My undergraduate roommate was a NCAA swim champion. All of his friends shaved their heads and legs to prepare for important swim meets. And they coerced me (and everyone who lived in that hallway) to take swimming lessons. So, I became a Water Safety Instructor (WSI). Years later I taught advanced lifesaving skills at a summer camp.
I swam for only two reasons: 1) to cool off when it was hot outside, or 2) to survive. Later, I taught whitewater kayaking and canoeing. When the rapids tossed my boat upside down or sideways I had to swim hard. My helmet had a sticker saying “Don’t Drown- It will Spoil Your Day.” So I flailed in order to survive.
I never learned to swim a proper freestyle. I learned to flail. To survive.
When I turned 51, one of my triathlon buddies cornered me. “So, when are you going to get past this head trash? When are you going to learn to swim properly?”
He pointed me toward Total Immersion Swimming instruction. I checked out videos on YouTube. Their instructors looked smoother than Michal Phelps. I was ready to face my fears. So I hired a local coach and stumbled toward the local pool.
Coach Dinah siad, “Show up at 0800 with goggles. You don’t need to prepare anything.” She was wrong.
I bought goggles, but did not know how to fit them. They leaked. She taught me to mush them into my face until they created suction and kept the water out. Lesson #1= do what you can to at least look like a swimmer.
From the bottom dresser drawer, I grabbed the 20+ year old purple triathlon swim shorts. My wife said, “Those are too short to wear.” She was right. When I got to the locker room I learned that the elastic was gone. Unfazed, I stapled the waist band 1″ shorter. McGyver-style. Then I stuck a jumbo-sized paper clip into the waistband. As if that could keep those old shorts from falling down. When I leaned forward they revealed more than anyone needed to see…
Coach Dinah pulled out her video camera and simply said, “Show me your best stroke. Off you go.”
When I shared the video clips with my wife and daughters, later that night, they laughed until one rolled onto the floor. My shorts nearly slid off my backside. My arms flailed. I made thousands of bubbles…. and made it 2/3 of the way across the pool.
Just one more example of a time when the phrase “conscious incompetence” applies. I stood a long distance from “unconscious competence” or mastery. This process had started ugly…
I certainly had a lot of room to develop.
Coaching others is similar…
I know that we can each face challenges and develop new behaviors. I know that we can change. I know that we can overcome bad habits, we can improve patterns that formerly caused us to flail.
Coach Dinah is helping me embrace new challenges. Here are some takeaways. They may apply to your world too:
- Regular practice helps develop new skills In the last 14 days, I skipped 10 days, then practiced 4 days in a row. That is more than ever, but not enough.
- Video trumps imagination. I had never imagined how poor my form was. The video provided objective data, undeniable evidence, of the current state. The YouTube and instructional videos provided different evidence, of an improved state.
- Breathing is not necessary. I loved this idea. Coach Dinah explained that for the first few sessions my focus needed to be on proper body position to reduce resistance. She said, “Just put your head down and go.” Perhaps someday I will get to the lesson that includes proper breathing technique…
- When scared, just stand up. The pool water depth varies from 3.5 to 5 feet. No problem. I can stand up, and breathe with confidence, at any time.
Call me foolish, but every so many years I need to learn a new skill. Life is filled with challenges. I no longer want to be scared by the idea of a long freestyle swim. So it is time to learn some new behaviors.
How about you?
What challenges are you confronting?
And how is your “Coach Dinah” helping you progress?