2010 TI Coaches Manual Excerpt #5
This is the fifth 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.
The Pursuit of “Excellence”
I started TI simply wanting to teach technique to adults. From the beginning, it was evident that focusing on balance, streamlining and fluent movement brought better outcomes—faster—than anything I, or other TI coaches—all with decades of experience—had experienced. This persuaded me TI could be “the better mousetrap for everything aquatic.” In time I realized that—to maximize our impact--we needed to choose an area of specialization in which we could credibly claim to be best in the world.
Our greatest success--in outcomes and acceptance--had been with adults, longer distances and open water, particularly triathlon swimming. But over time we came to recognize we achieved something with a much wider and more inspiring scope: Teach Transformation. With remarkable consistency we were teaching formerly ordinary swimmers—including many who had almost given up hope-- to swim with a rare grace and beauty. We were also inspiring a remarkable number to passion for swimming. In 40+ years in swimming I had never seen anything else have this effect on people. Over time, these experiences led us to study the “attainment of excellence” and adopted it as core principle. To my knowledge no other swimming organization has considered this as a possibility, much less made it an organizational goal.
Why Swimming is ideal for Pursuing Excellence
• Virtually no one swims well. Nearly everyone is frustrated by it. Evolution has programmed humans to be uncomfortable, massively inefficient swimmers.
• Conventional wisdom and traditional methods have proven utterly ineffective.
• Swimming well has matchless potential to bring health, happiness and fulfillment.
• Swimming offers countless “problems” for which the best solutions require thought, discipline, patience and resourcefulness.
While humans haven’t been programmed to swim well, our brains have been programmed to be awesome at problem solving. Swimming poses cognitive, behavioral and physical challenges—the entire range of human capability. By welcoming these challenges, we not only learn a healthful activity and essential life skill, we also follow a proven strategy for living well.
From Surviving to “Amazing Grace” in 18 Months
In 2004 I led a workshop in Chapel Hill, at which one attendee was as challenged as any swimmer I’d seen at a workshop. At the conclusion he struggled to “swim” one length--more drill than whole stroke. In early 2006 we did a weeklong Kaizen Camp in Coral Springs FL. As we videotaped I was particularly impressed with one camper, Phil Crews, whose strikingly fluid freestyle was a match for most TI coaches. I asked him where he learned to swim that well and he replied “From you.”
Phil then reminded me that he was the swimmer who had struggled so much at Chapel Hill, just 18 months earlier. When I asked how he’d done it I learned that, as a soybean farmer from coastal NC, living 25 miles from the nearest pool, he’d progressed from barely completing 25 yards to swimming with “amazing grace” entirely on his own.
While most TI Workshop grads make impressive progress, Phil’s accomplishment was so singular, it occurred to me that if we could distill what he had done and teach it to others, we would be providing a far more valuable service than simply teaching efficient strokes. I began to research how ordinary people achieve “excellence” and found considerable research over the previous decade had documented that, in many disciplines, great performance is a product of learned behaviors more than of inborn traits.
Descriptions of those behaviors showed striking overlap with learning and practice methods we had been refining for 15 years. Ever since, we have made the teaching of the habits of excellence far more explicit and given it as equal emphasis with technical topics like balance and streamlining. Going forward, TI Coaches will be expected to be just as knowledgeable about inspiring and guiding their students toward excellence, as teaching fishlike swimming. Our training materials and activities will reflect that priority.
Head Coach & Chief Executive Optimist
May your laps be as happy as mine.
My TI Story