You’ve come to a coach or a program because you have been discontent with how your swimming has been going and you want to make it better. During an initial assessment of your current swimming, we’re going to scan for the things you are already doing well and I will point those out to you. Despite the flaws, and despite your discontent with them, it is important to recognize how much is actually going well, even at the start of our work.
There is a reason to notice what’s going well before we get on to what needs to be fixed. For motivated people, sometime you have to guard against being blind to or losing appreciation for what is already good about your skills and situation… at every stage on your journey ahead. We may lose sight of the fact that it is still truly extraordinary for humans to swim with any sort of skillfulness in the water, and you are one of those few on this planet who can swim fairly well despite how much more you want to improve.
We have noticed that, for some people (you?), after a few weeks of lessons and practice, you may feel like you are not making progress and may even feel discouraged because you don’t quite ‘get it’, like the coach says you are. However, we can see and we likely also documented (by measurements and video) that you are indeed making progress in your abilities.
What may be happening is that you are experiencing a what I call the awareness gap.
See, when you come to us, we are not only teaching you what to do in order to swim better, we are teaching a way of understanding how efficient movement in water works and how your body works in the water and with the water. We are teaching you how your mind, attention, and motor learning works. Your awareness of your own body, of the water, of your swimming potential is increasing. Your increased sensitivity in combination with your increased understanding means that you are going to notice more errors, more imperfections – not because you have more errors and imperfections than you did before – actually, you have far less than you did before you started with us – but because you’ve been enlightened to see what you couldn’t before.
What has happened is that the growth in your awareness and understanding have naturally outpaced your growth in actual motor control and skillfulness, while those are coming along too. Changes in the mind will precede the changes in the body. The fact is, you have improved in your control and skill, and more than you probably realize, and if you feel discouraged, more than you appreciate.
I know you are eager to have more, but we are excited to see you grow and you should enjoy the growth you have also. Both are progressing but there is a gap between your awareness and your skill. You can fall into discouragement if you hang out in that gap too much, only noticing what’s less-than-ideal, working too much on the growth and neglecting to enjoy the strengths that are already there.
When you feel that coming on I encourage you to take a break from time to time and swim in your most enjoyable way. You may go back in your memory and consider where you came from and compare to where you are now in your abilities, and take some (swim) time to appreciate what you’ve got going for you already.
If you need a bit more encouragement to do that, then consider this word from one of the leading experts on self-regulation and change, Albert Bandura: “Self-monitoring [your successes] increases desired behavior, attending only to one’s failures causes little change or lowers performance accomplishments.” (Bandura, 1991, p.253). In the very next sentence he writes, “Although heavy focus on one’s failure is dispiriting, it can have beneficial effects if it identifies possible causes and suggests corrective changes.” (emphasis mine). But that second sentence emphasizes everything else we are training you to do. Taking time to focus on your successes is part of balancing out that work and maintaining an emotionally healthy relationship with your practice.
Bandura A. (1991) Social Cognitive Theory of Self-Regulation. Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes 50:248-287.
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