July 8, 2016
I would like to start this letter with the age old adage; the road to success is paved with failures. Swimming might very well be the greatest venue for children and young adults to experience how to over come failures and ultimately succeed. In a world where gratification is instant, and often dependent on those around you, it is vitally important that children have the opportunity to experience triumph through continuous persistence in the face of set backs. Swimming has the ability to teach them the value of the process and the climb to success rather than the fleeting moments of the scoreboard, if we allow it.
Great philosophers, entrepreneurs, business men, politicians and athletes alike will all attest to the process of becoming great as the most valuable part of life experiences rather than the final outcome. Our culture has taught kids to feel proud and take satisfaction in the end result rather than the process. Today many kids will measure their worth based upon others approval. When a rather miniscule achievement is made, the world around them will celebrate it as if that was the ultimate goal. They receive over the top praise and then quickly forget it within the day. Worth today comes from the number of likes on a facebook post that day. This constant roller coaster of praise for small successes and the fleeting appreciation of those accomplishments leads kids to think that success is a once off moment that needs to garner the approval of their peers in that moment or its value is meaningless.
We have graduation ceremonies for almost every year in schools. We have medal ceremonies at every meet and we post online for the whole world to see and celebrate every step of the way. Those that win the medals are praised and made to feel accomplished, while those that may not ever see the medal stand are never mentioned. How often do we see posts online about the swim that added time? How often do we see praise for the person that came fourth, fifth and on? Our swimmers are experiencing very skewed perceptions of what it is to be successful and often missing the bigger picture.
Swimming is a journey of ebs and flows. If we celebrate every singular successful action as if we have reached our goals and fail to celebrate the failures along the way, then we are setting our swimmers up for bitter disappointment. What of the next swim that may not put them on the podium? John Wooden, the greatest basketball coach of all time, was the ultimate teacher in the lessons of success and failure. More than anyone he recognized the pitfalls of letting the highs get too high and lows too low. He never praised a victory that was won through poor performance. The outcome on the scoreboard was never the measure of the performance. Two of my favorite quotes from him were "Never mistake activity for achievement.", and "You can't let praise or criticism get to you. It's a weakness to get caught up in either one." Coach Wooden recognized the value of the process and the value of remaining focused on the next step whether in defeat or victory.
So, why am I writing this right now? For those that have been paying attention, we recently sent 10 of our swimmers to CISC championships in the Bahamas. I felt as though many of our swimmers and parents missed the big picture and left with disappointment rather than seeing the value of the lessons I had hoped they would learn. Without getting too technical I will try to explain my coaching strategy and philosophy. When it comes to age group swimming it is important too look well beyond the next competition and what other teams and competitors might be doing. To have a truly successful career an athlete must be prepared to strap in for what is going to be a long journey of triumphs and defeats. I set up a season plan to lead into the next. I must first decide what will be the time and place for our rested and shaved meet. This meet will be the focal point of the season and all others will be opportunities to prepare for that championship meet.
The level of strength and conditioning in swimming required to be successful takes years of consistent training.
Each time we take a step back to rest we lose an opportunity improve upon our fitness. Therefore it is necessary
to limit the number of times we rest. We chose not to fully rest for CISC and focus on ISCA and Boston in order
to give time to fully prepare for the final meet. I 100% believe that this is the absolute best way to achieve success in the long run.
Some teams will rest more often and see good results each time. I don't believe in measuring success by what an athlete has done but rather what that athlete is ultimately capable of. I believe that by resting too frequently you may be able to see perceived success along the way but you will ultimately sacrifice the athlete's true potential.
Many of our swimmers failed to see the value of this process in
the light of their competitors. If we measure
our success against anyone other than ourselves then we are leaving our sense of accomplishment in the hands of our competitors and on lookers. We can never control what others are doing and the performances of others, only our own. Our athletes watched others that they felt they should be beating win medals and earn praise. They saw the posts in social media of their friends and competitors in triumph and felt sorry for themselves. We had some very good swims that went unnoticed after missing the podium. However, we also let the desire for praise interfere with our focus on our own races. Our athletes time and time again swam only to beat the person next to them rather than to swim their absolute best. Our races were swum with poor strategy and the outcome was less than desirable in many cases. Rather than judging their swims based on effort and execution they let the scoreboard be the judge.
We had, and still have, an incredible opportunity to improve and leave with a sense of great accomplishment if we do not let our sense of accomplishment be squandered by the place in the event. Until we are breaking world records at the Olympics their will always be someone swimming faster. To reach the pinnacle of success we cannot focus on those faster but rather on how we can improve along the way. We must continue to look within ourselves to measure success. Swimming is a long journey and our "failures" are just as, if not more, important than any victories we have along the way. I try to never praise a win but rather an effort and never be upset at a loss but rather the lack of effort.
If our parents and swimmers can look back at the meet and recognize the valuable lessons to be learnt then the meet will be a great tool. The hurt of missing the podium or the feeling of defeat is not to be avoided and certainly not tragic. I would say those feelings are even more important than the fleeting moments of victory. We can look back at the mistakes made and become better for them. If we fail to recognize mistakes made and win, then where do we go next?
Over all we had a very good meet in the Bahamas, we set records, executed some great swims, earned medals and saw some breakthroughs, however we can be much much better!
"If you're not making mistakes, then you're not doing anything. I'm positive that a doer makes mistakes."
- John Wooden