My interest in the neural aspects of swim improvement and training had begun in the mid-1990s, but was still general, not detailed, a decade later. That began to change in 2007, when I read an article How to Grow A Super Athlete by Daniel Coyle. Two years later, Coyle published a book The Talent Code which built greatly upon the revelations in his article. As he wrote, the habits of Deliberate Practice, described by Anders Ericsson, had unique power to power to create observable changes in the infrastructure of the brain. Coyle documented this phenomenon across the same range of endeavors — sports, math, music, chess, etc – studied by Ericsson and his colleagues in behavioral psychology.
I was so intrigued that I began a fervent web search to learn more. This led to other books, such as Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain by John Ratey and The Secret Life of the Grownup Brain by Barbara Strauch. These revealed that (i) the most significant brain adaptations seemed to occur when you merge thought and action; and (ii) the middle-aged brain had a potential for adapting and improving that had never been recognized. Both were produced by the precise set of attitudes and behaviors TI had been teaching to adult swimmers for many years.
The critical insight from this research was the controlling role of the brain in every aspect of swimming improvement:
- Generating a clear and compelling vision of possibility and positive expectation;
- Progressing from a basic skill to more advanced ones;
- Resilience in the face of setbacks and adaptability to changing conditions;
- Igniting the spark of passion, and committing to Continuous Improvement.
These revelations from neurobiology labs provided something equally valuable – a detailed set of guidelines for training the brain. Nearly a century of previously-unquestioned ideas about how to improve in swimming had focused on how heart, lungs and muscles respond to physical work. This new research pointed to a far more prominent role for the brain and nervous system — and provided explicit directions about how to learn skills, improve endurance and build speed by designing learning and training tasks around how the brain processes input.
This understanding provides TI coaches and swimmers with the first wholly-logical, evidence-based, and all-inclusive guide for learning, practicing, and improving in swimming, at any age or any skill level. You might even say, for the first time, swimming could have its own Unified Field Theory.