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Practice Makes Perfect

How many times have we heard that? Practice makes perfect. No… wait… it’s morphed into "perfect practice makes perfect." I used to tell swimmers that something done 99% correct, is 100% wrong. I borrowed that phrase, but it sure sounded good at the time.

That word "perfect" still slips out sometimes when I’m on deck. But these days, I try not to use it very much. I’ve found that it’s one of those words that can confuse swimmers rather than help them.

I traveled to Columbus, Ohio, last weekend to take part in the Ohio Swimposium sponsored by Kast-a-way Swimwear.   It’s an annual gathering of coaches — of all levels — who want to learn from some of the greatest minds in swimming (and me). One of the speakers last weekend was Ernie Maglishco, author of numerous books on swimming such as Swimming Faster, Swimming Even Faster, and Swimming Fastest. Another speaker was Pete Malone of the Kansas City Blazers and the US Head Coach for the World Short Course Championships next week in Indy. Bill Wadley, the Ohio State University Head Coach, was another speaker. And Roque Santos was there representing Nike. Even if Roque isn’t speaking, it’s always good to be around him as he’s an inspirational guy.

Anyway, there I was, surrounded by some of swimming’s most elite members, and I start spouting off about something, when Pete Malone stops me and says, "I agree with what you’re saying, but you need to change one word." Somewhere in my diatribe, the word PERFECT had stumbled out of my mouth.

Now, for YEARS, I’ve used that word. I’ve used it to inspire, motivate, draw out more effort, get kids thinking, all of the above and more. I figured that if someone strives for perfection and falls a little bit short (like all will), he’ll still do a really good job. Pete made one comment, however, that got me to rethink the entire line. He said…

"Perfection leads to paralysis."

Quick, simple, to the point. Like the great coach he is. Pete went on to explain (and I’ve always know this, but never applied it correctly) that once you think you’re perfect, you’re done. Once you think you’re great, you’re done. Once you think you’re the best, you’re done. Perfection is an unattainable goal to begin with. Using it as a goal means you automatically set yourself up for failure — or for falling far short of your true potential.

Perfection should NOT be the goal. Excellence should be the goal. As Pete explained, excellence means something different to each person, but it’s always something to strive for. Excellence is your BEST, it is what you strive for in your training, your school work, your job. Trying to achieve excellence is an attainable goal, and a renewable goal. One you reach it, IT defines a NEW level of excellence.

Perfection brings with it limitations rather than the constantly moving ceiling of excellence. If you swim a 1:00 for the 100 breaststroke today, a :58 would be excellent. Once you swim a :58, a :57 would be excellent. So on and so on until you begin to reach the limits of being human.

Each time I go to a coaches clinic, I learn something. Some people disappoint with their closed mindedness, while others enlighten in a brief conversation. While all the speakers I listened to brought very valuable information to many coaches, the greatest piece of wisdom I picked up was when I was being corrected.

While it may have seemed like a little thing to Pete, it’s the way he is. His wisdom comes out very "matter of factly." To all of us who look up to coaches like Pete, a great deal of gratitude is due.

Man… I hope I got that perfect?