Motivating Athletes to Train by Dr. Keith Bell (1998)


Introduction: I am sure that if you have been involved in swim ming for any time I am sure that you know the speaker that awaits you. Unlike a lot of the pseudo psychology that we see from year-to-year from different people, he is truly a trained, licensed, educated psychologist as well as a great swimming fan. He brags that he hasn’t missed a day of training in 10-years. He has a great way of looking at swimming; he just absolutely loves swimming.

He has contributed to 8 books over a period of years. The most recent of which you may know about – “The Swimming to Win Playbook”, which has an incredible amount of information in it. When I went to coach the Cincinnati Pepsi Marlins he was the first guy that I called to come and talk to our team. We spent a long, long time on his first question on what you are you doing here. And I have a feeling that we might get to that today. But he is a tremendous contributor to swimming with a tremendous mind – Dr. Keith Bell.

Bell: Thanks Chuckie for the kind words and the plug on the book,  I appreciate that too. It is nice to see so many friendly faces out there. Motivation is a funny thing, people are always motivated. We get worried about how we are going to get them motivated. It is not always a question of getting them motivated. People, as long as they are alive they are always motivated. It is a question of what are they motivated to do or not do and whether or not they are going to persist at it and how vigorously they’re going to do it. That is what we’re concerned with. As a psychologist I tend to lean towards social learning theory. I don’t believe much in drive theory, or needs or personality theory. We tend to view motivation that way in terms of the choice of behavior, direction of behavior, persistence and vigor of behavior. What are we talking about when we are talking about getting athletes motivated to train? If we going to talk about motivating them to train, then we have to know what athletes are doing when they are training. So I am going to make some assumptions. I don’t  remember saying that was the first question, but I probably did. These days the first question when I work with teams is – I usually  ask them when they swim if they would prefer to win? It is pretty rare when I get anyone that says he wouldn’t prefer to win, or at least would not admit that upon some question. Then I ask them if they like to swim fast? And they usually tell that they want to swim fast – always they tell me they want to swim fast. I always ask them if they would like to enjoy their swimming more? It is pretty easy we know what we’re talking about. They want to go fast, they want to win and they want to enjoy it.

So today, as I do with athletes when I work with them, I am going to focus on the values, the decisions and the responsibility in order to get them to swim fast, to win and to enjoy it more. To me that means that they need to know what their mission is. If they don’t know what their mission is, if they don’t know what they are doing there, and usually what they do in training is that what they do that time of day. That is why they are there – and that is about as much thought as most of them have given it. That is where they go at that time of day and that is what they do at that time of day. Athletes fail when they fail to train well not because they don’t want to train well, not because they don’t want to win, not because they don’t want to swim fast, not because they don’t want to enjoy excellence. It is because they fail to value their training, they see no hope in their training, they lack direction in their training. They are not certain some of them that they are capable of getting anywhere anyway. They have to have some expectancy that they are going to succeed and that it is going to be worthwhile. They don’t how to get there half the time. They don’t understand the connection between training now and swimming well later. And even if they understand it, they tend not to be attentive to it. And mind you I am not talking about all athletes. I am talking about those times when they are not training well. They don’t pay attention. Attention is often the big enemy. They don’t pay attention a lot of times because they don’t have any goals. If they don’t have any goals they don’t have any direction and they don’t know where they are going. Of course most of you do a really good job of helping them set goals, but most of the goals that they set are for the end of the year, or maybe for a couple of big meets along the way. Or maybe even for the upcoming meet. But the ones that really count, the goals for today and this week’s training and what they can do and accomplish today to help them get where they are going most of them don’t have. It is extremely rare when they are setting goals for training. They often don’t see any use for training.  They have this vague notion that training matters. That they have got to do it if they are going to get good. But they know that there is not a one-to-one correlation between what they do right now and how fast they swim in a meet. And they see people that don’t train as well as they do not swim faster than they do. If they are as ignorant as I was when I was a kid, I used to look around and see that the bigger kids were winning, and so I just waited to grow. And you can see by looking at me it didn’t work. Heck, my fifteen-year-old is taller than I am. Somewhere along the line we have to learn something else. In fact, when they are nine, ten, eleven, twelve, thirteen, fourteen-year old especially the guys? It is the guys who are men not the guys were are little boys and there is not a whole lot they can do about that.

