You may think Olympic-caliber swimmers are a breed apart, blessed with physical and mental advantages that you can only dream about. They seem so much larger than life, that it's easy to get lost in their shadows.
Olympic-caliber swimmers are a lot more like you than you realize. Consider the case of Sheila Taormina. As an older swimmer, she didn't have what it took to make an Olympic team and was rejected by the U.S. Resident Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colorado.
Taormina ignored the naysayers, trained with her age-group coach, Greg Phil, and ended up winning a gold medal as part of the 800-meter freestyle relay at the 1996 Olympic Games.
Taormina is not the exception. Elite athletes confront many of the same problems you do. And their strategies for success are ones you can adopt, too.
Surround yourself with peoplepreferably family and coaches—who support what you're doing. Many elite swimmers say their parents support was a big reason for their success.
"[My parents] were supportive and involved," says Tripp Schwenk, a 1992 and '96 Olympian. "They never pushed me in swimming. They told me to do it as long as I enjoyed it. When I failed, they didn't love me any less"
A similar attitude prevails among the parents of swimmers at the training center in Colorado Springs. "The vast majority are supportive and non-intrusive," says Jonty Skinner, the resident team coach.
Get a Coach
Establish a relationship with a coach, even if you see him or her only once or twice a week. The ideal coach inspires, motivates, teaches, critiques, reassures and picks you up when you're down. The greatest swimmers all credit their coaches.
When Rowdy Gaines won his third gold medal in the 100-meter free, he gave it to his coach, Richard Quick. "I wouldn't have won it without Richard's help," Gaines says.
Get a Goal
Learn to set specific goals. Write down your goals for the season and post them where you can see them easily. Take your list to practice and ask yourself if you're doing what you need to do to reach your goals. Setting specific goals helps you stay focused and motivated and keeps you moving in the right direction.
Get the Picture
Practice visualization. See yourself swimming perfect races in exquisite detail — the roughness of the blocks, the sounds at the start, slashing through the water, hitting your turns, feeling and maintaining the perfect stroke, and celebrating afterward. A few months before a big race, practice this imagery five to six times a week.