What is Success in TI Swimming?
by Terry Laughlin

Posted on January 25th, 2013

Earlier this week a large number of TI coaches around the world received the same email from someone who identified himself as a contractor with an on-line outsourcing agency called oDesk. His message was as follows:

I am conducting research for a USA Swimming coach, who asked me to inquire the following from Total Immersion coaches:

1. Persons that you have coached using Total Immersion technique that are past or current world record holder or NCAA Division I Champions

2. Major accomplishments of each of those athletes listed in question #1 (example:  “Former World Recorder Holder in the 200 meter backstroke”).

I was among those receiving this message but chose not to respond. However a few TI coaches did take the time to answer, including Peter Hendricks of Melbourne Australia who eloquently expressed how our value system differs from that reflected in the query:

I’m struck by how your query infers that the only meaningful measure of success in swimming is winning a World Championship, or whether it can be measured by your time for 100, 200 or 400 Metres.

Rather than focus on teaching the .01% of the population that might win a World Championship, TI coaches strive to teach a proven method that works to countless other people for whom simply swimming with ease and enjoyment would be a great gift. TI is also about swimming every stroke with clear purpose . . . whether for health, enjoyment, or competition.

My reward is knowing I’ve taught hundreds of students, most of them adults, to swim the distance of their choosing in a relaxed and efficient manner. I relish the fact that hundreds of people now enjoy swimming more than anything else. And that hundreds of my students, for whom the swim leg was formerly a “show stopper,” have since realised their dream to participate in triathlons.

I learnt how to swim, with TI, at the age of 42. At the time a single 50-metre lap would leave me exhausted. Now I swim 5, 10 and 20 Km Open Water Marathons against World Champions. While I don’t beat them, I know that I love every stroke I take. How many NCAA champions can say that?

It was because I was so thrilled by this transformation that I became a TI Coach and am now helping others join me in these marathons. Accomplishments like these mean more to me than the prospect of coaching a single person to elite status.

And here’s a pic of Peter with six of his swimmers, taken after all seven completed the 11.2km (7 miles) Bloody Big Swim Marathon in Melbourne.

Barracudas Rule comprs

Just as I was about to publish this post, I received this email from Sun Sachs of Beacon, NY, a perfect complement to what Peter Hendricks wrote about why TI coaches feel our work has inestimable value:

Today it’s been 30 days since I came to your Total Immersion Swim Studio in New Paltz to take a workshop with Alice Laughlin. Since then by practicing your drills and whole stroke with your focal points, I’ve improved my stroke count for 25 yards by almost half.  At your recommendation I’ve also been using the tempo trainer, beginning with a tempo of 1.7 (sec/stroke) and gradually working my way to 1.4.  

What used to be a stressful and unpleasant experience–and one in which I swam for 18 years with no improvement–has turned into an adventure. Not just the improvement, but even more that I enjoy swimming so much now that after each session, I count the hours until I can “play” in the water again.  

I also notice how little sense it makes to swim the traditional way. All around me I see others grinding out laps, stroking awkwardly and craning their neck for every breath. I wonder at their willingness to waste energy on something that looks, and–I know from experience–feels unpleasant. But then I understand why. At the pool where I swim this poster is hung prominently on the wall for inspiration, along with others that assert “Oxygen is overrated” and “Swim Now Die Later.” 

conquer the water

While these messages are intended to inspire they completely miss the point. Why do so many people still think this way?   Meanwhile, I enjoy every stroke and anticipate more of those magical moments when everything comes together and I understand what it means to be in harmony with the water.

TI has literally changed my life and I can’t wait to put it into practice this summer in triathlons and who knows what else.  What a gift.

13 Responses to “What is Success in TI Swimming?”

  1. Jim says:

    I broke my leg cycling 10 years ago, while recovering I found a TI class in Chicago and have been swimming 3 to 5 days a week ever since and enjoying it. Never won any sort of race but I never injured myself, never got burned out and got fit. To me this is success.

  2. Steve says:

    excellent !

  3. Ned Pelger says:

    What a nice perspective, Terry. I like to win as much as the next guy, maybe even a little more, but I love the flow of smooth, elegant form.

  4. Erik F. of San Diego, CA says:


  5. Moira says:

    And this is why I am so looking forward to continuing my Total Immersion experience by getting certified as a coach this February!

  6. Bill Brennan says:

    Right on the mark as to why we learn to swim using the TI methods and philosophy.

    When I was in my 60’s and my knees were beginning to reflect some aging, I decided to add swimming to my physical fitness routine. Since I was hyperventilating after each length, I sought help and found TI. TI’s blissful swimming philosophy enable me to enjoy the cross training values of long distance swimming as I head into the second half of my seventies.

    Because of TI I have been able to experience the joys of open water swimming in Kona, LaJolla and lakes from Lake Placid to Chatfield in Colorado.

