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by Ali Hall

April 1, 2009

Monday morning workout, outdoors, a beautiful day swimming in Northern California.  My super fast lane mate is not her cheerful, energetic self.  Halfway through the workout, she says "go ahead, I'm out of here, I'm not feeling it today."  I'm stunned, she never leaves early, never has a draggy attitude.  "I'm hating everything after the meet Saturday, everything."

What to do?  It's something we've all experienced, eagerness about a meet and then discouragement that persists, even sours our desire to keep on...How do we stay connected to the thing we love to do, to weather these disappointments?

With over 150 Alcatraz crossings to her credit, long-time member of the South-End Rowing Club and San Francisco sports psychologist Brenda Austin advises athletes to reflect on their experiences and preparation.  Some inquiries might include:

--were your goals realistic and achievable?

--what went well?

--what was the rest of your day like?

--were you having fun? (We perform best when we're having fun!)

--were you rested?  well nourished?

--have you been practicing any relaxation techniques?

--do you use visualization and relaxation on a regular basis?

--what was your self-talk leading up to and during the event?

--do you give yourself permission to have an "off" day, one that doesn't live up to your expectations?

--what are some areas you'd like to work on?  how will you do it before the next meet?

Inspirational coach Nancy Brown of Maryland Masters, herself a many-time world and national champion, asks athletes to remember what matters. "Always focus on the primary reason you are swimming - for fitness!!!!!!   Life in general has bad days and good days for everyone. Sometimes our body functions beyond expectations, sometimes it hardly functions at all. No one knows when this will happen.  Swimming in a lot of competitions, you have a better chance of hitting one of those high expectation performances.  So when you do hit a bad performance day, remember tomorrow could be a high performance day.    Regardless whether it is a high performance day or low performance day, at least you swam and got an aerobic workout!"

Those of us with travel and other demands may find ourselves catching pool time on our own and that's great for independence and autonomy.  Yet we may be missing out on some deeply important things.  It's hard to overestimate the value of being part of team and having an active coach on deck.

Nancy is the kind of coach that makes it enjoyable and worthwhile to be on a team.  She urges her swimmers to cheer each other on, to keep it positive in workouts, to enjoy their experiences.  She gives each swimmer a tip or two every workout, to integrate improvements, to get the most out the time in the water.  And, she gives prizes to every one of her swimmers at big meets and the end of the season parties, recognizing personal bests as well honoring the most nervous swimmer and the one that fell apart the most in a race.  Who wouldn't have a good time in the kind of environment she cultivates!

For beloved coach Scott Williams of Burlingame Masters, a speedy swimmer and effective motivator for his athletes, it's simple.  He'll tell you "it's not the time you did, it's the time you had."

And he's so right.

Happy Swimming!