There is no way to train a swimmer to be fast over distance without making them uncomfortable. The hardest part of coaching in my opinion is getting kids to accept, and even embrace, being tired and uncomfortable.Please note that I am NOT talking about ignoring injury pain, which is sharp and breath-taking and a show-stopper. I am referring to the dull achiness of fatigued muscles, muscles which have been doing their jobs as nature intended and are just tired.
It is a very natural, human, self-protective response to back away from physical discomfort and fatigue. It takes a huge amount of mental control and fortitude to continue to push and move and exert, when everything in your body is screaming at you to stop. It also takes understanding that there are rewards on the other side of that discomfort in order to find the motivation to push.
One of my coaching mantras was “Yaaayyyy Tired!!” I used this to help the swimmers understand that their fatigue and discomfort was not a bad thing, that it was not a barrier unless they made it one, and that they had control of it. They could choose to have a different attitude about it. Instead of thinking negatively, “I feel bad, I hurt, I’m tired, I want to quit”, they could choose to put a positive spin on it, as in “I’m getting stronger, I’m overcoming this, YAY I’m tired!!” Being Yay Tired was a badge of honor in my groups, and it was a way of signaling to me that they had pushed past wanting to stop.
Embracing Yay Tired is a crucial mental victory. It is an acknowledgment that things in life aren’t easy, that we need to work and sweat and earn what we want, but that when we accept that and even seek it out, our achievements are far sweeter. This is where true self-esteem is born: in the sweating and discomfort, in the pushing to continue on, in not letting your own fears get in your way. It is in overcoming a challenge and conquering that voice that urges us to quit that we find our greatest strength.