    Bill Brennan
    Tucson, AZ

  7. Robin Hoare says:

    I’m 78, have neck problems, and have never been an athlete. I (and my wife) followed the TI method from books and videos, and went on a weekend course. We swam our harbour (only 1300 metres) five times, and enjoyed it. We still swim in our own tiny home pool and try to keep to TI principles. I cannot agree more with your response to that silly “research” request. There is far too much adulation of top athletes, and far too little attention paid to the needs of the 95% of us who will never “win” races. I’ve nothing against those who do excel, but they are the icing on the cake not the cake itself. Let’s participate as well as we can, not be mere watchers!

  8. Charles from KC says:

    I am 38 years and because of your Technique and DVD’s I am a completely different and better swimmer. Thank you! I never took a lesson or swam in school. To me, It always seemed that you learned when you were young or never at all until I learned about total immersion. I watched the videos quite a few times and took notes and practiced. Then I would go back later and see things with a different perspective, practice and i improved again. I’ve been practicing on and off for a couple years and continue to improve. Last night in the pool was maybe the best swim I’ve ever had. Focusing on head position, hip drive and hands to target on rails, I spear thru the water, glide and breath fully with much less effort. I felt I wasted no energy or movement. I found my sweet spot. It felt awesome! I can’t wait to jump in the lake when it thaws and go! Thanks again!

  9. Michael says:

    Yeah, I do join the above viewpoints on TI swimming shared by the coach and the student. My swimming background is typical, I guess. When I was still a child, the parents would take me to the seaside every summer during holidays so I could learn to swim. No progress through my early childhood and teen years. As years went by, my sibling, an accomplished swimmer, would teach me, but I was just gasping in the water feeling totally helpless and hating myself and all. Finally I put down my foot at the age 20 plus and said I should learn swimming by myself reading the books and stuff, if no one was able to teach me. To cut it short, I finally mastered the breaststroke — but that’s it. Crawl or other techniques were way beyond me. Still, while enjoying swimming in general, I kept struggling with water and fighting for my air all the time. Now, I am the age of grandpas and has relished every moment I get into water since 2011. It was then that I learnt about TI style via Internet while browsing it for some other purpose. The first few youtube videos I watched had me mesmerized with the sheer grace and smoothness of the motion. So I searched for more information and finally stumbled upon Terry giving a multiple part presentation on the principles of TI swimming and some of the fundamental techniques. Just by listening up to coach Terry’s instruction on videos and applying his advice I stopped struggling with water, stopped losing my energy — now I gain it! and am sorry for those, who pummel water eager to conquer it, instead of letting it hold you and guide you to the best way of being one with it. No conquering water, as it offers me its best just because I am friends with it. There’s still a lot to learn, but one thing is certain. I feel elated every time I swim. My self-esteem has grown hugely. I feel I can progress at my own pace, relishing every moment. No fighting over seconds, titles, medals with others. Love, peace, joy … Terry and his team, oh, they do make people happy, and the effect is lasting. Lifetime guarantee.

  10. Gagnaire Alain Georges says:

    Hi terry,
    Let me express my gratitude to you and to your teaching!
    since 1997 when I discovered your web site I enjoyed following your blog.
    I also used to be a competitor and later with my kids I invest in education by sportive swiming becoming chaiman and trainer of the Thonon swiming club (Thonon les Bains in France) for more than 15 years
    Today I am always swiming particularly with my friend (from 20 to 67 as I am) in open water of our wounderfull Lake of Geneva and I popularised your teaching and your web site here around .
    I do like your reference to Yoga and Budism because I noticed also how swiming is close to yoga practices.
    Your approach reveal the richness of swimming practice so one more time I thank you for that
    I whish you an happy new year
    Alain Georges GAGNAIRE

  11. John mcdermott says:

    I totally agree with the sentiments expressed by Peter Hendricks. I once had the experience of attending a swim camp run by Terry McLaughlin that changed how I swam and how I feel about swimming.
    I will never for get the expression ” buoey” ( pronounced Boo – ee) to describe body position exercises and ” let the water float you”

  12. Scot says:

    Hi there. Just letting you know about how TI has helped me.
    I’m 37 and really only swim one even each year. The pier to pub in Lorne, Australia.
    The distance isn’t really an issue of course, but every year I’ve done it I’ve come out feeling terrible and swearing I’ll never do it again. This time around (my fourth attempt), I ordered one of your DVDs and trained according to TI principles. During the race itself I wore a tempo trainer and stuck to my plan.
    The result? over 60 places better than I’d ever done and felt like I could jump straight back in and do it again. So, I could probably go a bit harder next time, but it’s the first time I actually enjoyed the damn thing. Cheers.

  13. Hey Scot,
    If you are located in Melbourne, why not come along and join us for a swim…
    We are located in the Bayside area and have regular Open Water swims at Half Moon Bay
    Peter Hendriks
    TI Coach Melbourne
    0423 233 660

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