I want to expand upon the topic of Overcoming Swimming Fear, but from a different angle – I want to address the fear of expanding motivation, expanding one’s orientation for swimming. Everyone may have a blend of motives for swimming, but each may be able to point to a dominant motivation – for pleasure, for fitness, for mastery of skill, or for achievement. It is good to recognize why we swim, why we train, why we seek improvement so that we can find coaching and community that clearly aligns with that. In this essay I want to present the case for expanding your motivations for swimming without losing your first love for it.
Let me try to lay this out in a diagram…
Note: this diagram suggests two distinct orientations with Competition and Challenge on one side and Ease and Enjoyment on the other. Yet, in reality this is more like a spectrum where every swimmer has a blend of motives and each one falls somewhere on the line between the two extremes. But, for the sake of clear contrast we will refer to these two separated sides.
On the left we have the swimmers who seek Competition and Challenge. On this side a swimmer measures improvement by greater external performance. This is measured externally by faster time, farther distance, enduring more difficult swimming conditions, and of course, just looking good in a swim suit in front of others. I suspect this is actually a great minority of the swimmers out there in the world, but they are undoubtedly the ones who dominate the media and commercial attention, and set the tone for the rest through all the coaching organization, programs and products aimed at serving them.
On the right side we have swimmers who seek Ease and Enjoyment. On this side a swimmer measures improvement by achieving superior internal experience – the body feels better and the mind feels better, the swimmer ‘s motivation to get more of this increases. This is by far the majority of the swimmers in the world (and those who want to learn to swim), though strangely, there do not seem to be a lot of swimming programs aimed to serve this orientation. Most of these folks swim alone or endure (temporary) membership in a club or program in hope of getting some skills they might use to improve their internal experience. Not much of the media or market pays attention to these kind of swimmers. It is not very glamorous.
It is no surprise then that Total Immersion, as a swim instruction and education service, though working well with swimmers in both sides, has found a great following among those on the Ease And Enjoyment side (whom TI Head Coach Terry describes as “Health-seekers”) because few programs speak their language and even fewer know how to produce the internal results these swimmers seek. And, for any swim coaching business this is a great market to work in – a vast population with very little coaching competition. It is not ‘cool’ in the traditional institution of swim coaching to work with people who just want to swim for pleasure, but it is still a strong and legitimate portion of the population to serve. For the sake of society’s health, arguably it is the most important part of the population to serve.
Both sides are a legitimate market and Total Immersion provides full-service to both sides – in my own business it is probably 50/50. And more so, Total Immersion Coaches provide a critical service by building a bridge between the two sides, addressing the fears that keep them apart, introducing those stuck in one side to the features of the other side that they would benefit from and really appreciate, once someone shows them how to access them.
Let me expand upon this a bit further…
Fears And Solutions
Moving From Ease to Challenge
On one side in Total Immersion we serve those who are motivated to find Ease and Enjoyment in their swimming – where before, it was stressful, frustrating, and possibly frightening.
Once they are shown how to swim with surprising ease and enjoyment, some become quite content with it. And that is ok… but usually only for a while. We point out that enjoyment gets elusive when one quits growing, when one quits expanding capabilities. Stagnation and boredom are not pleasurable. The interesting thing about the human brain is that its finds pleasure in growth that comes through challenge. Overcoming struggle and boredom were just the first stage of the path to a marvelous swimming experience. Creating new, well-designed challenges is the key to flow state and perpetual swimming happiness.
And so, for Ease And Enjoyment swimmers we provide a bridge of understanding and a method to acquire the skills, and give the invitation to explore the other side. Some of our swimmers accept and come across.
But I observe various fears that hold people back from that other side. Some commons ones are:
- I am afraid of the uncomfortable sensations in my body when I work harder
- I am afraid of tensing up, feeling ‘stress’
- I am afraid of injury
- I am afraid of failure
- I am afraid of rejection (the companion of failure)
To remove the fear:
We teach swimmers how to interpret the initially uncomfortable sensations of higher intensity swimming and recognize them as positive, healthy sensations – these indicate that things in the body are working just like they are suppose to. And, when these sensations are present it means strength, endurance and capability is expanding.
We teach how to recognize the difference between the sensation of power flowing smoothly through the body as it should when swimming at higher intensity, or for longer duration, and when it is colliding and getting stuck in parts of the body causing destructive stress and injury. There is the positive eustress of a well-functioning body working hard and the negative distress of dysfunction. In high performance swimming one must build a positive association with these eustress sensations.
We teach how to find and maintain safest, most powerful movement patterns for all human bodies in order to avoid premature wear and injury.
We teach how to set up the learning/improvement process so that success becomes a frequent part of practice and how to set up the improvement mindset so that failure becomes a vital tool for improvement rather than bring a debilitating emotional storm.
And, we create an atmosphere of total acceptance that allows each person, at any stage of life, in a wide range of personal conditions to pursue personal goals under his/her own internal motivations, at a pace that fits the realities of one’s personal life.
