Feature by Michelle Berman, Swimming World intern
PISCATAWAY, New Jersey, December 2. WHEN athletes go home for vacation the hardest part is keeping motivated and focused enough to swim and lift on a regular basis. The trouble is when they are tempted with family and friends they have not seen lately, and all the events that come with it. The important part that separates the good and the great athletes are the ones who find a balance that gives them the best of both worlds.
Before many athletes leave to go home for vacation their coaches may or may not insist on them swimming. For Lyndsay De Paul, a senior at Southern California, her coaches definitely do. Issac Kim, a junior at UC Santa Cruz gets the same encouragement.
"Yes, they insist I swim during the breaks," Kim said. "All the hard work that the coaches put into training me will be lost if I do not train during the break."
Do the athletes think swimming and lifting at home is as important as the coaches make it out to be?
"Definitely. If you aren't consistent, you will not improve," said DePaul. "I look at this time of the season to refresh, recoup, and get ready to buckle down before the Pac 10 and NCAA Championships."
"Yes, it is very important to train at home during break. Every day you skip a practice is a missed opportunity to become better," said Kim.
Obviously it is as important to the athlete as it is to the coach that they swim over their breaks. But why is it so important? What makes swimming and lifting better than not swimming or lifting?
"It does me no good to not train during break," said Kim, a 200 fly, 200 back and 400 IM specialist. "My body has followed a regular routine, so not training would disrupt the rhythm my coaches and I have set during the school year."
Motivation is the hardest part about going home. Do some deal with it better than others? And is it as easy for one as it is for the other?
"Not at all! I love going home to my club team (Mission Viejo Nadadores) and training with Coach [Bill] Rose," said DePaul, a butterfly and IM specialist for the Trojans. "Coach Rose is very inspirational as are the other swimmers on the team. It makes it easy for me to wake up early, and head to practice. I absolutely love the change of scenery during my week off."
For Kim the motivation is not quite so black and white.
"It is somewhat hard to stay motivated on break," said Kim. "My body constantly asks for rest, but I try to balance the rest with training to the best of my abilities."
Although motivation is a big factor, another is balancing time with family and friends. Wanting to spend as much time with people you do not get to see often and needing to swim on a normal schedule proposes a large issue for some. The temptation of going to parties or spending all day shopping is very real. But once again, the best athletes find the happy medium between the two.
For DePaul, the balance is easily achieved.
"I just stick to the normal training schedule. We practice at 6:30 in the morning, so my family and friends aren't awake just yet, and later in the afternoon at 3:30," said DePaul. "It leaves me with time to enjoy dinner with my family and time in the afternoon to spend with my friends. Everything works out perfectly."
For Kim, the balance is met just as well, thanks in part to the fact that many of his friends swim at home with him.
"My family understands why I swim, so naturally they allow me to train and do not really question the schedule," said Kim. "It is hard to see school friends due to the training schedule, but I do get to spend some time with them. Also, it does help that I get to see some friends while I swim at home."
Many coaches and strength coaches will supply their athletes with practices to do while at home. Some coaches do not and allow their athletes to do their club team's practices. The difference is minimal. What matters the most is getting in and doing the work.
"Our coaches do not. They believe that if we made it onto our team, that what we did before we got there must work," said DePaul. "They completely trust us to stay motivated and focused during break."
"We know there are distractions that prohibit some from swimming as much as possible while home."
What advice could some give to those who face this?
"I honestly love the feeling of it being 9 a.m., after I have already finished a legitimate workout and have taken a shower," said DePaul. "It is the perfect way to begin my day. That feeling keeps me motivated."
"My main motivation is the goal I have planned for the end of the season. If I can look back on a day and tell myself that I did all I could to help myself reach my goal, then it has been a good day," said Kim. "It helps that others have the same motivation. It tells me that I am not alone in my situation."
If there has to be a good thing about swimming at home during the holidays what would it be? Is it seeing friends from long ago? Spending quality time with your family?
"The best part is swimming with the group of people I swam with during my childhood," said Kim.
When athletes return back to school from break training usually returns right back to normal as if the athletes had never left. Coaches can likely tell exactly how much time the swimmer put into their training over the break.
"I think they can to an extent," said DePaul. "But my teammates all have the same goals in mind for this season, so they will not be noticing any of that this season."
"Yes, they totally can tell," said Kim. "They've been in this business for a lot longer than their swimmers and can easily detect this."
At the end of the day the athletes make the decision to either go home and swim and lift or not. What they decide is nothing but their decision.
"If you love it, you will make it work," said DePaul.
Michelle Berman is a junior swimmer at Rutgers University who is serving as an intern at Swimming World this semester.