The Power of Focus

Here’s an email I received from a swim student of mine. It’s got me a bit worried. Are my articles SO boring that even the kids can tell I reach sometimes? In any case, I’m always looking for interesting topics, and I appreciate her suggestion. I’ll do my best to expand on her observations and experience.

Hey Glenn,
Okay, because you write a new article every week, you must run out of ideas. So I decided to help you out on one of your subject matters.

girl studying I just started out swimming again and, yeah it’s been kinda tough. Other than just getting back "into" things I have very important things that are coming up. There are parties, friends that wanna hang out and the biggest thing of all… FINALS AND REGENTS. They kill you. Things like that are so stressful to our young minds. Most importantly though, when we swim we shouldn’t think about what grade we’re gonna get or what equation or date we have to remember because it tightens us up (well esp me cause i gotta worry about that stuff).

So when you swim, don’t think about all that. Kids (I think) should be reminded of keeping their concentration level on one thing at a time like you tell us to do. So this also could technically be a thank you for helping my state of mind change in the way I study and the way I swim, so I can do one thing at a time…ok later Glenn!

Thanks, K. It’s always nice to get a thank-you note.

One of the messages I’ve tried to get across to young swimmers is exactly what this young swimmer has learned (PHEW!): You can’t study while you’re swimming. In fact, your brain could use some rest from the books. It’s a simple concept: Focus on what you’re doing WHILE you’re doing it, and try to shut out all the OTHER things until it’s time to focus on THEM. If you can develop this kind of razor-sharp focus, you’ll do EACH THING much more effectively.

If you read my articles, you know I’ve learned things mostly through experience, or from watching. I’ve got a tremendous amount of experience in this, and I usually learn best when things are going wrong. I’ll give just a bit of background. I was the only kid in my family NOT to make National Honor Society. I was an OK student, but man I wanted to swim. So I’d train and train, not worrying about my grades UNTIL the end of the semester reared its ugly head. It was only then that I realized I had to buckle down. So I’d start cramming. I’d read as much as I could, and when I realized I was still way far behind, I’d start to worry. When it was time for practice, I’d head to the pool, jump in, and worry about how far behind I was in school. I was so concerned about grades that I wasn’t really training. I was just going back and forth thinking about math and history and English — all in a big jumble in my head. Of course, my performance in practice would suffer. Then I’d race back home after practice to hit the books. But wouldn’t you know it…all I could dwell on was the terrible practice I’d just had. I had it all backwards. I’d think about swimming while I was supposed to be studying, and I’d think about studying while I was supposed to be swimming.

It’s so easy to see the pattern now that I’m older. (Wisdom comes with age, and parents are MUCH smarter than kids give them credit for.) It’s not productive to cram for anything — whether it’s a final exam or a championship swim meet. It’s SO much easier to start early, and to find time to focus each day on each of the things that matter in your life, whether it’s swimming or school or friends and family. If you make it a habit to wait till the last minute and have to cram for finals, you’re EXACTLY like the athlete who gets committed to training two weeks prior to the championship meet. I’ve seen it a THOUSAND times! With the big meet coming up, everyone starts to focus and panic a bit. They try to cram in all the technique, training, and knowledge about their race as possible. It’s like the night before your final in Econ…your freshman year in college…the time you had a bad grade average and HAD to do great on the test or else you’d end up in summer school.

If you have to cram for everything in your life, it usually means you aren’t prepared, and that you need to work on your ability to FOCUS. If you actually follow along with teacher’s or coach’s timeline, and focus on the thing you’re doing while you’re doing it, you’ll find that everything starts to work better. When you swim fast, you feel better. When you feel better, you gain self-confidence. When you’re self confident, you feel smarter. The reverse can happen as well. If you’re caught up in school and doing well, the success will carry over into your swimming. It’s all tied together. Success breeds success.

I know this is the end of the school year and that it may be too late for many of you to NOT have to cram for exams. But there’s always next year to think about. And you can actually do a better job of studying for exams THIS year if you focus on one subject at a time. Success is all about focus and preparation. It’s about having a plan, and doing your best to start that plan as EARLY as possible. If your goal is to graduate with a high GPA, then you’d better set it up your freshman year. If your goal is to make the Olympics, I’m telling you right now, don’t plan on making it this summer, unless you’ve been working towards it for many YEARS!

All right, what have we learned here? From reading K’s email, I know that kids CAN learn, and that they can CHANGE the way they approach school and swimming. K now understands the power of focus and planning. As a teacher, there’s nothing that makes me happier. Thanks, K (I’ll not give away who you really are…I know how shy you are!).