They also notice that when they first start training that gains come really easy. Just basic skills, a little bit of power, a little bit of stamina, a little bit of strategy and learning how to do the strokes at all they make huge gains. Unfortunately it doesn’t come that easy later. The physics of it takes over. And so that get in the way and they don’t understand how training helps them get there. They get confused about the role of rest. They easily observe that they train and they get tired and they can’t swim well. And then they rest and then they swim well. So what do we do to swim well now – not train hard. Unless they truly understand what training is all about.

Some of them feel hopeless. They have this idea that great people swim great. They don’t understand that it is the people that do great things swim great and that anyone can do great things. It is really hard to look at themselves as special and great because people have been telling them all their lives what is wrong with them. It has been pointed out to them each and every day. It is hard for them to think that they have natural talent. We know that talent is a combination of heredity and acquired skills. And although it is too late to choose their parents, they can acquire skills.

They often lack incentive to train. There is very little or maybe no payoff delivered contingent upon good performances in prac tices. Most of you don’t hand out hundred dollar bills for good swims in practice, do you? And in fact there may not be that much incentive for doing what it takes for doing well because where are they going. How many of you have swimmers that are millionaires because of their swimming prowess? You know and I know that there are wonderful things about it and there are wonderful things about it everyday, but the odds of them get ting rich are not very good. It is really hard for them to see the other payoffs especially if they are not paying attention. There is a tremendous delay between when they train and when the payoff comes – maybe. At least they way most people view it.

Some of them find training more aversive than rewarding and as human beings we tend to seek out things that feel good, that are rewarding, and tend to payoff.  We tend to avoid things that are aversive. So if they think that training hurts, if they think it is boring, if they think it is arduous, if they think it is something that they have to do in order to succeed they’ve got a battle going on. Even if they want to succeed the natural tendency is to retreat from that to avoid it to fight it. Some of them make really bad choices frequently and choose to be bored in practice. Whenever a swimmer tells me that a set of 10-1000’s is boring I look at him incredulously and wonder why he would choose to be bored. I mean he has that choice – he can make it fun or he can make it boring, or he can make it boring by failing to make it interest ing. Most for them opt for that later choice and they don’t take control of it. They can view it as boring, painful, tedious, tiring and they can think that tiring is bad and that can make it tough.

It can conflict with other attractive alternatives. Most of their friends except perhaps some, and only some of their swimming friends are making it tough for them to train. They are inviting them to go do other things and telling them they are wasting their time and they don’t have any value for what they are doing. The rest of the world is stuck in a different place. Swimmer, in my mind anyway, if they are doing it right, what they are looking at is doing something, striving to do something, they are on a path to do something better than anyone else in the world has ever before done it. That is the direction that they are going hopefully. In my mind that is the mission. I am always telling swimmers that the whole idea is to play Star Trek – to boldly go where no man has ever gone before. To seek out new speeds, explore new speeds and establish new worlds. But the rest of the world is stuck on mediocrity. The rest of the world has no value for excellence. And their friends are bombarding them with peer pressure. Peer pressure which is an invitation -–a very strong, powerful invitation to do what everyone else is doing – to act the same as everyone else. Normal, average, mediocre and far from excellence. There is no value for excellence in our society. Very few places, and we hear a lot of lip service about excellence in business but mostly it is lip service. There is very little value for excellence in our society. It is what we’re all about so it is very different and so the habits get in the way. And they get distracted from their goal and their purpose. Other people are distracting them and of course it assumes that they have any goals, purpose or mission at all especially for training. The environment does support their mission nor does peer pressure. And they are inattentive to their purpose. Most of them, even if they really know where they want to go and they have some good ideas about it, they forget. It is hard to stay attentive to it all the time. It is hard for them to stay attentive to it a couple times a day, day in and day out for a few hours at a time. It is hard if you don’t know how to do it. It is real easy if you know how. It is hard and they don’t know why they are there. It is very rare for me when I ask the teams that I work with what is the purpose of training and what is the purpose of practicing? They don’t know. They give me some kind of good answers that so okay. But to my mind they plain don’t know what the purpose of training is, even if they understand some of the physiology, they don’t know the purpose of training. If they don’t know what the purpose is, it is hard to be attentive to it and it is hard to set goals for it. It becomes routine and they just go through motions. Half the time they are looking at the clock and trying to push the clock ahead. They are not trying to beat the clock, but they are looking at the clock trying to push it ahead for when practice ends. They lack responsibility for what they are doing. They give it to you and expect you to do it.  And you do such a good job of planning and caring and putting your heart and your blood and your guts and your soul into getting them ready that they don’t have to. They know you are taking care of it and so they just go through the motions. I know I’ll get great if I do what coach says, and they will. They will get really fast. They will swim faster than 99.9999% of the population of the world. But once they have joined your team they already do that and it doesn’t matter. They are not concerned about beating those Chinese billion who are yet on steroids. They are interested in beating the few people who are competing at a high level in swimming – an extremely precious few people. You don’t get there by doing what everyone else does. Even if your program is the best in the world at least their teammates are doing the same thing. They have to do something better if they are going to get ahead.

