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Swimming is a typical activity people of all ages enjoy in the summer. Americans spend hours passing time at the pool sunbathing, floating in the water, or watching their children. These activities are usually the first things that come to mind for most when talking about swimming. Because of the hard days of practice that we put in each week, this was not the case for my teammates or me. Through learning how to swim competitively over many years of practice and experience, I was able to find something I loved to do and share it with others.
Learning how to swim for leisure is very different than learning how to swim competitively. Swimming as a sport requires knowledge of the different strokes as well as knowing how to manipulate them for drills, and also quite a bit of racing experience. Mastering all of the different aspects of swimming takes several years for most. I started to swim for my neighborhood team when I was in the 3rd grade. At that time, I remember being very frustrated because I was not able to hold my breath as long as the other kids my age could. I wanted to give up very badly, but my father would not let me.
Looking back, I am so thankful that he made me stick to the sport that has brought me so much joy over my years growing up. From junior high until my freshman year of high school, I continued to swim on my neighborhood team in the summers, but also started to swim for the local club team. Swimming with Katy Aquatics made me the best swimmer I could be. I had practice six times a week for three hours at a time. We spent two hours in the pool and then one hour outside of the pool doing various types of conditioning. The three years I was on that team were by far my hardest years of training. When I began high school, I tried out for the team and made the varsity team my freshman year. This is my fondest memory of all of my high school years because of the incredible amount of bonding that came from the teammates I had.
The main way I learned how to swim well was practicing often. In high school, my coach was especially hard. Because we were older and most of us had plenty of experience under our belts, Coach Beck was relentless. A normal practice started at 6:00 a.m. and lasted until 8:15 a.m. During this time we would swim around 8,000 yards, which equates to about five miles. Coach would have our workout planned ahead of time for each day of the week. These workouts consisted of different drills and sets on timed intervals. I remember vividly some days were so hard that some people, myself included, would have to get out of the pool and run to the bathroom to throw up and get back in to finish the set on time. I think that many people underestimate the work that swimmers put in because the sport is not very common. During practice, we would do many different drills to help improve our technique for the different strokes. Freestyle is the most common stroke and is often thought of as the “default”.
The most popular drill we did to help with this stroke is called the fingertip drag. This drill helped extenuate the effectiveness and the amount of time each pull took. The 3/3/3 drill is very important in backstroke. In order to correctly do this drill, you would take three strokes with your left arm, three strokes with your right arm, and then three strokes with both arms together. This drill also helps with effective pulling. The breaststroke drill, three strokes and one pull, helps with a more powerful kick. The 4-1 drill for butterfly works to improve a swimmer’s streamline which is the straight line position that swimmers have under the water after diving in. All of these drills plus many more help remind swimmers of the techniques that must be constantly worked on. In addition to drills, race mentality is a huge aspect of competitive swimming. I had to learn what to do differently at swim meets than I did at practice in order to be successful. At meets, depending on how many events you were swimming in, you could be sitting and waiting for hours. In order to keep our muscles warm, we would swim a few laps about thirty minutes before we raced.
The race would be followed by a cool down, which also consisted of a few laps at a slow pace to bring you down from the exhilaration of a high paced race. Eating is a big part of race day as well. Our coaches encouraged us to eat fruits and vegetables as well as carbohydrates so that we had plenty of fuel for the races. Depending on what race you swim in, there are different paces to stick with while swimming. Another important aspect to competitive swimming is learning to pace yourself. While swimming in longer races, you typically would swim with a slower pace than you would if you were swimming a sprint race. While there are many aspects of race day that need to be accounted for while preparing, the only way to get familiar with meets is plenty of experience.
While I didn’t like competitive swimming when I first started, I’m so happy I stuck with it. I had a really hard time getting into it because I wasn’t really any good at swimming other than for leisure purposes. I worked really hard for many years to get where I am now. After I got over the initial hardships, it was a little easier to dedicate myself and not be frustrated all the time. One reason I love the sport of swimming is that you are essentially competing against yourself and not as much against the people you are racing. This helps tremendously with personal improvement and is very exciting to see how you get better over time.
Swimming is a great way for me to wind down from my day and is a healthy way for me to relieve stress. When I swim, my mind goes practically blank and helps me not to overthink things going on in my life at the time. It comes so second nature to me that I don’t have to think about the way I swim or even anything else while I’m in the water. Another reason I love the sport of swimming is because with it, I had the opportunity to coach kids on my neighborhood team for 3 summers. It was the best feeling being able to give back to the sport and help other children that reminded me of myself when I first started out. I loved being able to see kids enjoy the sport that I fell in love with years ago. It made me take a step back and realize that I could use my experiences to help other people and share my love for the sport with others at the same time.
Over the years, swimming has meant a lot to me not only as a sport but also as a learning mechanism. It has been a great way to exercise and make friends but has required a lot of dedication as well. The sport of swimming has shown me what hard work looks like and that is part of the reason why I love it.
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