When you read the words, “The Perfect Stroke” what comes to your mind?
When you read the words, “Your Most Perfect Stroke,” what comes to your mind?
Most likely, these two phrases conjured up different images, sensations, and memories for you. If you pictured a swimmer who you believe to have the Perfect Stroke it was likely not yourself that you thought of.
It is also likely that when you are practicing you are keeping someone else’s perfect stroke in mind when you are concentrating on how to improve your own. There is definitely a time and place for using such imagery to inspire and instruct.
Regardless of how uncomfortably aware of the difference there is between the Perfect Stroke and Your Most Perfect Stroke, your stroke is what you have to work with right now.
‘Your Most Perfect Stroke’ = the absolute best stroke you’ve ever taken and you are capable of taking right now, if you set yourself up for it.
So I want to propose that you put that other person’s Perfect Stroke aside in your imagination for a while. What I want you to do is recall those moments when you’ve felt the best you’ve ever felt moving through the water – even if it was for a brief moment here and there.
- Can you recall it?
- What did it feel like on the outside of your skin?
- What did it feel like on the inside of your body?
- What did it look like?
- What did it sound like?
- What were some specific features of that Perfect Stroke that you can identify?
- What conditions set you up to perform it?
Now, using those observations as your reference point, what things hinder your ability to replicate that perfect stroke twice in a row? What is interfering with you making another?
Consider what you have control over that you can plan for and practice for in order to set up and replicate that perfect stroke again on demand.
Then work at taking a small series of perfect strokes.
Then an entire length of perfect strokes.
Then 100 consecutive strokes like that.
Then 10x 100.
Then a continuous 1000.
The thing is, you’ve possibly been using your most perfect stroke as your ‘starting point’ and someone else’s Perfect Stroke as your goal. The problem with this approach is that you should first learned how to replicate your own best stroke on demand, over and over again without hindrance. If you’ve done it once, you can do it again.
But why don’t you?
I suggest to you that your everyday stroke in all its inconsistency and variance is your actual ‘starting point’ and the consistent execution of your best stroke needs to be the goal you work toward. You will be far more successful at making progress toward that ultimate Perfect Stroke you see on someone else if you set your starting point where it really is, and set your daily goal by something you know is actually within reach if you apply utmost concentration.
Set up everything to execute your most perfect stroke, the best one that you are capable of right now in this practice, and then start working to replicate that – first a few strokes in a row, then a length or two, then several lengths, and then several sets, and then entire swims. Take days, weeks, or months to work on this.
The idea here is to be the best swimmer you can possibly be today. There is no point trying to replicate another person’s far superior stroke when you can’t even replicate on demand the best one you’ve got right now. The practice habits, the neurological sensitivity, the recognition and control over fine details that you need to eventually obtain the Perfect Stroke displayed by another- all these skills are developed as you simply work on removing the hindrances that stand in the way of replicating with ease the best stroke you are capable already.
If you are able to jump in the water, and after a proper tune-up replicate your best stroke a thousand times in a row to your satisfaction under the conditions you intend to use it for, then you may be ready to take it up to the next level in perfection. If not, I want to invite you to consider the advice I have just given above. Before you can expect to arrive at a higher level of capability, you’ve first got to develop the habits that get you there. Undoubtedly, these habits were used by your stroke-hero to perfect his own.
I’ve previously approached this topic from a few different angles, and will likely keep doing so from more as it is a central concept. I was inspired to write this essay in this way after reading a section of Zen Golf, entitled ‘The Perfect Swing‘ (hardback edition, page 28). It’s a great book that could nearly be a TI training guide – just swap out Golf for Swim, and Swing for Stroke and you’ve got a great mental coaching book for your swimming.
A couple articles I’ve written previously that were touching on similar ideas…