The daily life of an NCAA student-athlete is one that is filled with strenuous responsibilities. The rigor of these long days and weeks may not change with the times but the methods to each athlete’s madness surely do when transitioning from the long regular season to the all-important postseason or playoffs.
The UCSB men’s and women’s swim teams are familiar with this shift in time, perhaps more than any other athletes, when they begin to prepare for their last meet of the year, the MPSF Championships.
This meet, unlike most sports’ playoff style, is one single competition featuring every team in the conference with the winner taking all.
With all the weight on this final meet, a unique style of preparation is necessary to ensure success for team. The veterans of these dominant teams have truly mapped out their own individual style as they prepare for what could be their last NCAA meet.
“Everyone prepares differently for big meets,” senior sprinter Wade Allen said. “I myself tend to enjoy the weeks leading up as workouts get lighter which allows for more rest and recovery.”
For athletes like Allen, who carries a heavy workload for his team and greatly contributes to their success, it takes a balanced mixture of mental and physical preparation to compete against the best swimmers in the conference for the title. He has surely faced them all individually, but to have them all in the pool at once knowing that they have all trained for that same moment of stepping on to the starting block is a notion that can distract the greatest of athletes.
“In-season dual meets are routine. With championship meets comes great unpredictability,” Allen says. “It is important to keep your composure. Getting mentally prepared is a completely different game than the physical portion.”
Their preparation varies from athlete to athlete. Redshirt senior breaststroker Katie Records takes a more traditional approach to get ready for the “Big One”.
Both athletes claim to enjoy visualizing their race in the training leading up to the meet and when race time comes, but both also make sure that they do not overthink their strategies to a fault.
Records finds a ritual in sporting her big swim jacket and hood, as she sits behind her future lane, to black out any possible distractions visually and focus on her lane. She always has her headphones in with pump-up music playing to disintegrate the audible distractions of every MPSF team cheering on their teammates.
For senior sprinter Chris Dotson, a different strategy keeps him going when it comes time for the actual meet.
“I swim my best when I’m extremely relaxed, smiling and high-fiving my buddies behind the blocks,” Dotson said. “Naturally you will go through waves of emotions and motivation throughout, and it is the ones who can handle the ups and downs that is ultimately determined the winner.”
Dotson finds that he gets his drive and energy by feeding off of his teammates, who Records claims are the loudest on the deck. He finds that the momentum a team can build by hyping each other up and running with the energy not only gives them a physical boost, but also a mental edge over their opponents. This kind of motivation pushes him when he is in the spotlight and prevents him from doing what some athletes tend to do: crack under the pressure.
All three athletes agree that the preparation leading up to the week of championships is as important as every aspect of the competition, but not maintaining this focus when race time comes nearly forfeits that preparation. Allen begins training and maintaining as early as five weeks before the meet, when the team is still in the regular season, but knows once he is on the deck it is purely about focus and energy. Records, winner of multiple Big West Athlete of the Week awards this season, knows the state she must be in to race.
“I definitely get into a zone before all of my races,” Records says. “Maintaining focus throughout the meet is crucial for us and then the support of our teammates get us in the mindset to just race fast.”
The physical preparation is all said and done now with the team currently residing in Los Angeles as the MPSF Championships have kicked off. The last five weeks of “tapering,” as they call it, has been completed and their bodies are in shape to go all out. All three Gauchos shared a common goal in mind before embarking on their trip south: bring home the gold.
A version of this article appeared on page 13 of February 19, 2015’s print edition of the Daily Nexus.
Daniel is a beat writer for the UCSB swim and men’s tennis teams. Follow him on Twitter @TheRealMoebus