Do you get bored with practice? Impatient to get past the basics and into the more advanced skills to raise performance higher? That might be what you need to do, but then again, you might still have a lot more to gain from refining the skills you think you’ve already learned well enough.
I noticed this report in our Virtual Swim Club from one of our local swimmers a few weeks ago…
“Something interesting happened during the course of my workout last evening. In my last [live swim] lesson we talked about using extension to help control errant movements of my legs and ‘Tippy Toes’ has been a [helpful] focal point for some time. Coach Mat has also stressed keeping the armpit open when extending into Skate Position and I know at some point he talked about having the shoulder come forward as well – not just the arm – which reminds me of the image of reaching for something. I have used this focal point before but there was so much else going on that it didn’t feel like it made much difference. Last night, however, when I started focusing on this and syncing the kick with the extension of the skate-side arm my SPL dropped about three strokes per length. It took effort and concentration and I needed to stop briefly after 25 yards, but I really felt a very noticeable difference. What’s really interesting to me is that a focal point can have a different level of impact at different points in your development. This makes perfectly good sense and reinforces the importance of cycling through focal points over time. I’ll be making this one a regular part of my workouts given the substantial bang for the buck so to speak.
That was a wonderful, mature insight he had. Yes, the same focal point, when visited from a more skilled, more fit position, can have new and pleasing effect on your performance. You thought you got all there was from that focal point previously, or maybe you didn’t see its importance then. But wait, it has more power to impart!
I’ve been meeting with this swimmer occasionally to check the skill projects he is working on. He is a good example of one with the right kind of obsession, taking months to work on finding both the external form (which I can verify visually) and the feel for each skill (which he can confirm with his senses and metrics). His progress was revealed in that dramatic reduction of his SPL (stroke count per length of the pool).
Who Is A Master?
One way to describe a master is one who has acquired the skills to a high degree and has those skills automated in his neuro-muscular system. He has arrived at mastery. Another way to describe a master is one who pursues the skills in an excellent way. He works on his skills masterfully.
One sign of a master is that he continues to appreciate and practice, or periodically return to the fundamental skills, because he understands that there is much more depth to be explored and developed in each of those, although he has already mastered the surface features (visible to others) of those skills.
First Breadth, Then Depth
At some point, improvement becomes not about adding new skills, but from further refining, tying together, and making more efficient the ones you’ve already got. Each increase in overall skill will create a new vantage point and new experience of those previously studied fundamental skills, and a whole new appreciation for them can open up, as this swimmer just discovered.
In this activity we call swimming, there is a complex package of skills, We can organize those skills into a certain order according to how physics and physiology urge us to put them in place and tie them together. Each macro-skill can be broken down into smaller ‘micro-skills’ as Coach Terry liked to say. There is a finite number of macro-skills, but a virtually infinite number of micro-skills, because we break those into smaller and smaller pieces as perception for fine details increases through mindful practice technique and from receiving insight from coaching who practice this way. You may get acquainted with the series of macro-skills in a few lessons. But you will take a lifetime to study and make refinements in those micro-skills.
For those who are extrinsically motivated to swim better, so they can get through their swim and onto something more rewarding, then they may quickly see a limit to how deep they want to go. This idea of ‘mastery includes depth’ might make them feel a little discouraged at the time and attention this would require. For those who are intrinsically motivated to swim better, who feel a reward from the act of examination and refinement, this idea means you have infinite fields of discovery and pleasure ahead of you.
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