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by Scott Bay

April 5, 2019

How to go from ‘I want to do this’ to ‘I did this’

There are countless articles on goal setting and accomplishment, so what makes this one different? Good question. This one looks specifically at adult athletes who are swimmers and leaves out all of the psychological stuff that’s mentioned elsewhere.

To be sure, that’s all good stuff. Red Tide swimmer Marty Munson wrote a great article on goal-setting strategy, and I highly recommend you read it. Once you’ve digested all of that, especially the stuff about SMART goals, it comes down to a matter of how to get from where you are to where you want to be. The answer is simple: Start at the finish.

Working Backward From Your Goal

In my other professional life as an educator, I started each semester with writing the final exam. Some of my fellow teachers asked why. The answer is simple: At the beginning of the semester, I had a clear vision of what I wanted to accomplish and what I wanted my students to know and by when.

This is similar to writing down goals, but it’s also slightly different to some other goal-setting models. I didn’t send the exam off to the copy center after I wrote it. I saved it (more on this below) and then I backfilled lessons in an order that made sense to me.

Masters swimmers setting a goal need to backfill physiology, and the aforementioned psychological stuff. One part isn’t more important than another, but as you’re thinking about the goal, know that there’s a lot more to it than just a declarative statement. What’s the progression that helps you get there and how do you know if you’re on the right path?

  • Baseline—Where are you now versus where you want to be? A test set is a great idea. Design one based on the race you want to do.
  • Training, Part 1—This is the physiological stuff. Training sets that you think will help (hint: a knowledgeable and certified coach is good here) based on what has and hasn’t worked for you in the past are important.
  • Training, Part 2—Are you willing to do things (and do you have the time to do things) such as dryland training? We are land-based creatures, and although the water offers some resistance, we need to add resistance on land to gain strength.
  • Training, Part 3—Is your goal important enough to eliminate certain foods from your diet? Some people have a sweet tooth, and others love things that are fried and salty. Can food be healthy and taste good? Absolutely! Are you willing to change your eating habits to match your training habits?
  • Measurement—This comes back to both the baseline and the test set. How do you know you’re on the right path? Getting back to my teaching analogy, I don’t just give a final exam as the only grade. There are many quizzes and tests along the way to make sure what I’m doing is leading toward my goal.


As you go through each milestone in your training, always look back, know where you are, and keep your eye on your goal.

  • Look back—Some swimmers find it helpful to keep a journal. Your best bet is the U.S. Masters Swimming Fitness Log (FLOG). It’s not just about logging yards or meters but also noting how you felt and what your diet and sleep were like. Some swimmers even find it helpful to list important life events, such as the birth of a child or a career change because that stress affects your training and performance as well.
  • Where you are—It’s always good to look at how far you’ve come in your progress. Pay close attention to how you feel and your moods. Are you upset that it’s not going as planned or ecstatic because it’s better than you thought? Adjust your plan accordingly.
  • Where you want to be—By looking at your FLOG, you can see the road ahead. Hopefully, you’re in the group that’s right on track or ahead of plan! You might be in that group that might miss its goal based on where you were and are. This is not failure. This is goal not yet achieved. Change what you need to change and reset the calendar.

Is This the End?


Whether you achieved your goal or not, this is far from the end. If you did achieve it, that’s awesome! What have you got planned next? If you missed your goal by a small amount, celebrate the fact that you came within X percent of making it and put together the next plan to get there.

Getting back to my analogy: I didn’t send the exam I wrote before the first day of classes to the copy center because students wouldn’t always move as fast as my plan would allow. It still hung out there, but my lesson plans for the semester were still firm. Masters swimmers are adults with a lot of other things going on, and the best goals, even with the right plan, don’t always come to fruition. The great thing about Masters Swimming is that you get to come back and try again and again without graduating.


  • Technique and Training


  • Goal Setting
  • Motivation
  • Mental Training