeping yourself relaxed and in a state of emotional control. As we approach stressful events such as races, we tend to become hypersensitive.

As a result many of us hop on the emotional roller coaster and make the littlest things into the biggest deals. These emotional highs and lows distract us from what matters and in turn are damaging to our performance. Thus, staying centered is the key to success. It allows athletes to go into competition relaxed and ready. Staying centered makes us focus on what is in the moment rather than worrying about the outcome. This idea is important because it goes far beyond open water and can make a difference in all aspects of life.

4. It’s a guppy not a shark.



Photo Courtesy: Caitlin Daday

Never make something bigger than it is. Do not let your mind set you back. One of the greatest obstacles to success can be our own minds, and as previously stated, there are so many instances in open water where it can be easy to let our thoughts get the better of us. According to Dr. Lenny Wiersma, the best way to prevent our minds from hurting us is to put a period after a negative thought.

If a thought is not helping your performance, put a period after it. Get it out of your mind and move on to what is important. For example, if it is hot out say, “It is hot. Period.” Put it out there, then get it out. Negative thoughts are not only distracting, but they waste energy. It takes energy to dwell on what is going wrong, when that energy should really be focused on your race and what you can control. In open water, as in life, many things can go wrong. You may not be able to control what happens, but you can control how you react.

5. Expect the unexpected.


Jul 11, 2015; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Monserrat Ortuno of Mexico (bottom) races against Julia Arino of Argentina (top) in the womenÕs 10km open water swimming competition during the 2015 Pan Am Games at Ontario Place West Channel. Mandatory Credit: Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports

Photo Courtesy: Tom Szczerbowski/USA Today Sports Images

The greatest difference between open water and the pool is that each race is something totally new. There are so many factors that are constantly changing, even during the race. From water temperatures to wildlife to physical contact, one day to the next is never going to be the same.

An important part of the sport is being prepared for and accepting the uncontrollable. Success is dependent upon being flexible and being able to handle challenges calmly. In a pool, you are (most likely) never going to have to deal with goggles being knocked off by a competitor or sea creatures swimming up next to you. In open water, these are just the type of unexpected challenges you need to learn to expect. Anything can happen, and for many, that is the thrill of the sport. Swimming is no longer just a test of physical ability but one of strategy and mental fortitude.

In summation, the last week taught me how to face challenges and to develop the right mindset. It gave me the opportunity to have fun, make friends, and learn about my sport and myself. I did not know what to expect before, but now I could not be more grateful for the experience.

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Barbara Williams
Barbara Williams
7 years ago

This made me incredibly happy that my granddaughter, Kahra, had another extremely enriching and wonderful experience in her life as a swimmer.

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