I’ve heard of this scenario a few times now- a swimmer comes to a TI course, realizes the physics and physiology behind the concepts, surrenders to the learning process, then begins to practice a new stroke skill with some success and growing excitement. Then she returns to her regular coach to show off the new stroke. The first thing the coach does is pull out a stop-watch to see if this new stroke pattern is going to immediately make his swimmer faster than the old stroke, and… Nope! So the coach rejects the new skill and writes off TI as a nice stroke for slow swimmers.

But this worship of the stopwatch suggests an ignorance about how the brain works. The swimmer is just beginning to introduce her neuro-muscular system to a new pattern and the connections between brain and muscle are thin and and impulses are weak. She cannot execute the movement with the ease of her old patterns yet. Through careful, precise repetitions, thousands of repetitions, the swimmer’s neuro-muscular connections will be built up and expanded (while the old ones lose strength from disuse) so that the movement can be fired with more ease, more power. A superior fast stroke will first be experienced as a superior slow stroke, until the neuro-muscular connections are built up. Perhaps a coach that only measures improvement with a stopwatch doesn’t understand this and therefore puts the transforming swimmer under the wrong kind of test, and too soon, and misses the opportunity to help her make a major improvement.

In swimming, as well as in any sport or practice with complex motor skills, a new pattern will need time to be imprinted  deeply enough to bring the full benefits. This is going to take some understanding and trust for the process on the part of the swimmer, her coach and even among her swimming companions. Yet it is so sad to see an enlightened swimmer succumb to the ignorant pressure of the old swim school mentality and abandon her path to breakthrough. It will take courage to stand against the skepticism of those who have not experienced what she had tasted, reasoned through, and was convinced by.

Trust and dedication to the process, investing the time and focus necessary will eventually bring about the full benefits of this new pattern, to where the new pattern will be easier and more effective than the old. This takes persistence and patience. It often requires breaking down the stroke, slowing down the swimmer, so that it can be rebuilt. Even once we start to see better results from a new pattern it takes time to imprint it so deeply that it becomes the new default stroke that will endure under the pressure. The more deeply the new pattern is practiced, the more resilient it will become under the stress of racing, going faster, going farther, or encounter more difficult water conditions.

When you submit to change you take a risk. You might understand in theory why a new idea is better than your old one, but it takes time for that idea, under deep practice, to build up all the supporting systems in your body, and sink into your belief system  so that the fullest benefits can be realized. You risk time, you risk effort, you risk losing an old pattern that was convenient and getting you some results- but you are going after a new idea that promises something better. But you are going to have to trust the process in order to get there.

This is the path of excellence. It is a risky path, in the sense that you could make a mistake in how you use your time and effort as you work toward improvement. On the path of excellence you maintain an attitude of a learner, pursuing continual improvement that is allowing yourself to be challenged and to grow. Even the mistakes become valuable contributors to your knowledge and success. But this often means letting go of what you have before you can attempt to take on something better.

Protect what you’ve got, or go for something greater? If you enjoy the journey of discovery as much as attaining the goal, then the risk isn’t so terrible after all.

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