Ya smell that?
It’s the sweet, sweet smell of a new season…
And the chance to swim even faster than we did last year.
Maybe you want to take that big step and move up to the Senior group on the team. Or you want to qualify for Nationals. Or you want to take your personal best time and give it the drubbing that it deserves.
Whatever the case, the goal you have for the new season is big and awesome.
But while your goal still has that new car smell, there is still the nagging worry about whether or not you can stay focused all the way through the season.
There’s gonna be ups—the breakthroughs in training where you level up an interval, swim a near-PB at the end of a hard week of crushing swim workouts, and drop time in everything from your 200 kick-for-time to your bread-and-butter events in competition.
There’s also gonna be the prerequisite downs—the setbacks in training, the moments of doubt and uncertainty, the occasions where you add time when you think you should be dropping, the DQ’s, the injuries, and all the rest.
All the while, you are going to be struggling to stay focused and motivated. Some days the fire will be there, other days it will be a mighty struggle to get your butt out the door and down to the pool.
If there’s one thing you can do this season to get and stay hyper-focused on swimming at an ever-improving level, it’s to keep it super simple. After all, your #1 job in the water isn’t necessarily to beat the competition or even to swim a specific time. Your job in the water is to swim however many laps you race as quickly as you can.
Swim there and back as fast as you can.
HOW TO STAY SUPER FOCUSED IN TRAINING
Okay, simple is good. Makes sense. Check.
But how can we apply this to our day-to-day training, when it can feel overwhelming trying to improve the thousand different little things that make up our dream performance?
Before the season gets underway sit down and write out the 3-5 most important aspects of your performance in the water.
Take a few minutes and think about what five things, if you worked on them consistently and diligently, would produce a gong-show performance for you.
If you do sail past that limit and write out a list of 82 different things you need to work on, pick the top five and put the rest in a drawer. Simplicity is key because it keeps us from getting flustered and allows us to feel in control of our training (and performance).
Once you have your list of top five your job becomes profoundly simple: to do those five things to the best of your ability each day in training. Stay on top of this regularly evaluating yourself (grading with an A-F score is easy, so is a simple 1-10 grading).
Doing this regularly will serve as extra reminder of what to focus on, help give you some encouragement when you see improvement in your grades, and act as a barometer between you and your coach.
(For a next level process, ask your coach to write out a top five for you, while also giving you a grade on them. You will be surprised how even athletes who have trained for long periods of time together will have fundamentally different viewpoints on what is critical to performance).
Your top five is the priority in your training. Crushing your top five to the best of your ability each day, over and over.
LONG TO-DO LISTS DON’T WORK.
I live by lists. I have lists for just about everything in my life, from my work schedule to what I am doing in the pool. (No grocery list, though. I like to shop for food by the seat of my pants.)
And the only way that to do lists work for me is by keeping them short. Does this mean I have less stuff to do? Of course not. It simply means that the top of the to do list has total priority.
Here’s an example of how our to do lists can get away from us.
Let’s say we have a goal of swimming a :23 50 butterfly next year. What are some of the things you are gonna have to do to make this happen?
- Improve shoulder strength and stability.
- Develop a more powerful pull.
- Improve the timing on your second dolphin kick.
- Improve your flip turns.
- Work your start.
- Do 500m of race pace work at each practice.
- Ten minutes of extra core work each afternoon.
- Be more consistent in practice.
- Have more poise behind the block.
- Drink more water.
- Eat better before practice.
- Pack a protein shake and a banana to all your workouts.
- Write down and review your swim practices.
- Get more sleep.
- Grade your swim practices.
- Etc etc etc.
Are you getting a sense of how this list could literally go on forever?
And yet, these things are all important, and they all form a part of your overall performance.
But what happens when you try to focus on every one of them at once?
1. WE WHITE-KNUCKLE IT FOR A FEW DAYS BEFORE GETTING BURIED.
A huge master list of things to work on is overwhelming.
Change is hard enough, let alone trying to change 82 things.
Ya might get a couple days where you get everything done, but sweeping change—as I’ve told y’all a few times already—is rarely sustainable.
Change is easier when we tighten up our focus.
2. WE PRIORITIZE THE EASY THINGS TO GET THAT SENSE OF DOING SOMETHING.
Crossing things off our to do list is a gratifying feeling. We are achieving things, after all. The fun of a to do list is in being able to draw a straight and satisfied line through something.
But here’s the problem: because it feels good to knock things off our list, we will naturally gravitate towards the easiest things on the list, almost always at the expense of the harder items.
The satisfaction we get from crossing something off our to do list doesn’t recognize the difference between things that are merely handy for our performance and the things that are like jet fuel for our performance.
For example, doing 500m of race pace work today will be far more beneficial for your performance than spending ten minutes of extra core work.
I’m not saying that those ten minutes doing core work isn’t important, but it’s not as important.
Because doing some core work is easier than swimming a set of brains-out race pace work on short rest, we are going to naturally drift towards the easier option of the two.
Keep the focus list short.
Keep it highest-impact.
DON’T WORRY ABOUT DOING MORE, FOCUS MORE INSTEAD.
One of the reasons we fight against this simplified kind of approach is that we get the sense we aren’t doing enough.
It feels too simple. Too easy. Logic dictates that if five is good, twenty is a kajillion times better.
Fight this urge and stick to five. There is nothing easy about giving a full effort on your five highest-impact things each day. Especially if you stick with it.
You can try the long list approach, but trying to focus on a list a mile long will give you watered-down results. Exceptional focus and clarity of focus on a few things delivers exceptional results.
BUILD THE PROCESS
After sitting down and considering your top 5 things, you will have a starter blueprint for your very own process.
An individualized recipe for Hulk-smashing your goals. Which will feel motivating in itself. By staying focused on your specific top 5 you avoid the comparison-making that causes you to lose focus.
Your process keeps you dialed in when things are going well and when things are going not so well. And you have something you can rely on for those pesky days where you aren’t feeling too motivated.
The process doesn’t care how the competition is doing, how you feel in the water, or any of the other extraneous garbage that we lob at our effort.
ONE LAST THING…
Don’t think that everything else on your list will fall to the wayside just because you decide to focus on five things every day.
Success is infectious, and if experience has taught me anything it’s that as you master your highest priorities the other things on your list will start to fall into place.
What are the five things that you are going to focus on exclusively each day in training this season?