"It's not where you are, it's who you are."
I believe too many athletes, parents, and coaches feel that in order to be successful, you have to have a strong, like-minded group with which to train -- or at least one or two solid "training partners". The reasoning behind this thinking has to do with "workout intensity". It's common to believe that a strong group helps raise the workout intensity, to the benefit of an individual in that group.
Certainly it is extremely valuable as a growing athlete to have those who are more experienced to watch, learn from, and imitate. A strong group is valuable and at times necessary to the individual in many ways that have to do with comradery, fun, team-building, and support. But in actual swimming training, shouldn't there be a point when an up-and-coming athlete catches or moves past the veteran athlete? Shouldn't the inexperienced but strong eventually close the gap between them and those who are already at the top? Even if those at the top are continuing to improve, generally at some point they are improving at a slower rate than the quickly-improving but less-experienced atheltes.
The fact is that the best up-and-coming athletes in the world ARE moving past the athletes who have "been there done that" -- and the fact that many "less accomplished" athletes are aspiring to become better than the current best is the main reason our World Records continue to tumble. So why is it that we feel the need to have "training partners" and why is it that so many aspire to simply do what the "current top" athletes are currently doing?
In my opinion, a group with which to train quietly encourages everyone into the same category of performance. How often do you see a certain team have more than one person perform essentially the same time in a certain event? I see it often, and of course I see that not only around the World but with my training groups as well. Sometimes, this is good -- in particular if everyone is moving forward! But oftentimes the top athletes simply "come back to the group" while the median of the group inches forward.
Certainly, imitation of the best is the main ingredient to beginning down the road toward success. Do what others do, if you'd like to be like them. If you want to be a champion, you have to imitate those who are more accomplished than you. But this is the beginning step, and at some point you have to move past imitation -- or else resign yourself to becoming almost as good as those who you are striving to beat.
Do you think a World Record holder trains with their competitors on a daily basis? If they do, they are not a World Record holder! Personally, I try to create a situation where my best athletes are challenged by others in practice in those skills with which they are least-proficient. In swimming, there is always something a top athlete can improve upon, so the instances when the top athletes get competition in practice are the instances when the top athlete's least dominant skill is being trained. But if that top athlete is a butterflyer, and they happen to be an aspiring world record holder, there really should be no one who can compete with them during our butterfly practices! In this sense, having a "training partner" or a "group" with which to train is competely over-rated.
It's not the team or the coach that makes you successful. It's YOU, the athlete that is the top reason for your successes. Your coach helps, and your team can support you along the way. But the self-motivation, and the creative outlook toward your own possibilities in racing are the constants you must have within you to achieve ultimate success.
Once this outlook is learned and put into daily practice, the sky is the limit for the performance of any up-and-coming athlete.