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Outside the Lanes: Stensby Style
Courtesy: Richmond Athletics
Release: 02/14/2012
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Feb. 14, 2012 - Swimming Like a Champion

In a recent lunch conversation with my cousin, who is very new to the swimming world, I was reminded of what it takes to actually win. She has an 8-year-old daughter who just started swimming and attends practice three days a week. Like any new swimmer that age, she is still trying to learn the ins and outs of flip-turns, starts and that dang breaststroke kick.

Over a slice of pie, my cousin asked the typical question, "When do your girls practice?" She was shocked when I replied four hours a day, four days a week and two hours on the days in between for a total of 20 hours a week per NCAA regulations.

As someone who wasn't a college athlete, she was blown away. To those of us in the swimming world, we simply understand that this is the type of commitment that it takes to be a collegiate swimmer. This then leads to the simple question, What does it takes to actually win?

At the Division I level of swimming, attending practice for 20 hours a week isn't something that will guarantee you a championship. If you look around the country, almost every swim team will come close to working out 20 hours a week. In swimming, becoming a championship level athlete isn't about the quantity of hours practice; something special has to happen within those 20 hours.

Some argue that people join athletics for the social aspect. As someone who has made friends all over the country, I understand how compelling the sport of swimming's social nature can be. And I love this! But I truly believe that deep down everyone wants to win. There is only one difference between a champion and a regular individual - champions put that desire into action. 

Here are some champion swimmer traits:

Champion swimmers don't just hop in the pool every day to swim laps. They don't just do the workout that their coach gives and call it a day either. Champion swimmers get in and are consistently trying to improve the details that it takes to compete at a high level. Every time they push off the wall, they are trying to become a better swimmer. Every stroke they take, they are striving to become more efficient.

Champions do what it takes outside of the pool as well. I can remember watching a recent Saturday morning club practice involving some Olympic swimmers and college athletes. The best swimmer in the pool spent his Friday night watching a movie and going to bed in time to get at least eight hours of sleep. The rest of the swimmers in the group were probably lucky to get 6 hours of sleep. I'll let you guess who had the best practice that morning.

This also involves nutrition. "You are what you eat." Champions order the salad instead of fries. They cook for themselves instead of eating out. They know that an important part of nutrition involves when to refuel their body so they don't skip meals. They plan ahead so they have healthy alternatives when they are going to be surrounded by junk food.

"Not to have control over the senses is like sailing in a rudderless ship, bound to break to pieces on coming in contact with the very first rock." - Mohandas Gandhi

Champion swimmers believe in the work they have done and in their "God-given" abilities. They get behind the blocks and know they did everything possible to be a champion. They believe in their training, their coaches and in themselves.

"Your chances of success in any undertaking can always be measured by your belief in yourself." - Robert Collier

Drive can be defined in many different ways when it comes to championship behavior. The following are a couple examples of this championship drive. Pushing yourself to something that is beyond what you thought was possible. This also includes performing a task that someone told you that you couldn't do. Other champions are motivated by their hatred to lose.

When you watch a championship level swim meet, often times you can see an athlete in the water that is determined to outrace their competitors.  These people throw pain and caution out the window in order to do whatever it takes to get their hand on the wall. They even embrace the amount of pain this involves in a race.

Distance runner Steve Prefontaine was known for his ability to be the toughest competitor on the track. He is quoted as saying:

"A lot of people run a race to see who is fastest. I run to see who has the most guts, who can punish himself into exhausting pace, and then at the end, punish himself even more."

At some point, a champion is forced to overcome challenging obstacles. Some of these obstacles are "uncontrollables", a term used to describe an unavoidable obstacle for the individual. Other obstacles might be so called "self-inflected wounds". Regardless, a champion responds with a positive attitude to overcome any hurdle that comes their way. In life, your attitude is the only thing that is ever fully in your control.

"You cannot control what happens to you, but you can control your attitude toward what happens to you, and in that, you will be mastering change rather than allowing it to master you." - Brian Tracy

The current group of Spider swimmers has displayed these traits throughout the 2011-2012 season, but only time will tell of their dedication to become champions. We leave next week for the A-10 Championships scheduled for February 22-25 2012 in Buffalo, N.Y. You can start to feel the excitement in the air on the pool deck! 

Stay updated on all the action at next week's A-10s right here on Be sure to follow head coach Matt Barany's blog over the course of the week. For more information on the Spiders, please visit the program's Facebook and Twitter pages.

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