In all you do in life, you’ll have good days, and bad days. In athletics, unfortunately, you’ll have good seasons, and bad seasons as well. In business, there are also many ups and downs. The important thing is that you treat everything with an understanding that when you are down, when the road (pool) gets tough, you NEVER quit, and never give up.
Through all my years in the sport, I have yet to know a swimmer or coach who’s had a carefree ride to a successful season. In every case, success has come with a tremendous amount of mental stress and physical agony. While physical stress is to be expected, it’s learning to deal with this physical stress that creates the most successful athletes. The level of mental stress that accompanies success is often less expected…and tougher to handle. But it’s a key part of the total package.
Knowing that one great day is never enough to create a great season, the daily grind of heavy training begins to wear on athletes. They look forward to a day of rest, to an easy practice, or to that day when they just feel everything click. While these days are sought after as an athlete, they are few and far between. Coaches are required to put their athletes into physically demanding situations. Once the athletes can handle the load, the bar gets raised a bit higher. So the next day, that situation is MORE demanding.
One day does not make a season good or bad. The important thing to remember is that when bad days happen, the successful athlete accepts it and then gets through it as quickly as possible. Put it behind you. Step up the next day, ready to overcome whatever it is that caused that poor performance. Top athletes have a stubbornness that comes with wanting to reach their potential. They have a never-give-up attitude that comes with wanting to achieve some sort of greatness in anything they do. They have a mindset that says, "No matter what gets in my way, I will not quit, I will never give up, I will never accept that the task I’ve set for myself can not be accomplished."
I read a great quote this week by J.J. Proctor, a British Author:
"The child’s philosophy is a true one. He does not despise the bubble because it burst; he immediately sets to work to blow another one."
This quote really hits home when you think about obstacles, bad days, or even failures. If you’ve done everything that you needed to do in preparation, and things don’t work out, there is no sense in regretting what you’ve done up to that point, but rather, set to work on the next task, the next goal, the next set.
Life is about making plans, having goals, shooting for targets, and the one thing you can always count on is that things have a tendency to change. You must be flexible enough to deal with that change, shift with it, and reorient yourself to make the best of the NEXT situation. In practice, if one set goes bad, put it behind you and move to the next one. On days when you’re not feeling well physically, be stubborn enough to get something out of the practice even when your body doesn’t want to give it…work on the feel, the technique, your turns, your pushoffs.
There are unlimited opportunities to improve in the water, it’s not just about working hard, and it’s not just about having great technique. There is a balance that requires each to be in the equation. There is also a balance of emotions that come with the sport, the highs of great performances, and the lows of heavy training.
Athletes need to take one day at a time, with the understanding that there will be good days, bad days, great days, and sad days. It’s the life of an athlete, and the life of a person who cares about what they’re doing. The most important part of understanding this is to maintain balance during the bad days, and enjoy the good days. The goal, of course, is training hard enough, making progress toward your goal, so the good days outnumber the bad days by a LARGE margin.
Finally, sit back and reflect, asking yourself one simple question; Are you strong enough to handle adversity?
I’ll finish with one more quote.
This one by American writer and philosopher B.F. Skinner:
"A failure is not always a mistake; it may simply be the best one can do under the circumstances. The real mistake is to stop trying."