I’ve said it a million times AT LEAST. Most of the time, it’s been said with less than a second of hesitation between the words, with the implication being that the person I was talking to really should have been “ready” before I told them to be. Think about that. Be ready before the warning comes, and know what to be ready for. It reminds me of the old Boy Scout admonition to be prepared, and I think it carries the same meaning. Be ready, be prepared, for….anything!
Beginnings are so important. They can often lay the stage for what comes next, but mostly just the act of starting is an act of faith. In swimming, the start is literally a headfirst jump through the air, trusting in the work that’s come before to land you correctly in the water to begin your race. The start, the dive, is one of the hardest skills to teach a beginning swimmer because it is absolutely counterintuitive for humans to voluntarily fly through the air headfirst. It takes countless numbers of repetitions to make it comfortable to do so, and a countless number more to make it an instinctive response to a visual or audible cue. It is practiced vulnerability.
I’ve worked with many children for whom that leap was almost impossible, and who would look forward, or raise up, or bend like a crab to get those knees under them. Unable to leap headfirst, they instinctively protected themselves, and the older they got without mastering this skill, the more entrenched their caution became. The imagined hurt became more and more real, the avoidance more and more justified. No amount of rational discussion will change this, so coaches learn to rearrange circumstances to result “accidentally” in the desired outcome, breaking the dive action into small, doable, seemingly unrelated pieces. In other words, we trick them into success by making it almost impossible to fail.
All too often in adult life, we forget this type of process. We put enormous pressure on ourselves to be a certain way, or have certain things, and we become daunted by even trying to begin. Where to begin? How to begin? We have our eyes fixed so firmly on the end of the race that we have forgotten the beginning…or even the pre-beginning. What have we done to get ready to leap? How have we prepared? How many countless times have we practiced the kind of vulnerability it takes to begin?
A successful swimming start is far more about the being ready to leap than it is about the efficacy of the push off itself. In coaching, we talk a lot about “reaction time”, or how long it takes the swimmer to react and begin motion once the cue is given, and we measure this to try to help athletes improve. But to my mind, this is not just physical, not just a matter of having fast twitch muscles in the right proportions. It is about the readiness of the mind, and the willingness of the spirit. It is about having confidence in the practiced vulnerability of the headfirst leap, about being “ready” in a gut-level, faith-filled kind of way.
I retired from active coaching several months ago, in an effort to “ready” myself for whatever comes next. It is a sabbatical kind of time, but also a time of practicing vulnerability. I have been training myself to let go of what is familiar, let go of my preconceptions or my ideas of what my life should be, and ready myself for the leap that comes next. I am trying to live my own lesson, and rearrange circumstances to accidentally result in the desired outcome. Whatever the task is, break it into pieces, small enough to do just a little each day, and set aside some “practice time”, with the only measure of success being whether or not you went to practice and moved things forward, no matter how slightly. I hope to trick myself into success.