We can divide the teaching we give in our private lessons, camps, and workshops in two categories:
1) Stroke and Swimming Skills
2) Problem-Solving Skills
“Problem-Solving?” you might ask.
(The sunset view from the veranda of our hotel here in Kaş where we are holding a 4-day mini-open water camp.)
Here are the ‘problems’ that swimmers face:
- I want to make swimming easier but it is such a struggle, and exhausting.
- I want to make swimming more enjoyable, but it is so boring to train and swim laps.
- I want to swim faster, but I can’t figure out how to do it with the time and energy I have to invest in it.
- I want to swim without pain or injury, and go faster and farther without those.
- I want to be free to explore open-water but there are so many things that provoke my fear and anxiety.
We may condense these into Fitness, Pleasure, Performance (and certainly we can blend those a bit – don’t most of us want at least two of those?)
So my goal as an instructor and guide is to train my students in how to solve problems like these, for themselves. Coming to our camps and lessons is an enlightenment and empowerment experience. Or at least, that is my objective. My students will have to confirm whether I deliver well on that or not.
You have likely heard the old joke…
Question: How do you eat an elephant?
Answer: One bite at a time.
One of the simple techniques we apply to swim problem-solving is to break the big problem down into small manageable pieces.
One swimmer at our camp described the intimidation he feels for going into open-water. We examined the features of that anxiety-provoking situation that he associates with ‘open-water swimming’ in his mind:
– The Unknown
That’s a mean gang of 5 tough dudes for any open-water swimmer to face, let alone a new one. But why start by trying to fight all five at once?
Pick just one, find some safe and suitable conditions to work on the familiarity and skills involved in just one of those features. Work on each one separately until you feel ready to take on two of them at the same time.
It is a fact that you and I do not control the forces at work upon the wild water. But you and I do control what we expose ourselves to. Pick some open-water that presents just one of those features at a time and work on it until it does not provoke so much anxiety. Simply exposing yourself to that feature more frequently but in small peaceful pieces is a great way to desensitize yourself to the anxiety triggers.
Find a small section of water you feel comfortable with and just start there – even just float there a while and explore the underwater terrain until you’ve built a mental map of what to expect and there are no more surprises. Slowly expand that area as you feel some eagerness or peacefulness about doing so. Don’t take on distance or other challenges before you built a big enough area you can do that it without swimming over unexplored terrain.
Find an unheated outdoor pool with a warm shower within a 1 minute walk. Explore the effects of cool/cold water on your body and mind in safe, small area with gradually lengthening distance or duration. If the pool is cooling down with the season come to it frequently as the water cools each week. If it is already cold, start by dipping for a few minutes and do it frequently as you can and gradually increase duration as your body grows accustomed to it.
Find a place that permits you to start shallow and swim a distance at that same depth (parallel to the beach, for instance). Work your way out a bit more each time, as you feel peaceful about doing so.
Often, DEEP is intimidating when we are alone. So if you find this to be your case, take a friend and practice swimming a bit further apart each time.
See the last sentence.
Or try swimming alone but near others (strangers) that are congregated in some designated swimming area. Make small forays toward some distant object and work your way back to where the people are.
Go to that swimming place you’ve become familiar with, but go when it offers a little more wind and waves than you have previously experienced. It is most convenient (and safe) when those waves will be pushing you back toward the shore, where you started. Start by swimming against the waves (or current) and ride with them back. Though you won’t need as much energy to swim with the waves, you will need more energy than you realize to hold (dynamic) balance and a straight body line when those waves from behind keep trying to lift your legs and try to bend you into a banana.
I highly recommend you find the most convenient and pleasing open-water spot and make yourself at home there, even if you can only visit seasonally. First, get familiar with its underwater features and manner during all sorts of weather and conditions. Start very small and work your way, one at a time. Then you can add new challenges whenever you feel the urge to do it.
The guiding principle is to follow your inner peace about what you take on next. Don’t follow anyone else’s expectations for you (unless you know this coach knows you better than you know yourself). You know you are not in control of nature, but you can learn to be completely in control of yourself, choose what to expose yourself to, then train to have a peaceful response to all sorts of challenges, one by one. In this you will be in control of your experience.