Sam is 15, a competitive swimmer. She loves her sport but despite all her hard work in the pool, she’s struggling to get better.

I recently spent some time with her to see if we could figure out what might be holding her back from success.

Here’s what I found.

Her dedication is undeniable. It was the great Michael Phelps who said “I can’t remember the last day I didn’t train.” And it’s true, to get better at something you have to turn up regularly and do the work.

Sam is doing the work. There’s no doubt.

You also have to do the right kind of work.

Effective work (i.e., training that works and keeps working) follows a plan, has clear goals, builds on the skills that came before it and is guided by regular feedback.

After asking Sam a few key questions and assessing her training diary, it’s clear that she’s doing this too.

But despite Sam’s best intentions, getting out of bed each morning is a drag. She’s tired and grumpy a lot and seldom feels at her best in training.

At school, concentrating on her work for more than a few minutes is a challenge.

The Importance of Sleep

Time to properly recharge is essential.

It’s during sleep that the body grows new tissue, repairs damaged cells, and processes and consolidates new skills.

During the week, I found out that Sam gets up at 5am, trains twice a day, and goes to bed by 9pm (if she’s lucky). That’s eight hours of sleep a night. Research suggests Sam should be getting at least nine.

And the thing is, a lack of sleep accumulates. One hour a night, every night, during the week means that by Friday, Sam is five hours in debt.

So, what should Sam do?

Rather than nine hours of sleep seven nights a week, which is virtually impossible given her busy schedule, I suggested that Sam aims for 63 hours a week.

Doing it this way provides the flexibility she needs.

She can accumulate sleep at night, via sleep-ins on the weekends, and by grabbing power naps whenever possible. It’s not perfect, but it could be the difference she needs.

Just like her swim training, Sam is going to plan, record and adjust her sleeping to suit.

We’re going to see how it goes…


If your child is facing a difficult challenge in their sport that is holding them back from being the best they can be, I’d love to help.

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