Know what you don't know.

As a young coach, I was under the impossibly naive supposition that I knew it all.

Ray Dalio, wikipedia.com

Ray Dalio, wikipedia.com

In his wildly popular book, Principles: Life and Work, billionaire investor and hedge fund manager, Ray Dalio lays out his methodical process for improving decision making. The book is comprised of two, equally weighted halves: “work” + “personal”. Through a series of parables, Dalio explains how he arrived at the principles that guided him to unimaginable success and personal fulfillment. While the principles themselves may be useful, Dalio makes careful work of showing how you can use the book’s process to create your own set of guiding principles.

Hang with me… I promise to relate this to swimming.

Early in his book, Dalio conjures a familiar analogy; when you encounter a physical pain (i.e. touching a hot stove), intuitively you learn to stay away from making the same mistake in the future. Dalio rightly notes that our minds are adept at processing emotional pains in a similar way. Most people don’t innately turn their focus towards emotionally fraught topics, rather, it is our (perhaps subconscious) instinct to retreat from them.

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Humans suppress emotional pain using any number of methods: exercise, eating, substance abuse, media, projecting, distraction… etc. However, when we turn our attention from emotional pain, Dalio posits, we miss a valuable opportunity. Much like learning not to touch the hot stove after a burn, living through trying experiences creates a favorable head space for learning from that experience. Thus, if framed properly, we can learn to leverage experiential learning to create action steps (“Principles”) that will maximize our ability to manage tough times and eventually evolve into an ability to learn from them.

Recently, a variety of experience (emotional, painful, joyous) have led me to my own quest to develop guiding principles.

kitch consulting and coaching

kitch consulting and coaching

As a young coach, I was under the impossibly naive supposition that I knew it all: the best way to train, to teach, to build a club… One might think that my myriad of failures would be a tip off to how much there was to learn… As I evolved through my coaching career, it became perfectly evident that of an ocean of potential knowledge, my expertise could perhaps fill a short course pool. In order to open heartedly express to our swimmers that they were in good hands, I had to expand my expertise on a number of fronts. I needed to fill out my knowledge in physiology, hydro-dynamics, psychology, brain science, periodization, strength training… the list goes on…


Thus, I developed my own guiding principle for life + work:

Know what you don’t know.

This simple phrase encapsulates a lot for me. In order to benefit from the ocean of available resources, you must bring humility and gratitude to your craft. It is imperative that you are able to be honest with yourself and others about your knowledge gaps. Instead of feeling shame for what you don’t yet know, use that feeling as recognition that there is an opportunity for learning. Here are a few ways you can bring this “principle” into your training and evolution.

As a Coach or Training Planner:

Principle: Know what you don’t know.

shutterstock.com

shutterstock.com

Perhaps another day, I should list (and celebrate) all my failures in a confession style list, but for today, please take my word that there have been many. I have overestimated my knowledge on a laundry list of topics. In doing so, I have made errors in training planning that potentially could have been avoided. It’s possible that if I had, at the time, a clearer understanding of my knowledge gaps then a mentor or resource could have been relied upon to find the answer. Regardless of whether we are coaches or athletes planning our own training, we owe it to those we work with to be honest about our ability to help them accomplish their goals. An additional unintended consequence, perhaps, is that we will demonstrate for our swimmers that there is no shame in admitting when we don’t know something.


As a swimmer:

Principle: Bring Humility to your craft and you will never be at a loss for people willing to help you along the way.

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There is a Japanese concept called Kaizen. Kaizen is the relentless pursuit of perfection while knowing that true perfection is unattainable. Great swimmers know this concept well. Part of what makes swimming so incredible as a craft is that there are an impossible number of iterations for how to accomplish your goals. The best swimmers in the world never stop trying to improve- the fastest swimmers are tweaking, seeking and searching for ways to get better. Great swimmers know what all great craftsmen know: there is always something more to learn. So, be open minded to critique. Recognize that everyone you come in contact with can teach you something. Bring humility to your endeavors and you will never be at a loss for people willing to help you along your path.


In Goal Setting:

Principle: A majority of swimmers know their goals in time, but very few have a well defined recipe for accomplishing that result.

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State a specific swimming goal: “I want to break 1 minute in the 100 free”. Now, define the recipe for accomplishing that goal- let’s call this recipe “process steps”. With out the process steps, your goal is a vague number on a score board. You can’t stand along side the pool side before a training session and say, “today I am going to train 59 in the 100 free”. As a stand alone statement, this is patently nonsense. A majority of swimmers know their goals in time, but very few have a well defined recipe for accomplishing that result. Here is where the principle comes into play. Know which parts of the process are clear and which need illumination. From this position you can then evaluate what you still have to learn and what process will be necessary to accomplish the goal.


In Closing:

I would challenge you to ask yourself this, “what is something I don’t know, that I wish I did” or “what is a knowledge gap that is standing in the way of my goal?” Once you have an answer, ask yourself another question. “What is the process for changing that?”… when you are ready you can take it one step further, “how can I build a muscle that reliably guides me through this recognition and learning process time and time again”.

Creating that intuition is daily process, but I would propose that it is one that is worth while and will, regardless of your goals, serve to make your life more successful and fulfilling.

