Friday, October 11, 2013

Don't Waste Your Effort...Really, Don't!

   Once upon a time I swam for the Miami-Dade Community College swim team. Perhaps a better way to phrase it, they didn't prevent me from practicing with them. That said, I was decent enough, and was fast enough to stay out of their way. It was a point of pride with me that I was there, and I trained HARD!

   You might think I would have developed a bit of insight after having to learn how to swim properly at the age of 23. Previously, I couldn't even get my face in the water. But a few sessions with a friend that had a swimming background put me on the path to swimming quasi-normally.

   One week we "hosted" the University of Miami swim team, as their pool was being renovated. This was a great opportunity as UM had some potential Olympians on their team. Swimming next to them was going to be a treat. A chance to measure oneself against greatness. Well, after a brief comparison I was ready to drop the idea of measuring anything.

   The first time I set off next to one of the team, I was dumbfounded. Was the guy being pulled by a jet ski? I redoubled my effort. This made me marginally faster, and massively exhausted. He, on the other hand, appeared to be having a nice leisurely dip. ARRGGGHH. My only hope was to be less embarrassed over a short distance. So much for training HARD.

   Had I been wasting my time? No, I had gotten much better than before, and the training had made a difference. But, if my goal was to diminish the gap between myself and the UM swimmers, I knew pretty much instantly that MORE TRAINING was NOT the answer.

   This leads me to my point. Effort is great. But effort without great technique can be wasteful, and potentially damaging. Too often the standard motivational cry is to TAKE IT TO THE LIMIT. Good luck with that. My experience is that while clearly motivation is important, as you approach higher levels of competition, how you try is likely more important than how hard you try.

   When you want approach the top of a sport or field of endeavor, pretty much everybody is motivated. In a swim competition you need only look around the pool to see that everyone is very fit. Past that point the biggest differences are down to technique.

   To improve myself I solicited a member of the UM team to train me. While I never got anything close to good enough to compete with them, I made amazing progress in improving my own times. To do this, I had to take a step back and evaluate my approach. By being objective, I knew I was in very good condition, had an excellent diet, and was putting forth an tremendous effort. Trying harder would have been pointless.

   Thus, when I say "Don't Waste Your Effort" I mean it literally. Put forth an effort, absolutely. But be sure you are putting forth the right effort. In a race, nobody cares about your horsepower, they care about your speed. By putting your effort to translating horsepower to output, you won't waste your effort. You'll get more out of doing less.

   That's the right way to apply effort.


  1. Interesting.. so we know that only a few people can win that gold medal for swimming and this suggests that the right foundation i.e. diet, training, motivation etc is pretty well-matched with others who compete but don't win medals etc and the key difference is technique however what about mental strategies ie single minded focus, overcoming limiting beliefs - isn't training the mind to succeed the ultimate technique ?

  2. Ah... awesome post. I know I'm motivated to learn to swim. I never learned in my life how to swim. I'm still afraid to put my head under the water. I'm amazed of your efforts to go for what's important. Be blessed! 😊🙏