Giving Women More of a Voice in TI
by Terry Laughlin

Posted on January 31st, 2011

This morning’s NY Times has an intriguing article about the gender disparity on Wikipedia. It got me thinking, not for the first time, about a similar disparity, reflected in various ways in Total Immersion. On the TI Discussion Forum,there seem to be far more men posting. Yet many of those whose posts I’ve most enjoyed over the years have been women. Some who had a real gift for articulating important ideas in the past are no longer part of the scene and I wondered why that might be.

Some excerpts from the NYT article:
In 10 years, Wikipedia has accomplished remarkable goals. More than 3.5 million articles in English and over 250 total languages. But it appears that less than 15 percent of contributors are women
Sue Gardner, executive director of Wikimedia foundation, wants to raise female contributors to 25 percent by 2015, but is running up against computer world traditions and an ‘obsessive fact-loving realm dominated by men and, some say, uncomfortable for women.’
Examples given: Topic of interest to teenage girls, like friendship bracelets, gets four paragraphs. Articles of interest to boys like baseball cards, includes a detailed chronological history.
Two HBO Series: Section on “Sex and the City” includes only a two or three sentence summary of episodes. Section on “The Sopranos” includes lengthy, detailed articles on each episode. There are 45 articles on the Simpsons.
Ms. Gardner noted a 3-paragraph entry for one of her favorite authors, Pat Barker, an acclaimed writer of psychologically nuanced novels. By contrast, Niko Bellic – a fictional character in the video game Grand Theft Auto — had an article five times as long.
OpEd Project, an organization that monitors the gender breakdown of contributors to “public thought-leadership forums” says a participation rate of roughly 85-to-15 percent, men to women, is common — including those who comment on The New York Times and Washington Post Op-Ed pages.
Catherine Orenstein, founder and director of the OpEd Project, said many women lack the confidence to put forth their views and that her group urges women to express themselves by shifting focus “away from oneself — ‘do I know enough, am I bragging?’ — to thinking about the value of your knowledge.”

This made me think of the latest ‘hot topic’ on the TI Forum, a thread I started to report on new insights I gained into why the Mail Slot entry seems to provide such a satisfying increase in propulsion. Those insights came from an engineer who attended the first week of our Maho Bay Open Water Camp, and thus were technical in nature. They sparked a flurry of incredibly-spirited discussion – even debate – that currently stands at 92 posts. I can’t be precisely sure, because screen names are often gender neutral, but my guess is that the gender disparity on that thread is even greater than 85-15.

In contrast, after our the Maho Bay camps, there followed non-public email exchanges among those who attended. The womens’s camp, though it had half as many participants as the ‘regular’ camp a week earlier, has had a far greater flow of post-camp exchange among participants. Several said they would share their thoughts about the camp and how it has affected their swimming – or even altered their lives – on the Forum. I would love to see this happen.

To some extent, it’s difficult to avoid a male-dominant viewpoint in the TI world. Most of our ideas and approaches come from me. My ‘masculine’ orientation tends more toward the technical than the personal. Thus our instruction includes much detail on the physics and mechanics of one style vs another. We tend to emphasize mechanical and energy efficiency over, say, simple aesthetic grace.  Our practice guidelines emphasize data points like stroke counts, tempo rates, and the ‘math of speed.’

At the same time, in a highly encouraging development, during 2010, 75% of those completing TI Teacher Training were women — a trend maintained for our first teacher training session of 2011 March 6-12 in San Diego, as women outnumber men among those registered thus far. TI is developing the strongest group of women teaching professionals in all of swimming and this cannot help but have an effect on our organizational culture.

What more can we do to reflect the goals, interests and values of women swimmers?