Moving From Competition to Enjoyment
On the other side we have those who are motivated by Competition and Challenge – perhaps they were fast and strong when they were young, or are driven to achieve more in whatever new things they want to do. At this stage in life they have hit a road-block or plateau in their improvement under their own ideas or under the traditional approach they’ve grown up in. (Aging reveals the limitations of those traditional methods, and wisdom earned by age makes people open to better ideas.)
We show these swimmers the Math Of Speed (which is explained in this series on Metrics) and show them that getting faster and distributing energy further is usually far more an issue of neuro-muscular skill than it is about metabolic fitness – then they realize why they are stuck and why traditional training methods won’t take them farther. Then we explain that a human cannot separate the development of internal qualities from external performance – the two are inextricably tied together in sports performance. Then we show them how to get faster, how to go farther by sequentially building the neuro-muscular and mental skills that make it possible.
So, we take those who are deeply tied into Competition and Challenge and introduce them to the greater dimensions of performance found in improvement of internal qualities in the body and mind – which ‘Ease and Enjoyment’ are a great summary of. We set up a bridge of understanding and provide a method to acquire those skills, then give the invitation to come and explore.
Some of our swimmers accept and come across.
But I observe various fears that hold people back from that other side. Some commons ones are:
- I am afraid of losing my ability to swim as fast as I do right now
- I am afraid of losing my ‘grit’, my ability to endure hardship required in high intensity swimming
- I am afraid of getting bored not focusing on a great external challenges
- I am afraid of losing fitness
- I am afraid of rejection
To remove those fears:
We teach swimmers How Speed Happens, and what specific motor skills they need to work on to get past their current plateau.
We teach swimmers how to tap into a higher, more powerful form of mental and emotional management that reduces suffering and increases joy under difficult swimming conditions and competition.
We teach swimmers how to recognize and solve internal challenges which builds the skills that make the achievement of external challenges so much more thrilling, and more possible.
We show how improvement in metabolic fitness is inseparable from technique training so that one need not fear losing fitness to build technique.
We expand the measures of excellence for swimmers beyond the one-dimensional view of only-speed-matters so that any human, in any stage of life and personal condition can find satisfaction and acceptance within our inclusive value system, among our global community of swimmers and coaches.
The bridge is necessary because these fears keep people of one orientation from exploring and acquiring the benefits of the other side. They are afraid of losing the advantages they’ve gained on this side if they attempt to reach for the benefits on the other. Those on the ‘soft’ side of swimming are afraid of becoming hard, while those on the ‘hard’ side of swimming are afraid of becoming soft. But the truth is, the best, the most marvelous, the life-long successful swimmers are those who access the benefits of both sides. Fear is keeping many people on either side from experiencing greater things in their swimming life, and extending that life further.
This is one of the roles I see Total Immersion coaches and ambassadors (enthusiastic TI swimmers) filling – we introduce those of one orientation to the multi-faceted dimensions that will make anyone’s swimming so much better. We built the bridge of understanding for How Swimming Works, How Speed Happens, How Improvement Works and provide the methods to gain the benefits of the other side without losing the what he has already.
It is unfortunate, and frankly, a bit frustrating that defensive swimmers and coaching competitors ignorantly (or intentionally) distort what Total Immersion does and doesn’t do for swimmers. As I noted previously, it is ‘cool’ to work with the Competition and Challenge oriented swimmers and the competition for those swimmers’ attention is fierce. So it is no wonder that our competitors are eager to try to shove TI into the ‘beautiful-but-slow’ corner of swim instruction – they are glad to have us work with the swimmers they can’t help therefore don’t want to. It is true TI does a marvelous job, arguably better than anyone else, at helping the Ease And Enjoyment swimmers. I am glad to say it, Send me the rejects, I can help them. I am glad to work with those the others don’t know how to help. TI’s most marvelous miracles happen with those who got the message from the establishment that they couldn’t or shouldn’t be a swimmer.
Meanwhile, an army of modest but professional TI Coaches around the world consistently produce marvelous results with Competition And Challenge oriented swimmers. We’re guiding them into marathon swimming, channel crossings, championship and masters and age-group competitions, triathlon achievement from sprint to IM to ultra-distance. One secret to our success is that we teach them the essential internal skills that make it possible for them to go faster and farther than they ever thought possible for themselves. We introduce them to the benefits of Ease and Enjoyment which make not just the necessary practice for monumental achievements endurable, but enjoyable and therefore sustainable across a life-time, not just a one-time achievement. We build a bridge to those skills and benefits which overcome the fears. The bridge brings them the best of both worlds.
So, I wrote this essay for two reasons:
1) to urge swimmers who are deeply, perhaps fearfully entrenched in one of these orientations to open up and consider the benefits they might access on the other side without loss to their current, prized capabilities, whether those be ‘soft’ or ‘hard’.
2) to explain to those who care to be well-informed what TI does and why we do it that way.
Better yet, to really know what we do, just come experience our training and you will understand what we do, internally and externally, and why it is so marvelous to do it this way.
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