By George Block, Administrative Head Coach, Alamo Area Aquatics
Goal setting is on my mind this week. I think having clear, powerful goals are even more important during long course season that short course. It’s pretty easy for kids to “get on the railroad tracks” during the school year. They show up at practice, because that is where they are at 4:00 in the afternoon. It doesn’t work that way once school is out.
They are (literally) “swimming upstream” from the rest of their peer group. Their buddies are getting ready to kick back; they are getting ready to do their hardest work of the year. For their friends, it’s party time; for them it’s morning time.
Conventional, sports psychological, wisdom told me that what was important was their goal(s). If their goal were strong enough, they would persevere. If not… well, we all know what happens. It was our job, as coaches, to help them clarify their goal and understand the way. If they had the what and the how, you had the tools to keep them motivated.
Dick Hannula told me how shortsighted I was; how I was missing the key ingredient. The key, he told me, was neither the what, nor the how. It is the why.
Dick explained to me that only when I knew the why, did I know what was truly important to them. Unless I knew why that goal was important to them, how it was going to change their life or relationships, I didn’t really know what moved them. What they wanted was only symbolic. What it symbolized was the why.
I had to ask them why. Why it mattered. Why they were willing to do all of this, just to get that. But I couldn’t just ask, I would have to dig. I would have to “peel the layers of the onion.”
Once I did this, I learned that the what didn’t matter that much and neither did the how,
because if I was able to help them with why, they would do nearly anything. What I found at the core of why was respect.
Respect is the most sought after commodity with my current group of adolescents. If I can give them respect, I can get anything out of them. Respect comes in many different forms for them and all of them are precious. Self-respect, parent-respect, peer-respect, occasionally, even coach-respect.
When I followed Dick’s advice and peeled back the layers of the onion, I heard words like, “Jacob has unparalleled respect from everyone on the team, even people who don’t especially like him. If you swim next to him, you feel like a wimp, because he busts his balls on everything we do. I want to be like Jacob. I want to feel that respect. I’ve got to learn to bust my balls on everything.”
Or, “If I make those two times, I will know I have really achieved something. It will be something that I can be proud of forever. It doesn’t matter that those aren’t record times or anything, they are for me.”
“Why? Because that is what I work for every single day! When I was young, my family would ask me if I was going to the Olympics. When you’re 10, of course you say, yes.
Now I am actually at that level. I can look ahead and actually see my childhood dream! Not many people can say that. Two years ago, I never thought I would be at this level. It seemed so far away. Now I’m here.”
“Some people have just written me off. Well, I haven’t written myself off. I’d love to do this just to make that point. Don’t write people off.”
“I’m not a great swimmer or anything, but most stuff, like school, comes pretty easy. I’m (very highly ranked) in my class and don’t really study. I just want to work hard at something and achieve a really difficult, major goal.”
“Because I want to feel like I really deserve to be on this team. I know I ‘made’ the team, but I’ve never felt like I deserved to be here. I look around and see how much people here have accomplished. They have really earned their spot. I want to earn mine.”
“I need to prove it to myself. I need to prove that if I put my mind to something difficult I can accomplish it.”
“I want to prove to my dad, my biggest unbeliever, that I can do it.” (Then tears.)
“I want to have a season where I can gain back some of the respect that I lost. I want to prove that I am not worthless.”
“I have never been able to make it before. I just sort of gave up. I want to prove to myself that I can accomplish something that I never believed I could do.”
“I have to get back my confidence. I have to show all those people who seem to have the confidence in me that I seem to be missing, that I really can do it, that I’m not some sort of failure. I wasn’t just ‘lucky’ one season. I want to do it for my coaches. You go so far out of your way and never give up even when I let you down. I want to do it for all of you.”