Everyone wants to get better, but improvement isn’t luck; it takes a plan.
We’d all like a specific roadmap for how to improve, and the one that I like the best is Daniel Coyle’s – The Little Book of Talent.
Since Tip #3 is, Steal Without Apology, I’ll start with that one, and then I’ll go through a few of my favorite tips out of the 52 in this book. “Stealing,” as it pertains to our sport is more about watching the people you want to be like and modeling your stroke, training, and life outside of the sport after those people. Stealing is about the “specifics” of that person’s technique or actions. Another way to think about this is modeling things you do after someone you admire.
Another tip is to Chunk your skills. You could consider this drilling or every pushoff you take in practice. It’s about focusing on the smaller details in your stroke or actions, and having complete focus on that specific skill… and repeating it over and over. Don’t think of your stroke as a whole; sometimes, think of each part of it as a chunk… its own specific thing.
Moving on from that, let’s look at the tip that talks about the Deep Practice method. We spend a lot of time in our teaching, moving very slowly. I like to have athletes memorize the path of their arm or how the body rotates while the head is stable. The isolation of these movements is hard to analyze when you’re going fast. Think about musicians and when they FIRST picked up their instrument. They started very slowly, and memorizing finger placements, how much air to use, countless things coming together to eventually… become a performer. It’s a long path.
The one I love the most is Embrace Struggle. I like to call this the frustration of learning. Whenever you’re asked to change something, it will feel awkward. You have to look in the mirror (literally in the Endless Pool), and see if the movement makes sense. If your intellect tells you that the path of the movement is more productive than the previous path, then it’s worth doing. These changes, again, will take time, and holding the form during the struggle of practice, or performance in practice… will be difficult.
Find a coach or mentor. That’s pretty much a no-brainer. It’s hard to do these things on your own. You need feedback, corrective paths, encouragement, and hope. All of that can come from the right coach or mentor. People that had come before you and experienced success and failure (and, importantly, how to avoid failure). When you find the right coach, don’t just listen; discuss. Be a part of your athlete path.
Mix up your training. That is another amazing tip. We have a tendency in our sport to do the same thing repeatedly and hope that things will turn out differently the next time. Doesn’t that sound a bit crazy? 😉 In our sport, it’s hard to think how to “mix up your training,” but you certainly can mix up your focus, intensity, and what you’re going to improve on — today. Go into each practice with a slightly different goal than you had the day before. Can your underwater dolphins be longer? Can you take one less stroke per length and still make the intervals? Can you beat the person next to you in and out of the flags every time? Make a game from your technique and training, and you’ll improve.
Those are just a few of the 52 tips in Daniel’s book, and the last team age-group team we worked with, this was required reading… for both the swimmers AND the parents.