Week #11: Greatness Means Achieving to the Best of Your Ability

Nov 14, 2003
Week #11: Greatness Means Achieving to the Best of Your Ability

I�m expecting a few extra gray hairs this weekend, when our swimmers face the league� #1 men� team and the league� #2 women� team. We are currently ranked #2 men� team and #1 women� team, and we are the league� defending champions in both categories, so you can see that this is a big matchup.

What I see in our pool concerns me. We are not swimming like the championship teams of last year. We are swimming like teams who THINK they are champions, but who have forgotten how much work it takes to BE champions.

Last year, we entered the season as middle-of-the-road teams. Our underdog status provided fuel for the fire needed to win two championship titles. This year the fire seems to be out � or still needs to be lit. In order for a team to have championship potential, each and every member of the team needs to be striving to reach full potential. The team that wins the championship isn�t necessarily the team with the most accomplished athletes, it� the team whose athletes accomplish the most with what they�ve got. Championship teams are those on which every athlete trains and races to the best of his or her ability and potential. No matter who you are, the best that you can achieve is your best. A winning team is one on which every member strives to be the best he can be.

What I�ve been seeing on deck this year is acquiescence. Certain members are performing up to their ability, but, with only a few exceptions, those with the most talent and ability are performing only well enough to stay ahead of their teammates. For the most part, these are athletes who achieved success last year. They came into the season with high hopes and great goals. Right now, these are the athletes who aren�t achieving their potential. They seem content with leading their lanes and doing just enough to be the best in their lane or group. This is not to fault the less talented athletes, most of whom are working as close to their potential as they can. It� just that the athletes at the top (most of them) have chosen to swim down to the slower and harder-working athletes in their groups. Rather than raise the bar and encourage everyone to follow their lead, they have chosen to swim down to their competition. This weekend may be a rude awakening, when they discover that the real competition is not the second-fastest swimmer in the lane but the second-fastest team in the league.

This week I designed a set to try and fight the apathy that is developing in our group. We began each interval from the middle of the pool, with half the group swimming toward one wall and the other half swimming toward the bulkhead. The fastest people were staggered to increase competition in the group. Facing one way were the first-, third-, and fifth-fastest swimmers in the group. Facing the other way were the second-, fourth-, and sixth-fastest swimmers. Both groups were sent from the same spot at the same time. On every length they saw how fast they were swimming compared to the people who most closely matched their ability.

Starts each interval from the middle of the pool.
3 rounds, all @ 10 RI. Your choice of stroke.
4 x 25 Focus on timing. Start from a balanced position and with fast hips. Pushoff in balance and finish EZ.
4 x 50 Focus on making two fast turns, then finish with a fast somersault after you clear the flags.
Turns should get progressively faster (make sure that they are coming in fully extended).
4 x 25 Focus on timing. Start from a balanced position with rhythmic hips. Pushoff in balance and finish FAST.
4 x 100 Focus on fast walls and rhythmic swimming.
Swim THROUGH (a little past) the place you start from.

The results were mixed but helped to shake up the dynamics of the lanes. Two athletes stood out as achieving at their potential on the set -- Ms. Orange and Mr. Green. Ms. Orange has and will always continue to try as hard as she can, whenever she can. She has a drive unlike any other I�ve witnessed as a coach. When she combines this drive with attention to detail, nothing can stop her. She is already swimming as fast as she did last season, when she set the league, school, and pool records at championships. Her response to swimming that fast was, �That was all right but I want to be faster.� She will approach this weekend in the same way she approaches every challenge: head on, and with a will to be her best. Mr. Green has taken it upon himself to lead the team. When I decided to change our practices from interval-base training to a more experimental method, he stepped up to lead. He has led each set and has swum to the best of his ability. That doesn�t mean he is always going lifetime bests. This past weekend, in the first meet of the season, he swam faster than his seed time at our league championships last season, a meet where he went lifetime best and helped to contribute individually and on relays to a championship effort. What struck me about his swims last weekend and about his early season swims, is what happened AFTER he swam. I try to give as much positive feedback as possible after an athlete swims at a meet. Mr. Green could care less about positive feedback. What he wanted to know is what he could do better, and what he needed to work on in practice. He wanted me to forget the fact that he performed better in the first meet than he had all of the previous season, and tell him his performance wasn�t good enough and that he needed to work more.

Mr. Green is not the fastest, most talented athlete in the sprint group. But his attitude and commitment to excellence have made him the leader of our team. No matter what happens at the close of this his senior year (and last season of collegiate swimming), he can walk away knowing he performed to the best of his ability. It� my hope that the rest of the team will see his example and try to emulate him.

I will keep everyone posted on the outcome of this pivotal early season challenge. John Wooden said of adversity, � It doesn�t build character, it reveals it.� This weekend the character of both teams will be revealed. We will see if we have the same character as our championship teams of a year ago. If we do then we can continue to build on that. If we don�t then we will get back to working on what made us champions in the first place. I hate losing more than anything else, but I am smart enough to think about why I lost and what I need to work on.

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