Lessons Learned While Staring at a Black Line

Posted on March 8, 2011


The following is a guest post from Courtney Wagner, a former swimmer, US swim coach and now stand out triathlete. Yeah, she knows what she’s talking about!

Lessons Learned While Staring at a Black Line:

1. Not every race will be a best time

No matter how hard you practice or how fast you race you can’t drop time every single race.  Eventually you will hit a plateau that can last a month, a season or even a year.  If you didn’t get a best time, try to figure out why and fix what you have control over.  Did you have a slow start?  Are you tired from a hard week of practice?

2.  Swimming fast = 33% talent + 33% coachability + 34% hard work

Swimming fast boils down to this equation (stolen from Coach Charlie Rose).  Talent is important but not the only component to swimming fast.   Coachability means you not only listen to your coach but you make the changes in your technique, pace, etc; put into action what your coach is telling you.  Lastly, notice how hard work is given that extra percentage more than the other two.  Eventually, hard work separates out the good from the great swimmers.

3. Goals aren’t based on people

This is a difficult lesson when you are constantly racing against people. I remember being told to set our goals based on the clock and not the person in the lane next to you.  You only have control over how fast you swim.  Is it a failure if you drop 3 seconds off your 100 breast only to be out touched by your teammate by only 0.02 seconds?  Not if your goal was a best time.

4. Big dreams, small steps

Go ahead and dream about competing in the Olympics!  Now develop a plan to get there.  What other meets do you need to qualify for first?  What areas of your stroke need major improvement?  There is a lot of planning and hard work in small steps to achieve any big dream; take it one step at a time.

5. It’s a mental sport

The biggest thing that held me back in swimming was me.  I trained my heart out but when it came time to race I froze.  I learned not to let my inhibitions stop me from RACING.  Don’t hold yourself back.

6. Swimming is a team sport too

Everybody knows swimming is an individual sport but not many people see the team aspect.  The camaraderie that comes from training with people day in and day out is a unique and important experience.  Nobody understands what it means to look at a black line for hours, race the clock, or smell of chlorine even after two showers like your teammates do.  Support each other, push each other, and have fun together.

7. Be on time, come prepared, and fuel your body right

Arrive early to the pool with all your equipment and be ready to dive in on time.  This lesson will follow you to college, work, and almost everything in life.  This is assuming you actually come to every practice.  Whenever you think about skipping swim practice think about how your competition is in a pool somewhere else training and becoming that much faster than you. Coming to practice on time and training won’t be as effective if you aren’t nourishing your body with good fuel.  Try to eat food that doesn’t come out of a box or wrapper and drink water every chance you get.

8. Have a role model, be a role model

My role model growing up was my swim coach, Charlie Rose.  He believed in trying your best, testing your limits, going after goals and most importantly having a positive attitude along the way.  By looking up to somebody, I worked on developing those same qualities I admired.  Also keep in mind; you might be somebody’s role model because you are older or faster.  So be a good role model.

9. Sacrifices and time management

Sacrifices must be made to accomplish our goals; not a new lesson.  With good time management you can still have a life and swim too.  Studying is NOT a sacrifice made for swimming.  In high school I graduated second in my class with a nearly perfect GPA but never missed a swim practice.  This wasn’t because I’m smart…it’s because I managed my time well so I could succeed in and out of the pool. Besides, academic scholarships pay substantially more.

10. Lessons in swimming translate directly to life

Swimming will help prepare you for life.

11. Always have fun

Don’t forget this is a sport and it’s supposed to be fun.  Find joy in the process of achieving goals, training hard, and of course listening to your coach.