What’s Your Preference? Swim Practice with Teammates vs. Alone

Swim Practice

What’s Your Preference? Swim Practice with Teammates vs. Alone

By Josie Wise, Swimming World Intern

Swimming is overwhelmingly a team sport at the scholastic and collegiate levels, but that doesn’t mean you don’t find yourself in the pool alone on some occasions. It may be that you’re on a vacation, it’s the offseason, or you just want to get an extra workout in. For whatever reason, practicing alone can either be someone’s blissful escape, or their greatest nightmare. It can make you either appreciate always having a team at your back, or be a time to push yourself without having to consider others. What are some of the pros and cons of swimming alone and swimming with training partners?

Pros of Swimming with Others

It probably seems obvious why it’s more fun to practice with a team. Practice can be brutal, and similar to most difficult life circumstances, it’s nice to know that you’re not going through it alone. When you get to the wall in between sets, having a teammate that can relate to the pain surging through every muscle of your body makes it seem more manageable. Having friends with you can also be a welcome diversion. If someone cracks a joke, it can distract from the challenge and make it easier. A team leader could shout out some inspiring phrase that gets you through the last round of 200’s. As the saying goes, laps fly by when you’re having fun.

Another bonus factor of practicing with a team is the presence of a coach. The coach will give you a workout, tell you when to leave the wall, and do most of the thinking associated with getting through practice for you. You don’t have to figure out cycles or wonder if your technique is sufficient. Coaches are there to give you a workout and make sure you do the workout. Any questions? Just ask Coach. Although some might start to see the presence of a coach as a negative when they put brackets around the 400 IM set.

Cons of Swimming with Others

While having teammates there can get you through tough times, it can also create some tough times. One issue of practicing with others is that it brings up comparisons. It’s human nature to constantly compare yourself to others, even if you don’t realize you’re doing it. Friendly competition is good, but too much of it can create unnecessary stress. During the main set, you may consistently touch the wall a second after your friend, and you wonder why you can’t just bring yourself to go faster. There’s also a possibility that you beat someone in practice, but then meets come and they go faster than you. Really, there’s no point in comparing your performance to your teammates in practice. Off days exist, but it can be difficult to remember that. Focusing on yourself can be hard when there’s a whole pool of others that your mind wants to focus on.

It can also be hard to refrain from kicking people out of your lane during a crowded practice. Everyone knows that one teammate that always wants to touch your feet, but then slows down when you let them pass. Or perhaps someone comes to mind when the phrase “lane hog” comes up. Not every swimmer is born with a common understanding of swim etiquette, and that can seem like your last straw some days.

Pros of Swimming Alone

Swimming alone isn’t as much fun as with your teammates, but it has its good qualities nonetheless. For starters, there’s a lot more time to just focus on yourself. You can set a cycle for the pace you want to go, and just worry about making the cycle; there’s no internal need to match your teammate’s times.  You can get the practice from your coach or make one yourself and tailor it to what you need to work on and improve. Basically, it’s all about you, and every once in a while that’s exactly what an athlete needs.

Practicing on your own also improves mental toughness. Working up the determination to go jump in a cold pool and push yourself to your limits for thousands of yards isn’t easy in the first place; to do it when no one is watching or encouraging you only makes it harder. You’ll likely never get the times you want if you only go fast when the coach is watching. Reaching that level of working hard when no one is there to give you credit is something not everyone can do. Luckily, it is something everyone can practice and achieve if they desire.

Cons of Swimming Alone

The cons of swimming alone fit hand-in-hand with the pros of swimming with teammates. When you feel like quitting, there’s absolutely no one there to encourage you to keep going. As mentioned above, that willingness to keep going has to completely come from inside you. It’s also much easier to skip a repetition or give yourself a little extra rest. The internal battles become tenfold when swimming alone, and it becomes up to you to conquer that little voice telling you to go easier.

Which is Better?

There’s no simple answer to whether practicing with a team or alone is better. Teammates are what make the sport truly fun. They’re there for you on hard sets, make you laugh when you want to cry, and are a steady source of encouragement. Training partners are non-negotiable in the sport of swimming.

However, that’s not to say training alone is bad. In moderation, working out on your own has its benefits. It can be peaceful, make you mentally tougher, and give you a break from constant comparison and competition.

Ultimately, it’s a good idea to remember to appreciate your teammates when they’re there for you, and appreciate the challenge when they’re not.

All commentaries are the opinion of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Swimming World Magazine nor its staff.

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