Rather than be depressed by this thought, be positive – it means that there will always be room for improvement. Once you stop consciously thinking about your technique or your stroke, your swimming development will stagnate at best or slowly deteriorate as you slip into bad habits. Even if your fitness improves, it will not compensate for poor technique. An unfit swimmer with great technique is faster than a fit swimmer with poor technique.
For those of us who aren’t young any more, we can’t expect that we will retain the same fitness and strength that we had when we were young. The answer is to constantly improve our technique. I can now swim longer distances at a respectable pace than I could as a young adult; all because of improved technique. In my swimfit group recently, I managed to beat a 20 something extremely fit swimmer with technique that needed considerable improvement. After I thanked her for pacing me, I told her that she should be ashamed that an old bloke three times her age could beat her. Remember what the Tibetan sage said to Johnny English ‘You are not young but with age comes wisdom’.
Your overall aim may well be to swim faster (which is a combined function of fitness and technique), to swim greater distances or to just enjoy it more. All are quite legitimate goals. And there is another one for us oldies - to limit the decline in our performance as we get older. For all of these aims, you also need to concentrate on being relaxed in your mind.
So, for every swimming session, in the pool or the open water, constantly think of different aspects of your technique, but only one aspect at a time – to try to think of the whole lot at once is a recipe for disaster and frustration. Here’s a list (and there may be other bits and pieces): think of your body position (your profile and your alignment), your entry, reach, catch, pull, push, recovery, body rotation, kick, breathing, etc – and then start all over again. The choice is endless. And do it in a relaxed way, even if you are putting great physical effort into it. Knowing that you’ll never reach the end point is actually part of the joy of swimming.