So what do you do about it? The first thing that you need to do is make sure that they are clear on their mission. They have to have a mission, if they don’t they are going to be lost. And if they don’t your team is a mess. Well your team is not a mess, but what happens is when you have a mission you have a direction to travel. When we talk about motivation we talk about choices and direction. If we don’t have a mission we have people choosing different directions. When they are choosing different directions only one of two things can happen – they can collide or they can get lost. You can bet if they are bored, if they are lost, somebody, somewhere is off track and missing the boat, and don’t have the mission in hand. If you’re having conflicts, if you’re having problems, somebody is colliding with the mission and going in different directions. It is easier in my mind because I think there is only one mission, now there may be some addendums to that mission. There is only one mission for a competitive swim team. Now I may be wrong, but that is only my opinion. But I think it is to provide them with the pursuit of excellence in competitive swimming and to provide them with the opportunity to do that. Notice I say to provide them with the opportunity to do it. You don’t do that for them. What you are is an expert resource person. What I always tell athletes I don’t know everything about the world, but I do know that the are a couple of universal truths. One of them is the responsibility is mine and there can’t be any other way. And it is true for each and every one of us all of the time. You try and that is probably the only time you will hear me use that word – try. Because what I mean here is you fail.  When you try, you fail.  That is what it means — means put forth some effort and fail. But you try to do it for them because you care so much. But they need to make the choices and they need to do what it takes. All you are is an expert resource person who provides them with a great opportunity. They need to know whose responsibility it is and they need to be reminded of it all of the time. Of course you have your responsibility as well. To my mind each swimmer is responsible for how well they swim, how fast he swims, how much he wins and how much he enjoys it, for everyone else on the team, for the entire program and to keep you happy. I mean that! If that is not going on then it is not working for him and he is the one who can do something about it.

There is another universal truth and it pays for them to understand and that is opportunity is always limited. It is there and then it is gone and it is never back again. And every time you miss and opportunity, you miss thousands of them. Because when you miss that opportunity, you don’t grow from that opportunity. It is like you miss practice you miss the flow of the training and it is hard to get back in. You are doing something different than you would have been doing if you had done that practice.  You miss the skills and you don’t bring the skills or that power or that stamina to the next day’s practice. And so you can’t get as much out of the next day’s practice and you can’t get as much out of the next days and so on. The swimmers who swim great, the ones you are competing against, they take advantage of an awful lot of those opportunities and they are always looking for ways to get what I call jump starts. I think it is each athlete’s responsibility to get a jump on the competition every day to make that choice and to find ways to get ahead.

They have to be really clear on their mission, take advantage of that opportunity, and have to know who is responsible for that pursuit of excellence, who has that opportunity. They need to decide to value it, do what it takes and you need to help them do that. So you need to act as if it is tremendously valuable and wonderful. And it is. What better sport is there? What better thing could they be doing for their bodies, for their minds, for their health and what could possibly be more fun than 10-200 flies?

