Which Comes First, the Smile or the Fast Swim?

A fast swim by either male or female swimmers will nearly always result in a big smile. It should. A tremendous amount of work, thought, and time went into that swim. It is clearly a time to celebrate and enjoy the moment. But which came first, the good swim or the smile?
At The Race Club camps, we spend quite a bit of time on mental training. Arguably, mental training is the most under-utilized type of training in swimming. Yet it is so vitally important in determining outcomes. We outline five important processes that should occur during the course of the season in order for the swimmer to be in the mentally toughest state of mind at the championship meet. We call that climbing the killer instinct scale.
Perhaps the most important step in that process happens upon wakening for the first day of competition. Those first few moments of that first day will set the tone for the swimming performances on the first day. Those performances then often set the tone for the swimming performances throughout the remainder of the meet.
What we tell each Race Club swimmer to do on that first morning is to look into the mirror and smile. I am not talking about that fake or plasticky smile. I am talking about the real thing. Along with that genuine smile, we ask the swimmers to make a promise to themselves that they will have fun. That’s right. Make a pact with yourself that you will enjoy the competition. You will embrace it.
Of all the years that I watched my son, Gary Jr, perform in championship meets, I only offered him two words of advice, have fun. And he did. I could see the smile on his face as he would walk out to the starting block for the race; a look of supreme confidence. I could tell then that he was going to enjoy this moment, and swim fast.
Way too often, sadly, we see a look of terror on the athlete’s face. The Olympic Trials is known for making that look happen. Warming up in the lane next to Katie Ledecky or Caeleb Dressel in one of the biggest meets of your life can do that to you. Once you allow that fear to enter the mind, the meet goes from being fun to…..well, not so fun. The swim performances go from great…to not so great.
I believe that one of the biggest reasons that Team USA performed so well in the 2012 Olympic Games of London is because they created a fun, lip-synched version of the hit song, Call me Maybe. It seemed to lighten up the entire moment. It put the event back into the proper perspective…a swim meet, not life and death. Even the Olympic Games can be fun if you make it that way.
I say start with the smile. Embrace the competition with all of its challenges. Enjoy the moment. After all, you’ve worked really hard for it. You might as well swim fast, not slow. So just tell yourself to have fun and smile. If you do, chances are good that after your swim, you’ll be smiling again.
Yours in swimming,
Gary Sr.