Is it time to get some coach attention or can you squeeze out more performance on your own with the resources you have available already?
I was a self-taught Total Immersion swimmer. For that matter, I was a self-taught swimmer well before I found TI. At 10 years old I had to teach myself to swim in order to cross the small townhouse complex pool so I could play freely with the other kids. It was not pretty but it worked. In high school I joined the swim team and obeyed all the workouts given by our coach – he told us the quantities and intensity, and I was left to figure out how to move my body to get it done. It was still not pretty, but I got fit enough to keep up. Many years later, I found the 1996 version of the TI book and using only that I finally started learning how to move my body in the water with smooth intelligence.
Over the next few years I studied some of the early TI videos and scoured for more of Coach Terry’s writings off the internet to understand advanced training. With just a few resources I did fairly well at putting the new stroke together on my own. And in these years of teaching TI I’ve encountered some swimmers who’ve done the same. But if one’s goals are high enough, eventually we all run into a need for a coach to help us get farther along on our journey.
After accessing the less expensive sources of guidance on swimming, what are some reasons you may need to eventually work with a coach?
- You need a coach to teach you what you don’t know.
- You need a coach to confirm and correct what you have been doing on your own.
- You need a coach to make you do what you know you should do, but can’t quite make yourself do it.
- You need a coach to expose your greater potential – to push you into new territory you didn’t know was accessible to you.
Positive External Pressure
In addition to swimming, I love to run. I occasionally join the local masters running group on Saturday mornings. This last weekend I showed up and joined the group with my slightly older, long-legged friend as he did seven rounds of ‘5 min race pace + 1 min cruise’ intervals (marathon distance training). There was also a couple younger-and-fit runners along and as this group shifted into their race pace of the first interval I could feel how much I was going to have to push myself to keep up. The mental game began, and I immediately wondered if I could hold on for all seven rounds.
As we worked through the first few rounds, my discomfort increased to a point, then it actually leveled off. I started to realize my challenge was mostly mental. I could do this if I had the will to carry on at this level of discomfort. As I reflected I saw that I am good at pushing myself farther in certain ways, but not necessarily in all the ways I need to in order to develop as a faster runner. I am visionary, and am quite disciplined in my schedule and in designing challenging content for practice. But individual self-discipline does have limits. In this case, I was able to use this constructive peer pressure to accept my discomfort rather than bail out too soon. This experience affirmed in myself that I was more capable than I realized.
In a sense, by joining this training group – a group that had a deliberate and challenging plan for that run that fit my needs – I sought out some coaching in the form of external pressure to push me to do what I needed to do. I might not have been quite bold enough to make myself do it if I were alone. Now that I’ve done it once, I may be able to go out on my own and repeat that practice at similar intensity. But when it becomes time to turn up the challenge a bit more, could I do it alone?
Easy Early Gains
In the beginning stages of learning to swim and in stroke transformation, there is a lot of immediate reward to the process. It’s not so hard to stay motivated while working on your own, and I recommend that you do as much self-coaching as you can. With TI training experience you may have a nice long list of skills to work on and understand simple training patterns that are quite effective for your needs. Improvement comes from working smarter, not from working harder and the breakthroughs are frequent to keep you feeling the progress. You learn so much from trying to figure out what to do just using less expensive resources.
But as you get deeper in refinement, as you finally enter into capabilities that are suitable for your body and event (such as optimal stroke length and tempos), and your sense of potential increases, it takes more investment of time and attention to extract breakthroughs in skill and in performance. The gains later on come at a higher price. The simple resources may not tell you what you need to know to go farther.
At any point in this path you could decide you’ve paid for enough, peel off on the plateau and be content to enjoy the fruit of your current level of skill and fitness, and not push for more. That is wonderful. Everyone has to peel off somewhere eventually, either by free choice or forced there by circumstances.
Two Are Better Than One
But if you are not content yet, and want to go farther, but can’t quite see what’s standing in your way, that may be a sign you need some form of coaching. It might be a need for new insight. It might be a need to help you filter and confirm the best path forward. It might be a need for someone to spare you the precious time by mapping out the course ahead. It might be a need for someone to push you to do the hard work you know needs to get done, but you can’t quite make yourself do it.
There are reasons why the best athletes in the world have coaches, even though they are already performing at the top of their game. To stay ahead they need to squeeze out more performance. Many leaders and specialists in other professions enlist a coach also. Not only the new, not only the experienced, but even the best in the world realize they may be able to become better at their activity if they had, not just one but two minds – one mind more objective than the other – and two hearts – one more dispassionate than the other – focused on achieving this goal.
If you are wondering if you need some personal coaching attention I recommend reading through your TI training options to see how you can take advantage of less expensive options (in terms of time and money).