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Cheat Success or Honest Failure?

This starts with a question:
Is it better to appear successful when you had to cheat to do so, or fail while following the rules and trying your hardest?

While this post could easily be extrapolated to pro sports, or the Olympics with steroids or blood doping, this is simply about practice.

Coaches across the world spend countless hours developing season plans, crafting practices that hopefully intrigue and excite swimmers into giving effort in areas the coach knows the swimmer needs work in.  If the swimmers accomplish the practices as written by the coach throughout the entire season, chances are very good for success.  However, if the practices are performed in sections… specifically only the sections swimmers enjoy or feel like working, and the rest of the practice is cruised, or worse, cheated on to get through, then in reality, the design of the practice is no longer valid.

A good practice will either overload a specific muscle group (like upper or lower body), or focus on a specific swimming task (like speed or distance), or be an overall general distribution of many muscle groups or techniques so a more general understanding of the water can take place.  Very few practices, when done as written, are bad practices.  Failure to do practices as written, again, make the overall practice have less long term impact to your goals.

Picking and choosing when to work is understandable.  Picking and choosing when to be legal is NEVER understandable.

There are several simple rules to practices that, when followed, make it much easier to accomplish a practice ‘as written’.

Here are a few:
1)  Start from the wall, not the flags.
2)  The lane lines are to DIVIDE the lanes, not to serve as an additional form of propulsion for you.
3)  Turn at the wall, not the flags.  Don’t forget, the flags are to tell you that the wall is coming soon… they’re not a temporary signal for you to turn right there.
4)  Leave the prescribed time behind the person in front of you.  Quick hint; if there are 6 people in a 50 meter lane, you don’t have to go :05 seconds apart… or :04… :10 seconds apart will give you your own space and allow you to focus on your stroke, pace, and even give you more work because there’s less chance you’ll get caught in the draft of the swimmer in front.
5)  Kick sets are for kicking.  Pulling on the lane line, or using your kick board as a paddle, or simply flat out swimming doesn’t mean you’re working your legs… YOU’RE CHEATING!
6)  Unless your coach has told you to switch strokes at the 12-1/2 or 25 (long course), chances are they’ve designed a set that was meant for the same stroke to be swum at the END of the length that you started with at the BEGINNING of the length.  So swim the entire length the same stroke.

Come on coaches… how long could this list be, but if your swimmers all followed just a few very simple rules, all the time, how much better would your team be?

Swimmers, if you have a kick set that you’re having a hard time making by following the rules above, and you decide to cheat to make it… it may APPEAR that you’ve succeeded, but you know you’ve failed.  While there may be another swimmer in the pool who has NOT made the set, but done everything according to the simple rules above, at least that swimmer has a guideline as to how close they came to making the set, and hopefully the next time, will get closer.

Here’s more specific information.  If there are two swimmers who have a set of 10 x 100’s on 1:10 (pick your pool… it’s theoretical).  Swimmer A does everything legally and makes the first 6… then starts to fall off the pace.  Struggles home and is missing the interval by :05 – :08 seconds by the last one.  While they may get yelled at by the coach, or heck, praised by the coach for their effort, they know that the next time that set comes around, they know that if they make 7 or 8 of the 100’s on 1:10, that they’re improving.  Swimmer B on the other hand… also gets to #6 successfully, but notices on #7 that by the 50 turn, they’re simply not going to make the interval… at the 75 turn, rather than swimming all the way in to the wall, they turn at the flags and come back just in time to leave on the 1:10… the same practice is applied for the next 3 and unless the coach saw this, appears to have accomplished the task at hand.

If Swimmer A and Swimmer B were of exactly the same ability level… who got a better practice?

The most fitness comes in athletics when you continue to push through a certain point and just keep going.  Even if you don’t make the intervals, if you’re doing everything correctly, at least you know where you stand.

Here’s my feeling on young competitive swimmers.  I don’t mind slow swimmers.  They have so much upside, so much to learn, and so much hope.  What I can’t stand are cheaters.  Even extremely talented swimmers who cheat.  To me, it’s just a waste of time.

Swimmers.  Look in your heart at your next practice.  When you cheat, you’re not just giving yourself a break, you’re also disrupting the design of the practice.  This disruption means you’re not getting the work you were supposed to get.  Because of this, if you cheat regularly in practice, you can NOT blame your coach at the end of the season for your failure.  You are the only one to blame. 

Moving into a new year is the time for resolutions.  Athletes need to question themselves and understand that they hold their own destiny in their hands.  Failure to grab that destiny in a positive, and honest way, will ultimately lead to dissatisfaction.  

When that happens, take ownership of your failure and use it as a lesson.  Don’t look to see who you’re going to blame, blame yourself.

At the same time, if you take the opportunity to swim practices with integrity and honesty, although you may appear to be going slower (because you’re actually doing the set), you’ll ultimately understand what it really means to be an athlete and will more than likely be very happy with your career.  I can’t even promise that it will pay off THIS season.  It’s almost January… it’s almost too late for THIS season.  

However, the summer season will be here soon… how happy do you want to be?