About two weeks ago, our daughter attended a swim camp at Stanford run by Lea Maurer, the coach of the Stanford women's swim team. Maurer swam for Stanford in the 90's and won the 100 m backstroke in the 1998 World Championships.
On the penultimate day of the camp, Maurer invited parents to join the kids for a wide-ranging question and answer session with her. She started with a brief overview of her own career, following which the kids (and some parents) asked all sorts of questions about how she dealt with her training, her failures and successes, and so forth. It was great to have the kids exposed to this discussion. Here are some of the most important points that came up.
Setting goals: Maurer emphasized the importance of setting big goals. Only if you set big, audacious goals can you reach your full potential. In her case, her coach had set them the goal of having her win nationals. This was a daunting goal, even for someone with with Maurer's talent.
Focus on today: When Maurer first started competing in the nationals, she would come in 65th or 69th out of a hundred participants. When this happened, she got quite down about it and went back to her coach not knowing what to do next. But her coach simply said that the next day they would go back to doing what they did every day: continue working on the goal of winning the nationals! This was a crucial lesson for Maurer: however poorly (or well) she swam on the previous day, today was a new day. Focus on doing your best today; don't dwell on the past.
Don't give up mentally: Your body can be pushed well beyond the point that your mind believes it's time to give up. To illustrate this, Maurer described an event in the weight room. Her swimmers were doing bench presses. Maurer had instructed the spotters not to jump in to help with the weights until the swimmer physically faltered. One of her swimmers did a set of bench presses and felt she couldn't do any more. So she asked for her spotter to help. As the spotter started to help, Maurer jumped in with a warning: no help until the swimmer physically falters. This caused both the swimmer and spotter to burst into tears----they clearly thought she really couldn't do any more. But she forced herself to try, and went on to do 6 more repetitions before faltering!
Importance of preparation: Maurer emphasized the importance of training and preparation. One cannot win in competition unless one is thoroughly prepared for every eventuality. You have to approach each training swim with a specific goal: whether it is speed, or endurance, or technique. And you have to practice your response to all kinds of situations. When you get to your race, you are never surprised by whatever situation you encounter---you've seen it all in practice.
While the above points were made in the context of competitive swimming, they apply equally well in any walk of life. The kids in the camp are fortunate indeed to have heard these from a role model like Lea Maurer.