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Overcoming Mediocrity

Over the past couple weeks, there have been a couple significant souls lost that made incredible impact on the earth.

Obviously, we all know about Steve Jobs, and those who visit here read about Al Weatherhead.  Read the third paragraph of the linked article to get some scope of understanding of Al.  I’m not writing this to further glorify these two men, but I refer to them for us all to imagine what is possible for humans.

When we think of what our own impact can be, if we were to only compare to people like Steve and Al, it leaves us all falling so short of any sort of impact, one could get very depressed with our own lack of contributuion to society.  It’s a humbling experience to sit back and imagine.

However, both men wrote and encourage people to do the best we each could, with the understanding that not everyone has the ability to reach those heights.

When we think of swimming, we have to look at it very similarly.  What is our contribution to society as coaches, and what is our commitment as athletes that would be similar in any way to these great men?

From a coaches perspective, what are we doing to help our athletes be something more than just average… mediocre?  Do we inspire them to want to come to practice?  Do we demand that they come?  Do we encourage, or help them understand that in order to reach the goals they’ve set for themselves, it’s going to be a difficult task?  While the number of people we have the opportunity to impact may not be as great as Steve and Al, the quality of that impact can be just as profound.  The personal connection that you can make with your athletes, by showing them you actually care about their success, and their lives can draw them to go to new levels of commitment and dedication.  Will you get them all, and will you care about them all equally?  No matter what you hear, coaches will have favorites, which are typically the ones that just do things they’re asked to… they’re not always the fastest, but they’re the ones who show up and try.  The real job of impacting your community (your team), is to do your best to care as much about the ones that are slipping through the cracks as you do for the ones who are always sitting in the front row, hands in the air (the lane leaders).

From an athletes perspective, you can equate Steve and Al to "the olympians".  In fact, each of them would qualify for the International Olympic Hall of Fame… they’re that great.  If we only held their standard as success, unfortunately, we’d all fail.  What could you possibly do as a swimmer to live up to that level?  If there’s no hope to reach the Michael Phelps, Ryan Locte, or Jason Lezak level of performance, what’s the point?  The point is simple, to accomplish something you didn’t think you could.  I’ve witnessed so many swimmers over my many years who have overcome others minimal expectations and gone beyond what they thought was possible as an athlete.  These are traits that will stay with you forever, and learning of the direct relationship between work and reward is one of the most important lessons in life.  You don’t have to have the potential to BE an Olympian to live your life LIKE an Olympian.  By practicing with the same intensity, the same frequency, and the same quality of movements and actions as an Olympian, trust me, you’ll be much better than you ever thought you could be.

Average and mediocre are not words athletes throw around often, nor do great businessmen and philanthropists.  Mediocrity in business is getting in right at nine, and leaving right at five.  Mediocrity in athletics is doing the bare minimum and expecting great results.

How do you overcome mediocrity?  By discovering what is instinctual and overcoming those traits.  In business, not just finishing the task, but trying to solve problems created by the demand of that task… finding a better way (Steve Jobs).  In business, not just earning the money, but understanding that in order for other people to have the ability and opportunity to create a better society, they need a better education, so you give what you have back to creating that future (Al Weatherhead).  In athletics, discovering where you rest, relax, shut down and filling in those gaps.

Don’t kick off your walls?  Mediocre.  Fill in that gap.  Don’t go IN to the walls aggressively?  Mediocre.  Fill in that gap.  Practice starts at 6, you show up at 6?  Mediocre.  Get in earlier and stretch.  Pull on the lane line?  Ugh… completely mediocre.  Knock that off!  Don’t streamline? Worse than mediocre… pointless.  Fill in that gap.

We could go on and on about the opportunities to fill in the gaps both in real life, and athletics.  The trick is, finding out what part of your life is average, and do your best to overcome that.  Living to that standard isn’t easy, and we all fall short at times.  It’s those who fall short the least that win and succeed.

All you have to do is open your eyes, look at the successful people, find out what they do, and try to do your best to model as much of that as you can.   You don’t have to be a Steve and or Al, and truth be told, (not wanting to put limitations on anyone else), I know if they’re my personal standard, I’m a complete and utter failure.  My one solace is that I knew Al, and I feel proud that he always knew how hard I try.

Now ask yourself if your hero’s know you’re trying, and would they be proud of your desire to overcome mediocrity?