What Swimmers Can Learn From Biology


By Katlynn Emaus, Swimming World College Intern

The second law of thermodynamics states that when energy is transferred from one form to another it will decrease usable energy and increase entropy. By definition entropy is chaos or disorder and takes away from usable energy. There is a clear parallel to this and the way swimmers function at meets.

Think of it like this, if someone throws you a marker it should be easy to catch — then again we are talking about swimmers here — but if someone throws multiple markers at you, it will be much more difficult to catch them all. Much too often swimmers are focused on catching multiple markers at meets.

Ideally at meets, all of swimmer’s energy should be focused on swimming fast and having fun. However, it is easily transferred to distractions, like slippery blocks or crowded warm up pools. Every time energy is diverted from the main goal of swimming fast to these outside factors it increases the entropy of the swimmer’s thoughts and takes away from the usable energy. In doing so, the swimmer will start to give away their energy before stepping up on the block.

This does not mean sit in the corner and not talking to anyone to reserve energy. Swimming is a social sport. Still enjoy the meet, still talk to friends, and cheer on teammates. That is exerting energy in a positive way. By exerting this energy it will return positive vibes by creating a good atmosphere to swim fast. Cheering for teammates can actually help settle nerves; it eliminates distracting thoughts.


Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

True, it is impossible to just be immune to distractions; it is humanly impossible. If a swimmer has a slow start, it will obviously affect their race. However, if a swimmer focuses on the start for a millisecond as opposed to a whole 25, the results of the race will be drastically different. It is the swimmer’s resiliency  to outside, uncontrollable factors that shorten the bounce back time from those factors, according to Nathan Manley, head coach for Hargrave Aquatics.

“If a swimmer has a slow start, or slips, or whatever, they can go about it one of two ways,” Manley explained. “They can think ‘okay, well I know I can’t offer 100 percent perfection, but I can go for 99 percent,’ or they can dwell on it and let that percentage drop lower and lower.”

Another common misconception is that people can multitask. People cannot do two tasks and tunnel all of their focus to both, it is impossible.

“Think of texting and driving, you can’t physically do both. You can take breaks from driving and look at your phone, but not both,” Manley said. “Now think back to the race with the slow start. If you dive in and worry about your slow start, you aren’t focused on swimming and are giving up usable energy.”

Although it is much easier said than done, at competitions it is crucial that swimmers only focus on the controllables. There is absolutely no benefit in wasting energy on things that are out of their control; it will only increase the entropy. It is vital that swimmers do not allow outside factors to become factors. One way to help channel energy to where it should be is through pre-race rituals, suggested Manley.

“Headphones, parkas, putting your legs up, or even swimming can calm athletes down before a race,” Manley said. “You can seclude yourself from uncontrollables to help redirect your energy.”

If a swimmer accomplished their goal time but finished 17th, do they have the right to be upset? Absolutely not. They went out and swam the time they wanted to. They cannot let how other people swim control their happiness, they can’t control the competition. They may be a little disappointed that they didn’t make the finals, but if they went out and accomplished what they wanted to, then they caught their marker.

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Dyan Braden
8 years ago

Erin Braden Goss science project?

Melodie Polidori Harris

Grace Harris

Jon Gibirdi
8 years ago

True..they asked ian thorpe before an event what he thinks about…he said ” NOTHING”

Lucho Paolo
8 years ago

I so hate thermodynamics and I’m a chemist. XD

Susan Robey
8 years ago

This is interesting Maddie Hedderwick .

Natalie Archer
8 years ago

Brittany Archer

Antony Edwards
8 years ago

Courtney Stelling

Paula Manns
8 years ago

Devin Kellett

Wyatt Fate
8 years ago

Paul Rodriguez boom swim Science

Nadia Gagliardi
8 years ago

Simon Gagliardi

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