This past weekend, my wife and I re-watched a show on 5 elite, modern-day Russian ballerinas: "Ballerina". The images of the training system and environment are stark - immersion at an early age, rigorous screening of candidates, hours upon hours of repetition, and unsparing critique of execution. In a phrase: the pursuit of excellence. I was struck by the frank, we can call it ruthless, critique that seemed to be business as usual for every level of dancer who studied in the Mariinsky school. But I probably should not be. The endless drilling, clock-watching, and instruction that takes place in a swim practice is comparable to this rigor - perhaps only limited by the amount of time that the athletes spend out of earshot. And good thing too, because the best of the best in our sport are as much dancers as they are athletes - they combine power and grace.
Saying the Right Thing - Hearing the Right Thing
As coaches we are tasked with telling our athletes what they need to hear - we critique them, and advise them - but are we saying the right thing? The complexity of technique makes the task difficult, and then the complexity of human speaking and hearing make it nearly overwhelming. Indeed, few of us are gifted communicators (though like toast-masters, we practice our craft religiously) - but also, how many of us are gifted listeners? Can we devote our perceptions to reading the verbal as well as physical cues that our coaches are sending to us? More importantly, how many of us can submit ourselves to the lesson that is being broadcast? This lesson is as often as not letting us know that we are operating below the level that we are capable of, or that our coach desires of us - are we strong enough to listen to it? Of course, the coach, if they are in tune with our desires is simply letting us know that we are below the level that we desire of ourselves. This is evident in "Ballerina", the best of the best are open to the message. If they are in the right place, they have a good coach who is as dedicated towards excellence in message as they are dedicated to excellence in performance.