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Show Them The Money

We all perceive reality in our own way.

In some cases, these perceptions serve us very well. In other cases, our current perceptions prevent us from achieving our goals across a spectrum of life activities.

In the context of coaching, we often work with swimmers who have perceptions that are moving them further from their stated goals, as well as the goals of the team they are a part of.

This could include perceptions about-

  • Work ethic

  • Commitment

  • The value of technique

  • Change

  • Being a team player

  • Identifying with specific competitive events

  • The importance of nutrition, sleep, lifestyle, etc…

When swimmers consistently behave in a manner that is in conflict with their objectives, it is likely that there is an issue with how the swimmer perceives the world. At one point, the world view in question served them well. Unfortunately, this world view no longer functions effectively to serve newer goals.

This is particularly true when attempts to rationally explain the contradiction between goals and behavior are ineffective. These perceptions likely originate from an impactful emotional experience or from the well-meaning advice of trusted confidant, often early in life in both cases. In this case, logical and rational explanations are not likely to have much of an effect.

It is not a rational problem; it is an emotional one. As such, a rational solution will not be effective, while an emotional one will.

The first step is to have a conversation. More specifically, ask the swimmer how they perceive the situation and why. Listen. You may be surprised by what you hear. The swimmer might be surprised as well. In many cases, the swimmer will talk themselves through their problem and resolve the issue themselves.

The challenge is that we as coaches have to be willing to confront the problem head on and be willing to listen without judgement. The swimmer has to trust you and this will happen, or not, based on how you’ve conducted yourself previously.

Sometimes, this approach doesn’t work either.

Instead of talking, reasoning, and promising, you have to show swimmers the money. Show them the reality of their situation. Show them and let them experience the consequences of their current thoughts process. Then show them the benefits of the new way. Make it real for individuals and perceptions will change.

When Bill Bratton took over as Police Commissioner for New York City, he was taking over a police department that was largely ineffective. Crime rates were rising, and more disturbingly, the current police force did not seem to be particularly interested in doing anything about it.

They were in denial. They were resistant. Crime statistics had no effect on the officers. Numbers may not lie, but they didn’t help. They’re not REAL.

So, Bratton SHOWED the officers how bad reality was. He made them ride the subways at night. He made them meet with citizens in town hall meetings. They learned what it was like to be a citizen of New York and they learned what the real effect of their policing efforts was.

Meeting real people living the reality of the crime wave created a real impact. In the same way, knowing race statistics about competitors doesn’t always motivate swimmers. Getting embarrassed in a championship meet does.

Unfortunately, this means some individuals will have to fail, and fail badly, to change. People change when exposed to pain. The challenge is to engineer these ‘failures’ in an ethically responsible way, which the swimmer can use to grow from.

Changing perceptions is a challenging, yet necessary task for coaches. In some, even many cases, logical explanation will work. When they don’t, a different approach is necessary. Listen and help them understand their behaviors. When all else fails, you have to show them the money, and make the retention of their current perceptions impossible.

To create change, explain, listen, and when necessary, show them the money.

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