Swim Practice as Soulcraft
by Terry Laughlin

Posted on August 19th, 2010

Do you ever work on your own car? Or, do you stare blankly when you open the hood? It just occurred to me that, for some swimmers, working on your own stroke may be a metaphor for working on your car. Rather than “look under the hood” many prefer to leave it to the mechanic — i.e. a professional swim coach or teacher. Here’s a reason you probably haven’t considered for becoming your own stroke mechanic.

The other day my wife Alice and soon-to-be-son-in-law Rich were discussing the book Shop Class as Soulcraft by Matthew Crawford. I’d read reviews when it was published last year. Crawford, finding his work at a “think tank” unsatisfying, left to work in a motorcycle repair shop. His experiences led to an essay published in 2006, which he later expanded into a book about the dignity and meaningfulness of hands-on work — solving problems, fixing something and having a direct connection with a tangible result. His point was how uncommon this is in the “knowledge economy” —  making conference calls, sending emails, filling out spreadsheets. At the end of the day, you might wonder what you really accomplished.

The essay reminded me of my first car, a ’59 VW Bug with a canvas sunroof, bought for $75.  Then I spent another 5 bucks on “How to Keep your Volkswagen Alive: A Manual of Step by Step Procedures for the Compleat Idiot” by John Muir.

Though I’d never shown any mechanical aptitude, sheer economic necessity drove me to open the engine compartment. What a relief to see that the ‘guts’ were naked, simple and hardly larger than a mower engine.  Using the book, I did tune-ups, valve adjustments and brake jobs. It kept my car on the road and me solvent, but the most important outcome was a sense of empowerment and accomplishment equal to anything I’d known.

Today when I open the hood of my 2010  Jetta TDI wagon – a car that’s an absolute dream to drive in comparison to that earlier veedub — about all I’m comfortable doing is adding windshield washer fluid.

Recalling this makes me think a subconscious motivation in creating the Self-Coached Workshop/10-Lesson Series has been my fondness for that book and the sense of accomplishment it brought. I’d like  nothing more than to be  “John Muir for Adult Swimmers.”

What problems have you identified in your stroke, what errors might you fix? And how satisfying will the tangible result of your improvement be?  Here’s a set of “Step by Step Procedures” for stroke improvement.

One Response to “Swim Practice as Soulcraft”

  1. Sue says:

    Wish these resources were available as a download to my Ipad

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