Being at home in the water is a significant barrier to experienced endurance athletes moving over into the world of the triathlon beginner.  Lets face it, a lot of runners and bikers didn’t grow up in competitive swimming and because of that, they float like petrified cork.  

It should be said that comfort with the water is equal parts technique, physique, and psychology.  

Why don’t we look these factors in reverse, starting with psyche.  When you are afraid, or even just nervous, it affects the natural flow and rhythm of how you push water.  It makes you breath more shallow which then affects your bouyancy.  Also, it destroys your endurance by frightening you into working the water too hard.  

Even a good swimmer can drown when terrified, such as in a real life survival situation.  We all know that the first thing you should do in an emergency is to stay Calm.  

So how do we prepare our mind?  A few ways really.  With any new skill aquisition, swimming included, it is important to remember that the pacing and the progressions of the tasks you do to learn are vital.  If progressions are dosed wrong, and the learning doesn’t occur quick enough, the athlete becomes stressed and they are on their way to developing a “mental block.”

Consider a gymnast learning dangerous skills on high flying apparatus, if their coach were to advance them too quickly and let them fall too hard or too often, what would happen to the athletes level of trust and security?  The same could be said for golf or any other sport.  

With swimming, I would also suggest gradual progression.  Plan it, take your time to be at home in the water.  Have fun with the process.  If you don’t like your cold pool, find a warmer one.  If chlorine makes you wanna barf, find an outdoor or a saltwater pool.  If water in your eyes makes you lose your sense of calm, get better goggles.  If open water swimming makes you imagine how a lurking fish might view your wiggly (tasty) toes, swim in a pool until you can get over your phobia.  

Tell yourself that you are at home in the water, be positive.  Say it so you can play it, or in this case race it.  Visualize yourself swimming free and safe, like that mutant freak of a character Kevin Costner played in  the movie Waterworld, which by the way was a better movie than people gave it credit for.  Mental rehearsal can be incredibly helpful in familiarizing you with a foriegn task.  Use it to excel.

The final secret is fun.  Have fun with water.  Log some hours of goofball games and luxuriant bliss in water up to your knees, waist or your neck.  It doesn’t matter as long as it’s wet.  If you get bored of water, try whip cream (not really).  Have fun and learn about water the way a swim kid would, through play.

That should give you some ideas for dealing with the psychology of being comfortable in the water.  Consider this part one of three of being at home in the water for the triathlon beginner.  I will deal with Parts 2 and 3 in future posts.  Leave a comment and share your insight with the world.