2010 TI Coaches Manual Excerpt #6
This is the sixth in a series of excerpts I promised to post here for critique and feedback of the ideas and manner of expressing it. I was extremely pleased with the quality of input on the 1st excerpt and know the final document will benefit from your contributions.
Swimming Coach as Sensei
Five years before Phil Crews prodded me to research excellent performance, two books, “Mastery” by George Leonard, and “Flow” by Mihalyi Csikszentmihaly began to inform my thinking about how to teach and practice swimming. Neither book even mentioned swimming. Both were mostly about discovering how to live a better life, and they provided remarkably similar guidance.
Leonard wrote that he hoped to influence readers to “choose your life rather than accept what comes your way.” Csikszentmihaly wrote that his book was about "how to live life as a work of art" rather than leaving yourself at the mercy of external events. My most valuable insight was learning that the ‘rules’ for swimming well are precisely the same as those for living well. By redefining swimming coach to emulate the martial arts sensei (a sensei uses the particular discipline to teach mastery) we bring deeper meaning to our work and to our students’ lives.
Mastery: Learning to Love Practice
George Leonard is a student of Zen who–though he began training at age 40--became an Aikido sensei. In Mastery, the Keys to Success and Long Term Fulfillment, published in 1992, he describes Mastery as a “little-understood process by which an activity that was difficult becomes easier and more enjoyable.” He writes that fulfillment comes not from achieving a goal but from choosing a challenge that requires your full devotion.
His book’s central lesson is that success and satisfaction in any endeavor are byproducts of learning to love practice. Leonard describes four behaviors found in most endeavors. Each reflects a different response to a nearly-universal phenomenon: You improve quickly as you tackle the easiest and most basic aspects. Then improvement slows or stops, as you encounter more exacting aspects. What happens next reveals more about the individual than about the activity.
• The Dabbler starts many new things and makes good initial progress. Upon encountering the first plateau he loses enthusiasm, gives up and tries another activity . . . then repeats the pattern.
• The Obsessive lives for the growth spurt. When progress slows, he presses seeking better results faster. He burns out then gives that up for something else.
• The Hacker hits the first plateau then redefines satisfaction as status quo. Rather then seek instruction or adjust his approach, he contents himself with that level.
• The Master When her learning curve flattens, she commits to mental discipline, persistence, flexibility and incremental improvement. She understands that lessons learned more slowly have more meaning and permanence.
A Master’s Practice According to Leonard, Masters do all of the following:
• Seek out a sensei. Roger Federer has a stroke coach. Why don’t you?
• Love the plateau. After initial quick progress, our improvement curve usually flattens. Here it’s critical to understand that, if you practice deeply, cellular change—rewiring the brain--is ongoing. At intervals that incremental change consolidates to produce a thrilling leap forward. Between those leaps, the pleasure of being fully engaged in practice--with implicit confidence in your neuron-level imprinting--is its own reward.
• Surrender. Be willing to fail in order to improve. Failure concentrates your attention and the information you gain from ‘mistakes’ is essential to the course corrections that produce progress.
• Visualize. Maintain a constant clear vision of the better future you are creating. Make a difference every day. Bring all your willpower and focus to your practice.
• Avoid complacency. Tirelessly seek the ‘leading edge’ of your ability, where there’s a constant tension between struggle and skill, failure and success.
When you achieve a state of awareness that your practice—both swimming and teaching—is a path to Mastery, and teach that path to your students, you progress from swimming coach to sensei.
tension between struggle and skill
willing to fail, in order to succeed. tension between struggle and skill. love these ideas, terry. there's an old saying (from kierkegaard, i believe), "life can only be understood backward, but it must be lived forward." thank you for your always creative thinking and example. have a nice christmas, but happy new year.
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