At our mini-open water camp in Kas today one of my swimmers was expressing his delight with the improvement he experienced with one or two particular focal points. He kept jumping back in the sea to review it over and over.
I was pleased of course, that he identified the particular controllable element of his stroke that he associated with that increase in ease and speed. But I also saw the foundation for that breakthrough set up by the particular skills we previously worked on which lead up to that moment. That is the whole point of teaching these skills in a very intentional sequence.
I went on to explain that, for the most part, swimming well (or ‘fast’, if you prefer) is the accumulation of many small advantages. He may have become aware of his ‘breakthrough’ after adding one particular micro-skill, but he may not have noticed how the previous micro-skills set him up for that moment of success. Any one of those skill details alone may not have made such a ‘dramatic’ improvement. Yet none of them operate alone either. Once the swimmer (perhaps unknowingly) connects a few certain inter-dependent skills in the stroke, the corrections add up, and those advantages converge to create what feels like a sudden jump in ability (or speed). [Note: this happens regularly with sequentially applied skills in order of priority – this does not happen, but by luck, with a random, uninformed, pick-and-choose approach.]
This should encourage us to appreciate the value of working on those single, seemingly small stroke details. One by one, they will build and unite with the others and when they do, that is when a burst of felt-improvement comes. While working on those single, small details, we are in fact making real progress – it may be that the improvement is so subtle, or internal, that we don’t notice the ease until it crosses a certain threshold in the nervous system.
This ties into the ‘Love the Plateau’ of our Skill Mastery training style in TI (thank you, George Leonard). On the plateau, when one is patient and persistent in the mindful (deep) practice, the roots are, in fact, going deeper, preparing us for the next jump in ability. Without those roots spreading out in the off season (the ‘plateau’ of the other metaphor), the branches of the tree are limited in their growth potential each spring (the jump up in skill). [Please forgive the mixed metaphors – landscape and tree biology!]
Sunday, my swimmers will test out their control over those new details on the 3km course of the Kas 361 race. I am excited for them to experience a new level of performance!
I admit I can’t recall who coined that phrase ‘accumulation of many small advantages’, but to me, it perfectly describes my own experience of how my improvement has been constructed. I can’t point to one particular skill that made all the difference, but I can point to many that work together to make possible what I enjoy now. I’ve been using the phrase for a while but don’t recall when I came across it. So, if you think you know where credit for the phrase belongs you may give it there and let me know.
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