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Spend as much time training your brain as you do your body! The Sports Psychology department at USA Swimming has put together a Mental Toolbox to help you achieve your swimming goals. Included in the toolbox are lessons, self-tests, and more. For example, the section on goal setting asks you to write out, "What were this weeks goals?".

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Total Immersion Pool Primer for Freestyle and Backstroke : The TI Way

Just how tough are you?

by Bernie Wakefield

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"Comparisons are odious" said a very enlightened Will Shakespeare, the incomparable champion of the English Language.. Perhaps Stratford Bill meant that comparisons can be most offensive if the reference is to objective events or real persons, clearly because of the very complexity of life itself. But to use contrasts as a sounding board to describe how conversely people may act when they are attempting something stressful, is not such a bad exercise. Especially if we can point to certain traits in various sporting events that those champions must possess.

People come in all shapes and sizes. Some are drawn to a sport because Mum or Dad find it convenient or big brother and sister play it or for any one of a hundred reasons. Almost none are officially identified as talented in a certain direction and pointed towards the sport that suits their structure or inclination. These days in Australia there are certain States who are doing just that - identifying dexterous young people and the sports best suited to that particular proclivity. There are few things more painful than to see young persons deeply involved in a sport which obviously does not suit their structure when they could be enjoying more success in a sport that does befit them.

In swimming, and in other similar types of competitive sports, contestants require essential attributes to take them to the top and it is not intended to bore the reader with details of strength and endurance and all the other factors ad nauseam. The one desperately absolute priority is TOUGHNESS. And I don't think you will find any argument there.

Toughness comes in two distinct packages, mentally tough and physically tough. Both can be trainable features of a swimmers agenda. Training hard and long provides many of those aspects of toughness that is the prerequisite and allows the swimmer to race tough. Many don't and can't. Either racing or training

Over a fairly lengthy lifetime I have spent many hours training and playing sport and watching and analysing a hundred others. What was once a hobby became a profession and then an obsession. Studying the sport and the people who played it became a full-time job. I opted to become a swimming coach because that was the way the cookie crumbled but it didn't stop me from studying and enjoying other sporting endeavours and their participants.

From a young age I witnessed feats in the name of sport that thrilled me beyond what any drug could do - the marvellous distance running of the incomparable Emile Zatopec and the blonde Russian, Vladimir Kuuts who won the golden double in the 5000 and 10000 at the Melbourne Olympics. I still feel that same kind of thrill when I see old films of our own speedsters in Betty Cuthbert, Marlene Matthews, Shirley Strickland and Herb Elliott on the track

In the pool, the inimitable Dawn Fraser's triumphs in her 25 World records and 3 Olympic gold medals for the same event; the Konrad kids who swam with fire and pure strength, the smoothness and tactical brilliance of Murray Rose and later the effervescent Holland who showed the World a new way of swimming fast over a distance. I could go on and on. It would be unfair not to mention the grace, power and technically faultless Mark Spitz who dominated the Munich Olympics. The breathtaking Perkins in Rome winning the 400 freestyle at the World Titles like it was a sprint event. The fast revving arms of Michael Wenden in his double sprint victories in Mexico city for Olympic gold. The elegance and sublime power of Tracy Caulkins in Los Angeles. Robbed of gold in Moscow because of the US ban she made up for the sadness with a bucket full of gold and records to match. And lastly, the impossible technique of a skinny kid called Janet Evans setting a record for the 400 Freestyle in Seoul that has stood for 6 years.

Even taking into account the differences in training standards from era to era, the old timers still did it tough and found the way to the top just as difficult as today's champions. No winter training in heated indoor pools for them. No body-hugging costumes or even the comfort of goggles. Often they swam and trained in the murky waters of lakes, ocean rock- ponds and unchlorinated pools. No heartrate monitors and sports drinks or Nutritionists to monitor their diet; or weight trainers, physiologists or even psychologists to help them get their act together.

These people and a thousand more like them, swam tough. They had to. Evans faced the might and chemical power of an East Germany in Seoul and gleefully swam away from them. Our own Julie Mcdonald shut out the German girls in the 800 at the same venue with a devastating display of raw courage to grab the bronze.

Comparing each sport against each other for sheer toughness is not a good idea in sports that are no way related but it is possible to compare the difference between swimmers and land based sports-persons. Many are impossible to contrast, like Golf and Bike-racing. Golf requires nerves of steel, great skill but not a hell of a lot of fitness. Bike racing demands skill, strength and a kind of toughness that only cyclists can recognise.

I recall once seeing a State road race in 1946 conducted over the then Olympic distance of 125 miles. Not that the distance alone should be regarded as gut-retching endurance. The Tour de France and others of that ilk, make such a race look like a Teddy Bears Picnic. But for me, a novice cyclist, it was a revelation in pure grit and determination.

A few miles from the bunched start, one of the favourites, a local lad named Rex Woodruffe, fell badly when his pedal clipped an outcrop of rock on a narrow bend after he was boxed in to the inside running. The event was run over 15 by 8 mile laps and a 5 mile lap to finish it off. When he passed the start for the first time he had 117 miles to go. His body had been shredded by the fall when he skidded down the gravel edge of the road. His shirt and shorts were ragged and blood soaked. One pedal was bent from the contact with the ground which made pedalling difficult and painful.

There was never a thought in his mind of surrender and despite his obvious agony and the impossibility of making up lost ground, continued to chase the leaders who lengthened the distance away from him on every lap. His face grimacing in pain, he plugged on until the end of the race, passing other stragglers but never the leaders. When he finished in a state of pure exhaustion the blood had dried on him and one arm hung by his side, grotesquely swollen from a broken wrist. On arrival at hospital he was found to have suffered a broken collar bone and several busted ribs in the fall.

