TI coaches and swimmers give a great deal of attention to identifying, analyzing, and solving what we call our Improvement Opportunities. The core value of TI, after all, is kaizen – continual personal improvement.

Finding finer and finer details of swimming skill and honing them to euphoric excellence is our passion. Of course, this is why many people come to private lessons, workshops and camps. They want expert help on solving their problems to get into the kind of swimming they have been dreaming of.

However, it is possible for us to get caught up in only one dimension of improvement – namely, dealing with the things we see as problems or weaknesses in our stroke. Because of this singular focus on what isn’t working well we can lose sight of how far we’ve come, and lose appreciation for what features in our skill are working really well already.


There is often this stage where we feel overwhelmed by all the things in our stroke and in our mind that needs to be fixed. We are frustratingly aware of how much effort we’re exerting yet how little speed and distance we are capable of.

At this stage we want to move many features of our stroke from Frustrating to Functional.

We get a breakthrough and we feel new ease. Then we want to move them further from Functional to Good. And Good feels really nice… for a while. The realization that continual improvement is possible and achievable by deliberate deep practice catches on.

By then, we’ve caught the kaizen bug and want to move them from Good to Amazing.

If we lose sight of really how amazing it is for any human to swim as nicely as even a new, dedicated TI student can then discontent can become a liability instead of an asset, At each stage of our swimming development our perception (and satisfaction in the process) is relative to what we’ve recently been experiencing. Keep that big picture in mind and we have a healthy and sustainable balance between pleasure and discontent.


There are two types of skill training we can engage in:

1) Working around the edges of our comfort zone, around our failure points to expand our skill.

2) Working within our comfortable skill zone to deeply imprint those skills.

Why deeply imprint? So that they are automated – or in other words, so the brain can hold steady control over them under the stress of higher speed, longer distance, higher intensity, more difficult water conditions, etc. We can’t merely achieve that breakthrough once and then expect it to show up under race conditions – we need to experience that same point of success hundreds of times so that it becomes so automatic we don’t have to think about making it happen any more – it does so naturally.


Sun Ray

So let me re-frame this with a different set of words:

Think of our weak spots, and voids in skill as Dark Spots – those things that aren’t working well and need great attention.

Then let’s think of those strong points of skill as Bright Spots – those things that really are working well and making it possible for us to work on the Dark Spots.

Now, we can divide up the Focal Points we use in practice into those that deal with our Dark Spots and those that deal with our Bright Spots.

It is not wise to fill practice merely with work on Dark Spots. Really, we need to work both. And it may be appropriate to spend the majority of our time on Bright Spots.

There are variations in our training seasons and even in our mental and emotional seasons as well. How each of us divide up our practice time will be rather personalized.  We may want to take a season of time to intensively work on certain Dark Spots when we know they are standing in the way of some specific goal or sensation we seek.

But we need to give attention to both, and I suggest that we should generally spend a greater portion of our time more deeply imprinting and simply enjoying our Bright Spots. Our work on Dark Spots will be made much easier the more deeply our Bright Spots are imprinted and automated in our neuro-muscular control.

And, the more we draw our strength and passion for training from the pleasure of swimming, the more long-lasting our lifestyle of training will be. Bright Spots compose the pleasure-boosting Focal Points we need for building that motivation.

So if you find your morale for training running low you might take inventory on how much you’ve been focusing on Dark Spots lately versus Bright Spots. Consider backing off on your obsession with Dark Spots until you feel the pleasure for the swim coming back. If you are feeling down, then Coach Mat recommends a double dose of Bright Spots for a couple weeks and then email me to let me know how you are doing.


Though used in a slightly different context I want to give credit for this term ‘Bright Spots’ to the incredibly useful book – Switch: When Change Is Hard by Chip and Dan Heath. If you are a coach, parent, educator, health-practitioner, or business owner,  with students, children, patients, employees or clients to motivate and lead this book is for you.

switch book

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