Every swimmer experiences the ever-so emotional seasonal highs and lows. One week, you’re on cloud nine, destroying practice and going times that you have never gone before during test sets. You’re feeling great in the water. The swim meet that you were so excited and confident for comes along… and you cannot seem to perform. Your confidence is low, and you struggle to understand what went wrong. You ask yourself how you can excel in practice but not in a meet. You’re defeated and may even think that you will not be able to get over your plateau. Luckily, you’re not alone! Many swimmers have experienced this, including National and World Team member, Tim Phillips. Tim has had his fair share of seasonal highs and lows and offers advice to motivate swimmers after a rough practice or a rough in-season performance.
Q: Have you experienced seasonal highs and lows? If so, can you give an example?
A: For sure. To tell you the truth, I’m not a very good in-season swimmer – I’m sure that many can relate. I’m pretty well known for being one to show up at the end of the season but not mid-season. One of the lows I have experienced in the past was during the Grand Prix when I did not make the A final in my best event, the 100 fly. At this point, I had to take a step back and ask myself, “Okay, if I can’t even make the A final at a Grand Prix in my best event, how am I supposed to put myself in a position to make the Olympic team?”
Q: How do you cope with the seasonal highs and lows?
A: What I’ve learned over the years is to trust the process and to believe that at the end of the year, I put everything I had into it. Starting to think confidently like that helped me train better. Even though it wouldn’t always reflect at my mid-season meets, I knew that when the time came at the end of the year, I would be okay. I also started taking advantage of a sports psychologist. My girlfriend, who is a great in-season swimmer, always lends an ear to my venting. She (Katie Meili) has been a huge part of my success! Also, having great friends in and outside of the swimming world helps me take my mind off of the pool. I’ve found that constantly dwelling on my performance mid-season is detrimental to the end of my season.
Q: What helps you stay motivated after a bad meet?
A: As far as motivation goes, my commitment to the sport and focusing more “in the moment” have helped me get to where I am today. Letting go of a bad swim and refocusing on your next event, practice, or meet is a positive way to move forward. To be successful at the end of the year, you cannot let a step backwards keep you from moving three steps forward.
Q: You are an amazing butterfly swimmer. Competing in arguably the most exciting and closest races at the 2016 Olympic Trials, how do you plan on using that experience to your advantage?
A: Well, going in I felt really good and confident. I know I taper well, and I had the 100 free before the 100 fly, so I used it as kind of a warm-up. I mean, the trials are such a unique experience being set-up as a prelim, semi-final, and final meet. The key is to manage your emotions during that time, because as swimmers we don’t usually experience this strenuous setup. It felt great having fast prelim and semi-final swims. I knew what I needed to do in finals to achieve my goals. During finals I had a great swim that was a little faster than semi-finals. Even though I didn’t accomplish my goal, I knew I did my best… but I still felt like a failure. Having Katie make the team restored my confidence because of how close we are. Her success motivated me. I always knew that I could compete at the highest level, and trials allowed me to prove to myself that I belong there. When I watched the Olympics, people who made the podium in the 100 fly were only a bit faster than me at trials. After watching that race, I knew I could make it. To me, the physical act of swimming isn’t the hard part, it’s the mental aspect, and this meet taught me that.
Q: What kind of advice would you give to a swimmer going through a swimming plateau?
A: When I was 15-17, I hit a plateau and was kind of “over” swimming. My parents were supportive in my decision to take a break from the sport. After five days of not practicing… I missed it. I came back more committed, and I haven’t stopped since. My best advice is to believe in yourself. Everyone experiences a plateau. If it makes you tired of the sport or you get burnt out, take some time off, it’s okay. When I took time to think on it, it made me realize how much I love the sport and how I didn’t want to give up. And, it has 100% helped me in the long run.
Q: Everyone is eager to get better and learn from the best swimmers out there. What is the best advice you have received as a swimmer?
A: The best advice that I have received was probably being told to trust myself and my abilities and to not worry about what other people are doing. That’s the best advice I’ve been given as a swimmer: Ignore the noise and trust yourself. Forget about the things you can’t control!