For the US, the Olympic Trials are just about as good as it gets in the swimming community. For all you swimmers, think of your biggest meet of the season, the end of year taper, and all the hoopla and nerves that comes with that meet and that moment.
Now imagine being in an arena with over 10,000 screaming fans, laser lights show galore, swimming celebrities all over the deck and in the stands, and fire spewing from the ground. It’s a crazy sight to behold in person, let alone while your swimming in a final with the 8 fastest people in the country in your event. Luckily for me, I was able to sit close enough to the action to hear some of the Olympic Coaches to be take to some of their Olympic hopefuls about how they were to prepare for their races, how they were to stay focused, stay alert, keep everything in perspective. What I came to realize is that whether you are an 8 and under competing at your country club championships, a high school freshman at your state championships, a college swimmer at the NCAA Championships, or Ryan Lochte, there will always be nerves and there will always be distractions. The sport is the same at all levels and its the job of the coach and the swimmer to spend each day, week, month, year, and 4 years preparing for a moment in the spotlight. Nerves never go away, and they shouldn’t. Nerves mean you are excited and your body is preparing to go fast. How one controls and responds to those nerves is another story. Imagine being Ryan Lochte and swimming a breaststroke leg of the 4 IM on Monday. All of the sudden, you see flames shooting up from the deck and you are blasted with a wave of heat. How do you deal with that? It’s no different than a swimmer going to a meet on a Wednesday night and needing to block out the test that was failed only hours before. It’s about showing up every day at practice, and blocking out all the distractions and keeping a laser focus on your goal. Maybe your Allison Schmitt, and you take the 1st half of your 400 Free out under world record time and get the crowd to their feet. But at Olympic Trials in this event, you don’t have a coach or a counter letting you know if you are on pace or not, you just have to know in your mind what your strategy is and how you are going to make it a reality. Ms. Schmitt, just like all 400 free swimmers, probably worked forever on pace work until she knew what she was pacing down to the hundredth of a second. Taking accountability for your actions in practice, owning your workouts each and every day and knowing how you are going to progress to your goals will get you where you want to go.
Imagine being labeled as a “failure” by some in the world because you didn’t win your race or a gold medal. It’s happened to the best of us, even the best male breaststroker in United States history, Brenden Hansen. As Brenden as stated previously, in 2008, he was not having fun, and that lack of fun lead to a less than stellar performance in the Olympics. Imagine the scrutiny and the pressure to be so overbearing you take a long break from the sport. Then with 12 months until Olympic Trials, you rediscover your love for the sport. You go to practice every day with a smile on your face, and a strong focus, not necessarily on winning a gold medal, but on making yourself proud every day. Then you step onto one of the biggest stages in the world, with much less training than you have done in the last 12 years, only to be the only American to break the 1:00 barrier in the 100 breaststroke at Olympic Trials. Then you rise from the ground on a platform, turning around in a 360 degree fashion, with a bright smile on your face waving to the crowd as you get crowned with your gold medal and a spot on the Olympic roster for the 3rd time! When Summer Sanders asked Brendan what was the difference between 2008 and 2012, he said, “2008 was no fun. And right now, I’m having a blast and enjoying what I’m doing.”
So no matter what pressure in on you in the pool or at school or at home, remember to have fun. It does not matter what age you are or what ability level you are, you have to set yourself up for success and have FUN doing it. It’s fun to win, it’s fun to be part of a team, and it’s fun to challenge yourself to do things you never thought possible. So maybe one day, you will be making Olympic Trials, or maybe your goal is to make the conference scoring team, or your country club championships. Whatever your goal is, find a path towards your goals and do your best to not let anyone knock you off that path. If you get bumped off, find another way to get back on the path and be proud that you found your way back. And at the end of the day, making the journey each day and enjoying the moments are just as rewarding as reaching your goal. And for everyone around you there for support, there is nothing more rewarding than watching you do it with an undeniable smile of glowing joy.