Swimming can be a hobby or it can be a profession. How often do Americans tune in to swimming as their favorite event at the Summer Olympics? In fact, some of the most famous American athletes have been swimmers, most notably in recent history Michael Phelps. But there is a big difference between swimming for fun and swimming competitively. Swimming is not a sport in the same sense that basketball and baseball are sports. Even when you’re competing within a relay that relies on you to team up with your fellow swimmers, you’re not passing the ball to someone else, or scoring points against a competitor. Your performance is entirely based on your own abilities and preparation. It takes quite a bit of effort to become an elite swimmer and it isn’t easy for anyone. Before making a career as a competitive swimmer, most need to enter into a professional athlete training program, and finding the right one is often easier said than done.
Young, aspiring swimmers have to commit much to fulfilling their ambitions. It’s not enough to choose one of the estimated 10.6 million swimming pools in the United States and begin practicing. You also need to dedicate a good deal of time, energy, and even money to becoming the best swimmer that you can be. That’s why we’re looking into some of the most important steps that you can take to becoming a professional swimmer, from steps as intense as entering a professional athlete training program, to changing your diet to accommodate a swimmer’s needs. Keep in mind that swimming isn’t just a sport if you want to take it seriously. It’s a lifestyle. Let’s find out what that lifestyle entails.
1. Starting Young
If you want to become a professional swimmer, you can’t exactly start late in life. This isn’t because adults and even the elderly aren’t capable of improving their swimming skills and becoming great swimmers. It’s simply a matter of what the body can take and what it can’t. Swimming may look easy to some, but it’s not. Just like any sport, professional swimming can put a lot of stress on the body over time. When you’re young, you can take that stress, learn how to deal with it at a professional athlete training program, swim for your peak performance years, and retire at an early age to continue your life as you would like, with a little bit of wear and tear.
Those that are older aren’t able to adapt as easily to the sometimes-strict regimens required within a professional athlete training program. They may be more likely to suffer from slip & fall injuries and will find it more difficult to recover from the intense workouts required of professional swimmers. Ideally, competitive swimmers will start training in childhood, and at the latest within their teenage years. It’s not that older adults can’t train and compete; they just won’t be able to do so within high level competitions. And that’s okay! You can still love swimming and be a great swimmer without competing at a high level.
2. Find A Great Coach
Within many different athletic fields, an athlete is only as good as their coach. You could have all of the necessary raw talent as a swimmer, but be unable to make it if you don’t have a coach who understands your needs, your goals, and your quirks. No athlete is flawless. Everyone has specific quirks that they need to overcome or work around. Perhaps you’re more prone to certain injuries or struggle with a particular swimming technique. The right coach will understand this, and be able to coach you to the best of their ability despite these issues. Furthermore, the right coach will be motivated to push you as far as you can possibly go as a swimmer, and won’t let you quit without a fight. After all, swimming isn’t just about the endurance of the body, but the endurance of the mind as well.
The issue that coaches sometimes struggle with is the fact that they need to balance the need to push with the need to understand. Swimmers, especially young swimmers, must dedicate a lot of time to swimming; but that doesn’t mean it should take up their entire lives. They need to relax when need be, even if that doesn’t mean that they take more than a day or two off of practices at a time. If swimmers don’t rest their bodies as needed, they may end up needing physical rehabilitation services in the future. Their coaches need to know when to tell them to train, and when to take a step back. This is why it’s a good idea to find a qualified professional athlete training program within which a coach may work. This will guide not only you, but your coach. Yes, there needs to be some flexibility within the program you choose to accommodate recovering from an injury and the occasional illness. But in general, mixing the human qualities of a coach with the training regimen that comes with a program is a good idea.
3. Follow The Right Diet
Professional swimmers need a lot of energy. Therefore, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that the diets recommended to competitive swimmers as a part of a professional athlete training program is high in calories. This might seem counterintuitive at first, but the more you learn about diet and exercise, the more it will make sense. Calories are burned when you exercise, and the right types of calories will act as fuel for swimmers. It’s generally recommended that if you’re intensely training two or more hours a day, you should eat four to seven light meals a day, rather than three heavy meals a day. If you miss a meal, you could end up lacking the energy that you need to train. But too heavy a meal will leave you feeling lethargic and unable to work out as you should. These meals should be full of carbs and proteins with healthy fats in order to best energize a swimmer.
