With her 2022 successes completing ‘basically everything that I ever wanted [to achieve]’, Bethany Firth explains how goal setting and a love for swimming keeps her motivated in moving forward to future challenges.
On the back of the early-season training yards and short-course racing building her into the first phase of the upcoming season, Bethany - who is coached by Nelson Lindsay MBE at Ards SC - spent a few days earlier this month at the British Swimming Performance Centre, Manchester to be supported in her individual athlete planning for the year ahead.
“It was really good being over in Manchester, and really nice meeting everyone that was new to get an insight of what it’s going to be like in the future and just what these new people are going to bring [to the British Para-Swimming World Class Programme] – all that exciting stuff!” said Firth, who undertook a series of sessions both in and out the pool including physiology testing, technique video analysis and nutrition in tangent with setting her planning goals.
The six-time Paralympic gold medallist is not complacent either to the significant role of planning to keep targets both short and long-term in sight.
“I’ve been swimming now [at a senior international level] for over 10 years and I think the more you stay in the sport the more you realise how important it is to plan out your season and have goals for that season.
“Just to have those things that you’re working towards because you can’t always go out and smash major PB’s as you get older so without them I think it’s really hard to stay motivated. You are generally doing the same thing each season, day in day out, but working on those little technical goals and having things to focus on and change to show even small improvements gives you so much motivation – well it does for me so that was really good to do.”
Drilling into details behind the biomechanics of her propulsion through the water and physiological responses was an area Firth explained provided a lot of value during the visit to the Performance Centre.
“I did some in water video analysis and it was really good, I find personally that is the most helpful for me being able to see what I’m doing and being able to then change things – because sometimes people are telling me what I’m doing, I then think I’m doing it right but it’s not until I literally see it on the screen I’m like ‘oh I’m doing that wrong’.
“Even though I have been swimming for a long time there is always little things to change. There is not a perfect athlete out there - I find all that stuff really useful and I really love seeing and just hearing all the [coaches and practitioners] ideas, and trying new things that can make such a small difference but in the grand scheme of swimming it makes a massive difference.”
Beyond the technical elements in the pool, Firth also embraced the opportunity to discuss ideas around nutritional strategies and try out some new recipes.
“I had a good session with Rich [Chessor, Head of Physical Performance], it was great just chatting to him, getting some ideas around nutrition, good options for recovery and just learn new cooking skills and stuff.
“When you’re an athlete it’s very busy and you sort of go for easy options, or even being married it’s easy for my husband or my mum to do the cooking so it was nice to actually step back and have time to do it myself and learn a bit more about it, what the different options are and what I can use in the future around my racing and training.”
With an OBE, five World Championship golds and a Commonwealth Games title in 2022 adding to Bethany Firth’s growing tally of accolades, the S14 swimmer reflected back on the year with insight as to how learning from each passing season are built into future plans.
“So 2022 was the busiest year! Getting married, competing at worlds, competing at Birmingham, breaking my foot. It had ups and downs, but really for me it was an amazing year, I achieved basically everything that I ever wanted – I wanted gold medals at Paralympics, Worlds, Europeans and Commonwealths and I completed the full collection. Just to achieve all that, not many people say they can, and I also received my OBE so that was a lovely way to acknowledge it all and tie it up with a nice little bow.
“The year showed how robust I am too, that I can come back from numerous injuries. What we really took from when I looked back was that I haven’t really had a perfect season without an injury and that was going to be a main focus for this year and the year going into the next Paralympic Games – just as I get older we want to look at having a good block so we’re deciding to take it a lot slower going into 2023 and doing more of a 2023/24 programme because we think in the long run it will benefit me better. It might not benefit me this year as such competing at Worlds but hopefully it’ll give me a really solid base with no injuries to build on in the next season so that’s what we’re going for.
“Sport is amazing and it does so much for so many different people, and while I’m loving it and enjoying it I just want to keep pushing forward in it. Basically as I get older we have to look at what I’ve achieved and what I want to achieve and just how we are going to do that.”
Whilst a fourth Paralympic Games sits as the focussed goal of Firth’s plans, she remains no less excited about looking forward to a World Championships on home soil this summer and the significant effect it can have on inspiring the next generation and growing the profile of para-swimming in the UK.
“It’s super exciting that Manchester will hold the World Championships – the last World Championships that was held in the UK was London in 2019 and that was an amazing event, had a great atmosphere, a lot of people came to it and it really opened up a lot of eyes again in the UK to disability sport and how fun, exciting and competitive it can be," added Firth
“It’s really nice that it is going to be a home Worlds, a lot of our friends and family will be able to come to it, hopefully there will be a lot more media coverage on it and it will just show the amazing talent that we have - I’m sure it’ll be an amazing atmosphere. While I was in Manchester obviously they are renovating the pool so that will be super exciting to be one of the first major competitions there following that too.”
For more details on the Manchester 2023 Para Swimming World Championships visit the information pages at www.britishswimming.org/mcr2023.