Monday, April 8, 2013

Rubbing Elbows With Success and Failure

Someone once said, “Wisdom and foolishness are nearly the same thing because they are indifferent to the opinions of others.” And so it was last Saturday when we asked our team for their best unrested times in 100 free plus another event if they had one…most did. We even used a 200 IM and cut it in half. We got everyone’s times and after a suitable warm up of about 1800 yards we went into another short set of about 1200 yards powering up a bit.

We then asked them to swim 8 x 100 from the blocks within 2 seconds of their best unrested time. There was no interval and they could go home as soon as they completed the task. We allowed another nearly 90 minutes of time. A couple got all 8 done using 8 attempts; a few needed 9 or 10; a few more got several of the 8; a few didn’t get but 1 or 2 while using 6-8 attempts. One even emailed after practice that her time had been wrong and after she looked it up she actually was 9 for 10!

What was more interesting than the times they swam was their reaction to the set before they even got on the blocks for the first one. You can imagine the self-talk…it ran the gamut from dread (“I’ll be here all afternoon”) to some excuses (“That set last night killed me” – we did Jack Baurle’s 40x50 on the .40) to excitement (“Man, this is way better than what I was expecting”).

Then the times started coming in…and thus the title above. From success to failure which allowed dismay to surface, to failure to success which allowed determination to carry the day – we saw it all unfold over the course of 90 minutes. Some over-tried and got crushed; some learned to relax and be smarter about their execution; some asked to recheck their times (to make it easier!) and one said, “I just did my best unrested time, perhaps I should reset it – the goal time – right now!”

It was interesting to see how a difference of 2 or 3 tenths of a second could affect their mood swings. We talked about it right on the spot…really need to let go of the result and get back to the process. Work the process and you just may get the result…and if you don’t at least you are working on the “right thing” namely the process and not the result.

We talked about the swimmer we saw from a local team last summer miss his Olympic Trial cut by .01 in the 200 fly…and how that swim was viewed by him, his teammates, his coach, and his parents. Every swimmer usually has an opinion about a race and a time. What is fascinating from the coaching side of the equation is just how that opinion influences the swimmer, her next race, his next workout, indeed an entire season or training block may hinge on a single race.

We think what is even more significant and important in the long range growth of the swimmer (and ultimately the person) is their own outlook on what just happened.

When a swimmer is “off” a little in practice, can he relax and bounce back during the set. When she has a tough day, can she toss it aside and rebound soon thereafter? If a race doesn’t work out as planned what is the effect on the next race? Or if the entire season’s success rests upon achieving a “cut” for that special meet and it is missed by a tenth – or less, what is the impact on the next season?

Conversely, if success rolls along how is that handled? Does the swimmer think she has it “made” from here on out? Does he think he knows pretty much what he needs to know and stops looking for more knowledge? Or one of the biggest hurdles, “I made my cut and I’m going to the meet!” Those swimmers are best served by staying home and letting a teammate with more vision bring home a T-shirt for them, since making the cut was the “success”.

In The Ballad of Blasphemous Bill, Robert W. Service observes that in the unforgiving world of the gold rush in Alaska any number of things can kill a man. He includes “avalanche, fang or claw, battle, murder or sudden wealth…” It seems to us that the same conditions prevail in the pool relevant to the forward progress of our swimmers.

On Saturday while we were curious about the times they might be able to post, we were far more intrigued by their reaction to the whole adventure that was theirs for the taking.

Have a great week!

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