The inherent variables in open water swimming present several opportunities for coaches to prepare their athletes to perform at high levels. Preparation, when done properly, will allow swimmers to be comfortable in any situation. When comfortable, energies can be spent on swimming fast and not expended on nonrace-related issues. Preparation and training should incorporate race-like conditions so that your swimmers are used to being in the anticipated situation and can respond with confidence.
Ideally, athletes should gain a lot of their open water experience in open water; however, given that most swimmers do the majority or all of their training in the pool, there are several things you can do to enhance race-like conditions in the pool.
Pack the Lanes
Have the swimmers train with multiple swimmers in each lane. This allows the swimmers to practice swimming in close proximity to others. An added benefit is learning proper drafting techniques. Training with elbows flying, additional turbulence in the lanes and small areas in which to navigate can teach swimmers to be at ease with these conditions.
Visit the Race Course
If possible, accompany your swimmers while visiting the race course in advance of the event to become familiar with the layout, landmarks and landscape. It is critical that the view the swimmers are becoming familiar with is the view from the course, not the view most swimmers get standing on the beach and looking out onto the course. In many cases, this requires the swimmers to enter the course for a practice swim. Once out on the course, the swimmers should be instructed to pay attention to the structures, including buildings, trees or other landmarks, along the course. Help the swimmers make some mental notes, including where the sun will be during the event since that may cause change in sightings.
Know the Signals
If you will be supporting from a boat or kayak, work on a couple of simple arm or hand signals that will act as motivation during the race. Depending on the length of the race, you may also want to develop signals for "snack," "water break," or other sorts of similar elements during the event.
Pump ‘Em Up
The pep talk from coach to swimmers should be to remind the athletes that the training has been done and is in the bank. Having confidence in the training that has been done will make the race less scary. Remind swimmers that they are prepared and now is the time to enjoy all of the hard word that has already been done.