Yogi Berra, the NY Yankees legend who died in September at the age of 90, was known as much for his sayings as for his actions on the field. One of my personal favorites is “When you come to a fork in the road, take it.” And, while all of us have certainly been following that advice our entire lives, I think there is a special message here for any aspiring athlete.
There are so many “forks in the road” for anyone who wants to be great. Many of the choices made seem inconsequential while still others seem to tie us to a path as surely as with concrete. In the swimming world, coaches, athletes (from beginner to Olympian), sport scientists of every discipline, parents, and even casual observers of the sport have been quick to identify the “one true way” to success.
Sometimes those ways clearly contradict one another. At other times, those contradictions seem clear only to the champions of the differing approaches. As an avid fan of the sport of swimming as well as a swim parent married to a sport scientist, I have been alternately dismayed and excited to observe several current events that seem also to require the swimmer as well as the swimming community to make a choice.
There are three “forks” that many coaches and swimmers are considering at the moment. Each supposedly implies a choice and a clear path once that choice is made.
Fork 1: Swim coaches are inundated with information and opinions from “outsiders” who can’t possibly have anything valid or important to contribute to the sport. Coaches should listen only to other coaches. The opposing path: Science and research-based technique adjustments and strategies are critically needed to support individual swimmers, coaches and teams.
Fork 2: USRPT (Ultra Short Race Pace Training) is the only way to top tier swimming. The fork in the road: Swimmers cannot succeed without mega-yardage (15,000 -20,000 yards per day) beginning at around age 12.
Fork 3: Athletic success is based primarily on genes, i.e. Michael Phelps and Missy Franklin physiques. And yes, on the other side, champions are made, not born. While the first clearly favors the physically gifted, the second choice gives added weight to effort (deliberate practice) and opportunity – including the resources to select a coach and even a country to train in. (How many Olympians from other countries train in the US?)
Are any of these truly clear choices? Let us know what you think and why. The first 10 people to weigh in will get a free copy of MONA Cue Cards. We’ll share responses in a future blog.
P.S. Yogi also is supposed to have said: “If you can’t imitate him, don’t copy him.” The decision to teach technique based on another athlete’s accomplishments presents one more fork that, thankfully more coaches are making every day: a place on the podium does NOT necessarily mean that a swimmer’s technique should be modeled!