You laugh, but I really mean that. What a great challenge? If they are going to swim great they have to value those challenges. They just have to value them passionately. Whether they mean it or not, it doesn’t matter, they can fake it. It works. If they fake it enough then they really mean it. They need to have a mission, they need to embrace that mission and you need to help them do that. They need to decide to value it and to decide to value it passionately. Then they have to understand how they can do that. How do they get where they want to go, how do they stay on track, how do they take giant steps? A lot of them get confused about improvement. I ask them what the purpose of practice is and they say to improve. I think they are fuzzy on the concept. Improvement is tremendously important, it is necessary, but it is not sufficient. Theoretically they could improve every time they hit that water. What we are interested in is radical improvement at unprecedented rates. And it has problems when they are looking for improvement. One of the things that they do is they set lousy goals. Their goal for the meet is to go my best time. Well okay, but if you want to be swimming a 132 and never have gone any faster four years from now that is okay. Otherwise it is not necessarily a good goal. It is not bad as something to be minimally pleased with but it is not what you want to train for. It is not the purpose of training. To my mind, at least the purpose of training is to prepare to swim fast and to win in meets — it is preparation. It is preparation for meets. It is important that they learn to discriminate that because otherwise they know and they get some of it. They know hopefully that practicing winning helps them win and it does. They know that practicing swimming fast helps them win and it does. But you know and I know that there are times when other things take higher priority. When technique is more important than speed. Now if they can perfect that technique and do that drill great and still race like Linquist did all the time without sacrificing that technique that is great.

Then they get some extra practice on racing. But that technique is important. They better have their heads in the right place. Warm-up – if they don’t understand the purpose of training than what are they doing in warm-up? How many of them are counting their strokes in warm-up? How many of them are getting their times in warm-up? How many of them are putting themselves all in the same lanes and practicing for what warm-ups are going to be like at meets? Some of you are actually allowed to dive in the pool. But when they dive into the pool are they practicing the racing starts to start practice and get in one extra practice? I don’t know, it depends on how they are thinking about practice, what the purpose of practice is. When those dead-dog meet day come most of them throw their hands up in the air and they say what is for dinner? And they are looking to go home and they are embarrassed that they are not swimming well, but what a great time to work on stroke technique? What a great day to build some power because you are recruiting muscle fibers that you wouldn’t otherwise recruit. What a great day to be working on psychological skills because it is tough today. And if you are thinking about practice as preparation for meets, then everyday can be wonderful that way.  Once they get clear on the mission and you keep them on track, you can keep them happy and make it fun. It has got to be fun!

I know whose responsibility it is to make it fun — it is theirs, it’s yours and it’s mine.  There are a lot of people who will tell them that there are a lot of good reasons for doing things besides the fact that it might be fun. And some of you may tell them that and that may be true. I certainly believe that. Some of their friends will tell them that if it is not fun don’t do it. I don’t believe that. I believe that there are good reasons for doing things besides the fact that it might be fun. But if you are going to do anything you might as well make it fun.

But what they need to understand and a lot of little ones especially don’t understand, and a lot of the big ones and even some of the great ones don’t understand that there is a huge, huge difference between making the pursuit of excellence fun and having fun at the expense of the pursuit of excellence. It is huge. It needs to be fun and they need to value it for other reasons. They need to value it for what they get out of it every day. It doesn’t take much to walk out onto a deck at a swim meet and take a look around and see that you are looking at some of the finest bodies that the world has ever seen. Incredibly gorgeous bodies. It is just great to watch that skill, the bodies, the fitness, the power, and the way that people move through the water. If you can help them appreciate it as much as I do training is fun. If they understand the benefits of training, not just for performance, but for health, cosmetics, fitness reasons, and for the fun, life skills, and hopefully for social than it makes it easier for them everyday for them to be looking forward to going to practice.

I have been working now for about five years with a team called the Pacific Dolphins in British Columbia in Vancouver. One of the things we started off with after we got clear on a mission and did some policies and some things like was to let’s make this fun and enjoy this. Let’s make this tremendously exciting. And we talked about how to do that and how exciting the challenges are. They have to decide to value challenges and they have to decide to value the toughest challenges and to desire them passionately. If they can get that than it is unbelievably fun. I just go back and I watch these guys train. I like to watch anybody train but these guys have so much fun training. We have some tough lanes in there. The have a lane where they have five or six guys under sixteen minutes for the 1500. They have a lane where they have four guys under 202 for the 2-meter backstroke. They’ve got a couple of girls at the 101 or a minute’s point in the 100 fly and on and on. They are pounding it out there, encouraging each other, appreciating each other, loving the opportunity and smiling and laughing as they attack it like crazy. They learn the value of the opportunity. Help them to decide to value it passionately. Remind them of the responsibility to do that. You have to educate them some – as to the purpose and to your training plan. If they really understand your training plan they can do better things with it and they can make better decisions.