20 Responses to “Giving Women More of a Voice in TI”

  1. Liz says:

    I appreciate your sensitivity to this matter. From reading your blogs, I feel that you are a man of Spirit, I ask that you pray and meditate over this–what about a woman (or women) co-authoring some chapters in your latest book? As a woman my goals do take on different flavors than a I think a guy. I think swimming “intutively” may come a little easier. Maybe more out of necessity as menstrual cyclic homones changes do affect my practice (usually always for the better). Also, our anatomical shapes affect stroke mechanics to some degree and the fact that we bear children adds a great element to the life practice of swimming. I’m sure more of your readers will be able to express themselves more eloquently than I have, but again, thank you for your humility.

  2. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by TERRY LAUGHLIN, TERRY LAUGHLIN. TERRY LAUGHLIN said: Is there anything TI can do to speak more to the goals and interests of women swimmers – as well as give outer… […]

  3. @Moody1969 says:

    I’m a 41 year old, British mother, working full time. I swim two or three times a week, and I want to improve my swimming. I don’t have the time to dedicate more than about 30-40 minutes in total each session, to both drills to improve technique, and to swimming laps for mental and physical fitness. I have to swim in the evenings, as work starts early and pool time is limited. I love TI as it is helping me to keep swimming while managing a back problem. My wish would be for a condensed programme, one that will help me see improvements, in say two sessions of 30 minutes, a week over six weeks. Then the same again, and so on. How about organising a programme around this type of schedule? I’m sure I’m not alone.

  4. I wish coaches would value the intuitive when it comes to swimming technique and also individual goals and desires. Faster and more efficient isn’t necessarily better for those of us who primarily want to swim to live better lives.

    I have numerous national USMS top 10 rankings, but most importantly, I feel better when I swim the way MY body was intended to move. When coaches reprimand me for doing a “flat breaststroke,” telling me I’d be faster and more efficient if I threw my head down on the extension and jerked my shoulders up to my ears on the pull, that doesn’t help much because I know my body well enough to say that if I do that stroke, my neck and rotator cuff muscles will be in absolute agony later on. I know when I do a smooth stroke with the head in alignment with the spine that I will feel like singing by the end of the workout. And that great feeling I get when I do the right workout for me is something that can never be measured by formulaic principles.

  5. Swimming with fluency, grace, and harmony can never be wrong and is far more likely to benefit your time than any of the techniques your coaches are urging upon you.

  6. Rachel Thank you for giving us very clear feedback. I’m sure we can create the kind of program you describe.

  7. Liz This is very helpful feedback. Thank you. I am the only male in a household with four women, my wife and three grown daughters – actually the daughters drop in. But I’ve lived in a woman-centric household for 36 years.

  8. Kristine says:

    I think TI is a very feminine approach to swimming or maybe it is just my interpretation. I guess that is why I never felt left out of the discussion.

    Although I do the TI drills, I found I can emulate the perpetual swimming more by feel. Learning TI has been invaluable to my swimming skill and enjoyment. The mindfulness approach to swimming is one that I can relate to and use in my daily swims. Thanks for your concern about the voice of woman and TI.

  9. Kristine Thank you for your feedback. I think you will enjoy today’s blog on the Taoist principle of Wu Wei.

  10. Kate says:

    Thanks for spotlighting this, Terry. I am new to TI, and my goal in learning to swim was to find a graceful moving meditative practice. I was finally able to put aside issues that many women share in our culture (avoiding swimming because of body image insecurities) and instead focus on a zen-like practice that is for my complete health (mental, physical and emotional). I find the TI balance of technical and meditative/intuitive insights to be very helpful. You may find that when you create the space for woman to step forward, like you have here, we do so without hesitation.

  11. Kate
    Your comment is among the most eloquent description of healthful swimming goals I have ever read. I’ve been working for months to craft a succinct ‘mission statement’ for the new book I hope to write, to replace the original TI book. I believe you just did that for me.

  12. kate says:

    Terry, I am just summing up what your work has taught me and so many others. Thank you. I can’t wait to read it, and will keep swimming in the meantime!

  13. Kamahina says:

    I also consider swimming meditative. TI Coach Shinji Takeuchi’s style of swimming is what I try to emulate. Being in the moment (flow) is a gift that this style of swimming offers. For women who aren’t into competitive swimming, meditative swimming is an alternative that can change lives for the better. It has for me.

