It's All in the Numbers

Apr 23, 2004
It's All in the Numbers

One of the lead stories on our local radio station this morning was about how a local school board of a major metropolitan area had finally reached a decision to send the students to school an additional day, to make up for a snow day. Of course, they also announced that this would be only a half day, so the students shouldn't be too upset.

It got me thinking about the rationale behind such a move, and then the value as well. It seems to me that what is ultimately important in this school board's mind, is the NUMBER of days the students are in school, rather than the value of teaching that goes on WHILE the kids are in school. Sure, I know that sounds like a harsh statement, but this particular school system is in a bit of disarray ($75 million dollars in debt, and facing an entire restructuring), so it seems to me that they should have cut their losses and let the kids out for that final day. I mean, come on, what do you think is going to occur on that last half day? More yearbook signing parties? Final goodbyes for the summer? I would wager it's going to be a day spent going through the motions, and mostly clock-watching for the final tick. Of course, to open the school for that day will certainly cost a lot of money, but WE'VE GOTTA GET IN THE NUMBERS.


Getting that snow-day rant out of my system makes me think about swimming. What is training? What comprises an effective practice session? Many people ASSUME they understand my philosophy about training, and that it's technique over yardage. If you're one of the people who assume that, then you don't know me at all, but you're also making this WAY too simple.

Many people involved in swimming break it down to strictly a numbers game. For them, "successful" training comes down to how much yardage was swum. My belief is that the quality of the training is ultimately more important than the quantity. But quality training doesn't necessarily mean limited yardage. Every swimmer, situation, training session, time of season, stage of development, focus of event, ability of the athlete...etc., needs to be taken into consideration in order to determine how, how much, how fast, which type, etc. So a better way to sum up MY training philosophy is... Do it right, and do a LOT of it. If that adds up to big numbers, so be it.

It's so easy to fall into a straight numbers game in so many things we do:

Dieting. Do you count calories?  What type of calories?

Weightlifting.  Do you focus on how much can you budge...or the integrity of the movement?

Hamburgers.   What'll it be? Ten White Castle's...or 1 Whopper?

MPG. Do you set the trip indicator to see how far you can go on one gallon of gas...or how FAST you can get there (sorry, personal preference here)?

Swimming times in practice.  Do you use one-handed turns or other short cuts to get a fast time...or do you swim by the rules to see where you are legally?

Winning races.  It's strange to think there could be a downside to this one, but the choice is: Do you win all your dual meets by resting a bit for each one -- or do you win the championship meet at the end of the season by working THROUGH the dual meets (some swimmers have to make this choice)?

Number of coaches on deck.  Do you opt for 6 average hobbyists...or 1 knowledgeable, motivated, dynamic individual?

Amount of money in your bank account.  Do you want a bunch or... uh...OK...bad example.

You get the picture. Life is all about choices, and sometimes QUANTITY is not always the best choice. It's the same in swimming. While training more can certainly get you in better shape to do what you do better, or faster, the real question is: Are you getting what you need in order to reach your potential? Our sport is a strange animal in that there are many options for getting people to reach an end result. The most important thing is finding the way that works best for you. The only way to find that way is to try MANY ways.

Now, as far as school systems are concerned, it's hard to listen to a report without a sigh, or without rolling your eyes. I don't pretend to understand the complexities involved in running an entire school system, and there are many school systems that are great. It's just that this news report struck me as totally counter-productive and silly... just to add one more day to the year. Just makes you wonder, that's all.

I'm gonna GO SWIM!

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