Should you ‘perfect’ a skill or move on?
by Terry Laughlin

Posted on September 5th, 2010

Yesterday I reviewed an “audition video” from a candidate for TI Teacher Training.  Before accepting candidates for training, we require a high degree of mastery of the skills and forms they will teach. In her case, she began the stroking part of her SpearSwitches a bit prematurely — but that timing issue resolved itself in SwingSwitch and Swimming.  Even so, I advised her to practice Interrupted SpearSwitches (Lesson 4 of the Self-Coached Workshop) until her switches were more patient.

One might ask: “Why make such a point about getting the timing right in Spear?”  The answer, which will be important to her as a teacher, is that there will be certain circumstances in which you would be more particular and others in which you might choose to be less.

In the 100s of workshops I’ve taught I can recall countless instances where some aspect of SpearSwitch — most often Patient Catch — proved elusive for some student. Because the Weekend Workshop follows a formal structure limited by (i) the allotted pool time and (ii) the fact that we can’t hold up a class of 10 to 20 people because 1 or 2 haven’t quite got it, I decide to move on to SwingSwitches. At first I was troubled by progressing to the next drill, when the previous wasn’t quite right. But I often saw that the problem resolved in the next step.

So the question is, if a particular aspect of skill finds resolution in a later step in the progression, why revisit it?

In the case of a teacher trainee, the answer is simple. Students learn movements far faster and more clearly by visual means. Thus the most valuable skill as a teacher of skilled movement is the ability to demonstrate impeccable form.

(It’s also essential that they be able to accurately mimic the incorrect form of a student. I’ve learned that the fastest way I can correct a student’s movement error is to demonstrate a few cycles of what I observed them doing, then, without pausing, smoothly segue into a few cycles what I’d like to see them do.)

The other aspect is: Should she encourage a student to revisit the earlier drill in pursuit of ‘perfection.’ It’s less about pursuing perfection, than it is (i) Encouraging an unquenchable kaizen passion for real Mastery; not every student will choose that path, but we always encourage it. And (ii) Swimming with the highest level of skill is such a complex art, and the path to that level has such individual unpredictability, I have had ‘unexpected epiphanies’ on countless occasions – noticing some sensation I had not noticed before that made such a difference in my whole stroke, that I made it a focal point for hours of practice.

In the case of nailing the timing in SpearSwitch, I’ve found that it helped me get the subtle distinction between holding the water and pulling. When I took that distinction to Swing and Swim, both got better – even after the general form of both had been ‘acceptable’ or even quite good.

SpearSwitch with Patient Catch

3 Responses to “Should you ‘perfect’ a skill or move on?”

  1. Grant says:

    Hi Terry: As part of my warmup I do 200m of spear switch using a two beat kick. Is this wise?

  2. Grant
    It’s a good question. The answer is “It depends.” If you do it out of habit, and perhaps have lost the sense of why you do it and what you’re seeking to get out of it, it might be best to switch to a new warmup.
    On the other hand, if you do it with a clear goal or benefit in mind, then build on that in the practice that follows, it’s ‘wise and advised.’
    In the last few years I’ve come to call the first part of my practice a tuneup, rather than a warmup. That term is consistent with my adopting the principle that burning and honing neural circuits is the most important physical effect of my practice.
    If I have decided the focus of my main set, I’ll plan a tuneup set that relates to it. But sometimes I swim slowly and silently simply to get into a state of relaxation. During that swim, usually a focus for my practice comes to mind.
    If I’m doing a rote warmup, there’s less chance of that happening.

  3. Grant says:

    Thanks for the informative reply. I use the warmup (now it will be held as a tuneup) for the most part as a quiet time to reawaken the cooridinating muscles. I like your aspect of using it to begin working on the focus point/points in the practice.
    May we swim with ease.

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.