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How To Evaluate Repetitions to Accelerate Learning Part I

Success is the accumulation of well-executed practices. A well-executed practice is the accumulation of well-executed sets. A well-executed set is the accumulation of well-executed repetitions. A well-executed repetition is the accumulation of well-executed strokes. Each stroke is all you can control in the moment. The degree to which swimmers will improve is going to be dictated by their ability to execute their skills on a repetition to repetition basis.

Unfortunately, maintaining focus over the course of a training session is extremely challenging, if not impossible. Expecting it to happen through sheer will power is a little naïve, and a recipe for failure. Rather than relying on will power, it’s a better strategy to rely on habits. I’m going to share with you a simple habit that works wonderfully for ensuring that you maintain focus. Further, the same habit can ensure that maintain a positive outlook on your training and make it a more enjoyable experience, all the while directing your focus toward working on the skills that are important right now. It all starts with two simple questions.

Two Simple Questions

The process of evaluating the quality of each swim, and just as importantly, deciding what to do next, can be simplified to asking yourself the following questions after each repetition-

What did I do well?

What could be better?

These simple questions work for fairly complex reasons, as we’ll see below. Further, these questions should be asked in this particular order. We want to lead with the positive. The improvement process is a positive one. You’re getting better, and the more you focus on staying positive and moving forward, the more you’ll reinforce a positive approach to improvement. The questions work because they keep you focused on what you’re doing, and they ensure that you’re staying focused with a positive and motivated mindset.

What did I do well?

After every repetition, the most important task is to focus on the success you just experienced. While this is true when you’re swimming well, it’s ESPECIALLY true when you are swimming poorly. Swimming is hard and improvements are hard to come by, no matter how those improvements are measured. When you’re struggling, it can seem like everything is going wrong. To stay motivated, it’s critical to find the successes in everything you do. Fortunately, the more you’re able to consciously reinforce your success, the less likely it is that you’ll find yourself consistently struggling.

Humans love rewards. While there are often big rewards at the END of the pursuit of an athletic goal, there can be a lot of time between those rewards, especially if you have a particularly long training cycle or time between major competitions. To stay motivated, there need to be rewards along the way. While this can take the form of smaller competitions or even significant training sessions, these too are too far in between.

Fortunately, you have the opportunity to experience success during every practice session. In fact, you have the opportunity to experience success during every repetition of every practice. No matter how bad a given repetition was, there was at least some aspect of that swim that was performed reasonably well. It could be just about anything. It’s important to acknowledge that success and use that as a starting point for improvement. You build upon success, not failure. In order to start building your performances, you need to appreciate the success, no matter how small.

What qualifies? Just about anything you do well can be included as an answer. If you maintained your focus, that counts. If you addressed a particular technical skill, that counts. If you were happy with how you executed the repetition by swimming the second half faster than the first, that counts. ANYTHING you were happy with that is marginally related to swimming better and faster in the future is fair game. The point is to continue to reinforce your successes, regardless of what they are.

I can appreciate that this approach may seem a little self-congratulatory, and in some respects, it is. However, the point is not to create a delusional process of patting yourself on the back. It requires honesty. If there was an aspect of your swim that you executed well, simply acknowledge it. Most swimmers are usually brutally honest with themselves, and everyone knows when they’re not being honest with themselves. I have found that it is rare that swimmers end up just telling themselves how great they.

On occasions, while it may SEEM like there is nothing you’re doing well, this is the point. You’re allowing your frustration and negativity to overwhelm your focus. Instead of focusing on what you can control, you’re letting your thoughts drift to what you can’t control, and that’s preventing you from getting better. If you REALLY can’t think of anything you’re doing well, then that is a pretty good indicator that it’s time to shift your focus and focus on what you CAN control. As much as anything else, this is one of the primary benefits of this approach. It forces you to focus in a productive manner.

There are some training sessions where it might be necessary to focus on even the most inconsequential sources of progress. These situations may feel like you are just trying to make yourself feel good without justification. In some ways, this is accurate because if you don’t, you’re focus is going to be unproductive. Acknowledging what you’re doing well keeps you focused on the process of getting better, rather than needlessly and uselessly engaging in self-criticism.

Continually reinforcing your successes is foundational for building confidence and maintaining enthusiasm for training. We are all motivated to achieve, and as there is often an extended period of time between major accomplishments, there needs to be intermittent rewards along the way. Getting those rewards on a repetition to repetition basis is a simple way to make that happen. For those that struggle with the idea that reinforcing your strengths is a strategy for long-term improvement, there is still the ability to focus on your opportunities for improvement.

Get Better Today

Keep it simple. Whenever you do something well, ACKNOWLEDGE it.

It will make more of a difference than you can imagine.

In part II, we’ll explore the 2nd question, What could be better?

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