It really helps if they understand the ingredients for success and most of them don’t. Things like stamina, power, technique, strategy, health, good psychological skills and a good social environment – one that support excellent and enjoyment. If they understand the ingredients for success and they know where they are going then you can help them draw a roadmap to get there and they can set some goals. They can look at where they want to go, where they are now and how they are going to get there. You can together with them look at what are we going to do today to get there. You can do that with your planning but it gives them the opportunity to do it. What can I do today to get a jump on the competition, what am I going to do this week? If they set goals for their training, then they get more absorbed in their training. They have something to shoot for, they are involved in the game, and they are engaged in it. When they don’t have anything to aim for it is easy to be inattentive and it is easy to be lost. Daily and weekly goals are tremendously important. And if they get really skilled at it then they start approaching everything in a goal-oriented way and it is much more fun that way. When they can push off the wall every time with at least one goal in mind then they are doing something really special. And they are there and they are not somewhere else. They are used to being somewhere else when they are there. When they go to school, are they there? No, but sometimes. When they go to swim practice are they there? No, but sometimes. It is a whole lot better if they are there when they are there.

Daily and weekly goals are hard and it takes some reminders. It is really easy to do to set goals for training each week. It is really to do it every week and to get in those habits. The hard part is being attentive to it. It doesn’t have to be a lot – like set at least three goals for each week. They do three things and they build some tremendous habits. And pretty soon without even knowing it they are focused on 173 of them each week. They are focused on three of them now and the other 170 are habits.

Incentives. You give them some incentives to train well it really helps. You make those connections between doing something now and getting something for it. And praise works really well, but be careful what you are praising. You don’t want to praise something that is not good. You don’t want it to come too often. But a ‘Good well played!’ once in awhile is really good from coaches, teammates, and themselves (and it is ok if they do that). You want to throw them $100 bills and it works. But you may not want to use $100 bills, but there are plenty of incentives and rewards to do it. It is okay to use external reinforcement, they work. Now eventually especially if they have good external reinforcement and rewards they will set up a self-reward system where they will set goals. If they reach their goal, the will pat themselves on the back. If they don’t reach their goals then they will kick themselves in the butt with a little shove. Hopefully they don’t whip up on themselves, but they will get redirected and get going, although that is one of the skills that you have to teach them. But it is real important for meets. It is a secret, but I will let you on the secret because most people don’t understand that this is okay. It is okay to value their goals differently from different temporal perspectives – from different points in time. It is okay for them to value their goals tremendously and passionately in pursuit of their goals when they are preparing for the meet and at the meet when they are racing. That ought to be the most important thing in the world right then. But as soon as the race is over, it is okay for them to have no value for their goals anymore at all. The game is over, they can’t do anything about it.  They can just set some new goals and get back in the game whether it was good or bad. Oh sure it is okay to celebrate when they do well for a little while but then you need to set some goals and get back in the game. That is the way you get to play. That is what a goal is, it creates the game. It gives you something to shoot for. But if what a goal is something that creates a game then it is kind of just the excuse for the game. If it is an excuse for the game, then when the game is over you don’t need an excuse for it anymore and it doesn’t do them any good. It’s okay for them to be a little disappointed if they didn’t reach their goals but temporarily. Then you set another goal and get back in the game. That is an art form that is really hard for them to get. Because if they really care about winning and they don’t win, or really care about hitting some particular goal and they don’t get it is tough unless they get the idea. And unless they understand how much how fun they have been having, and unless they can understand it is part of an ongoing mission and all those kinds of things. You ought to strive to make intense goal oriented, purposeful, well directed training enormously fun and let them take responsibility for doing it too. But the more you could help the better. Even if it just reminding them of their responsibility to do it fun. And a good way to remind them, is ‘well you know you can be bored if you want, but it makes more sense to have fun with it. But if you want to be bored than that’s your choice, but it seems like a stupid choice to me.’

Of course, again, we need to remind them frequently that there is a huge difference between making the pursuit of excellence fun and having fun at the pursuit of excellence.

