Wednesday, December 12, 2012


I have to give some real credit to the sport and culture of swimming. They are required to have a certain toughness about them to participate. The swimmers start practice sometime in early September and the season goes through March. During that time, I know our team practices at 6 am five days per week, sometimes six. They also train through many of their meets. When I say they train through them, I mean they practice and lift as if there was no meet. No reduction in training time, days, volume, intensity. There is no taper. They taper only for conference and NCAA championships at the end of the season.

Now of course I would suggest swimming can do better. There is such a thing as being stupid about training. But I have seen it on the other side of things, where there is a constant hyper-vigilance in regards to doing too much. Making training too easy. Teams wanting to taper from tapers... and tapering again off that! 

In my time working with swimming, I remember there being an odd day when the coach would call for a later practice. Moving practice to 7 am was like a gift. You would have thought each athlete won a million dollars. These athletes have a different perspective than others. Early mornings and constant training are the norm, with recovery very much an afterthought... but this is all they know. So don't complain to a swimmer about an early practice, or lifting the day before a game or let alone, the day of! When they finally do taper at the end of a long, grueling season, it's an amazing thing to witness the changes in attitude and energy. Is this optimal? Unlikely. Does it work? It works often and well enough for coaches to continue this approach.

One thing is for sure though, their perspective of getting up early, and training all the time, even when not feeling ideal, is different from those that don't. Is it for the better? I am not sure, but I do know there isn't much they won't be able to handle in the pool.

Training and sport requires balance. It is not life or death, but it should provide challenges to broaden individual's perspectives. Sport is a microcosm of real life, and should offer up a number of lessons to help one deal with the challenges that living presents. 

I personally find it a great task to provide the optimal training, where the training and recovery is monitored thoroughly. However, maybe there are some negatives consequences in the wake of optimality. The very essence of greatness is derived from overcoming less than optimal circumstances. If things were so favorable, everyone would be great. Paradoxicality is more likely to be the rule, not the exception.

This perspective on training brings up a larger point I'd like to present. I like to read books, watch documentaries, and listen to other people talk about their experiences. I like things that give me a different perspective (some might argue that I don't, but I really do appreciate diversity) on sports, training, and life. Specifically, hardships that people of different times and places have had to endure. I find it helpful when I am present with a challenge. This diversity of life both now and historically persistently offer up the words, "it could be worse".

A couple weeks ago, I watched a documentary on the Dust Bowl of the 1930's (on the great TV station PBS!). It coincided with the great depression. Sure, the farmers of the Dust Bowl were much the victims of there own efforts, and their perspective of life undoubtedly changed, but it's difficult to not have empathy for the people of the time. And while we may not envy them and their lives in that time and region of the country (many died from the dust, most horribly the death of children, some men and women committed suicide), I do envy their appreciation for such simple things, such as single day, even just hours, when the wind did not blow, filling their lunges and eyes (the threat of dust pneumonia), and covering the house top to bottom in a thick layer of dust. The only place not to be brown of the dust was where their heads had laid on the pillows at night... but they had pillows! 
Their lives were stripped of many of the superfluous things (as have many of those in dire circumstances the world over) we so take for granted today. To hear the stories of those that lived through that time is at the same time heart-wrenching and inspiring. It was also inspiring to hear of the simple joys they (young children at the time) cherished, like a dust-free bed.

One of my favorite books, "The Road" by Cormac McCarthy presents a story of a man and his young son on a journey across the desolate landscape in a post-apocalyptic world, where many of the remaining survivors have resorted to cannibalism. The purpose of the journey is not real clear, but the purity of their lives, challenges, and love for one another is difficult to harbor under easier circumstances. The fleeting moments of safety and calm when the father hugs his son around a small fire, to keep warm. The internal battles the father fights; such as what to do with the one bullet in his pistol. The everyday struggle to find food and avoid the bad people. There are simple moments of conversation while the father holds his son - because there is nothing else to do, and nothing else either would want to be doing. Inspiring, is how the father's love provides the strength and courage, while being terminally ill, to protect his son so he may survive. 

I found "The Road" to be genuine and pure. To me it was a story for such a deep, powerful love and care for the moment, that is difficult to be possible in times of ease. Life's meaning changes. Purpose changes. Perspective changes.

I have a sense that the perspective in our affluent society is changing, as is likely vastly different from that of those less fortunate, and of generations ago. I try to have an awareness (that might be turning into a phobia) of this affluence, and the apathy it can spread. Sure, some might think having abundance is great, but I am not going to be so quick to think that the desire, aim, and creation of a so-called utopia is helpful. Having everything perfect or trying to make it so, seems to defy the logic of  what it takes to become something great.

Digressing, I think there are things to be gained from changed perspective. Maybe it's just a matter of coping, but we all are required to cope, and adaptability has served many of us well. Acquiring different perspectives whether it by choice or necessity, can create a new, deeper meanings and allow our thinking to be more adaptable - an increase in resilience, a toughness that comes from adversity. As I have stated before, how can we develop this toughness, when we are always trying to provide ideal conditions for our athletes (and children)? This doesn't mean seek out stupidity, just don't always take the easy road. Use good judgement.


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