Coaching Best Performances while Coaxing Machine Swimming Vision Out

Look around a pool deck and you will inevitably see coaches twirling stopwatches like a gunslinger from the Old West. Deftly working multiple pairs for each athlete in the water with amazing dexterity. And holstering them after every performance.  Like a fictionalized Doc Holiday, I put down my stopwatch a few years into coaching. Knowing I couldn’t control the outcome, I preferred to watch, listen, and absorb what was happening.

Years later an athlete asked me why I didn’t use a stopwatch and I replied simply “Because I’m watching you swim.” After years of swimming and coaching, I had found my parlor trick. I could time a performance within tenths simply by hearing and watching it.

Voltaire the Coach

Perhaps it’s a penchant for coffee, but Voltaire would have made a fantastic swim coach. He realized that perfect is the enemy of good. Winning a race is not time standing still, its a compilation of processes over time that put an athlete in position to accomplish their goals. And training is about making the most of those opportunities with the time and resources at our disposal. Athlete engagement takes precedent over coaching genius.

“Appreciation is a wonderful thing. It makes what is excellent in others belong to us as well.”

triathlon swim training techniques

The Dual Definition of Determination

Wonderment alone merely gets people curious. A firmness of purpose; resoluteness is typically how we think of determined goal oriented athletes. Head down, grinding through 80s workout montages with a coach balancing his best drill sergeant impression alongside a halftime speech straight out of Hollywood. But ‘new school’ determination is a hybrid process of establishing a relationship built with attention to detail, typically upon calculation or research. Coaching determination is manufacturing a successful path, no matter the audience or the obstacle.

Nirvana Fallacy

There is no perfect solution or path to swimming faster. Stopwatches tell a part of a race, but also overlook incredibly nuanced performances seen through expert eyes. Competition in swimming is about making the time count, but practice is about making the time matter. And every race is an opportunity to practice performance.  Be mindful when trying to share with your athletes the most influential parts of their performances.

A coach’s eyes, ears, and mind are heightened through years of banging on their craft. The best command attention because they demand it of themselves. And sometimes we get caught up in the idea that everyone sees what we do and hears what we say. They don’t. Why not take your 10k hours and give a little hint to others as to where to start looking. Perhaps they will look with fresh eyes and find their best performance.


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