Here is my two-cents to add to those who’ve been doing a great job busting the myths behind talent (Like Daniel Coyle in The Talent Code): Talent is just the gift of a head-start. It isn’t what gets you through a practice, across the finish line or onto the podium.
It may be that talent – this head-start in front of the rest of us – is just that someone finds himself a bit more aligned with how things work than others are. However, this doesn’t mean he understands how those things work, or how to cooperate further. This certainly doesn’t mean he will stay ahead if he does not gain that understanding. And this does not mean that another, one without that head-start, cannot catch up to him and pass by if he learns to align himself with how things work even better.
The talent that matters is not the instant ability to accomplish some task, but the magical skill to learn how.
“Terry broke the code”, as Alice Laughlin (Terry’s wife) said to me once. He broke the ‘Talent Code For Swimmers’, that is.
I will let you in on a secret that TI is trying very hard to make no secret of…
One distinct neurological feature of TI’s Balance > Streamline > Propulsion principles is that these follow the brain’s preferred path for mastering new skills.
We can see how babies and children start developing basic gross-motor skills and work their way to fine-motor skills. A child first learns to stand then they learn to run, then they learn to run and dribble a football (or soccer ball, if you prefer) at the same time, and then to run and shoot a championship-winning goal (as every Turkish boy surrounding me seems to dream of). The development process moves from brain, to spine, and out to the arms and legs and down to the fingers and toes.
For humans walking on land the beginning stages have us forming a relationship with gravity. Note that the center of gravity is somewhere behind the navel- in the core of the body.
When any adult starts working on a new skill it is the same pathway – first gross-motor and then fine – moving from brain, to spine, to appendages.
For human swimmers in the water the beginning stages have us forming a relationship with gravity and water buoyancy. Note that both the center of mass and the center of buoyancy are in the core of the body.
Moving the arms and legs to assist efficient propulsion is a fine motor skill set, which depends on a gross-motor skill set to support it – Balance from the core of the body. If there is poor balance the swimmer is forced to enlist the appendages to stabilize the core which is a massive waste of energy. That’s why we encourage turning off the legs and put the arms at rest (in streamline positions) in the early stages of TI drill sequences – we are provoking your gross-motor skills to develop first so it is so much easier to develop the fine-motor skills later.
First the swimmer needs to learn Balance between the forces of nature acting upon the body. Then from this balanced platform the body can be lengthened to create a shape that slides through the water more easily (lower drag = lower water resistance). Then, upon stable Balance and sensitive Streamline shape, the swimmer can develop the fine positioning and touch required for most effective and efficient propulsion.
What is the secret behind those who seem to be so naturally talented at swimming?
This is one of the major factors, if not the primary one: the ‘talented’ swimmer’s brain instinctively strives for balance first without consciously being aware of it. The visible actions of swimming she seems to do so naturally (the propulsive movements everyone wants to imitate and coaches capitalize on teaching) are made possible because she has balance in place – something no one taught her to do. This instinct-for-balance makes it so much easier for her to be fast and fluid and catch coaches’ attention. The rest of us who are ‘un-talented’ first learn, either by terrestial mammal instinct – or are taught by coaches – to push, pull and kick without knowing balance is even a part of the equation. Hence, she slides along effortlessly while the rest struggle.
But that unconscious talent is also the reason why this swimmer can struggle to improve after some initial success. Unless she discovers consciously what seemingly magic skill she has been gifted with she cannot protect it as the pressure mounts nor improve it as the level of challenge rises- she will most likely lose it and wonder what happened. This is where a coach who knows that balance exists and how to develop it needs to step in and help her tune-in and tune it up to higher levels of refinement to endure under pressure.
TI can do two marvelous things which I have devoted myself to as a TI Coach:
- It can teach amazing swimming to anyone- any age, any size, male or female, fully-abled or limited, fast or slow, competitive – fitness-oriented – recreational, swimming sprints-marathons-channels. It specializes in teaching the secrets to those who weren’t born with that talented head-start. It works because it is based on how humans work better than any thing that has come along so far that I know of.
- It can take that talented swimmer, the one who is or who thinks he is the best and show what it is that is providing that advantage and teach him how to protect it under pressure and improve it further. It can guide that swimmer into extreme refinement and sensitivity to extract more performance at lower cost than ever before.
It’s not that I believe I am that special as a coach. I believe the method is that special – because it makes it the learning process simple, and it works for every human.
Here’s a quote from Tim Ferriss’ new book, The 4-Hour Chef : The Simple Path to Cooking Like a Pro, Learning Anything, and Living The Good Life (which is primarily a book about learning, with cooking as a context for showing the principles) to sink the point home:
The top 1% often succeed despite how they train, not because of it. Superior genetics, or a luxurious full-time schedule, make up for a lot. This is not to say that [Michael] Phelps isn’t technical. Everything needs to be flawless to win 18 gold medals. It’s the people a few rungs down – the best you realistically have access to – whom you need to be wary of.
And then there is the second danger of hero worship: Career specialists can’t externalize what they’ve internalized. Second nature is hard to teach.
That is true across industries. …
…The Shinji Takeuchi’s, on the other hand – the rare anomalies who’ve gone from zero to the global top 5% in record time, despite mediocre raw materials – are worth their weight in gold.
I’ve spent the last 15 years finding the Shinji’s of the world and trying to model them.
Yes. Mr Ferriss is referring to TI’s famous middle-aged Coach Shinji Takeuchi who was not a even a swimmer at the start of the year 2002. Shinji’s more-famous-than-Phelps-on-Youtube-video inspired him to pick up Total Immersion and master freestyle in a few months- just from TI’s videos and books.
I did it.
Shinji did it.
Tim Ferriss did it.
And 10’s of thousands are doing it with TI around the world.
It just took having someone break down how swimming really works, then engaging the mind, adding some patience and persistence to the process- while following a great recipe.
The TI Method works because it is aligned with how swimming works and how the human brain works. It is not dependent on how talented you and I are, just how mindful we choose to be.