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Week #3 – Entropy

Week #3 –Week #3 – Entropy/ noun: a process of degradation or running down, or a trend to disorder

or

The best laid schemes o� mice and men

Gang aft a-gley
–Robert Burns

In my last two entries, I talked about the importance of sitting down before each new season to lay out a plan based on length of season, hours of pool time, and on the personalities and talents of your swimmers. I also shared some of the things we do to get our swimmers ready, both physically and mentally, for the aerobic phase of our training. Well, planning is one thing, but what happens when the unplannable becomes the reality?

On the morning of our first practice I received a phone call from Mr. Blue. While initially excited to hear from one of my athletes early in the morning (keep in mind these are college-age students who rarely see the morning), I knew something was not right. After the usual pleasantries, he told me that the night before he had broken a bone in his hand. I would like to say I was shocked or angry or something like that, but things like this have happened too many times for me to become irrational about it. So I asked him how his hand was, and how much pain he was in. He told me he was all right as far as pain, and that he had mild swelling with almost full range of motion. This made the bad news almost bearable; if he could move his hand, he might not need a cast. But a trip to the doctor revealed the hard reality: His hand would be in a cast for at least two weeks.

This is one of those things that Coach Pat Riley talks about in his book The Winner Within: A Life Plan for Team Players. In one chapter he talks about Thunderbolts, which he defines these as �something that is beyond your control, a phenomenon that one day strikes you, your team, your business, your city, even your nation. It rocks you, it blows you into a crater. You have no choice except to take the hit. But you do have a lot of choice about what to do next.� He goes on to add, �That�s what a Thunderbolt experience should teach you to do: take on adversity and come back, better than before.�

A Thunderbolt has struck Mr. Blue and our team. Mr. Blue is a senior and a captain on the team. He is coming into the season in the best shape I have seen him in. He spent the off-season rehabbing his back so that he could begin the season fresh and free of pain. He had goals. Then, while walking home in the rain, with sandals on, he slipped and tried to catch himself. As soon as he got up from the ground he knew his hand was broken. Identifying this incident as a Thunderbolt is the easy part. The hard part is figuring out how to take on adversity and come back better than before.

As far as I know there is no way to make his hand not broken, so that option is out. I have been impressed with what he has done to this point to turn this Thunderbolt around and make it a positive experience that he can learn from. Injury is one of the most frustrating things to deal with as an athlete. Having to sit and watch while others are doing what you want to be doing is sometimes excruciating. He has been on deck every day since he broke his hand. He�s not only been present, but also has lent his eyes and presence to help the coaches. As a senior in the program, he is a veteran of three skill-development phases. He has also never been afraid to experiment with his stroke. His past experience, combined with his leadership, has made him a great asset on deck. He gives incoming freshman the chance to hear from an athlete — not a coach — what they should focus on. By having to explain all the drills to his teammates, and then WATCH how they swim, he is developing a deeper understanding of what we have been telling him for the past three years.

To an elite-level swimmer, there is no substitute for pool time. Having a broken hand will keep Mr. Blue out of the pool for at least two weeks. Knowing that he can never get that time back, and that there is no real substitute as far as swimming goes, he has been trying to train himself aerobically outside of the pool. He has been riding a stationary bike in the fitness center for at least an hour and a half each day. Core strengthening is now a major part of his daily routine. He can�t lift weights because of his hand, so he has been working on his abs.

This is the first of what I am sure will be many Thunderbolts to hit our team. This is a large part of our profession. No matter how solid a foundation we lay down, cracks will always appear. It�s how we deal with them, individually and as a team, that matters.

While you would prefer that something like this never happen, it happened early in the season and I don�t think it will hurt us too badly. I believe that Mr. Blue will come back stronger and that our program will actually benefit from the experience. His creativity and leadership in dealing with a setback are bound to set an example for the team. I will keep everyone updated on Mr. Blue