Want to level up and become a better athlete? Here is the best advice we give to athletes. We go over what is most important for an athlete and give actionable tips you can start today.
Keep reading if you are an athlete or an aspiring athlete!
Table of Contents
1. Set clear and realistic goals
“Set your goals high and don’t stop till you get there.” – Bo Jackson, Former professional American Baseball and Football player
Setting clear and realistic goals helps athletes to stay focused and motivated. Set both long-term and short-term goals.
We recommend posting your goals on your mirror, saving them as your phone’s wallpaper, and saying your goals out loud as often as you can.
We recommend athletes set SMART goals. Goals that are specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, or timebound. Check out our blog post on SMART Goals For Swimmers and download our free goal-setting sheet for athletes.
2. Prioritize Nutrition
A car cannot run without fuel, and neither can you as an athlete! Fuel with food.
Plan ahead and make your nutrition a priority. Always pack snacks, and make sure you are eating frequently. Prioritize eating foods that make you feel good!
Eating after exercise helps to repair your muscles so that you can recover faster and build strength.
First, focus on eating enough carbohydrates, protein, and fats your body needs. Then dive into nutrient timing before and after your workouts and competitions. Lastly, with the help of a sports RD, find which supplements may help to boost your performance.
If you have a team sports RD connect with them, if not find one! They can help tailor a plan to your needs to optimize performance.
3. Stay Hydrated
If you are thirsty, it may already be too late. That can be an indication that you are dehydrated.
A loss of fluids more than 2% of body weight can negatively impact both your performance and cognition (1). Athletes often begin to feel thirsty after a loss of ~1-2% of body weight.
Carry a bottle with you at all times so that you can consistently hydrate.
Calculate your sweat rate to make sure you are hydrating enough during a workout.
Keep an eye on your urine to ensure you are hydrated. Remember we want a light lemonade colored urine, not apple juice colored.
4. Get enough sleep
One in three adults reports sleeping less than 6 hours per night. Sleep is extremely important because it is when recovery happens!
People who sleep poorly are at higher risk for diabetes, hypertension, heart disease, and for athletes, injury.
Athletes under 18 sleep <8 hours per night or are more likely to have an injury than those who sleep more than 8 hours per night (3).
- 6-12 years old: 9-12 hours
- 13-18 years old: 8-10 hours
- 18+ years old: 7-9 hours
5. Incorporate strength training
Research supports that strength training can reduce sports injuries by up to 66% (7)!
Work with your coach or personal trainer to develop a strength training plan to decrease your risk of injury, improve your bone health, and increase your strength.
All athletes, no matter their age and sport, can benefit from strength training.
6. Practice good form and technique
Focus on quality over quantity! Develop good habits in practice so that when you are at a competition your body upholds high-quality form and technique even when you are fatigued!
For swimmers, this may look like this:
- Not breathing off your breakouts
- Focusing on the timing of your finishes to the wall and attacking the finish with no breath
- Hitting a minimum underwater dolphin kick count off every single wall
- Focusing on a high elbow catch and correct entry in freestyle to prevent future shoulder problems
- Focus on drills to improve your form and technique. Even the smallest of details matter.
7. Warm-up before
A well-known piece of advice for athletes that often gets overlooked is warm-up!
If you want to get the most out of each training session then make time for warm-up.
Warming up before a competition or practice helps to increase blood flow, improve flexibility and mobility, and can help you to mentally prepare before your main effort.
Taking at least 5-10 minutes to warm up before training sessions is key to increasing performance and preventing injuries.
8. Don’t neglect flexibility and mobility exercises
Do not way wait till you are older to start implementing stretching and mobility days or warm-ups.
Focusing on stretching, lengthening, and mobility can improve your posture and help you to feel more warmed up and mobile during workouts.
9. Listen to your body
You are the CEO of your body. No one except you knows what it feels like to be in your body.
Developing a sense of self-awareness is crucial.
