Sunday, May 25, 2008

Chasing Times vs. Chasing People

We spent much of this holiday weekend at our North Coast Section Swimming and Diving Championships. (complete results). It was interesting to see the difference in the type of competition the high school setting provided versus the type that US Swimming meets often provide.

Swimming is a sport that teaches from an early age the value of achieving time standards. As an 8 or 10 year old we learn that if we go a certain speed we compete in one type of meet. If we swim faster then we “advance” to a higher level of competition. What this actually turns out to mean is that we then swim in meets where most swimmers are trying to achieve an even higher level time standard so they can go to an even more advanced meet. And so it goes until one day the swimmer qualifies for the Olympic Trials, by achieving yet again another even faster time standard.

In high school and collegiate swimming there is another dynamic at work, one that ultimately has nothing to do with time standards. This is the pure competition factor. This weekend many swimmers reached new and higher (sometimes the same as faster, sometimes not) levels of performance based upon their individual and team desires to win races. This same dynamic comes into play at the college level regardless of which level, NCAA Division I, II, III or NAIA swimming, you are competing.

We saw several athletes and team go places they had not been in terms of their speed due to the pure competitiveness of the meet. What is interesting to note is that the US Swimming process ultimately ends up in the same place as well. In this country it is the Olympic Trials. In the FINA world it is the Olympic Games themselves. At Olympic Trials once you make the final in your event then it immediately is not about times (which is what the swimmer chased for years, even decades in some cases) but rather about place. The top two make the Olympic Team. You could break a world record and finish third which means you watch on TV like everyone else. At the Games, once you qualify for the final, again based on times, the emphasis changes once again to place. Touch the wall 1st, 2nd or 3rd and you come home with a medal. Touch 4th through 8th and you don’t even get a ribbon!

So, what, if any, is the lesson here? Ultimately, swimming teaches us about how we handle a wide variety of competitive and potentially stressful situations. Some are more private and about personal achievement. Others are more public and involve a higher level of general recognition. Both have value; both are worthwhile; neither is better, they are simply different. As a footnote, it is fascinating to see how some swimmers really need the spotlight to achieve their best while others do not. That is, once again, why sport often mirrors life.

Let us know what you think! See you at the pool…

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Courage and Trust – The Two Things You Need at the Moment of Truth

We have been at several meets this weekend; our local high school league championship and the Santa Clara International Invitational. The local high school meet is followed next week by the Section meet which is the culmination of the scholastic athletic swim season. The Santa Clara meet is a tune up for many of the swimmers going to the US Olympic Trials. The meet also featured many foreign swimmers from diverse countries such as Australia, Wales, Great Britain, South Africa, Mexico and Japan.

At both meets there was a fair amount of “sizing up” the competition. Some swimmers were more rested than others, some not at all and even a handful of shaved swimmers could be observed plying their craft. For most, these meets, while important, are more like dress rehearsals. It matters not if your name is Natalie Coughlin, Michael Phelps, Aaron Peirsol, Dana Vollmer or Brendan Hansen. Everyone is seeing where they are training wise right now with something important happening sooner than later.

They also serve another very valuable purpose. They give each swimmer, regardless of specific readiness, a chance to practice testing her/his measure of courage and trust. When the big race (or job interview or school test) is upon you it is important to have courage; courage to face your opponent(s) and courage dealing with your inner most fears (which everyone has from time to time). And you must have trust; trust in yourself.

Where do you get courage and trust? In our opinion, you get it each day as you prepare, as you practice. One of your goals each day could be to do something you have never done before, or do it longer, more relaxed or smoother. This applies to all of us regardless of our talent level or our personal ambition. There is value in working to do a task or skill correctly even if you are not trying to make the Olympic Team. Doing so will give you a greater sense of personal satisfaction. More importantly it will establish a higher level of awareness as to the value of what you are doing, regardless of what it is.

Give it a try and let us know what you think. Thanks and we’ll see you at the pool!

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Respect and Responsibility

We had an email float across our screen this week with some words of wisdom based on the teachings of the Dalai Lama. One of the thoughts was to “Follow the 3 “R’s”:

Respect for Self, Respect for Others, Responsibility for All Your Actions.

What a simple yet profound concept; a very few words that carry such an impact.

It seems that sports in general and perhaps swimming more specifically give us a chance to practice this concept; the 3 “R’s”. Swimming is a sport or an activity, depending upon your viewpoint that can be engaged in for a lifetime. Very few football players are even playing touch football at age 50. Yet many folks, masters and fitness buffs a like, can imagine themselves swimming literally for the rest of their lives. They have Respect for Self.

Swimmers tend to be an inclusive group as opposed to some activities that foster exclusivity on the part of members. In this way we have Respect for Others. Lap swimmers and competitive masters support each other nearly universally, at least in our experience.

We encourage the swimmers on our team to be responsible for their swimming careers. Similarly we work to instill that same level of personal awareness in our masters group. In her stimulating book, “5 Steps To A Quantum Life”, Natalie Reid says the first step is to Take Responsibility because you cannot change something unless you are responsible for it. Swimmers know they can do almost anything they want with the sport but that they must do it. No coach or instructor can make it happen. We help facilitate but you wear the suit, put on the goggles and take the plunge.

Perhaps we all could be kinder to ourselves. We often give so much credit – even admiration – to others for their achievements while forgetting that we deserve the same. If you are involved in sport for fun or fitness or competition you are a participant. You are definitely not a spectator. For this fact alone you need to credit yourself, respect yourself.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Age 6 to 90

Quite awhile ago I remember going to a masters meet where there was a woman over the age of 90 who was to compete in an event. Being a smaller meet, just about everyone in attendance was interested in watching her do her thing. I was struck not only by how wonderful it was for her to be participating (and hoping to be just as spunky when I reached that age), but also how she really didn't have any worries about how she looked in her suit. She was happy to be there and very comfortable with who she was. I have also been to a multitude of meets where 6 year olds were participating in their very first competitions. Watching a 6 year old do their first races is a wonderful sight to behold. What is striking to me as I write this is they often have the very same attitude that the elderly woman had in terms of their comfort in their physical presence. Often times their suits don't seem to fit right and everything seems in disarray, but they are happy with who they are and have no real worries about their appearance.

We as a society can learn much from our youngest as well as our oldest and be proud to be able to participate in anything we really want to do regardless of what we think we look like. The first step to getting in shape in swimming is actually taking that first step and getting in that pool even if you don't look like Natalie Coughlin or Michael Phelps in a swim suit. Do it a few times and you have started a habit that has many benefits. After awhile you will notice a change in your being, sometimes in a physical sense and almost always in a mental sense. This type of lifestyle gets easier and better with use, so get out there and enjoy being part of an active and healthy life!