What skills is your practice focused on today?
What is the main objective you need to accomplish?
What information do you need to gather?
What measurements do you need to take?
How will your observations and accomplishments (or failures) today affect what you do in the next practice?
Do you like all these questions?
In TI we plan to accomplish goals with this series of concepts:
Task > Practice > Path > Goal
We create a Path to our Goal, from where we are now to where we want to be. The Path is composed of a series of Practices and Test Swims. A Practice is composed of a set of Tasks. We could have warm-up tasks (which we call ‘Tune-Up’ in TI), and Main Task Set(s), and Secondary Task Set(s). A practice may contain only 2 or 3 tasks or it could contain many. A task could take a few minutes or the entire practice. It could cover 10 meters or 3000.
Each task has a specific objective. Each task is designed to develop specific skills in a specific order.
Each practice has a specific objective or an appropriately combined set of objectives.
The Path has practices arranged to develop skills in a certain order of priority – foundational skills, then emerging skills, then finest motor and interoceptive skills at last. We place Test Swims a certain points along this path to measure progress in those various skills and to reveal which skills need more attention. We adjust the subsequent practice plans accordingly to the results of the Test Swim.
I know, this may all sound so technical and complicated. Perhaps too methodical. At first exposure to the idea it can seem a bit overwhelming.
But the fact is, you are following a Path whether you design one intentionally or not. Every minute of every practice your brain is doing something, and motor units are being trained. Whatever patterns your brain is using are being reinforced and automated through repetition. You are building ‘skill’ whether you try to or not- it is just a matter of whether that skill is useful or not, whether it is ultimately helping your swimming or hindering it. Feeling nicely drained at the end of a work-out is a poor way to scientifically conclude that you’re now a better swimmer because of it.
A little structure and mindfulness to your practice will help far more than it hurts, so you can monitor progress in each moment.
So if you don’t like the idea of strengthening your bad patterns in the water because you neglect to plan how to build good ones, there is hope. There will be a little cerebral headache at the beginning as you try to figure out how to do this. Start by putting some order and logic to how you go about practicing. It won’t take long until you have built a nice starter grid for organizing information.
Let me give you a big boost in beginning the organizing process. Here are four categories you can use to organize your task and practice objectives with:
Use this when you want to experiment with a new skill or concept, a new measuring technique or focal point. The objective here is simply to learn and see what happens with no expectation to succeed or fail. You actually want to find failure points out of curiosity because at those points is where the details for success are found.
Use this when you need to find a way to accomplish a task or use a skill using energy than before. The objective here is to synergize your skills into the most efficient cooperation so you can get more done with less effort. Keep in mind that, at first, when working on economy you will need to turn up brain effort a great deal in order to begin turning down muscular effort.
Use this when you need to push out the limits of your skill – actual limits, perceived limits and that comfort zone. You will work up to those limits or thresholds and make careful pushes across the line in cycles of challenge-rest-adaptation.
Use this when you need to measure your progress under more complex, demanding conditions, like a race situation, or under the pressure of swimming with or before others. Test Swims will help you get a more clear picture of your current strengths and weaknesses. The key here is that you are measuring all the details of the swim that you need to get information on (stroke count, tempo, splits, perceived effort, internal sensations, etc). What you measured is what you can improve.
The measurements and observations you make in Assess send you back into the Explore-Economize-Expand steps. Actually, at any one of the steps a measurement or observation can give you reason to put together a task in one of the other categories. It may not take long to see useful ways to use each kind of task or practice. These are your tools.
Just by organizing your thoughts and plans in these four categories you can break the one-dimensional view of how to improve your swimming and begin to build an intentional Path to somewhere you want to go.
To swim better, don’t swim harder – swim smarter. And swimming smarter is hard work yet infinitely more fun.