You need to keep them attentive to the benefits of training. Re mind them about not only why they are there, but what they are getting out of it. And remind them to decide to appreciate it, to value it and have a good attitude. A lot of you have told them is that they need to have a better attitude or good attitude and what they generally learn from that is what not to do. They generally learn what that you think or someone else thinks what they are doing right now is a negative attitude. I will let you in on another secret which is how to have a good attitude and you can teach it to them In order to have a good attitude all you need to do whatever you do and value what you are doing. You act as if, you talk as if and hopefully you think that what you are doing is good and worthwhile. Now for a swimmer in training what that means is swimming is good and more is better, generally. And the challenges are good and the tougher they are the better. The more that they act as if that is true, and the more that they talk as if that is true, the better attitudes they have. You don’t care if they mean it. If they are acting like, ‘ Hey coach can we go 10-200 flies? And can I go them at a faster interval?’ And when they push off and come in after that 10 200 flies and say,’ Man that was great. Boy that was tough and I am tired, but man that was great!’ ‘And God, I must be getting strong.’ Then that is all they are doing then. Then they have a great attitude. One of the things that gets in the way of training is fear. The two biggest psychological obstacles to good training are fear if failure and fear of pain. Those are whole different subject that take about an hour each. The bottom line with fear of failure is what happens is they tend to invest their worth as a person in their performance as a swimmer. It is ‘what have you done for me lately? What have I done for me lately?’ Their feelings tend to go up and down like yo-yos based on how they just swam. If they swam great, they think they are hot you know what and if they swam lousy they are a worthless piece of you know what. The prospect of feeling worthless is scary. It is the only thing that gets them nervous before races. It is one of the things that gets them to avoid practice. Why not go after something in practice, unless you are afraid the pain? The worse thing that could happen is you get tired, but you have built some power and you have built some stamina and maybe you didn’t go as fast as you want. But if you are worried about looking bad compared to someone else maybe you never get after it. Or maybe you wait until the last repeat, or maybe you don’t show up for practice or make the commitment. What if I did everything I could possibly do to swim great and I still didn’t swim great? Would that be proof that I am worthless? Then of course, it is not, but that is what we learn all of our lives. All our lives, people are telling us we are good or bad based on what we did. But you can help them by criticizing the action not the swimmer and never putting their worth on the line. Never telling a swim mer that he is good or bad, but that doesn’t mean that you don’t tell him that he is acting inappropriately or his stroke technique is poor or whatever else. It helps them build some confidence and that helps with the fun too. It makes a huge difference how you present it if you do a matter of fact presentation of a really challenging set with enthusiasm. As if you know they are going to like it, you know they are going to do a great job, you know that they can do unbelievable things with it. Then is you say to them, and I know you don’t say it in these words. ‘I know you are not going to like this but its a sacrifice you’ve got to make to swim well, it is a necessary evil, it is going to hurt like hell, you’ll probably throw up. Where did he go?’ ‘See you coach!’ It makes a huge difference how you do it. Keeping their attention on the task at hand is really important because they lose sight of purpose, if they had sight of it in the first place. Reminding them of their purpose, helping them to remind themselves, to remind each other. Redirecting their attention frequently, giving them goals and multiple goals for each set really helps. Reminding them of whose responsibility, helping them to set goals each week, those kinds of things helps them to keep attention to the task. I think that the most important thing is you create an environment that is real different from the rest of the world. You create an environment that values excellence, that supports excellence, and that is tremendously fun. I think you do it with policies. You set some policies with regards to personal responsibility. I like teams to have policies where they treat each other with respect and dignity. They accept each other, they support each other they challenge each other, acknowledge each other and compliment the good things that each other did and that they value swimming excellence. They value difficult challenges and they expect each other to do that. They remind each other when they are off track and remind them to get back on track. They say thank you for those reminders and appreciate them. They promote their pro gram, they are advocates for each other, for you, for their parents and their sponsors. Also they make a contribution so that they are not standing in the way to get run over or dragging anybody else down. And most importantly that they have fun. A good warm down is 6-100’s, 5-200’s and each 600. And one thinks, Keith that was fun. I want them to tell me, I want them to notice, I want them to thank me because I like it when they thank me. I want them to appreciate what we did and what I did for them and what we did for us and the program. And I want them to look at what was fun.

I also think there are some boundaries that you don’t want them stepping outside of, some guidelines. I think that there needs to be some policy guidelines that they keep moving towards excellence, that they not get in the way. And one that I think is tremendously, unbelievably important because it is something that they never see anywhere in life is a no grief policy. You want a safe environment, en environment that is supportive, where they are free to take risks, really put it on the line and to value excellence and not be dragged down because of it or to be put down or teased. Or criticized for their failures there. They put it on the line, they went after it and they built something in the process. They built some power, stamina, or they learned what not to do.  

