This evening I took a break from work and studying to have dinner with my good friend Briggette. We’ve been sitting in a local Me-n-Ed’s enjoying some pizza when a family comes in with two girls. The family sits down in the booth next to us.
The younger girl, who looks to be about 8 years old and is dressed in what looks like a tutu, goes with her father to try their luck at one of the plush toy crane machines. After a little persistence, the claw pulls the bear up and away from its friends. (I could almost hear the other toys chanting in unison, “The Clawww.”). The little girl begins to jump excitedly with delight. She watches closely in anticipation as the claw comes to rest over the chute. For a moment everything stands still as the world holds its breath - and stays that way. Nothing happens. The bear continues to dangle tantalizingly over the chute as the puzzled little girl stares on.
Her father decides to get some help and soon returns with one of the red-and-black clad workers. Each of them takes a turn trying to shake the machine. Another worker comes up and also tries to shake the bear loose to no avail. The claw maintains its steadfast grip on the toy. Discouraged, the workers give up and move to turn off the machine. The dad and his little girl despondently return to their booth as one of the workers places an “Out of Order” sign on the machine.
I like kids, I work with them, and I hate to see them sad. The solution at this point becomes very clear to me: place a couple of quarters in the machine and see if the claw will release the bear. I share this with Briggette and lament that I have no cash and none of the workers thought of this solution. She reminds me that I have a quarter on me then promptly produces a cash dollar and reminds me that I should stand up for something I feel so strongly about.
I get up to go get a box for the leftover pizza. While I’m at the counter I ask the worker if he will turn the machine back on so I can get the bear. He looks at me quizzically and asks, “Are you going to give it to the kid?”
“Yeah, that’s the idea,” I respond. The worker continues to stand there. “So, are you going to give me some quarters and turn it on?”
“Oh, yeah!” He says and goes to turn the machine on.
I’m walking back to my booth to leave the box when the father moves to get out of their booth. I would rather the dad be the hero, so I stop him and tell him that I have a couple of quarters if he’d like to use them to get the toy. Behind her father, the girl in the tutu lights up and stares expectantly at us. As we’re talking, disaster strikes.
The worker turns the machine back on, the claw comes to life and moves back over the sea of toys where it unceremoniously drops the bear back amongst its brethren. Everyone groans. All is lost. Defeated again, the man and I retire to our respective booths. I pack up the leftover pizza. Out of the corner of my eye, I see that the little girl convinces her mother to try the machine again. Sure enough, the claw grasps the bear, pulls it up and away, moves over the chute, and drops the bear into the waiting hands of the little girl. Her roller coaster ride of emotion now over, she is the happiest girl in the world after obtaining her prized bear.
Briggette and I grin victoriously at each other before getting up to leave the pizza place. So, the moral of the story is: always try to impress the girl.
But in all seriousness. Today I was reminded that life is about people: people who think outside the box, people who find solutions not excuses, people who seek to create harmony and happiness, not discord. And it’s about the people around you. Always surround yourself with good people who will be willing to pitch in a couple of quarters to support you in something you believe in.
We use the same warm up every day of practice and transfer that to meet days as well. I believe warm up is a time to get the brain primed for peak performance, so I place less of a premium on distance and intensity in the strict sense and focus instead on developing functional behavior. The base warm up is always 250 yards (100 Free, 100 Reverse IM) followed by two starts and two repeats of each type of turn. They build through the 250 and perform starts and turns at high intensity they way they will attack them in the race. This has several psychological skills benefits.
1) It helps the swimmers develop a routine which improves focus.
Each swimmer is encouraged to develop their own routine to incorporate into the team’s routine. We work a lot on race-context focus. They warm up every day with the same focus they would have at a meet.
2) It serves to mediate arousal.
We also will take practice days, use this warm up, and conduct a mini-meet; this helps normalize competition for them. Our swimmers seem to experience less anxiety when they know what to expect first thing every time they are getting ready to swim.
3) They get to transfer the skills we work on in practice to competition more easily.
We rehearse what should be emphasized and focused on during every warm up. “How would an Olympian warm up?” is our cue phrase. This helps them focus on warming up intentionally - they develop habits when warming up in practice and at competitions that they will use when racing later in the day.
When we have more time, I may add another swimming portion depending on the number and distance of events, etc., but I find having something short and sweet to be useful in all situations. They don’t develop a dependence on a certain distance. For example, what if a swimmer is late and only has a few minutes? Our shorter warm up allows them to immediately dive in, focus on functional behavior, and the bonus of familiarity keeps them from getting too worried about something they couldn’t control.
Lessons on Focus from Natalie Coughlin -
Empty your mind, be formless, shapless - like water. Now you put water into a cup, it becomes the cup, you put water into a bottle, it becomes the bottle, you put water into a teapot, it becomes the teapot. Now water can flow or it can crash - Be water my friend.