Have you ever seen your coach write the main set on the board and had an overwhelming feeling that you don’t know if you can survive? You see line after line, one fast effort after another, and all you can do is take a deep breath. Your coach describes the set, but you zone out, wondering how you will make it through. The next thing you know, your coach tells you to leave on the top. You place your foggy goggles over your eyes and get ready to push off the wall.

As the set continues, your team is surrounded by silence. All you can hear is your coach, the water, and your teammates gasping for air. As the pain begins to set in, you wonder how long the set will take. You grind through lap after lap, without the support of your teammates.

Eventually, your hand hits the wall after the last 25 and you are exhausted. Your coach tells the team “nice job” but you join your teammates in complaining how hard the set was. No one congratulates each other for their efforts before pushing off for warm down.  

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Now, envision the same set like this: This time, your teammates are the ones that are encouraging you. Before you even start the set, your teammate next to you looks you in the eye and says, “You’ve got this!” You respond with “Let’s go!” Your coach reminds you to take each effort as it comes and to not get overwhelmed by what’s written on the board. Take it piece by piece, one effort at a time. Always give 100% of what you have right now.

As you make your way through the set this go around, each time your hand hits the wall you hear your teammates yelling your name. While your coach yells splits and keeps the enthusiasm alive. The set is challenging, but you feel empowered by your teammates’ energy, and you feel like you are a part of everyone’s success, not just your own. By focusing on your teammates’ success in the set and pushing yourself harder at the same time, you are not only swimming for yourself, but for your team.

After the last 25, everyone high fives each other and says what a great set that was. As you warm down, you feel yourself smile even though you can barely feel your legs. You made it! Your teammates made it! You conquered the set.

Some people don’t consider swimming as a team sport. Especially at the club level, it can seem like you are swimming just to get best times. You might even see your teammates as your competitors. For some swimmers, the first time they feel the team comradery of swimming is in high school. For other swimmers, they won’t truly feel like they are swimming for others until they hit college swimming. In a positive team environment, you feel like you are swimming for something bigger than your personal best times. Your personal goals still matter, of course, but when you step up to the blocks, you feel a connection to all your teammates that wear the same cap, all the students that attend your school, and all the alumni that came before you.

There is nothing more powerful than having your teammates encouraging you from the water in the middle of a tough set. They share the pain you are going through, but knowing there is a group of people right there who want you to succeed is a motivating and magical feeling unlike any other.

If you come from a team that is usually on the quiet side, speak up during practice and challenge your teammates to encourage each other. If you feel like you don’t know how or are nervous to take that step, ask your coach about how you can create more positive energy during the main set. No matter how old you are, any coach will be more than willing to have a conversation with your group to create a dynamic team environment. Happy swimmers are fast swimmers, and a group of teammates that supports each other through practice is a force to be reckoned with.

Next time you see a challenging set written on the board, we challenge you to:

·      Replace any negative thoughts with positive ones.

·      Give the teammates in your lane encouragement before the set begins.

·      Throughout the set, check in with your teammates and cheer on their efforts.

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This post was written by contributing writer Mary Motch. Mary is a sophomore at the College of William & Mary and specializes in sprint freestyle, butterfly, and backstroke.