What causes the dreaded swimming plateau and how to deal with it.
The plateau, it can strike at any age or ability level. We’ve all been there. What causes these stagnant swims that last weeks, months, or even years? The moment when you hit rock bottom and stop making progress. I trust that this article will help you in how to get over a plateau in swimming.
Wait, before we continue, let me first ask our swimmers the question. Why do you swim?
I swim because swimming is a very effective builder of character and teacher of life lessons. I swim because it takes me outside my comfort zone and helps me to become extraordinary.
I swim because it’s an opportunity to challenge myself, not to have negative limitations but to find my optimal state of mind to fight through pain and discomfort and emerge on the other side stronger and tougher, the building of camaraderie from doing ridiculous hard sets with teammates I am close to and realizing few people can do what we do every single day.
Swimming has pushed both my body and mind beyond their limits doing positive things consistently. It has made me stronger and more resilient to trust myself and tackle any obstacle life has in store for me.
I swim because competitive swimmers have distinctive physiques that many people may consider an ideal body shape. Competitive swimmers have toned arms, large shoulders and distinct back muscles from doing different swimming strokes. Our bodies rank among the best of the athletic body types and that builds my self-esteem.
I swim because it’s the greatest sport in the world.
And then comes the swimming plateau
Swimmers aged 12 and under rarely hit a plateau due to their rapid development and increased strength, which results in faster times.
When a boy reaches a plateau, it is usually in his late teens, when he has made the majority of his strength and development gains.
Unfortunately, this dreaded swimming plateau affects girls more than boys. Especially girls between the ages of 13 and 15.
Often girls are faster than boys in the same age group in swimming events for 12 and younger. But as our daughters mature physically, their improvement slows.
We are losing female swimmers during their difficult puberty years, which is why we do not have female swimmers in high numbers at the top level. When girls physically mature, they gain weight, but unfortunately, they gain more fat mass (weight gain but no strength gain) than boys who gains weight as fat-free mass, such as skeletal mass.
Unfortunately, there is a lack of understanding from some coaches and I’ve heard coaches (and some parents) referring to girls going through this difficult period as being lazy, not committed enough and not willing to sacrifice enough to reach the top of their game. What a load of bull!
Dear parent, your athlete needs you now more than ever before
This is a crucial mental period for all swimmers to face. Although there is no easy, “one-size-fits-all” cure for plateauing, there are some things that can help swimmers break through the worst of plateaus.
Puberty is a time of tremendous change for swimmers. Besides bone mass development, which is crucial, other physical changes can make puberty an awkward, confusing time for a swimmer. Because of this, there’s a stage when adolescents lose strength, flexibility, and neuromuscular control.
How you as the parent respond to your child’s performance problems can have a significant impact on how quickly they will move through them.
Help your child keep a long term perspective about their growth and development within the sport. Be sure that you stay positive with your child being supportive and empathic.
Parents and coaches can help swimmers understand that a temporary dip in strength and coordination is a normal part of adolescent development.
One of the most important things parents can do is focus on their child’s strengths, not their weight or physical appearance.
The way parents approach nutrition in the household is also key.
A swim parent is something special. For years you have taught your child how to embrace the sport, fuel their passion, grow in character and enjoy the experience. Your selfless sacrificial contributions are sometimes exhausting, but the reward will be priceless.
With your child, you have experienced an extraordinary journey with a deep sense of pride down an extremely demanding but rewarding road. Please don’t stop now!
It's time to reset and learn how to get over a plateau in swimming.
IT’S DECISION TIME. When you reach the plateau stage in swimming, you have 1 of 3 options;
B. Settle to stay where you are and be average.
C. Choose mental and physical development and become better.
This is the time when swimmers find out for themselves if they want to be just average or good or do they want to be at their best? Unfortunately, the majority will either quit or remain average.
I sincerely trust that you will be part of the small % that will continue to pursue your goals and take on the mental and physical challenge to become the best you can.
1. Being accountable..and you are!
It’s not easy, but it’s not meant to be easy, but now is the time to dig deeper and stay disciplined. Put into practice the resilience and grit you have attained in the years leading up to this point and remain mentally tough. Fight through the process, the up’s and downs, wins and losses and become a winner.
In one of my previous articles, I wrote about accountability. “Long-term success in whatever one wants comes from people who have learned accountability for their actions and do not seek to blame others for their shortcomings and failings”
Your actions must reflect that you want to be a great swimmer. If you do this you will attract people who share the same goal and want what is best for you helping you to reach your goal.
2. Sometimes less is more…Training smart can make all the difference…Approach your coach
How many times have we heard a swimmer say the following, “I can’t believe it. I worked so hard”, but I’m just not getting better? Working hard and giving your best in training is a brilliant character trait, but doing it smart puts you on a different level. When you are training smart, you are working on specific skills to get results.
I’m a great believer in variety. Children must be allowed to participate in various sports. By bombarding a swimmer, with constant training, practices, and competitions with the same sport, it’s very likely the swimmer will grow tired of the sport when they get older. They won’t have the same drive they once had and will want to walk away from it.
By mixing in variety to a swimmers routine, it gives them a chance to miss their main sport, so the excitement is back when the season rolls back around. Go play hockey, rugby, netball during your off-season. An excited and enthusiastic swimmer will always perform better than an unmotivated swimmer who is mentally tired and going through the motions.
Most coaches would love to create challenging and competitive environments for their swimmers getting them to enjoy every moment wanting to come back and experience it again.
Approach your coach swimmers and ask for help. It’s their objective for every young swimmer to learn and develop a growth mindset to prepare you to win later on in life when it matters much more. Most swim clubs will assist the swimmer to become the best citizen in any way possible. Just feel free to ask for help! Coaching young people should be by creating a positive, supportive, and enjoyable environment.
The needs, values, and priorities of the swimmers must be first and foremost. Coaches will try their best to create an environment of respect and trust, not fear and intimidation and most of them will focus on the development of the swimmer, and not just the outcome of the result.
You the swimmer can assist your coach to accomplish these goals together and become a winning team.
Set goals you want to achieve during your 'off-season'
For most age group swimmers, the season (in South Africa) has come to an end by March. The so-called off-season starts soon and runs from April to October. This is the time a swimmer must use to fix issues and put in their best work to improve and become mentally strong.
The actual season, November to March is the time to showcase your improvements. Recognize what needs to be fixed. There are so many basic things that can go wrong. Have a good look and identify your mistakes. Then set goals to rectify. This is an ongoing process, chipping away day by day bit by bit until corrected.
Understand and realize what should be happening. Once you understand swimming techniques correctly but you’re not 100% confident in the execution, then sometimes it’s just not good enough to be told what should be happening. Take a look at some of the top swimmers in your club or district or videos on youtube. Working towards your goal and perfecting your strokes and techniques to the best of your ability will be tremendously rewarding.
It is never too late. Set daily goals. By setting a goal to work on something each practice, a swimmer is no longer mindlessly swimming meters but rather working on a specific thing to perfect their performance. 1% improvement per day is more than 50% improvement over 6 months. Imagine that feeling of achievement!!
Live in the moment
‘Wherever you are, be there totally. If you find your here and now intolerable and it makes you unhappy, you have three options: remove yourself from the situation, change it, or accept it totally.
If you want to take responsibility for your life, you must choose one of those three options, and you must choose now. Then accept the consequences.
Realize deeply that the present moment is all you ever have. Make the Now the primary focus of your life’ – Eckhart Tolle