Picture a typical swim practice scenario – your coach has handed out the workout and you have jumped into your lane to get going. Have you ever noticed what is going on in your head while you churn through the session? I’ve asked a number of my athletes over the years and what typically comes back is some sort of stream of consciousness retelling of practice – “Did I make my pace time?” “How many more laps?” “Gosh this hurts,” “Whoa! Someone almost swam right into me!”

Now I would agree it is a good idea to pay some attention to these urgent demands because if you don’t, something undesirable will happen– you’ll swim too far, too slow or right into someone.

However, just like you want to spend most of your day at work accomplishing important tasks and not just responding to a pinging phone or answering the most recent email, in the pool you want to spend most of your time working on your long-term goal, which is to swim better. Otherwise you may find you are just grinding it out day in, day out and not really getting any better.

So how do you go about doing this? The first step is to determine what you need to do in order to get better. Perhaps there is a technical change you need to make to your swimming, or you struggle to maintain your technique once things get a bit tough. Working with a coach can help you to determine what you should be focusing on, but whatever it is, a part of your brain should be paying attention to it at all times.

Unfortunately, this is easier said than done in the face of all the other things you need to pay attention to as you swim. One strategy that can be helpful is to create a short catch-phrase that you can say to yourself as you swim that targets the immediate goal you have and cues you as to what you have to do. Examples might be – “high elbow catch,” “pull and roll, roll and pull,” or “fingers in first.” The idea is not that you will be saying this to yourself non-stop as you swim but you will use it at regular intervals – after each turn for example – and make it your anchor statement to displace many of the distracting thoughts that would otherwise flow through your mind.

Using a targeted strategy like this can help you to maintain focus on the work that is going to make you a better swimmer. The more you are able to notice and work on these important elements, the faster your swimming will improve and the more rewarding it will be.

Darian Silk is a triathlon coach and Certified Exercise Physiologist based in Toronto. Read more about Darian at www.teamatomica.com or email him at darian@teamatomica.com.

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