Pay attention to physical sensations in your body like soreness, fatigue, or pain. Hone into how you feel emotionally. Is your performance suffering, does your rate of perceived exertion feel higher than usual? Do you need an extra rest day?
Having a strong relationship with your body can help you to avoid overtraining syndrome.
Could you be challenging yourself more in workouts? Do you need a longer taper before a race?
Trust your instincts, practice self-care, and tune into physical sensations. If you have difficulty connecting with your body’s signals seek professional guidance from a healthcare provider.
Doing the same thing over and over again can get boring. Especially if you are a swimmer used to staring at a black line.
Talk to your coach or trainer about implementing cross-training to improve your fitness level and prevent boredom.
Cross-training by running, cycling, playing a team sport, lifting, yoga, and many more can help to work new muscle groups, rejuvenate the mind, improve agility, and assist with injury prevention.
11. Mindset is key
“I think that everything is possible as long as you put your mind to it and you put the work and time into it. I think your mind really controls everything.” – Micheal Phelps, American swimmer and most decorated Olympic athlete (28 gold medals!)
Athletes require a high level of mental toughness to overcome challenges. Sports can take a toll on your mental and emotional wellness.
Training starts in the mind. Head into each workout with an optimistic outlook and try to take one step forward every day.
The first step is thinking and believing you can do what you set your mind to.
12. Work with a coach or trainer
Training alone and without a plan is isolating and likely will not bring you the results you want.
Coaches and trainers can create individualized training plans, provide technique tips, and evaluate and provide performance feedback. Most importantly, coaches can help with motivation and accountability!
Beyond that, a coach is a go-to expert to help with mental preparation and competition strategy leading up to a big sports competition!
13. Practice mindfulness or meditation
Our advice to athletes is to try meditation or mindfulness techniques to improve focus and reduce stress.
At this time, several studies have supported that mediation improved motor, physiological, and physiological skills; however, more research is needed to determine the length and type of mediation that could be best for athletes (8).
Here are free mediation apps you may enjoy:
14. Focus on Recovery
Beyond sleeping enough, hydrating, and fueling your body be sure to incorporate recovery strategies recommended by your coach or trainer.
In order to grow stronger or faster you must recover so you are feeling fresh before the next workout or race.
Here are some of the recovery strategies that may help to optimize your performance:
- Compression garments
- Foam rolling
- Cold water immersion
15. Keep a training journal
We advise athletes to keep a training journal to track progress and identify areas for improvement. This can also be a place to write down goals and notice any trends in your training.
This can help to identify what works best for you!
By consistently tracking progress athletes can also reflect on how far they have come over time.
16. Find Your Community
Surround yourself with a supportive and positive sports community. This can help to keep you motivated and give you a stronger purpose outside of yourself.
Aside from the great benefits of accountability, community creates camaraderie and a deep sense of belonging. It can be a place to pull both motivation and inspiration from.
Being in the trenches of a difficult training cycle can feel isolating, don’t do it alone, boost your mental health by pursuing your athletic dreams alongside a community!
17. Learn from your mistakes
“I’ve failed over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.”– Michael Jordan, American professional basketball player
Let go of the fear of stumbling or making mistakes, for they hold the keys to your growth. Every setback is an opportunity in disguise, a chance to rise stronger and wiser. Embrace the lessons that failure teaches, fueling your determination to succeed.
Remember, even the greatest athletes have faced defeat time and again. It is through resilience and a refusal to give up that they have emerged victorious. So, dare to fail, embrace the journey of learning, and watch as your path to greatness unfolds before your very eyes.
18. Be disciplined and consistent
“Without self-discipline, success is impossible, period.”– Lou Holtz, Former American football player, coach, and analyst
Lou Holtz’s words echo a universal truth: self-discipline is the golden ticket to success. Brace yourself for a game-changing revelation: consistency is the secret ingredient that separates the great from the average.
