By Graham Bodner
PITTSBURGH – As a coach, I always get asked the age-old swimming question: “How do I best prepare for a swim meet?” Meet preparation comes in many forms, and many different time tables. The best swimmers don’t wait until the day before the big swim meet. They spend the months and weeks before the championship getting ready to race.
Here are a few of my tips I give my swimmers for adequately preparing for their championship meet.
At the start of the season
You coach should have a season plan laid out that maps the team’s season, including your peak target meets and the taper period. Here are some things you can actively do to prepare months before a meet.
- Any and every coach would be happy to sit down with you to hear your goals and ambitions. Be specific with your goals, listing times down to the hundredth. Mentioning long-term and short-term goals are also important. This gives the coach the tools to effectively guide you on a daily, weekly and monthly basis.
- Have these goals you and your coach laid out handy every day. I tell my swimmers to hang them on their mirror at home or somewhere they look daily.
As you can see, planning is key in the early stages of meet prep. If you plan out what you want to see, it gives you a purpose for doing what you do.
Six to seven weeks before the big meet
By this point in the season, regardless of when the meet is, you should have a solid base of training. Even though it feels like that big meet is light years away, it is right around the corner. This can be a crucial time in the preparation timetable for you and your coach.
Sit down with your coach once more to check in with your progress. BE ENGAGED in the conversation, since this is about your swimming. You owe it to yourself to do everything in your power to make this experience worthwhile. Ask questions, seek advice, get feedback. Most importantly, put what your coach has to say into your practice.
The key here is to put what your coach has to say into practice! Remember they are in your corner. They want you to succeed as much as you do.
One week before the big meet
This is by far the most important time in meet preparation. At this point in the season, you have put in the hours and the hard work, so make it count!
- Sharpen your skills, get sleep, eat properly and take care of your body.
- HAVE SOME FUN! You put in all this work. Enjoy yourself and enjoy the process.
- Keep a light environment leading up to the meet, as it can help reduce you and your teammates’ stress levels. A happy swimmer is a fast swimmer!
The key to this phase is FUN. You deserve some fun! Enjoy yourself and enjoy the time you have in the pool. Your teammates will pick up on your energy and mimic it. These teammates have been with you since the beginning. Support them and they will support you.
The night before the first race
As a young child, much to my mother’s chagrin, I wasn’t the most organized or prepared. If she taught me anything, it was to always pack the night before. I now find myself packing for events two to three days before they take place. It may sound crazy, but it works!
- Get your swim bag packed the night before. That way, you can get some extra time to sleep, and won’t be stressed and rushed in the morning.
- Do whatever you want that keeps you stress-free. Play with your pet, watch a movie, read a good book. If it makes you happy, do it – as long as it is not physically strenuous.
- GET SOME SLEEP! I cannot stress this point enough. Sleep is the body’s way of healing itself. The average teenager should get a minimum of eight to nine hours of sleep each night.
- Try to keep the big meet off your mind as much as possible. It is completely natural to have the “what ifs” creep in. Acknowledge those thoughts and find a way to replace them.
The day of the meet
OK, this is it, the big day.The day you and your teammates have worked for tirelessly. Those 5 a.m. practices, followed by school, followed by another workout, will be rewarded today. All those Saturday practices when you wanted to be in your bed will be paid off with a lifetime best. Countless yards you never thought would end will seem trivial after you take home that first-place medal. Now is the time to make it count.
- Show up to the meet 15-20 minutes before your warm up and find a space. Make it a place where your teammates can congregate. After all, you are all in this together.
- Find your coach, and let him or her know you have arrived. We get nervous, too!
- Make sure you get in right when warm up starts. Warm ups are crowded. However, if you play the game right, you can get in an effective warm up.
- The first few minutes and the last few minutes are when it is the least crowded. Operate under what I call the FILO principle: First one In – Last one Out.
Minutes before the big race
Here it is. The big race has arrived. I always tell my swimmers to talk with me before their race, and this is crucial for every athlete, no matter the experience level. Your coach can impart some final wisdom or corny joke to lighten the mood.
When behind the blocks, do whatever it takes you to get into the zone. Some swimmers like to be silent and still, others like to chat it up, and some like to dance around to music. Whatever works for you, do it. This is your moment!
On the blocks
Nothing more you can say or do at this point will matter. You trained with purpose, you listened to your coaches (hopefully), and you have fully prepared. Let all that take hold. Swim the race to the best of your ability.
After the race
You finally reach the wall, and that’s it. It’s all over. Regardless of the outcome, always display good sportsmanship. Shake your competitor’s hand as a sign of respect, not only for them, but for the sport you all work so hard to be a part of.
- Go directly to your coach. Do not pass Go, do not collect $200. Talk about your race – the good, the bad and the ugly.
- If there is a warm down pool available, use it. Your body just exerted a huge amount of energy and expended large amounts of lactic acid. Keep swimming a little longer after you feel like you’ve recovered.
- Once you properly warm down and feel you have returned to a stable place, relax. Go find your bag, throw on some clothes and just be a part of the team.
Months of swimming and planning with intent leads to a successful swim meet. The next time you are struggling during a huge set, think about that big meet months away. Get into the mindset of swimming fast now!
Graham Bodner is the lead developmental coach for the Franklin Area Swim Team in Pittsburgh.