We want to do really unique and special things that no one in the world really cares about or wants to do. It is easier to come in and do fresh new behaviors and not the way you act outside. No one deserves to be put down. There is not such thing as good-natured grief. It is oxymoronical. Grief is at someone’s expense and it hurts. If they act like it doesn’t hurt, and he may smile and enjoy it, and may even notice the affectionate way it was said but it still hurts and it is still a put down. It is okay to have failed. It is never okay to fail. Failure is never the goal, failure is never worth of your attention, but if you fail that is okay. View it differently from different point in time. No complaints, complaints are cancerous. They eat at everything that is good and worthwhile. They devalue what we’re doing. They discount the value in it. Problems arise, things come up, and everybody’s program isn’t perfect. We can acknowledge imperfections but what I like them to do is if they notice something that is not perfect, make a suggestion for improvement to the person who can do something about it at an appropriate time privately. No one else needs to know about it.

I love to swim in cold water. The colder it is the better. If I am in the pool and the water is 82 or 83 degrees or better, the last thing I want hear about is how hot the water is. I don’t want to hear anybody complain about it.  I want to be thinking about maybe I prefer that it is cold, but sometime I am going to be racing at 1500 or 15K in a lake or an ocean or pool that is a lot hotter than I want it to be. And what a great opportunity to prepare for it right now. That is what I want to be thinking about. Not gosh this is bad. That is what I want everyone else to be thinking about – what our purpose is and to prepare. And what a great opportunity, and whose responsibility is it anyway and now let’s make it fun.  That works doesn’t it.

Commitment. I started off telling you that motivation was about choices. The choices they make and you help them make about what direction to go, what behaviors to engage in, how long to persist in them and the duration and persistence of behavior. It is about decisions. Decisions are really interesting. I spend a lot of time with athletes on decisions. I want then to anticipate and get ahead of everyone else. The way they get ahead of everyone else is they make good decisions. The way they make good decisions is in advance based on their purpose and their values. Sometimes they have to decide on those values. So it goes both ways. They decide to hold to certain values and based on those values they make good decisions. It is a good value to decide to value swimming passionately, swimming excellence passionately. But I want them to anticipate what decisions are going to come up and I want them to decide in advance. Rather than decide based on a momentary whim, or based on fatigue, competing alternatives, inattention, or fear. I want them to make their decision in advance. That is what commitment is all about. I go and look commitment up in the dictionary and it doesn’t mean anything to me. It says that a commitment is a vow or a promise. What does that mean and what is that going to do for me? I think of commitment as a big decision to make a lot of little decisions to take goal-oriented action. It is a decision to make your decisions in advance. So you don’t have to waste a lot of energy and you are less likely to make bad decisions, because you have already decided. And it is so much more fun when you are not struggling with decisions. Mary and I were talking about decisions earlier this morning. We were talking about the decision to swim this morning. If you set the alarm and you wait for that alarm to go off and when the alarm goes off you say oh man I am tired and it is really easy to decide not to go. You have left that decision open.

The way I understand commitment is getting in the water. This is the craziest thing that I have ever seen. The one thing they know for sure that they know they are going to do when they come to swimming practice is get in the water. And yet almost each and every one of them has this incredible struggle frequently sometimes for long durations of time about whether or not they are going to get in the water. They stand there and it is a physical struggle. I understand commitment, and I don’t do that. I walk up, I get down and I dive in the water. When I am in mid-air then I understand commitment. I know that when I am mid-air, I am getting in the water. There are not decisions to make, it doesn’t make any sense to raise the issue anymore. Gravity has taken over, and I am getting in the water. That is how I understand commitment and that is how I want it to be for whatever I am committed to. That is how you want it to be for your athletes. Say you have already made the decision, so that you don’t have to struggle with whether I am going to do this set or not, whether I am going to go to practice or not. You know what it involves, why struggle with the same decisions over and over again. Or wait and make bad decisions because you don’t feel good right now or you are tired or whatever else. The kinds of decisions you make are tremendously important. You want them to anticipate, you want them to make good decisions because when they make good decision they are making choices about what they are motivated to do. Thanks. I will be happy to hang around and answer a few questions if you have any.

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