Mathieu, a TI enthusiast from Paris, is spending a week at the Endless Pool-equipped TI Swim Studio in New Paltz. Mathieu had done an impressive job self-coaching with the Self-Coached Workshop DVD. By the time he arrived in New Paltz he already had well-formed foundation skills of Balance, Stability, Streamlining and Whole Body Propulsion. TI Coach Alice Laughlin put a higher degree of polish on those, then I joined in his coaching to work on Kaizen skills.
On Tuesday we worked on how subtle adjustments to Mathieu’s recovery and entry could set him up for a much firmer catch – so each stroke would do a better job of moving his body forward, rather than moving the water around. We worked through a linked series of three Rehearsals — Elbow Circles, Draw A Line and Mail Slot (illustrated in Lesson 7 on the Self-Coached Workshop DVD) followed by Whole Stroke practice for each skill, guided by Focal Points related to those Rehearsals.
As is typical when working on a subtle new skill–one that requires fine motor coordination and intense concentration–Mathieu could perform Elbow Circles reasonably well after about 10 minutes of focused practice. When he moved on Draw a Line he could also execute it well–but he lost the Elbow Circles. When we moved on to Mail Slot, same thing. Nice job slipping his hand and forearm into the water cleanly. Not so good on circling his elbows or drawing a line with his fingertips.
I assured him that’s normal. Continue to practice each Mini-Skill individually. Each cumulative hour of practice will wire them into your brain more deeply and they will be stronger when you shift your focus to something else.
On Wednesday morning as we began our lesson, Mathieu said “I was dreaming about TI all night – circling elbows and drawing lines in my sleep. ” I replied “That’s typical; I hear it all the time from students. When they’ve been deeply engaged in learning something new, they tend to dream about it that night.”
When I turned on the current – Voila! The three skills Mathieu had struggled to integrate the day before were a beautiful symphony of graceful, effective movement. He looked like Alexandre Popov or Sun Yang — at least for 10 to 12 precious strokes.
This is a thrilling real-life illustration of a phenomenon brain researches observed while working with lab rats. After spending their waking hours solving a maze to gain the reward of a piece of cheese at the end, the scientists observed that their brain scans displayed exactly the same patterns of activity as they napped. As the scientists explained, when the brain perceives a problem-solving activity to be a high-value activity, it continues to encode the solution as you sleep. And the way you communicate to the brain that it’s a high value activity is the intensity of focus you give it.