The Power Of Small Thinking

Hi All,

I am writing this post as we go through the goal setting process after a mid season taper meet. I feel that it is important to reflect after each phase of the season, refocus on what is important and renew our commitment to reach our goals. In this post we are going to examine how to make big dreams happen, all by thinking small.

Part of the goal setting process is setting dream goals; ones that ask each athlete to think big. When the swimmers share their dream goals with me, I often hear dreams of making it to high school states, swimming in college, representing their country at the international level or even earning a gold medal at the Olympics. Dream goals give us the power to move mountains. That’s why it is important to understand the power of small thinking.

I know, the two concepts are diametrically opposed at first glance. But when you think about it, nothing big ever happened with taking the first small steps. I can be heard at almost every practice saying, “focus on the little things and big things will happen”. Too many times, athletes will focus on making an interval or holding a pace and forget the importance of working on their turn, for example.

Wanting, and working hard to achieve, greatness is admirable. But in a sport where success can be judged in tenths of a second it is imperative that the swimmer gives his or herself every opportunity for success. Controlling the controllable, or the little things, will give them the best chance for long term success as they move up the competitive ladder.

But there are so many little things?

Yes, there are. Starts, breakouts, underwater body dolphins, turns, finishes, body position, breathing patterns, arm positions, kick timing...I could go on but I think you get my point. To most swimmers, it is just too daunting to control all of those aspects of their game at once. Unfortunately, they do not focus on these elements as much as they should and they become less efficient athletes as a result.

This is where the power of thinking small comes into play.

I ended a FaceBook post this morning regarding our goal setting session with, “Dream Big. Live Big. Be Big”. I meant every word of that phrase. I believe wholeheartedly in the importance of having a success mindset. But you will not be big if you do not understand the power of small thinking. Here’s what I mean.

As mentioned above, there are a lot aspects to master in each stroke.  To make it easier for our swimmers, coaches and parents to understand the expectations for each, I have developed a Stroke Evaluation Scorecard. There is a link to a printable version of the Stroke Cards at the end of this post. Each stroke is broken down into five (5) categories. Each category has five (5) crucial elements. By the way, we record the swimmers and have them do self and group evaluations as part of our swim camps, but it can be done at any point in the season.

The swimmers are graded with a zero, if they have not demonstrated that aspect in question, a one if they partially demonstrated the skills or a two if they have demonstrated they have mastered that targeted item. It’s a great way to see where one’s strengths and weakness are for each stroke.

For the purpose of this article, I suggest using the Stroke Card as a way to make smaller daily goals. This is where to power of small can make big changes long term.

Many times, I sense an athlete is getting frustrated. They want to get better and are trying too hard to master everything at once. When I see this happening, my normal interaction with the swimmer is to ask the following question. “How do you eat an elephant?”. The first time a swimmer hears that they usually give me a blank stare. I answer, “one bite at a time”. Truth be told, many of the younger ones turn back to me and say, “you eat elephants?”. But I digress.

Small thinking is about making important minor changes on a daily basis that, over time, yield big results. It is a much better strategy to master your underwater body dolphins over an extended period of time, and have that as a permanent part of your swims, than it is to try and make wholesale changes to every part of your stroke each day that do not stick. When the swimmer understand and uses the small thinking mindset and approach, the athlete can certainly master each of the twenty five (25) aspect of each stroke over the course of the swimmer’s career.

During our goal setting sessions we talk about dream goals, as mentioned earlier. We also talk about seasonal goals, weekly goals, daily goals, set goals and even individual rep goals. During the meetings, it is easy for the swimmers to get fired up, make meaningful goals and truly believe they will do everything in their power to make them come to pass. This is a great time to empower the athletes to focus on one or two items a day, master them and move to the next little thing.

The Ten Year Overnight Success Story

Many years back I started a swim team in a small city pool. We were only a few miles from a very large program with superior facilities and coaches with, at the time, a better resume than I had. We started the program with a small group of mainly six (6) and under swimmers. Even back then I understood the power of small thinking and had the swimmers focus on mastering one element of each stroke at a time. Sure, we did other things, but each week had a focus. Over time, these swimmers began to excel.

Fast forward ten years or so. These athletes were now elite national swimmers. To drive the point home, three out of four of the swimmers on both the mens and womens national championship relays were composed of swimmers who started out in that small city pool. Ten years, thirty seasons, five hundred twenty weeks, three thousand six hundred days and millions of yards later, they were an overnight success.

As we dream and set our sights high, let’s always remember that nothing big was ever accomplished without the ability to stay focused on the little things. Let’s pick one or two things to work on each day, stay with it, master it and move on. Once you realize and unleash the power of small thinking, you, too, may be the next overnight success story.

Dream Big. Think Small.

See you at the pool - Rich

Click Here For A Printable Version Of The Stroke Cards