Swimming Advice

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If at First, You Don’t Understand, Try, Try Again

by David Wendkos

My last post focused on the differences between the ideal kick for a triathlon swim as opposed to others. It was introduced by pointing out the challenge of human communication and how often, different people will try to communicate the same idea in (sometimes dramatically) different ways. As I proof-read the post, I found myself thinking of an experience while swimming in college that provided two valuable lessons for me; one in swimming, one in life.

Throughout my freshman year, my college coaches kept trying to get me to change my arm recovery, explaining that it looked “mechanical”. I honestly tried to change it or at least to understand what about it they didn’t like, but never seemed to get it right. It got to the point that to start my sophomore year, at my head coach’s request, I actually took (no laughing please) a ballet class, as he hoped that would teach me to move more fluidly. For a college jock with a big ego, it was rough. For a perfectionist who still didn’t get it, it was really frustrating. Then, one day at practice, a girl who had been a senior my freshman year stopped by to visit with the team. While there, she looked at my stroke and passed a brief comment, suggesting I try to lead my recovery with my elbow.

“POP!” That was it. For how I visualized my stroke, this made sense to me, and the small adjustment I made in my recovery instantly changed my stroke in the manner my coaches had been trying to get to for over a year. That was the first lesson – how to swim more effectively and efficiently. The second lesson was much more important, and applies to all people in all situations. If you aren’t “getting” what someone is trying to teach you, or tell you, or explain to you, do not simply decide you cannot do it, or it is your fault, or their fault, or that something is wrong. We all have our own way of explaining things, and our own way of understanding things. Take the time to ask questions. If you aren’t getting there with one person, talk to another. But if you keep looking to understand, there’s a good chance you ultimately will. If you don’t, there isn’t.

I know this seems to be more of a “big picture” topic, but when it comes to learning swimming, I really believe it is a critical item to remember. The differences between a good stroke and a great one are comprised of fine details. Additionally, swimming is an activity where instruction can occur before and after, but generally not while in process. It can be challenging at times to apply a lesson, particularly if the instructions aren’t clear to you. Don’t let it go. One day, someone will address a problem area in a way that clicks for you, and next thing you know, you will be swimming that much faster, that much more efficiently, and that much more confidently.

David Wendkos lives in Annapolis, MD and has over 30 years of competitive swimming, coaching swimmers for the pool, open water, and triathlons. He can be followed on twitter at http://twitter.com/SwimMD