Sunday, September 27, 2009

The Only Real Limitations Are Self-Imposed

The following article was written for ESPN and brought to our attention by one of our swimmers who is now a freshman training at a D 1 top ten NCAA program. It is especially interesting to us since the swimmer noticed the role of the brain in the process of evaluating limits. This is a topic near and dear to us. We often do "brain training" with our team. Isn't it a little crazy that as coaches when we say things in meetings or on pool deck we wonder if anyone is really listening? Well we admit to being pleasantly surprised when this article was forwarded to us. Enjoy the tale, and then let us know what you think. Remember, the more we share the quicker we all learn!

Limits and Illusions: Michael Jordan in the NBA at 50

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Exceeding Expectations

We have been re-reading Tony Jeary’s book Strategic Acceleration in an effort to impart to our swimmers how to identify what he calls “highly leveraged activities”.

He refers to “the strategic acceleration tripod” which works to achieve superior results faster. The three legs of the tripod are clarity, focus and execution. He defines clarity as “knowing what you really want”. Focus is “about avoiding distractions and learning to identify the high leverage activities that significantly move the results needle.”

While all three are equally important in that your chances of success go down dramatically when you lack one or more of them, execution is where you spend the bulk of your time. Execution is the “doing” and that is where we spend the majority of our time and effort. As such it is important to consider the impact of exceeding expectations.

Jeary points out that he has learned “a lot about meeting and exceeding expectations, and one of the things I’ve learned is that it’s not complicated or hard to understand. Expectations are met when things happen the way people expect them to happen. However, expectations are exceeded when positive things happen that people do not expect.”

He goes on, “I want to be very clear about why exceeding expectations is the strategic mind-set that leads to the creation of superior results. Exceeding expectations is a strategic way of thinking based on the fact that we ultimately become and do what we think. The mind is the engine of action, and action produces results.”

We have our swimmers regularly consider the power of goals on their actions. When a swimmer tells us that they want to swim in college, we ask them to consider if their training supports their declared intention. It is a way for us to help keep their focus in a world busy with homework, social and athletic pursuits. What we are attempting to do – and we are having a pretty darned good measure of success with it – is get them to understand that their thought process leads to their actions.

And if they want to get there faster then they need to consider the concept of exceeding their level of expectation. To use Jeary’s words, coaching becomes the following in our eyes: “To persuade others to exceed expectations requires us to be able to persuade them to think differently about what they do and how they do it.”

On our set Saturday after discussing this concept with them we asked them to exceed their expectations as they trained. Many did just that and as a result swam faster and tougher as the challenge rose the deeper we got into the set. We have our first meet next week and we are asking them to do the same thing there, regardless of how they feel due to heavy training. We feel confident that most will respond to the challenge!

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Making the Case for Open Water

We just got back from a local open water swim and it sure was fun to see so many swimmers from around the area as well as a few famous ones who traveled in for the event. Today was the Tiburon Mile; the 10th annual time the event has been staged with the money raised this year going to Hospice by the Bay. This swim in San Francisco Bay begins with folks gathering in the town of Tiburon, CA doing all the usual things: registering, picking up numbers and ankle bracelets, goodie bags etc. Then all the swimmers get on one of two ferries and head across the open water known locally as Raccoon Straits to Angel Island. There they disembark and head for the beach area for the starting line.

Once the gun sounds it is a mad dash for the water and the best spot in the pack. Depending upon your goals, you either charge toward the front, enduring the rough going as swimmers vie for their preferred line or you hang back a little looking for your own "sweet spot" as you settle in for the more or less one mile swim back to the town. As you get into the harbor there is a well marked chute which leads you up onto a small patch of sand and gravel where your ankle bracelet trips the electronic eye and records your finish with both elapsed time and place.

There are multiple divisions from elite to age group to wetsuit. It is fun and challenging all at the same time. You swim with some of the world's fastest open water swimmers even if you are a weekend warrior type. The finish area is complete with ardent well wishers and curious town folk just out for a Sunday morning coffee.

