Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Swimming Truths

I have been teaching a lot of swimming lessons recently. It seems around this time of year triathletes, competitive swimmers, and recreational beach-goers alike all notice that they used to love the water or would like to learn to enjoy the pool and run to get some swimming pointers. This has led to too numerous stories to tell, but I thought I'd share two swimming truths tonight.

One- It Just Feels Right

I was teaching an adult student flip turns and I demonstrated the move. The swimmer tried a few then looked at me confusedly and said, "how do you know where to put your feet? Do you look at the wall?"

As I often find when I'm teaching adult students I had to think for a moment, but then I said assuredly, "Well you definitely don't look at the wall because then you aren't tucked. After you practice enough it just feels right." I'm not sure how much that helped my swimmer, but it struck me that I no longer had to think about placing my feet in a flip turn. I know the minute I initiate a flip turn if it is going to be good or not. My muscles instinctively perform the flip without consulting me about where to put my feet. Sometimes my feet are planted perfectly hip distance apart at a ninety degree angle and sometimes they are not, but I never think about my feet during a flip turn. They either feel right or they don't.

It's not just a swimming phenomenon. Its a universal truth about sports and beyond. How do you balance a bike? It just feels right. How do you choose a college? It just feels right. How do you know if that relationship is good? It just feels right. How do you know if your writing is decent? It just feels right. Yet, as I told my swimmer, you only know if it just feels right after a lot of practice with it feeling wrong. My swimmer is still missing a lot of her turns, but she only needs to get it right a couple times and then she knows how to make it feel right.

Two- I Am Really Good At Chemistry

I find quite often when I am teaching an older swimmer, over the age of ten, that I have to completely ruin their stroke to make it real swimming instead of just a simulation of what they think swimming looks like. I have to tell people they are doing basically everything wrong. I tear apart their self-esteem and their stroke and then I put it back together afterward.

Today, after this one woman experienced this she reached the end of the lap and said, "I am really good at chemistry, just not moving one hand at a time." We both laughed at that. It was ridiculous because of the irrelevancy. I wasn't judging her as a bad swimmer and certainly not a bad person, but swimming leaves you so accountable that she felt the need to tell me she had skills.

Swimming leaves you accountable for yourself. Its not something you do with a team for the most part. Even if you have a team they can't pull you along if you aren't willing to put in the work. It seems easy. Kick. Rotate. Breathe. Pull. That's it. That turns out to be a lot though, when done all at once and it takes all but the most skilled people a long time to put the skills together cohesively. At least I am good at swim teaching, if not chemistry.