I overheard a conversation after swimming this morning. The first part I heard was, "I usually swim out to the 6-mile mark, then turn around."
When I asked if he was doing 12-mile swims at lunch time, he laughed and said he usually started (and stopped) the swims around the 5.5-mile marker…for a total of one mile. It got me thinking about perspective and perception.
I recounted a story about my Dad’s only masters meet, a LONG time ago, probably before "masters" really existed. He and a friend and business associate ended up in a race (I think it was the 50 breaststroke). A few weeks later, my Dad was in his friend’s office with a few other people, and someone commented about John’s 2nd-place trophy for swimming. I’m sure it was friendly, but Dad did take the opportunity to point out that there were only TWO of them in the race.
Obviously, success is a relative thing, and is based on so many things: skill set, physical health, ability to withstand workload, desire to train properly, available time, desire to win…and the list can go on. For my open-water friend, swimming 1 mile is a great accomplishment and source of pride. For my Dad’s friend, 2nd was just as good as winning, even though it was last. Success is relative and based on the individual’s perspective. Losing perspective can be one of the more destructive aspects of athletics.
I’ve written before about hearing young swimmers say the familiar words, "I wanna swim in the Olympics." While it’s great to hear the desire, and to feel that you’ve met someone motivated to perform, it’s hard to know if they have the "perspective" to understand what’s ahead of them once they embark on that path. Pain, agony, long hours, the requirement of balancing your entire schedule, social calendar, all for the extremely slim chance that you’ll even qualify for Olympic Trails, and the even slimmer chance you’ll make finals, for that incredibly minuscule chance that you’ll be in the top two in your event.
Perspective is also important when talking about "swimming technique." I’ve heard on two occasions in the 8 years we’ve had Go Swim running, that our material is 1) "basic." and 2) "low tech." While the first came from my friend Jonty Skinner, and meaning it in the way I understood it… it works for most swimmers. "Low tech" seemed to come in the form of a slam, and I initially took it in the way it was intended.
After allowing it to sink in, however, I realize the critique was correct. Our approach IS low tech. I admit it and I’m not ashamed or afraid someone is going to find out. Low tech means you’re going to have to discover things for yourself, rather than have a scientist analyze what’s going to be the best way for you to improve. Low tech is really the only way I know to go about trying to present tons of free content to swimmers, that someday, somewhere, sometime, somebody can get on the site, and find something that means something specifically to them. To access something that from within their perspective makes sense.
What we’ve noticed is that the world is filled with swimmers who are interested in what can be called the high-tech aspects of the sport. Some are fascinated by the study of lactate. Others are obsessed with studying range of motion. Others are intrigued by the science of the sport and love to attach swimmers to power meters, put them in flumes, videotape them, and then use biomechanical software to track and analyze the path of the hands, feet, head, hips. While all of that gives tremendous feedback on how to train someone, how to predict what they’re capable of doing, and how to make adjustments to go faster, most of us don’t have access to those tools.
Science is a great thing. But it’s easy to lose perspective and forget how many people swim just because they love it…versus how many people swim to compete…versus how many compete at a level that captures the attention of people who write about swimming.
Our goal at GoSwim is to create material that serves swimmers of every level. We want to reach those swimmers who race… and those who will never race but would also never miss a day at the pool. Much of our material (for example our premium DVDs) speaks to both audiences. For those who desire to compete at the elite level, our DVDs provide a way to see exactly how the best swimmers in the world perform their strokes. We don’t get into the SCIENCE of their strokes (the path, power, and force data) because those things are unique to the swimmer and probably won’t do you much good. Instead, what we try to do in our DVDs is show you up close and in slow motion the things these athletes do that you can realistically try in your own stroke — no matter what your body type, ability level, or aspirations as a swimmer. What you take from the DVDs depends on the perspective that you bring to the viewing. The accomplished, competitive swimmer will study the DVDs on a different level from the recreational swimmer. While the recreational swimmer will look for the big things they can imitate, the competitive swimmer will look for the big things AND the small things they can add to their stroke to get an edge on the field. It’s all about perspective.
Perspective becomes extremely important when you’re trying to stay positive. Knowing what your limitations are as an athlete, and a person, leads to a happier life. Viewing things through a narrow vision, or narrow perspective serves many people very well, Olympic champions are those type. Their perspective is about committing to winning everything, all the time, and they want as much detailed help as possible in order to achieve that (and pay for it).
For the rest of us, a more general perspective is in order. A perspective that accepts that not everyone in the world cares how fast Jason Lezak swims (obviously we do), but is more concerned with their ability to make it through a triathlon swim in under 30 minutes, breaking a minute in the 100 free, or swimming their first IM without being DQ’d. We’ll continue to strive to make our material serve the complete range of swimmers.
Finally, if you want high tech, click here and we’ll help you on your way. 🙂