Psyched Online

The Rip Current

by Allan Kopel

The mental preparation for competitive swimming.
QUOTATION: Sparky Anderson, Hall of Fame Baseball Manager – “People who live in the past generally are afraid to complete in the present. I’ve got my faults, but living in the past is not one of them. There’s no future in it.”

A rip current is a section of water (common in the ocean) that moves away from shore rapidly and forcefully. It usually occurs around uneven surfaces such as sandbars or man made formations like a jetty or a dock. Understanding how to deal with a rip current is important for safety. It also carries lessons for goal setting and life.

The irony is that to be successful versus the rip current we must not try to attack it directly. If we try to fight it we may lose. This runs counter to our survival instinct. If a threatening force pulls us in a direction, instinct tells us to go in the opposite direction. We want to overcome the frightening force of the rip current. The solution is simple but doing what is simple is not always easy. The trick is to swim at an angle to the rip current, usually parallel to shore. Trust is critical. Think about that. In order to reach our goal (shore) we cannot go directly toward it at first. The correct process (path) will eventually let us break free of the rip current and reach shore (our goal).

Success in competitive swimming sometimes requires us to negotiate rip currents of a sort. We all want to swim fast. It seems logical that the way to do so is to swim fast in practice. Fast swimming in practice is necessary, but we must also have patience to establish a physical and technical foundation upon which to insure consistent, long-term success. Taking time to develop sound technique and to establish a solid endurance base is important. If we stay process focused we will enjoy incremental improvements. Being results focused can cause us to lose patience and skip important steps needed for long-term success. As a swimmer you may have to “swim parallel to shore” before you reach your final destiny. Swimmers need a patient, long-term view to insure safe, effective progress. Increased training loads and efforts to refine technique are processes that may not always seem to point immediately “to shore”. You may actually feel as though you stumble backwards from the increased training load or the change in mechanics. Change can be unsettling and adaptations take time. You will ultimately arrive “on shore” and your victory will be particularly grand and pleasant. Stay determined to reach your goals and be results driven but stay process focused. Trust yourself and the process.

The rip current has applications to swimming mechanics. There are moments in each stroke when you generate effective propulsion. There are also moments when you need to relax and perhaps resist the temptation to apply force to the water. Novice swimmers sometimes try to apply a lot of force as soon as the hand enters the water in free style. As in a rip current, applying force too early in one’s stroke is self-defeating. Patiently learning correct technique lets one swim efficiently and economically.

The rip current has lessons in the area of mental preparation also. No matter how prepared one is, it is possible to get distracted or feel nervous. You can choose to get angry or upset but that is like trying to fight the rip current. We sometimes think that we have to show we are tough by getting upset and waging a battle with the thing that bothers us. “We will show the rip current who the boss is.” Unfortunately we lose if we let the rip current (our opponent or something that irritates us) steal our focus. They are temporary distractions that are not worthy of our attention. We need to shift our focus to a happy thought or to a path that will (eventually but efficiently) let us succeed. Trust, redirect and stay true to your goal. Rather than waste effort trying to fight a force that will not listen or cooperate (like a rip current), try shifting your focus to something that you like, that makes you confident and happy? Again, sometimes the best route to our goal is not the obvious one. Patience, persistence and trust will let you reach your goal.

Older and particularly advanced swimmers may feel like they are in a rip current from the fatigue of increased training loads. This is particularly common when swimmers transition to a more advanced training group. This can also be compounded when they take on greater demands such as occurs when one enters high school or college respectively. Fatigue is probably not fun, but if you understand how and why it is a normal part of the process of learning, growing and athletic training, you will be able to stay positive and true to your opportunity and destiny. Trust the process, stay the course and you will shine when it’s time. You will break through and reach your goal(s).