But what is extremely fun to watch is the expressions of the predominant pool swimmers who are making their annual open water swim or even perhaps their first attempt. The water is a chilly 55 or so degrees, you cannot see the bottom, there is no line to follow, people are pushing each other - sometimes intentionally, most times not - there is a current to deal with and usually some wave action plus today there were seals frolicking near the entrance to the harbor.

Most folks learned something about themselves today in their pursuit of adventure. We saw lots of smiles and folks being proud of their personal victories. What we liked was the fact that many of the pool only swimmers got out of their comfort zones today. Regardless of how fast they were in comparison to the field they all had an experience they will remember for many years. Nearly all who started finished; to our knowledge no one was seriously injured and several hours later we are guessing that most if not all have warmed back up enough to allow themselves a well earned feeling of contentedness.

So if you are a pool only swimmer check your local listings for an open water event near you and give it a try...and conversely, if you are an open water or tri-athlete check with your local Masters swim scene and go racing in the pool sometime before your season is over. It is always interesting to step outside your immediate comfort zone! Let us know how it goes for you!

Sunday, September 6, 2009

The Twin Power of Tempo and Distance Per Stroke

All swimmers know the power and speed that comes from a combination of turnover - tempo - and efficient stroke technique - measured as distance per stroke. A recent article in the SF Chronicle captured this perfectly, as applied to track. We underlined a couple of key points for emphasis.

What's next for Bolt - the 400? the 800?
John Crumpacker, Chronicle Staff Writer
Sunday, August 23, 2009

(08-22) 16:56 PDT -- What kind of numbers are these? Nine and five-eighths? Wasn't that O.J. Simpson's helmet size, 95/8? Nineteen nineteen? My dear, departed mother was born in 1919.

What's next, 430? That's my credit score if I don't get these bills in the snail mail.

Until a flash of lightning named Usain Bolt came along, times of 9.58 for the 100 meters and 19.19 for the 200 just did not compute. Even the fastest of men did not, could not, dream of running such times.

Then along came this Lightning Bolt from Jamaica jouncing down the track wearing a suit of green and yellow ebullience and all of a sudden, world sprinting has been redefined.

I sat in awe of the man a year ago at the Beijing Olympics, and this past week in Berlin at the World Championships he obliterated those jaw-dropping 2008 records.

At 6-foot-5, Bolt represents a paradigm shift in sprinting. What makes him unbeatable is the length of his stride combined with his turnover, the time it takes him to put one foot down and then the other.

Bolt's turnover is just as quick as his shorter competitors, but with his longer stride pattern, he takes fewer steps to get from the start to the finish. Can't beat it.

A year ago, Michael Johnson took in the measure of Bolt at the Beijing Olympics and had this scouting report: "He has an incredibly long stride, which affords him the ability to cover more ground. He has been able to take that long stride that he has and combine it with technique and with his high turnover he can destroy the field."

Our sport of swimming is not unique in that every now and then an athlete comes along who re-writes the record book combining technique and speed from the body type they were given genetically. Everyone in 2008 was talking about Michael Phelps. A few years back it was Ian Thorpe from Australia that had everyone buzzing (remember his suit by the way? Completely form fitted in case you forgot...).

In golf 10 years or so ago Tiger Woods came on the scene. He completely altered the way pro golfers train. Why? Simply put: pro golf is competitive (probably all golf - we wouldn't know!) and if you want to beat the person in front of you, you had better do what he/she is doing and then do something more and or different.

Usain Bolt is "unbelievable" and yet we are willing to wager that there are more than one or two track sprinters out there who are already working on how to beat him. This is the nature of competitive sports (or business or education - don't think for a moment that colleges and universities are not aware of what the "competition" is doing) - either you are improving or the competition is getting further ahead. It is really quite simple; not complex at all.

The trick is to figure out what to work on and in our sport most, if indeed not all of it gets reduced to the twin concepts of keeping your tempo up while keeping your distance per stroke rate at the maximum you can achieve.
For starters, next time you swim a lap count your strokes. If you can somehow reduce that number by one while keeping your stroke rate - tempo - the same, you will swim the lap faster.

Good luck and let us know how we can help!