Embrace discipline as the cornerstone of your training and lifestyle choices. Remember, skills are not forged overnight; they demand unwavering dedication and persistent action.
Each day, summon the courage to show up and unleash your full potential. The journey to mastery begins with disciplined effort, day after day, pushing the boundaries of what you thought possible.
Embrace the challenge, embrace the grind, and watch as greatness becomes your reality
Don’t underestimate the game-changing impact of communication. It’s more than just building relationships; it’s the key to unlocking your true potential.
By fostering open lines of communication with your team and coaches, you create an environment where guidance and support flow freely. Share your expectations and goals, aligning your vision with your coach for a winning partnership.
Embrace feedback, both giving and receiving, to fuel your growth. Keep those communication channels wide open, and watch as your performance skyrockets.
20. Visualize success
Ever wondered how top athletes achieve extraordinary results? The secret lies in harnessing the power of visualization.
By vividly imagining yourself conquering challenges, executing flawless techniques, and achieving your goals, you create a mental blueprint for success. Visualize the sights, sounds, and sensations of victory, igniting your motivation and building unwavering confidence.
Incorporate visualization into your daily routine, reinforcing positive mental patterns and preparing your mind for peak performance. Take a moment to relax, close your eyes, and embark on a mental journey to success.
Tap into the extraordinary power of your mind and unleash your true athletic potential. Start visualizing success today and witness the transformative impact it can have on your performance
21. Develop rituals
Embrace rituals for enhanced focus, consistency, and confidence. Rituals establish a mental routine, promoting optimal performance.
They provide a psychological anchor tied to past successes, boosting self-belief.
In high-pressure moments, rituals offer a reset, regaining focus. Unleash your greatness through the transformative power of rituals in sports.
Whether it’s eating the same breakfast before a game, tying your shoes a certain way, or performing a certain stretch before your race start exploring which ritual works for you today!
22. Embrace competition
Dueling it out against strong competitors can highlight areas that you need to develop! It also comes with the thrill and adrenaline rush of racing!
Every competition whether for practice or the real deal is an opportunity to fine-tune your skills and cultivate resilience!
Enjoy and embrace competition!
23. Stay humble
In sports, humility is the unsung hero that sets champions apart. Athletes who stay humble recognize that there is always room for growth and improvement.
They approach each victory with grace and every defeat with resilience, using setbacks as stepping stones to future success.
Humility breeds a hunger for continuous learning, pushing athletes to reach new heights. It fosters strong team dynamics, as humble athletes value collaboration and support.
24. Be a good teammate
Our inside advice for athletes; being a good teammate is a game-changer in the world of sports. It’s not just about individual performance; it’s about elevating the entire team.
Athletes can be exceptional teammates by fostering open communication, supporting and encouraging their fellow players, and prioritizing the team’s success over personal accolades.
Showing respect, empathy, and understanding creates a positive team environment. Embrace the power of unity, for when athletes come together, supporting and uplifting each other, the possibilities for achievement become limitless.
25. Have fun
Our advice to athletes is simple yet powerful: have fun! During the intense and demanding nature of sports, it’s vital to remember why you started in the first place.
Athletics can be a rollercoaster ride, filled with ups and downs, but holding onto the joy that ignited your passion will fuel your journey.
Embrace the exhilaration of competition, celebrate small victories, and savor the progress. Infusing fun into your athletic pursuits enriches the overall experience and ignites your true potential. So, let go of perfection and unlock the boundless joy that sports can bring.
Becoming an outstanding athlete doesn’t happen overnight. It is an accumulation of habits, repeated for long periods of time.
Our advice for athletes is to implement these 25 tips consistently to guide you to become a better athlete each day!
Katie Schimmelpfenning RD, LD is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist, USA Swim Coach, and former Division 1 swimmer. She helps competitive swimmers fuel and train to optimize performance, recover faster, and prevent injury! She is passionate about spreading evidence-based nutrtion tips to help swimmers across the globe.