Thanks for reading and sharing,

Jeff Gross

Founder, techniq group

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Why Every Kit Bag Should Have a Snorkel

What’s up Techniq Group Fam… Let’s talk about snorkels.

As coaches, it’s important to be methodical about why we choose to incorporate different types of equipment in our training plans. In today’s post we are going to delve into what may be the most important piece of common training equipment available today; the snorkel. In my coaching, I would sooner discard the kick board, buoy or paddles before parting with the snorkel.

In the below post, we will breakdown why this piece of equipment is so invaluable and also chart some of the potential negatives relating to implementing the snorkel in your training.

Please note the products mentioned in this post are just popular options; I don’t endorse one over any other.

The Snorkel

PROS: Snorkels have broad application in teaching and improving technique. Wearing a snorkel can help an athlete isolate head position, body line and alignment across multiple strokes (and at varied intensities). The benefit of learning to swim with a relaxed head in a neutral position can not be overstated. The snorkel also lends itself to some interesting training applications.

Head Position/ Body Line “Look Down”

swimoutlet.com

swimoutlet.com

A snorkel allows the swimmer to maintain a still and steady head position. Looking down aligns your head in a neutral position relative to your spine and instigates a proper body line. A few weeks back I heard a coaching friend explain this concept with the perfect analogy. To paraphrase: “imagine you have a wooden pole or stick- its cylindrical and perfectly straight from top to bottom. Now, imagine you have a ball that needs to be balanced at the top of the pole. The ball will balance, only if it remains perfectly central atop the pole. Move the ball slightly in front of the pole and it falls; slightly to the right and, again, it falls”. This analogy conjures the perfect image of the way the head (the ball) needs to sit atop the body line/ spine (the pole) to maximize efficiency. Move your head too far up and the hips are bound to sag; move off to the right, and the line is ruined again. The snorkel, more than any other tool, allows you to practice this important skill in a focused way… (Shout to “Dexter” Dave Gendernalik for the perfect analogy).

Sculling

Most sculling exercises are done in a neutral body position with the head down. Sculling improves your ability to “feel” the water and increases your capability to anchor your catch (among so many other advantages- post for another day). Lifting the head to breathe disrupts the necessary regularity of your body position to take full advantage of sculling. Sculling with a snorkel will allow you to focus on isolate your sculling without interrupting the process for that pesky breath.

Finis for swimswam.com

Finis for swimswam.com

Kicking

I’m a huge proponent of kicking with a snorkel. Give your kick board a well deserved hiatus and use a snorkel during kick sets to train in the proper body line for dolphin, breaststroke and flutter kick. While kicking with a board has many benefits, such as improved muscular endurance and power, those same benefits are available to you without sacrificing body position. Kicking with the head properly aligned also allows for kicking at different tempos, rotational kicking drills and seamless transition from kick work to full stroke swimming. Years back, I was doing a ton of board kicking with a group I was coaching. We were seeing great gains on board kick test set results but were not seeing the big kick translate to improved kicking in races. The following season, we transitioned to a lot more hard kicking in body position (with a snorkel and in streamline) and haven’t looked back since.

Training

Additionally, training benefits abound. Upside can be gained by training high intensity power work- isolating a specific part of the stroke, such as scapular connection rather than breathe timing. Once comfortable, a snorkel will also allow you to swim with a slightly more relaxed heart rate, as you can control your breathing rate independent of your stroke timing. Increase tempo while maintaining a balanced stroke and an open armpit catch. One of my favorite things about working snorkel work into your training is the ease at which you can transition between kicking, drilling, sculling and full stroke swimming; all while paying justified attention to your body line.


ON THE FLIP SIDE: Much like drills, implementing any training equipment in your program can have some potential negative side effects.

What About Breathing? What about Neural Pathways?

Critics of training with a snorkel tend to espouse that wearing one too often (or at all) allows you to ignore the necessary skill of breathing and breath timing; they may argue that the benefit of improved body line while wearing a snorkel does NOT translate to the full stroke.

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This well-founded critique is based in the science of neural pathways. Simply put, the science of neural pathways (and please excuse the rough brain science here) states that imprinting of skills is specific to the WHOLE movement. Conversationally, this idea is adjacent to the more relatable issue of muscle memory… I digress. In other words, critics of training with a snorkel, or any equipment for that matter, argue that in order to learn a total body movement - i.e. freestyle - you must imprint the movement on your brain as a whole. Thus, swimming with a snorkel will only improve your ability to do just that to… well… swim with a snorkel. According to this critique, when a swimmers refers back to the whole stroke (after using a snorkel), the preexistent deficiencies will remain (even after improvement with the snorkel).

While the science is reasonable in this critique, my personal experience has been that a snorkel can have tremendous impact on improving head position and body line when used in the right dosage; even when transmitting the movement back into the whole stroke.

With all these benefits, a snorkel should be a mainstay in the kit bag of swimmers at all levels. Some solid choices on the market…

Convinced? Some popular snorkels readily available today:

Thanks for checking us out and for reading/ sharing/ subscribing- we appreciate you.

Jeff Gross

Founder, Techniq Group

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