I never forgot that performance or the agony that man suffered in the name of sport. He knew he never had a chance of winning so what made him go on and punish his body so severely.? Some would say, stupidity but I would call it courage in the highest possible category -"to thine own self be true". By completing such a task he made himself so mentally and physically tough, that nothing he would encounter in future life would unbalance him. He knew what he could do at the most lowest ebb in the tide of adversity.

For me, that was the essence of toughness and though I have heard of other sportsmen striving to beat the world in their brand of sport when everything that could go wrong, did go wrong; nothing I have seen in swimming has come near that experience. Probably because officialdom would not allow a swimmer to compete in that condition anyway. But I wrote about it if only to highlight the extreme toughness that is within all of us, given that correct moment in time when we will give everything, even our life, for a cause.

I often wonder if swimmers are pampered too much these days and perhaps not prepared to tough it out when that moment of crisis arrives. I believe coaches like Laurie Laurence had it right when he harried his swimmers into doing huge sets and often at times when they were not expected. It was not unusual for Laurie to drag his swimmers out of bed late at night in a swim camp after a gruelling days work and run them on the beach and sandhills for another hour. In this way, he emulated the deeds of one Percy Cerutty, another charismatic coach who worked marvels with his athletes on the sandhills of Portsea. Maybe they did not have it exactly right, for all their champions they too had failures but they showed the World their way was the correct way for those who were prepared to put everything on the line for their sport. It wasn't so much what the actual training effect would be but the toughening up consequence it would have on their minds -"Never surrender."

I often wonder if swimmers are pampered too much these days and perhaps not prepared to tough it out when that moment of crisis arrives. I believe coaches like Laurie Laurence had it right when he harried his swimmers into doing huge sets and often at times when they were not expected. It was not unusual for Laurie to drag his swimmers out of bed late at night in a swim camp after a gruelling days work and run them on the beach and sandhills for another hour. In this way, he emulated the deeds of one Percy Cerutty, another charismatic coach who worked marvels with his athletes on the sandhills of Portsea. Maybe they did not have it exactly right, for all their champions they too had failures but they showed the World their way was the correct way for those who were prepared to put everything on the line for their sport. It wasn't so much what the actual training effect would be but the toughening up consequence it would have on their minds -"Never surrender."

I remember a swimmer at the Auckland Commonwealth Games who had won the 200m freestyle from an outside lane. His name was Marty Roberts. He was being interviewed after the event and was asked to explain how this remarkable win came about. His reply stuck in my mind for ever.

"I was an average trainer for years, doing only what I thought was enough for me and constantly querying the programme. I was going nowhere so one day I decided to make a commitment to myself and coach. Every thing he told me to do from that moment on, I did without conscious thought". He went on " If he said jump, I simply asked, How high coach? It was difficult for me because I had always questioned the workload, now I just shut up and did the work and it paid off".

Comparing a top swimmers life with that of a professional tennis player comes up with some interesting comments which may turn out to be positive. The usual scenario for swimmers of past eras was to train for one season during the summer months and then compete in a number of lead up meets finally tapering for one big one. There are more "big" ones around these days and as a result swimmers train the year around only taking a week off here and there and maybe a longer regeneration after a really big one like the Olympic games.

The workload on today's swimmers as far as competition goes is much heavier than yesterday's stars contended with and is now approaching the same situation that confronts professional tennis players. Still, I believe there is quite a gap between the two. Tennis players have a solid season competing on a weekly basis from Continent to Continent ignoring such trivialities that concern swimmers like jet lag and tapering. They need to stay in top shape the year around - their very living, their ability to maintain match form, demands it- so they train when and where they can, no matter what the weather.

Track athletes also have a similar season. They too compete on a weekly basis at top meets where they are meeting the best of the World and therefore need to stay in top condition . No breaks for them either. Cyclists have an identical yearly program. Road cyclists in particular follow the huge endurance events in Europe where it attracts enormous crowds and subsequently, huge pay-outs to successful competitors. Australian Cycling coach Charlie Walsh is spoken of in the same breathe as Attila the Hun and Genghis Khan so I can well believe that the Institute cyclists would be on programs designed for stoics and masochists.! So, in comparison to Tennis players, Athletes and cyclists, are our swimmers sooks?

Do we need to toughen up their outlook on training and competition?. In past years many of our swimmers were children and could not be expected to do the work and racing commitments demanded of them today but these days more and more swimmers are opting to continue well into their twenties no doubt because of the financial attraction and the possibility of getting 'set up' for the rest of their lives.

Then we have to consider the requirements of swimmers such as Open water swimmers and the huge distances they compete; the distance pool swimmers from 400 up to 1500 who are now working and racing at speeds that were once considered common only for sprints. These people certainly know all about work and how to maintain it. The question for them is, do they need the same competition that sprinters need? Perhaps not but I do believe that is an aspect that could be addressed by swimmers, coaches and administrators of the sport.

Sprinters. That band of people who are constantly branded sooks for their much lesser input of work, albeit much more painful because of their neuro-muscular make-up, could certainly adopt a policy of upgrading their competition calendar. That great sprinter of modern times, Alex Popov is showing us the way in that regard and competes at regular intervals all over the World without seeming to lose condition or speed.

Not long ago in Australian swimming there was a definite policy within selection circles that because our sprinters, male and female, were not up to scratch with the rest of the world, it was of little value sending away sprint swimmers to compete overseas - a waste of money! A change in that thinking just a few years ago saw our poorly rated sprinters racing the best in the world and now, as a result of that enlightened strategy we can truly say there is depth if not yet right at the top of World domination. Both our swimmers and our coaches, with that experience behind them, have lessened the gap and it could be only a short time until our sprinters will be on a par with our 1500 men.


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