Your Brain On Swimming

Notes from the editor: Many high school teams are beginning their competition season this weekend and a majority of the PVS Club teams are competing at their mid-season Invitational meets this weekend and next. As you read the article below, ask yourself if you’ve taken the steps to set the right goals? If not, you have a few months to adjust…

Contributor Rick Paine is an expert on the college recruiting process. He is also the Director of Swimming at American College Connection (ACC). 

By: Rick Paine

How To Be A Goal Getter

Swimming teaches us to set goals, but there is a right way and a wrong way to set them. The first thing to do is communicate with your coach.


Thinking about goals the wrong way can be self-limiting and can create barriers. Here is a common example of a self-limiting goal:


“I want to break a minute in the 100 free.”


When an athlete states, “I want to break a minute in the 100 free” the mind only hears “a minute”. It does not pick up on the idea of “breaking a minute.”


Don’t believe me, then try this: “Don’t think about a pink elephant.” What are you thinking about? But I said “Don’t”. You can’t help, but think about that pink elephant can you?


In a sense, the swimmer is saying, “I want to avoid a minute.” Goal setting does not work very well when it is designed to “avoid” something. Having a goal built on avoidance will create a barrier.


Subconsciously a swimmer’s mind will make the swimmer gravitate toward the minute mark and as a result, the swimmer will keep “bouncing off” the minute mark until they change their thinking.


Have you ever watched a karate exhibition where they break a board with their hand? If they allowed their mind to only focus “to” the board the only thing they would break is their hand. In order to successfully break the board they must focus “past” or “through” the board.


Here is a better way to think about this goal:


“I will swim :59.9 or faster.”


“I want, I hope to, I think I can, I’ll try” are copout statements. Be committed to your goals and talk about them with the phrase “I will.” In the words of Yoda, the great Jedi Master,


“Do or Do not. There is no Try.”


Are your goals worth the cost?

Before you can set a goal, you must determine how much time and effort you are willing to put in to reaching that goal. Goals should be set based on what you are willing to do to reach them.

  • How many practices are you willing to attend each week?
  • Are you willing to really work your dryland training?
  • Are you willing to go to bed earlier so you can get adequate rest?
  • Are you willing to monitor your eating habits so you will have enough “gas” in your gas tank to train properly?
  • Are you willing to drink enough water to stay hydrated?
  • Are you willing to communicate with your coach?

You should have a main goal with many smaller goals along the way. It is like climbing a ladder. Take it one step at a time and you will reach the top sooner and with a much better chance of staying on top. Setting goals without understanding what it takes to reach them are only Dreams.

 Goals Should Be Specific

Qualifying for Zones or Nationals is not specific enough. You need to set specific goals with a timeline for accomplishing them. Don’t set a goal to just qualify for a meet. Is that really all you want to do is just get there? It stinks to go to the big meet and swim slower. If your nonspecific goal is to make Zones change that to “I will swim my best time at Zones.” After all, if you are going to go to Zones, then you might as well swim your best time even if it is by one hundredth of a second. Trust me, it’s a lot more fun.

 How To Set Goals

Many athletes set goals that sound “cool” or they set them to please their parents.

Check with your coach

Set swimming goals that fit with each other. For example, if you want to swim a 1:09.9 or faster in the 100 back, then you had better plan on being well under :35 in your 50 back. Determine what splits you will have to hold in order to reach your goal.

 Example: If your goal for the 200 free is 2:20 what do your 50 splits have to be? Can you hold :35.0 for each 50? Not likely.

Considering that you have a dive on your first 50, it should probably be at least a couple of seconds faster at :33.0. The other 3 splits will probably be around :36.0-:36.0-:35.0 (the last 50 should be faster since you will be finishing to a hand touch). Set some in-season mini-goals and some practice goals.

For example if you are going to swim a 2:20 at the end of the season, then what kind of time should you expect around the half way mark?

If you are going to average :35 per 50 at the end of the season, don’t you think you should swim a series of 50’s in practice at least at :35…..probably several times?

Write them down.

It’s been said, “A goal not written is only a dream.” Research shows that a written goal carries ten times the power.

Write down your goals and everything it takes to accomplish them.

Be committed.

Work with your coach to set achievable goals; ones that you are willing to work for, then commit yourself 100% to reaching them.

There was once a great explorer who sailed to a land thousands of miles from home in order to build a new colony. They anchored the ships off the coast and all of the men hauled their provisions to shore in small life boats. The leader sent back several men with instructions to burn all of the ships. When the men saw the ships burning, they asked the leader why he had done such a thing to cut off all means of turning back. He responded by saying there is no turning back…we are committed to the cause.


So, “burn your ships.”


There is strength in numbers.

Share your goals with family, friends and teammates.

You will be able to borrow strength from others and they will be able to keep you on the right path. The more people you have who believe in you, the easier it is to believe in yourself.

Don’t let fear guide you.

Fear is an emotion that can really get in our way if we let it. Think back to a time when you really wanted to do something, but you were too “chicken.”

All of us have a lot of “chicken” in us, but the successful people don’t let “chicken” make their decisions.

It is OK to acknowledge your fears, just don’t let them guide you.

Goals are adjustable.

Even though you have written down your goals, they are not carved in stone. You can adjust them as needed. Don’t be afraid to set high goals and go after them.

Anyone can be a “goal setter”, you want to be a “goal getter.”


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