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Swim Training & the Competitive Edge

09/17/2014, 5:00am PDT
By Kelvin Cech

The 3 types of competition that will give you the edge...


The amount of natural talent required for competitive swimming is relatively lower than other sports. Stay with me here, swimmers, I do have a point.

In tennis, you’re going nowhere without exquisite hand-eye coordination.

To skate proficiently in hockey, a natural ability to stretch the legs into long strides is crucial.

Playing soccer at the highest levels requires an innate ability to analyze patterns in sport in order to exploit an opponent’s weakness.

Swimming? Anyone can swim. Sure, it helps if you’re born with a swimmer’s body, but Michael Phelps didn’t dominate the Olympics in 2008 based strictly on talent alone.

Michael Phelps built himself into a swimmer.

The absence of natural talent is not a hindrance to the sport of swimming.

It’s an edge.

A competitive edge.

1. Peer Competition

Because of the anybody-can-swim nature of swimming, swimmers must find a way to excel outside of just ‘being good at swimming.’ The best swimmers on Earth are trained to be better than their competitors, to out-perform the person in the next lane.

This is a skill that’s easy to apply to other sports as well as the real world.

Real-world application: Out-performing your peers in the office can lead to promotions, better assignments and increased influence at work. What about high school and university students? Well, peer competition is a motivator for many students who want to be the best in their field. 

2. Internal Competition

In addition to competing against other competitors, swimmers learn early on that they’re only as good as their last best time. Pushing yourself to improve technique and habits is an important skill to retain if a swimmer wants to climb the rankings. 

Internal competition is a skill that places the process ahead of the results. 

Real-world application: We generally receive the same results if we relate internal competition to the real world as well in the same sense as peer competition, but the focus becomes on improving as an individual and then letting the chips fall where they may. Both sets of results have real-world value, but both are reserved for separate types of people.

3. Competing When No One’s Around

What happens when there’s no one else around? It’s often said that the work we put in when no one’s looking is the most honest. Picture yourself swimming in an empty pool at 6:30am. There’s no one around, no one to judge, no one to push. What type of effort goes into each length at that point?

Real-world application: The discipline and dedication swimming can teach us when there are no spectators has a direct application in day-to-day life. Honing your craft by taking courses, attending conferences and practicing the skills required to excel will always equal more than the sum of its parts. 

Applying Lessons Learned

We can all learn from the main lessons taught by swim culture, even though most of us won’t lose too much sleep pining for a gold medal in the 100 metre breaststroke. Even though we all learn in different ways, there are bits and pieces we can take from the competitive nature of swim training.

Peer competition, internal competition and discipline; which of these lessons is most beneficial for you?

photo credit: Hani Amir via photopin cc

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