Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Monkey in a Visor (Swim Practice)

The expert at anything was once a beginner. - Helen Hayes

I like to be useful. Helpful. Of value.

Sometimes passively - listening, learning, absorbing, overseeing.
Sometimes actively - directing, advising, contributing, deciding.

However, put me on a swim deck with a list of drills and the responsibility to correct swimmers' techniques? Might as well put a monkey there. A monkey dressed in a visor and TNT jacket and a crooked grin.

I can encourage, sure! I hope I can bring some motivation and humor the participants who are putting in the work. But when it comes to understanding form and technique, I'm in the guppy lane.

It's frustrating, fascinating and very humbling - all things I knew to expect when I signed up for this role. Growing as a coach and as an educator means exposing myself to new material and practicing it. True of almost anything in life.

I'm not a swimmer by trade. If the first leg of a triathlon was something else (pie eating contest?), you wouldn't find me at a pool. But since the swim is included on race day, I practice the discipline. I've swam since my senior year of college, but have never been coached, nor never have had to teach others.

Man, it's tough. Like trying to enforce the rules of a game that you don't quite know how to play. I can analyze a running gait and diagnosis wonky form and function on a runner. And I feel confident speaking about the bio-mechanics of cycling. But swim language is like British-speak to me ... it's almost an English I understand, but just out of my comfort zone of really getting it. Like every fourth word is foreign.

My fellow coaches - saddled with placing the swim monkey to oversee a lane or two - have been amazing. They coach the participants in the pool, and then coach me on how to coach others. They point out hitches in form and then show me how to correct it and tell me how to message it. And then they make me deliver the correction to the participants. Trial by fire.

Monkey in the black jacket and purple t-shirt

I'm learning a lot. I'm floundering as I go. I'm dancing around getting frustrated that I can't master this skill over the course of a week. Just when I have a grasp on one area (ie high elbows, hip rotation, head position), something unfamiliar pops up and back down to monkey-brain I go.

Like anything ( Ironman), these skills take time to development. And patience and a passion to want to understand them. I have the latter and am working on the former. We have many folks new to swimming and to triathlons. If they are willing to face the giant learning curve and conquer it, so am I.

Ultimately, if I can coach with empathy and invest myself fully in the progress and experience of the participants ... then, well, it's not the end of the world if my swim education comes along slower than I want.

The monkey to man evolution did take a couple billion years. I hope mine doesn't take as long.


Elisabeth Waller-Scott said...

I think you're doing a better job than you realize. Seriously. As a participant, I must say, sometimes hearing about my lazy left arm/hand from a different coach, in a different tone helps a lot (seriously, hearing the same thing from the same coaches over and over, I start to tune it out, I've been thinking about it more recently)

Emily Conlon said...

Thanks EWS. It's a good point you make. I'll keep it in my head when I start getting at aggro!