Ben Higson: A Guide To Beating The Coronavirus Blues

18/11/2017 Swim Ireland. NAC, Dublin. Picture by Diarmuid Greene

Ben Higson is the Swim Ireland National Senior Team Head Coach. He penned the following to his swimmers, Ireland’s swimmers and all of their coaches at a time of great progress – and now uncertainty over the coronavirus (COVID-19) impact on Olympic season. Higson’s aim was to help them see how they might turn the current seascape of cancelled and postponed meets and a time when it seems that goals are heading for the rocks  into an opportunity. Swimming World replicates his words with the permission of Ben and performance director for Swim Ireland, Jon Rudd.

“OK To Be Frustrated But Don’t Let This Opportunity Pass You By”

 Sound advice from Ben Higson, Swim Ireland’s National Senior Team Head Coach, to all of Ireland’s aquatic coaches and competitors. The sentiments apply far and wide across the swimming world. Higson is among those currently dealing with a senior team having to diminish training unexpectedly in an Olympic year. Here, he offers us all some perspective, and food for thought on how to make the most of uncertain times.

It’s Okay To Be Upset

The first thing I would say is that it is okay to be upset, and it is okay to be frustrated – we are in uncertain times. The one thing we must all remember is that we are in a very privileged position to be able to compete in sport over a long period of our lives.

One, two, three or four weeks out of the water isn’t going to have a detrimental effect on anyone’s swimming career.

When you look at it from an objective perspective, pool swimmers in particular are in week 36/37 of the season, missing four weeks of training is not going to have a detrimental effect on people’s performance come the end of the season, what will, is people not staying on top of their health and well-being through this period.

Look After Yourself

We cannot predict who will or will not get coronavirus, that’s not what I am talking about. I’m talking more so about managing yourself, looking after yourself, and being as fit as humanely possible, during difficult times.

There are many ways you can stay active, whether that’s going for walks, or doing routines and workouts in the house that involve conditioning work, which our Associate Head of Performance Services Paul Talty will offer advice on later this week.

With our Olympic athletes we are in a very privileged position to still be able to swim as the NAC remains open to us, and we understand that fully, but we also know the importance of remaining healthy outweighs everything else, so even though we have a pool, we have cutback on swim training to reduce breakdown, focussing instead on things like technique and fine tuning.

Focus On Small Things

In sport and in swimming, you have to always deal with setbacks, and we manage our way through them, with the support of our parents and coaches, but one thing is certain, there is always something we can learn, and there is always something we can be getting better at.

For example: now, we can’t swim, we know that, and you might not have access to a gym either, however, that is just two small pieces of the pie. We could be focussing on nutrition, we could be focussing on our sleep patterns, so that when we do get back to swimming we aren’t out of sync with our sleep.

Again, we will be trying to help you with that, through Cormac Powell, who is our Associate Head of Performance Services (Applied).

We can be even doing small things, like becoming students of our sport; studying our event, noticing any trends. All this information is readily available online, whether that is through watching videos on YouTube, or through studying websites like SwimRankings.net, where it lists swimmers ranked nationally or international.

Become an expert on your event at every level.

Set Daily Goals

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Shane Ryan celebrates double-record solo and relay action at nationals in Dublin, December 2019 in a week that saw more than 50 national records fall  – Photo Courtesy: Swim Ireland

For me there are no excuses for athletes not to be working on things out of the water that will ultimately affect them in the water. We have to set daily goals, and weekly goals, breaking things up into small, manageable pieces.

We have an opportunity to focus on things now that we might not have the chance to work on, or might not value as much, when we are training full-time.

You are either going to see this as a setback and feel sorry for yourself, or see this as an opportunity to improve, we really have to look closely at what we can be better at. That is very individual to each person, but that is why we each need to set our own daily goals.

People are creatures of habits, especially swimmers. These guys stare at a black line for 20 hours a week. We just have to change our habits and adapt. If you can achieve something small every day, think what that adds up to at the end?

Student? Then Study!

A lot of our swimmers that are going to be out of the water are students. One small thing they can do to make a huge difference later is getting ahead in their studies.

Even though the schools and universities are closed, there is still work to be done and using this time to study, will buy you time to train when we do get back into the pool. It takes the pressure off, and means you can return to full-time training without being overwhelmed.

I like to see myself as a realist, but also quite positive. If you’re a young swimmer in a club, take advantage of taking these weeks off. Work on your recovery, do your study, grow, and come back stronger.

Coaches, You Can Study Too

As a coach, you can never stop learning, and there are so many online resources nowadays, that I see no excuses for coaches to not be trying to improve during this period, while they have time away from the pool.

For me, I have used this as a period of reflection. It’s not something that we are always doing, because sport is ever-moving and ever-evolving, but this is a real opportunity for us to look back at this season, or go deeper into the whole cycle, back to September 2016.

Although the Olympics hasn’t been and gone yet, it’s something we could start looking at and seeing if there is anything we might do differently.

For all of us, this time away from the pool is a small road block, and it will only hinder us if we let it. Don’t let it.

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