Who’s Got The Will & Skill To Reach For The Very Best? The Role Of Risk & Resilience

Who's got the will and skill to reach for their goals?Children put it to the test at the Sportbad St. Jakob in Basel, Switzerland - photo by Patrick B. Kraemer

A pinch a kick and a punch, it’s the first day of the month. It was a playground game many moons ago, mostly harmless, occasionally out of hand. And when it got out of hand all those years ago, you punched back or put up with it. Not quite the same in this season of…

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A pinch a kick and a punch, it’s the first day of the month. It was a playground game many moons ago, mostly harmless, occasionally out of hand. And when it got out of hand all those years ago, you punched back or put up with it. Not quite the same in this season of… […]



It is so unexpected transition (roller-coasting) from Peter Gray’s study in psychology to the Mr. Sweetenham’s desire to ride fastest roller-coaster. Nevertheless the tendency of making references to scientific studies at this site is more than welcome. It would be nice if Mr. Lord considers the possibility of making live interviews with prominent coaches, sport scientists or sport officials. It can be done similar way as it was done to our pleasure with his interview to SW in Cleveland. He can go even farther by making such interviews interactive so swimvortex.com subscribers can submit online questions or state their positions that can be of some interest for the swimvortex.com guest to discuss or to take into account.


The psychology as a study of mind and behavior is still pretty much in empirical stage of development. So any conclusions like the ones done in this article can be questioned by people who have different life experience that make them look at same facts and methodologies under different angle. Creating artificially tougher conditions for our kids, training them to overcome possible future “life bumps” may have unpredictable consequences. I used to study in the college with boys who was not lucky to be admitted immediately after graduating high school and served two years in military. They were very tough and experienced because the Soviet Army was not much different for newcomers than prison where guards care about walls only and don’t care about internal rules that most of the time are violent and cruel. But those guys had never caught up with us academically and socially. I don’t know how their lives were after college but something delicate and important was killed inside them during this “real life lessons”.
I agree that kids get familiar with the taste of leadership at early age, but it should be controlled by adults very carefully and maybe suppressed. In my neighborhood such leaders were guys from nearby foster house and a majority of them ended up in prison as adults. On the other hand I know many examples when people who were nobody within children community became prominent leaders alter in life.
My point is that simplifying and emphasizing swimming to basic instincts is a very unpredictable coaching approach. Rough conditions may prevent the development of something uniquely delicate and individual that requires protection from those who are more experienced. Coach must be psychologist to some degree to see different options in perfecting child development as athlete and person. Features that most of the time comes together. They should not be simply an army sergeant.


Since it was mentioned in this article then I will make a comment regarding Mr. Sweetenham reaction during Bruce Gemmell lecture last month in Cleveland. Maybe it is the way how top coaches are exchanging opinions between each other and Mr. Sweetenham said something very wise and complementing about Mr. Gemmell work with Katie Ledecky. But for the person like me who does not belong to this circle of professional coaches such a wisdom was well beyond my comprehension. To me it simply looked like impolite disrespect. I don’t understand what the purpose of such comment was. Ledecky-2015 and Ledecky-2012 are distinctively different swimmers. Can be coach credited for that or it was genetically programmed? I don’t know. But in the case of later maybe the main success of Bruce Gemmell was the understanding that this talent doesn’t need anything tricky or special but the standard supporting environment for development. Just don’t forget to water the oak to see it grow into beautiful powerful tree. Maybe this talent is such unique that making guessing of doing something special to it will only harm natural development. Maybe the wise principle of not doing harm first of all was the great achievement in training of Katie Ledecky. Or maybe Bruce Gemmell didn’t feel like saying more than he said.


Good reading for the weekend

Craig Lord

Yes, to all that, Yozhik. The subject is v big and complex and swimmers and other elite athletes are not (necessarily, some are) role models for others beyond the scope of their swimming days of excellence. Yes, much harm can come of getting it wrong when guiding young folk. There is, of course, a gulf between the experience of those young men you describe and the experience of Hannah Miley and a father who allowed the jumps of life to be a part of the picture, some of that an absolute reflection of the circumstance of the swimmer and program, as is the case in many examples I could have cited. Fair to note, too, that military training can also be tough but with a different outcome. When London hosted the 2012 Olympic Games, the private security firm of things and idiots had to go… the military was called in – and what a fantastic job they did, not just checking bags and being vigilant but presenting and representing themselves as disciplined, respectful, polite, professional. All of that was a reflection of training that involved some tougher stuff than you’ll find out there is in the big wide world of choice. I think the key is not to ‘teach’ toughness but to harness resilience. Nature will give some a better chance than others – but nurture plays a strong part, too.

Craig Lord

Yozhik, it is important to note that Sweetenham also said, as I reported in the article on the speech given in Cleveland, that Ledecky was lucky to have landed in a program led by Gemmell, a man who knows what he’s doing. It would be wrong to interpret his comments in the context of the plant and watering. That is not what he meant. You have to put context to it: Sweetenham coached Wickham and others and his program was distance based – he was simply suggesting that there is no great magic or newness to the actual work that Ledecky is doing… she is someone who can do the work but bring other things to the water day after day that many others cannot. I heard Sweetenham refer to the same thing three times in Cleveland, each time with a slightly different choice of words, and not once did I read or hear disrespect, neither in the words nor the body language. He was stating it as he sees it.


Thank you Craig for your response. The swimvortex.com was the only my source of information about events in Cleveland. If I was the only one who after reading your original article was confused with Mr. Sweetenham’s comments then disregard my reaction. If not then your extended explanations made things more reasonable to others as well.

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