If a dramatic change in performance is what you’re after, you’re going to need to a system to generate that improvement. I provided an overview of that system in part I, and today, I’m going to describe the foundational set of skills that are necessary for facilitating major change.
If you’re reading this, you have some sort of interest in improvement and performance. As a result, you’ve likely been exposed to different coaches, watched various videos about swimming, and read various articles or books about swimming. And you’ve gotten the results that you’ve gotten, for better or for worse.
While surely the information you received has varying degrees of effectiveness, and that influenced your progress, the amount of progress you made was ultimately due to one factor that was present in every case. There was one common denominator.
The common denominator is YOU.
The common denominator is your thoughts.
The common denominator is your outlook.
The common denominator is your habits.
The common denominator is your actions.
What you bring to the improvement table is the single biggest factor in terms of how effective any attempt at change will be. You are the only person that is mentally and physically present for every single activity you engage in. There are a variety of skills, that if you lack or fail to develop, will ultimately lead to subpar results.
These skills are the foundation upon which all improvement is built. Consider a garden. The seeds that are planted is the advice and information you receive. The quality of the soil, the appropriate exposure to the sun, and the appropriate amount of water represent your ability to effectively coach yourself. The seeds can be of the highest quality imaginable, but if the environment is not primed for growth, nothing is going to happen.
While this may seem pretty abstract, I’ve determined the concrete, specific skills you’ll need to have to optimally improve, regardless of what you’re working on. Below are the fundamental skills you will need to develop. Further, here are the key areas you’ll need work on if you hope to coach yourself to excellence.
Communicating with yourself. Everything you say to yourself is moving you closer to or further from your goals. Act like the best coach in the world. Be positive, be encouraging, and be crystal clear about what needs to happen right NOW. The monologue you have between your ears will influence every action you take. Make sure that monologue working for you.
Measuring progress. Know what’s important to you and keep track of it relentlessly. Be willing to adjust your approach when you get off track. It’s all possible when you measure your progress. There are a variety of variables you can keep track of. Decide what’s important to you, and measure it religiously.
Creating feedback. To measure your progress, you need concrete feedback. Know your performances, use video, and learn to FEEL what you’re doing. Get your times, get your stroke counts, get video of your swimming when possible, and pay attention to how you’re moving through the water. You’ll have all the feedback you’ll ever need.
Performance psychology. The pressure you feel to perform affects your level of arousal. To perform at your best, you need to be able to shift your arousal levels towards your optimum. You may need to increase your arousal, or you may need to decrease your arousal, and you must be able to determine which approach to take. There are specific strategies that can be employed in both cases.
Creating technical change. As change is hard, you need to be sure the change you want to make is the right one. Take the time to figure it out. Once you’re committed, understand that your brain lies to you. Fortunately, it lies to you in a predictable way, so use that predictably to your advantage. Lastly, create a plan for the changes to stick.
Managing practice sessions. Over time, success is determined by how well you can turn poor training sessions into mediocre ones, mediocre ones into good ones, and good ones into great ones. When you’re having the great ones consistently, it’s about keeping the momentum going. Doing so is counter-intuitive. Lower your expectations, take one repetition at a time, and try to be slightly better.
Evaluating practice repetitions. What did you do well? What can you better? Answer these questions and act on the information. Do this each and every repetition of each and every practice. When you can do this, you’ll find that you almost always finish each practice better than you started, and that is a recipe for long-term improvement.
Evaluating practice sessions. Get it out of your head and write it down. It will give you peace of mind. Reflect on your progress, the future opportunities, and document your impressions. Your path forward emerges upon reflection.
Managing training within and across training weeks. Managing training is all about structuring recovery into your plan. It’s likely your problem is that you go too hard too often. Knowing this, create structure where you’re forced to rest. Make your rules and refuse to break them. The answer is always rest.
Navigating challenges. They’re coming. Know it, expect it, and be ready for it. When they happen, slow down and take a step back. In almost all cases, the answers are in the past. Successfully navigating challenges, both big and small, is what separates those that improve over time as compared to those that perpetually struggle.
Whether you know it or not, you’re already coaching yourself. The question is whether your coaching is a help or a hindrance. If you want to improve in the long-term you will need to make sure you are coaching yourself to the best of your abilities. This is not an abstract concept. It is the product of the specific skills listed above. The ability to coach yourself is a skill, and it is a skill you can learn.