Since January I’ve been teaching an Effortless Endurance class series at the Greenwich (CT) YMCA — a series of four 90-minute sessions on Saturday afternoons. Every fourth week we begin another series. I’ve benefitted personally from repeatedly leading new students through the TI foundational skills, in being reminded of the common challenges facing adults learning to swim in mid-life.
Learning to control your body in the water is is a big one. Learning to control your mind is even bigger. Inez, a participant in the current series, emailed me to report feeling overwhelmed when she went to the pool yesterday to practice the skills we worked on two days earlier in the second session, during which we focused on a Rag Doll recovery, Mail Slot entry and using the extended arm to Separate Molecules. That’s a lot of thinking and coordination.
I wrote back that–when learning a skill as complex and counter-intuitive as swimming–feeling overwhelmed is normal. I felt it as well, back in 1990 when I first realized my stroke needed a complete makeover after 25 years of swimming the traditional way. I discovered then that I needed to learn a new way to think before I could learn a new way to swim.
Between 1965 and 1972, when I was developing my inefficient stroke habits, I did all my swimming in workouts– i.e. racing teammates for a couple of hours each afternoon. In 1990 I swam mostly alone, practicing the drills and skills I was teaching in TI clinics and camps. (Weekend workshops didn’t begin until 1993.) Learning to be alone with my thoughts, undistracted by teammates, was a new experience.
I began my stroke makeover with a focus on head position, which had been forward-looking for 25 years and millions of strokes. I quickly realized that before I could learn a new way to swim, I would need to learn a new way to think — specifically how to Think About One Thing, and ignore or dismiss other thoughts.
I thought about little else but head position for three months, and didn’t feel that a neutral head position had become my ‘new normal’ for six months. By then, I’d formed two invaluable new habits:
(1) To swim with a neutral head position.
(2) To always leave the wall with One Clear Thought about technique.
(PS: Inez want on to say that after returning from her ‘overwhelmed’ pool practice, she reviewed the video I’d shot Saturday and posted online and felt encouraged and calmed by seeing how much her form had improved from a week earlier.)