Coaches Chair – November 2021

As things start to (slowly…I hope) return to normal, and more and more folks return to the pool, here are some thoughts as you approach whatever endeavor you choose to indulge in!

Spending the first few weeks focusing on technique and gradually building up the intensity will pay off immensely.  When the time comes to ramp things up into the full swing of training, your diligence and attention to detail will pay off, with some stellar results in practice, not to mention a couple of solid meets under your belt.

While it’s not unheard of for athletes to be hitting a best time or two a few weeks into the season after a long break, it really shouldn’t be greatly expected (especially as we get older).

However, whether or not you had fantastic results to kick off the season, you shouldn’t let your success (or perceived lack thereof) go to your head.

Both success and failure can be equally damaging, but also equally valuable.

A principle that I try to live by (and not always successfully) is the idea that one never loses: either you win, or you learn.  Either way, the outcome should be viewed as positive.  Now is the perfect time to start developing that mentality.

Suppose your performances have been better than you ever imagined.  Let’s say that you are firing on all cylinders during training.  You’re feeling great about your return to the water.

That’s certainly something to be proud of, and should give you cause for hope and excitement, and bodes well for the rest of the season.

But have a care, as early success is often a double-edged sword.  If you’re not careful, that success can and will go to your head, inflating your ego past what it should be and setting you up for eventual disappointment, because progress and improvement are NOT linear.

Training and competition do not work that way.  At some point, you will hit snags and plateaus, even if it’s not right away, and the higher you’ve climbed, the farther and harder your eventual fall will be.

Allow me to use myself as an example.

I hit best times every single race of my sophomore high school swim season.

I actually DID get a best time whenever I dove off the block.

In any case, I was training like a madman and seeing immediate and constant results.

Great, right?

At first, it was awesome!  I kept working hard and reaping the benefits.  Better still, my coaches and teammates noticed, and I was honored for it many times before we wrapped up the season.  In fact, I was inspired to take up club swimming that summer, in the hopes of continuing my success.

All that I needed to do was put in the effort, and I’d take off like a rocket.

…until that didn’t happen.

It had gotten to the point that I expected a PR every time I dove into the water.  Don’t get me wrong: expecting success can be a healthy thing, and attacking each race like you’re going to get it is great, but it has to be taken into context.

In a nutshell, I’d spoiled myself.

When things started to level off and PRs became fewer and farther between, it was very depressing and discouraging, and I wondered what was wrong with me.  It was incredibly frustrating.

Worse still, my misconceptions had even spilled over into my academic career.  While I had taken the skills and work ethic that I’d developed in the pool and applied it to school, I expected nothing but straight A’s, and anything less was more or less tantamount to the Apocalypse!

But, a common theme in both athletics, academics, career, etc. is the fact that the higher you go and the more you achieve, the harder it becomes to get better and maintain that level of success.

Long story short, and although it was extremely hard and discouraging at times, I didn’t give up, and the rest is history…and I’m by no means the only victim of early and excessive success.

And that brings up the other side of the coin: dealing with hardship and frustration.

If you’re worried about not seeing much (or any) success so far this season, keep on pushing.  It will come, if not right away.

And when it does, it will be all the more rewarding.

Again, you must understand that progress is not constant or linear.  You’ll have periods of improvement and stagnation, and at times, it’ll feel like you’ve regressed, even if you’re doing everything you need to be doing to achieve success: training hard and smart, eating right, getting adequate rest and sleep, etc.

It’s a process that you need to learn to love and understand if you truly want to succeed in anything.

But for now, take each practice, each meet, each race, as a lesson.  There is no such thing as a loss, especially at this point in the season.

If you don’t do well in training or in a race, examine what you need to do better, and apply it.

Perhaps your strategy needs to be tweaked.  Your coach will (or should…) be happy to work with you, and it will probably take a good deal of trial and error over the course of this season, if not multiple seasons.

Maybe there’s a technical issue or two.  You’ll have to work those out in practice – form new and better habits in training, and they’ll be there for you in a competitive situation.

Or, you just may need to work on your mental state before, during, and after a race.  In many cases, athletes can be as perfectly prepared physically as possible, but if something’s not right upstairs, it may all be for naught.

Remember the analogy of the race car: the car is revved up and ready to go, but it can’t drive itself; it’s up to the driver to get the job done.

Whatever the reason, if you focus on the lessons to be learned from struggles, and do what you need to improve, then they are not really struggles at all, or even losses, for that matter.

You either win, or you learn…and if you keep learning, you will eventually win!

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