Performance & Perspective

The article linked below is so true.  Too often results get put in front of the process and the long term success & achievement become lost.  Please read this quick article.

Now MY swimming specific rant: (hopefully you are willing to read it even though it is long)

In the beginning, success can come easy for some, while others with less physical advantages don't always show what they are capable of until much latter.  So the results & rankings of an age group meet often don't determine who will achieve more at the end of the journey.  They are only a marker for where they are at in the moment, which can discourage those who might have achieved more, while boosting the egos of some who only share an advantage for a short time, blinding them both to the road, challenges, and possible successes/ failures ahead.  

All too often, its not just age group rankings that cloud the visions of young athletes/ parents, but the time results as well.  Early on time drops come quickly and in large amounts, but the better we get, the smaller and less frequent the drops become. If not viewed properly & in the correct context,  this can lead to frustration, anxiety, fear, & self doubt.   

Why does this happen?  

If assuming that an athlete is properly committed, and continues to increase that commitment gradually over a long period of time to avoid stagnation, then...
Some of it has to do with Physical development (growth rates, strength gains, etc. and their slowing changes as we age)  Some of it is because of limits to our reception skills (pressure & profile).  Some of it is because of our natural rate of adaption (fast responders & slow responders).  Some of it is because there can be an initial burst in performance within the first year or so of an athlete committing to proper training, which also slows as the body adapts (muscles have limits to how much & quickly they can change).  Some of it is because progression becomes more gradual in nature (increases quickly at first, but slows with the slowing rate of adaption to higher order skills, plus there is also a limit to how much one can train).  Some of it is because as these other factors slow in progression, training intensity must increase (which there is also a limit to) in order to continue to see physiological adaptions that improve ability, leading to periods where training loads suppress overall performances slightly ,hence the need to "taper" (reduce the load) for peak performances.  
These factors can lead to a false sense of improvement pace & trajectory early on when the rate of change is faster.  (The science behind this can also be easily researched for a clearer understanding and I am also always willing to discuss these in greater detail, if interested.)

However, often it is also because the initial improvements are easier to achieve based on fundamental improvements and corrections of gross technical errors.  

As these errors disappear, much smaller & smaller changes must occur.  These smaller more detailed changes require a higher order of thinking and training, that take longer to develop & become second nature.  Often these changes and improvements become so small as an athlete progresses, that it can not be seen by the eye, only through years of focus, awareness, and proper training can these changes be felt & seen on a watch.  With each smaller and smaller development, smaller and smaller improvements are seen.  Very rarely does huge leaps in performance occur once this point is reached.  Just look at the times of elite swimmers, and you will see many work incredible hard and for very long times, just to shave a few hundredths of a second.  This is the natural process of achievement.  The better you get, the harder it is to continue to improve.

Its a lot like carving a statue...  

At first you take off big chunks and develop a rough shape.  In no time you have a basic figure.  Then comes the details, and much smaller pieces take longer to remove, and require concentration and skill to get right.  This adds time, and rate of progress slows.  Yet the product still is not complete, there are still rough edges, and final touches to be made.  Smoothing the surface and making it into real art, this takes the most time and concentration of all.  Even though the statue is mostly there, its real value is developed in the final steps as it's craftsmen painstakingly work for what seems like an eternity to get it just right.    

It is also important to remember that improvements are not always linear in nature, even if our training method is.  Much like many journeys, there are twists and turn, pitfalls and hazards.  Outside factors like stress, nutrition, sleep, social issues, other obligations, & overall health play massive rolls in the immediate & overall performances we see.

We too often become obsessed with these early/ current results.  They inspire some, but can also make the full journey seem too easy or too hard for others.  In the beginning things happen quickly, but over time, that rate slows down... This is when the real work begins... This is when committing to the process really matters.  This is when character is tested, and you get to see who you really are.  

Some will give up.  Some will seek easy answers.  Some will question the answers they get.  Not every statue will get completed, not every journey finished.  But those that do, will benefit from the great value of the experience.  

My advise to anyone seeking personal excellence...
-Only by looking at things over long periods of time, can we have a clear picture of the journey we are on.  If you look at small periods as though you are wearing blinders, small potholes can look like huge craters, and the whole picture will escape you.    
-Fall in love with the process.  Follow it & it's progressions. Don't skip steps or rush the work, this can only lead to an unfinished/ faulty product, and diminished returns & value.
-Make the journey more important than the destination.  Enjoy the view along the way, find value in the things you do everyday to get where you want to go.  You will spend more time traveling to your achievement, than you will at that final point (because you will start a new journey once this one is complete).
-Have passion for what you do.  Commit to doing things correctly because it should be done that way.  Understanding there is no shortcuts on this journey is important.  Shortcuts are traps that snare even the most talented, and keep them from the final destination.  
-Trust those that have been on this journey before you, let them guide you, and show you the way.  This might not make the journey faster or easier, but at least you can go through it with more confidence, and knowledge of what lies ahead (coaches have not only been on this journey themselves, but numerous times, with numerous athletes).  
-Use everything as a learning experience, setback & successes all have stories to tell.  They all create the path you walk.  Understanding each event, helps you steer your direction.  
-When things get tough, have faith, most give up because they didn't know how close to success they really were.
-Understand that what you started out seeking, may not be what you find in the end, but what you find will be the truth.
-Accept that knowing you did everything you could, to be the best version of yourself you could be, is the only definition of success that makes sense or really matters.  

Finally remember...
-The biggest enemy of Great is Good.  
-Accepting less than your best leaves you getting less than you desire.  
-Thinking that it will always come easy, will leave you wondering what happened.  
-There are no easy ways, only the right way & wrong ways.  
-99% right is 100% wrong.