Get Out of Your Own Wake

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If you’ve ever seen a heat of high level male swimmers racing a sprint freestyle event, you’ve seen the wave they pull behind them. It’s impressive to see the wake caused by a strong, powerful body propelling itself efficiently through the water. Then they come to the wall.

As the swimmers slow slightly to initiate the turn, their wake catches up with them. As they push off, what was behind them is now in front of them, a wave of churning turbulence with the potential to ruin their race. Young swimmers often push off right at the surface, and take that wave in the face. They must learn through practice to push off deep enough to avoid their own wave, and slide through the still water.

We create turbulence as we move through our lives as well, stirring up the water with our selves, our habits, our insecurities. As long as we are moving forward, this turbulence is largely unnoticed by us; it is only when we slow down, when there is a challenge facing us, that our own mess catches up with us. We flounder in the churned up water we have created, making the challenge that much more difficult.

Perhaps instead we could get out of our own wake. We could approach our challenge (wall) with determination, acknowledging that our issues and inner demons (turbulent wave) is right with us, and push away from the problem (wall), aiming for the calm place (still water), where we can once again move forward efficiently.

It is important that we not deny that the wake exists, otherwise we will run into it over and over. Rather, we should accept that it’s there, see it for what it is, and take steps to move past it.

Broken Goggles

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Coach:  “Why did you stop in the middle of the race?”
Child: (sobbing) “Because my goggles were leaking!”
Coach: “OK, so… it’s just water. Why didn’t you keep going?”
Child: (sobbing harder) “Because they were LEAKING!!!!!”

Every sport has its equipment, and swimming is no exception. Probably the most heavily relied upon item are the goggles, which keep the chlorinated water out of swimmers’ eyes. I hate goggles. HATE them. They break, they leak, they require frequent adjustment, and worst of all, most everyone thinks they can’t swim without them.

My real issue with goggles is that they are not necessary. They are a convenience, they are nice for helping you see clearly and for not ending up with stinging eyes at the end of the day…but in reality, you can still swim without them. One of my all-time favorite moments in swimming was Michael Phelps’ 200m butterfly win at the 2008 Olympics…you know, the one where his goggles filled with water off the start and he raced 200 meters unable to see clearly, the last 50 not really being able to see at all. I like to tell that story and end with, “See?  You don’t NEED goggles!”  (I get a lot of groans and rolling eyes from the kids.)

Broken goggles represent an inconvenience, an unexpected minor setback, yet too many turn it into tragedy. Broken or leaky goggles become an excuse and an insurmountable obstacle, with swimmers allowing themselves to mentally fall apart because of a minor failure of a piece of unnecessary equipment.  I read an interview with Bob Bowman, talking about training Michael Phelps. Part of what he said was that he used to train Michael for adversity, and do things like step on his goggles right before a race. Awesome! What better way to teach resiliency in the face of setbacks?

I have wondered on occasion if daily life in this country is just too easy. We flip a switch, light comes on. We turn a faucet, clean water comes out. We click a mouse, instant access to the world is there. Is it any wonder that people raised in that environment come undone when something unexpected and (GASP!) uncomfortable happens?

Kids who swam for me learned pretty quickly that goggle issues were not an excuse that was going to gain them any traction with me. In fact, I have run practice sets where kids were not allowed to wear goggles, or had to pull them down around their necks, or had to deliberately fill them with water, in order to teach them how to deal with the minor adversity. We spent a lot of time at practice talking about the difference between inconveniences and problems, and about being focused enough to swim through the inconveniences. I encouraged them to see these little issues as opportunities to build mental toughness, and I even had a few who listened.

What are the “broken goggles” in your life? How do you respond when it happens? Are you able to stay focused and move forward, seeing it for the minor adversity it is? Or do you let it derail you? How resilient are you?

Step on your goggles once in a while. You’ll be glad you did.