Speed. Speed. Speed. And more speed.

stop signIt’s what swimming is all about.

There are no gold medals for the person who can swim the most number of 100s or the slowest 400 or even for the swimmer who has the highest heart rate.

Winning in swimming is about one thing and one thing alone….speed. You swim faster than your competitors…you win. Simple as that.

So if swimming is all about speed, what is speed all about?

Here are four really important things for every swimmer who wants to swim faster to think about:

  1. In sprint swimming, most of the time it is the person who gets to their top speed in the shortest time who wins the race;
  2. Getting to top speed in the shortest time means having a brilliant first 15 metres;
  3. Having a brilliant first 15 metres means having an outstanding dive and underwater kick;
  4. And having an outstanding dive and underwater kick means having a Super Start!!!!!

So….that means if you want to win more sprint races, you need to have a SUPER START and a brilliant first fifteen metres!

The First Fifteen is the critical Fifteen!

For a sprinter, where every fraction of a second can mean the difference between success and failure, what happens in the first fifteen metres often determines the outcome of the entire race.

Want to know how to develop a FFFFF Fantastically Fabulously Fast First Fifteen?

There are five starting “zones”: five places where you physically and mentally ensure that your first 15 metres are so fast it looks like you are the Space Shuttle wearing a swim-suit!

Let’s work through the Five Starting Zones – The S.T.A.R.T. Zones:

  • STARTING ZONE 1 “SELF”: In the stands;
  • STARTING ZONE 2 “TAKE CONTROL”: In the marshaling area;
  • STARTING ZONE 3 “ATTENTION”: Behind the blocks;
  • STARTING ZONE 4 “READY”: On the blocks;
  • STARTING ZONE 5 “TAKE-OFF”: The first 15!

STARTING ZONE 1: In the stands;

Your Super Start really starts in the stands…well before you ever think about getting wet.

This is the “Self” zone – the moment when you put yourself and your needs first.

The “self” zone begins and ends with one question, “What do I need to do right now to make sure I am ready to race?”

For some swimmers that means stretching. For others that means jumping up and down. For some swimmers this “self” zone means putting a towel over their heads and having some quiet time with their own thoughts and emotions.

Whatever “self” means to you,  Zone 1 is all about switching your brain on to the business of fast swimming.

Think about the Space Shuttle.

The computers are all on line and ready to go long before the engines begin to fire up to blast off into orbit.

Zone 1 is where you switch your “computer” on, get it on line and begin the countdown towards take off!

STARTING ZONE 2: In the marshaling area “TAKE CONTROL”;

Once you get called to the marshaling area, it is all about you taking control.

Taking control of yourself, taking control of the marshaling area, and taking control of your competitors….Starting Zone 2 is about taking control and making the race your own.

Taking control in Starting Zone 2 comes from the two Big-Bs of pre-race management:

  • Breathing: Breathe slowly, deeply and with purpose. As a guide aim for 5 breathes per minute. That’s four seconds to breathe in, four seconds to fully breathe out and allow yourself four restful seconds of relaxation before breathing in again;
  • Body language: Moving into and around the marshaling area with confidence, calm and control: head up, shoulders back and using strong, slow, deliberate movements….make it look like you own the marshaling area;

This is what real “psyching-out” is all about. You don’t have to say anything. You don’t have to put anyone else down.

Through controlled breathing and strong body language in the marshaling area you can “blow the minds” of most of your competitors and you will have defeated many of them mentally without the need to even get in the water and race.

STARTING ZONE 3: Behind the blocks “ATTENTION”;

Behind the blocks in Starting Zone 3, the focus now shifts to “attention” – that is, paying attention to the things that matter, paying no attention to the things that don’t and…..knowing the difference!

The key here is to understand the difference between Thoughts, Words and Actions.

Most swimmers will wait until their thoughts become actions, e.g. uncontrollable nervousness, before they do anything about them.

In the Attention Zone (Starting Zone 3), the aim is to recognise your thoughts but only pay attention to the ones that can help you swim fast: letting all the others just flow through your mind without taking hold.

For example:

THOUGHT: “I am feeling really nervous”.

RESPONSE IN STARTING ZONE 3: “I note I am feeling nervous” – but that’s where it ends. You “hear” the thought, you recognise the thought, you note the thought but just as soon as you notice it, you allow it to drift off without paying it any real attention.

This ability to pay attention to thoughts without judgement and without allowing them to become words or actions is the cornerstone of real
mental strength and emotional control for every swimmer.


STARTING ZONE 4: On the blocks “READY”;

Starting Zone 4 is the “ready zone”: on the blocks and ready to go. The three keys to success in the “ready zone” are P.R.E:

  • Position (i.e. body position, head position, feet position, hand position): Being in the best possible starting position (which you would have practiced over and over and over in training of course);
  • Relaxation: (continuing the controlled breathing you started in Zone 2 and the thoughts management technique you started in Zone 3);
  • Energy: Feeling connected to all the energy in your body.

Starting Zone is the connection zone: the zone where your  mind and your body are connected together as one: a unified swimming owerhouse about to unleash everything you’ve got with power and precision.


STARTING ZONE 5 “TAKE OFF”: The first 15!

Bang! The gun has gone and the race is on!

The most important parts of Starting Zone 5 are the “three kicks”:

  • The first kick: Is the kick you do under the water after your dive. In fly, back and free that means fast, strong, powerful, explosive kicks to maintain the speed from your dive. In breast that means completing the underwater pull and kicks with flow, power and rhythm;
  • The second kick: Is kicking your body deliberately and with purpose towards the surface.
  • The third kick: And the most important kick of all is the kick you do to kick yourself into your first stroke on the surface: the breakout!

Speed over the first fifteen metres comes down to a simple equation:

How speed can I generate as I leave the blocks PLUS How much speed can I maintain under the water before I start stroking?


FAST FIFTEEN = Maximise Speed off the  blocks AND Minimise Speed lost underwater.

If you got it right in Starting Zones 1-4, then Starting Zone 5 will take care itself!

After that, you’re on your own…but, if you have worked your way through  the Five Starting Zones, and have got to your top speed faster than anyone else in the pool you have given yourself every possible opportunity for a great race, a fast time and a winning performance.


  • In sprint swimming, the first 15 metres often determines the outcome of the entire race: the swimmer who gets to their top speed first most of the time will win!
  • The start is not just what happens on the blocks. The start begins in the marshaling area, continues to the zone behind the blocks, on to the blocks and over the first fifteen metres in the water;
  • Start the way you want to finish: if you want to finish first…start fast and go, go, go.

Wayne Goldsmith