At the same time that they’re adding healthy things to their diet, swimmers should cut certain harmful things from their diets and plan on avoiding certain foods and substances in the future. A swimmer shouldn’t be eating a lot of saturated fats and should be avoiding empty calories like those found in white bread. Furthermore, they should stay away from sugars and pastries, opting for fruits as their sweet treats instead. As a swimmer grows older, they should stay away from harmful substances in general. There is no time for drugs or smoking, as they can damage a swimmer’s body regardless of their diets. These are banned from most professional athlete training programs and can result in a swimmer being banned from competition in some cases. But even on a less harmful level, alcoholic drinks like wine can result in a swimmer being dehydrated and sluggish and should only be consumed in extreme moderation when a swimmer is competing and getting fit. Swimming isn’t just about committing your training time to the pool, but your downtime to your diet as well.
4. Master Your Basic Skills
Now, you do need to master the basics of swimming before you can move on to more complex and taxing competitions. No good professional athletic training program will have you jumping into the literal deep end of the pool before you’re ready. By working with a team, you’ll be able to master the basics of competition, becoming more time efficient depending on the type of race in which you’re competing. A smooth start is key to a good race, and you need to maintain your steady pace and mechanics as you swim without any interruptions. Your stroke form needs to stay consistent, lest you be disqualified for performing the incorrect stroke. Flip turns and lane awareness must also be well-practiced. The last thing you want is to ruin your competition before you’ve crossed even slightly into another swimmer’s lane. Swimming competitively is about more than being fast and strong. It’s also about the technical aspects of swimming as well. This is done to ensure that there is less of a risk of injury. Generally, it’s a good practice. There aren’t a lot of swimmers in need of a personal injury lawyer after getting hurt during a competition.
You also need to build your endurance as you build up your skills as a swimmer. Competitive swimming is based in heavy part on endurance. A swimmer has to be able to keep up their strength and speed for what are sometimes long distances. While some swimmers prefer short distance races, even this requires more distance than is usually expected of the casual swimmer. When a part of a professional athlete training program, you will probably be expended to swim a lot of laps, day after day. You’ll build up your endurance while practicing the breaststroke, butterfly stroke, backstroke, and freestyle stroke. As you become more accomplished, however, your coach will identify where you perform best, and therefore where you will belong within your swim team.
5. Focus On Your Strengths
When we say focus on your strengths, remember that you will not identify your strengths alone. Your coach will be a large part of determining what you excel within as a swimmer, and what you will focus on within your professional athlete training program. This will often involve narrowing down the types of strokes that you work on most after accomplishing them all. You will inevitably be better at one or two strokes than the others, though you’ll need to be able to perform all of them well. If you’re especially versatile, you may be selected to compete in medley events. Less versatile swimmers will likely compete more within individual and relay races, where they’ll be able to hone in on their specific skills.
All of this is assuming that you make an elite swim team, which is the entire purpose of focusing on your skills and creating an identity for yourself as a competitive swimmer. The goal is for you to stand out, even on a team. This can be somewhat challenging at first when you’re one of many swimmers within the same program, competing in heavy competitions. Due to the fact that swimmers often compete on a team as they build up their careers, it can take longer for them to break out than those who play golf or other more individual sports. But at the same time, making yourself the best of the best at what you’re good at is difficult within any discipline, yet highly rewarding. This is why being a part of a well-respected professional athlete training program is so important. It can be difficult to even become recognized without not only the proper training but the proper backing and training facilities. When attempting to become a professional swimmer, you shouldn’t have to worry about your pool receiving the right amount of water treatments throughout the year. Nor should you need to be concerned about access to elite competitions and great coaches.
6. Streamline Your Schedule
You must dedicate a lot of time and effort to your swimming program. If that wasn’t clear before, let us make it clear now. If you do want to be a successful professional swimmer, you need to be passionate about swimming. Assuming that you’re not homeschooled, you will need to take your time after school and on the weekends to practice when you are school-aged. A full-time job is incredibly difficult for elite swimmers to maintain, and only possible if all time outside of work is dedicated to swimming.
Though this may sound a bit scary at first, if you do have that passion and drive for swimming, there is nothing that will be able to stop you from pursuing it to the best of your ability. That’s why you owe yourself the best possible training program and the best possible coaches.