  14. Terry,

    I find your self-reflection amusing. No disrespect intended, but I feel that you are very in touch with your feminine side, at least when it comes to talking about swimming. Certainly when you talk about swimming sets, it leans toward the technical, but I have to say that since taking my weekend workshop and becoming a coach, I find swimming to be an unbelievable expression of grace, emotional balance, kinesthetic intution, etc. yes there can be mechanical descriptions involved, but your passions always boil down to some sense, some feeling, some awareness of your stroke and your body. it’s almost as if the mechanics are generated as an excuse to try and rationalize the beauty of what you’ve been teaching us all along.

  15. Thanks Suzanne. I will continue trying to balance the technical and personal, and try to lure more creatively-minded swimmers into an interested engagement with the ‘math’ side of swimming.

  16. Terry: Once when I was in college, I wrote an essay comparing the land sport of field hockey to the very different activity of swimming, particularly discussing the different medium one moves in! Have written various articles for USMS on “stress,” rest…before the current emphasis again on “science” in swimming. I think that because a majority of Masters’ swimmers and Triathletes are males, that emphasis has come to the fore. I taught Sports Psychology and Contemporary Issues in Sports for several years, still do “Mental Training” for HS swimmers, girls and boys! The reception of relaxation techniques, visualization of performance, even deep breathing is generally very different between genders, even at that age. As a long time college swim coach, professor, women in any sport or most physical activities, are taken more lightly…by colleagues, athletes, administrators. So your thread and comments are extremely interesting. I wrote to THE NEW YORKER magazine a few years ago about the dearth of women writers published in their esteemed magazine; I think there are more now! We, as women of intelligence, experience, and education must continue to speak up, but really, your speaking up, Terry, will help us get more of a voice in this sport/activity!

  17. Jennifer One thing of which I’m proud is that TI is attracting a striking number of women into coaching. Last year 75% of our coach trainees were women and the trend is continuing so far this year, with 75% of those registered for a training session next month also women. I’d be most interested in the analysis you made comparing field hockey with swimming. You may be the only person to have done so. Where are you coaching and teaching now?

  18. Mary Beth Herrmann says:

    The meditative aspect of TI is wonderful. Sometimes I feel like when I am swimming that I could close my eyes, go to sleep, and still be swimming. It is so relaxing. I am also able to pray while I swim and have found this to be very relaxing and clears the mind of other day to day thoughts. TI swimming changed my life and continues to drive my love for swimming now. I have found that I can’t “lazer my belly button” to the wall because of previous back surgery and this has also limited my ability to not struggle with getting air. But never the less I always remember the training that I received that said don’t struggle and when I remember that my swim always improves.

  19. Mary Beth Thanks for sharing your love and experience of Swimming as a Moving Meditation. As a technical comment, we haven’t taught “point your belly button at side wall” for over a dozen years, so I gather you are using the original TI book, rather than more up-to-date self-help tools, as a practice guide.

    We found that controlling rotation is important to achieving the most stable body position. And a more stable position promotes: (1) a better hold on the water when stroking, (2) better breathing form, and (3) greater ease in coordinating the kick with overall body movement and rhythm.

    So we now teach swim OFF your stomach, rather than ON your side.

    You might consider owning the Easy Freestyle or Perpetual Motion Freestyle DVDs. The former provides a more detailed study of the movements. The latter has more guidance on successful self-teaching.

  20. Mary BEth Herrmann says:

    Thank you so much for the update. I will purchase those suggestions. I still have my original set of things to remember which I laminated and have stuck on the back of my locker. Honestly I enjoy swimming so much I want everyone to enjoy it as much as I do. I have to laugh when my family tells me the hotel we are staying at has a pool. I am like no, you don’t understand, I want a hotel close to a YWCA or something similar so I can have pool lanes. Thank you again.

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