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Sophie's Swimming Journey

6 April 2023

Most swimmers begin their competitive phase of swimming, through joining a club program between the ages of eight and twelve years of age. Competitive swimming is swimming at the highest level of stroke ability and speed while racing against other competitors. I began my swimming journey at the age of six. Between the ages of six and sixteen I accumulated ten years of competing before being pulled away from competitive swimming due to a shoulder reconstruction.

All swimmers have their own reasons for putting on their bathers and diving into the water. For me, I had the aspiration of representing Tasmania which I was privileged to be able to achieve. To achieve my goals, there were many steppingstones to accommodate for along the way. Regardless of what my goals were, my training load required consistency, focus and motivation to continue to perform. As a swimmer I was driven to perform well however, my training load wasn’t just swimming based. Whilst at my peak performance in swimming I was also competing at a high level in gymnastics as well as representing Tasmania in athletics and cross country. Staying engaged in multiple sporting criteria was my key to success. Gymnastics gave me strength and flexibility whilst running aided my endurance, these qualities combined allowed me to develop my technique and continue to develop my strength and endurance in the water. This method of training can be identified as cross training which includes training in sports other than the athletes chosen sport. Cross training uses the benefits of one training method's effectiveness to offset the drawbacks of another to enhance performance overall. Combining the workload of multiple sports together at a high level made me unique, it allowed me to gain a strong competitive edge against my swimming opponents.

Performing at an elite level in three sports was demanding. While each sport had a distinct advantage for me, they all went through different phases of growth and training demands. Managing training loads can be confronting and often leads to fatigue or burn out. Burn out and fatigue for swimmers involves emotional and physical exhaustion and can reduce a swimmer’s sense of accomplishment. It is estimated that eleven percent of athletes end their career due to burning out from being overtrained. Similarly, to me swimmers are often engaged in multiple different sports at a range of levels. To alleviate the sense of burnout working closely with your coach and maintaining open communication allows coaches to understand when swimmers are in their peak training phases within alternate sports. Coaches can then work with swimmers to foster intrinsic motivation therefore continuing improvement in the water. It is important to maintain a healthy balance between different sporting commitments whilst also analysing each programs effectiveness in correlation with one another.

Whilst at my peak performance for swimming I trained between five to six sessions a week. Reflecting now my training consisted of alternate phases including technique, endurance, speed, taper, and recovery. Whilst training however, I paid little to no interest in what the training sessions involved. Moving into a more active role now as a swimming coach it is influential to see how important training phases are and to appreciate their importance as a swimmer. Planning the perfect peak, to coincide with the swimmers established main competition within the season is the purpose of training at an elite level hence, the importance for training phases.

As a coach now it is fascinating to reflect on how I trained as a swimmer compared to how I believed I was at the time. Coaching is far more advanced than who a swimmer interacts with on the pool deck. Coaching involves periodisation, seasonal planning, structuring monthly, weekly, and daily programs as well as identifying scheduled volume and intensity loads for structured periods of time throughout each season. For me there was minimal thought into the efforts my coaches were going through to help me achieve my goals. A highlight that I always reflect on is my swimming performance at the Australian age championships in 2017. This was the year of my best performances in swimming, this is also the year where I began to value the importance of effective coaching. Without the encouragement and consistency from

my coaching team I would never have been able to explore the depths of my potential in the water.

At the age of sixteen I gave up my swimming career. After undergoing my shoulder reconstruction, I found it very difficult to regain my confidence again in the water. I parted way with swimming after feeling unsupported by my coaching team and ultimately burnt out. At the time I was unsure where this would leave me and what I would do next. Swimming had been such a large inclusion throughout my childhood that I didn’t know what to expect whilst not swimming. After stopping swimming, I found enjoyment playing AFL and rowing. I always knew that I wanted my future to be revolved around the fitness industry, therefore after graduating school in 2020 I completed my studies to become a personal trainer. From here in 2021 my younger brother William started to show large improvements in his swimming and began travelling interstate to compete. Of course, I wanted to tag along with my family so interstate I went to watch my brother race. Through watching him race I found my passion again for swimming.

After this newfound passion I began studying to become a swimming coach. After no association with swimming for over three years today I work at HC as a qualified development coach. My main focus at HC is the H20 program which is designed to support swimmers who may wish to focus on different goals. The program is focused on fitness, skill development and enjoyment of swimming. The squad also promotes physical and emotional wellbeing. Because of my past swimming experiences, I can relate to my swimmers and gain a deeper knowledge of their needs and limitations with regard to the development of their swimming. I am thoroughly enjoying coaching apart of the HC program. All the coaching staff have a world of knowledge and extensive experience which has taught me so much throughout my coaching journey. As HC continues to grow in members, I am excited for what the future holds and to be including in a new swimming journey.

From Sophie Botterill-James - HC Coaching Team

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