Be adaptable

Don Henshaw

Peeling my face away from US Trials to quickly discuss an under-rated trait of swimmers looking to chase glory in the pool…

 

Adaptability. 

 

It’s an essential characteristic for swimmers looking to shine.  

 

Why?

 

Because no matter how deeply you plan, how detailed your goals and process, things will invariably go sideways on you. 

 

In those moments, elite swimmers adapt. 

 

Here’s a great example. 

 

As a 17-year-old, Australia’s Jon Sieben shocks the world to win gold and break the world record in the 200m butterfly at the LA Olympics in 1984.

 

But earlier that year, at a swim meet, Sieben slips and hurts his arm badly enough that he’s out of the meet and has a cast on his arm for several weeks.

 

Instead of no-showing practice, Sieben rolls up on the pool deck, a kickboard under his arm, and kicks. And kicks more. And kicks even more. 

 

As the coaching legend (and legendary personality, too) Laurie Lawrence, Sieben’s coach, recounts, Sieben’s teammates chide him for bailing on the meet and being out of the usual routine of training. 

 

“He kicked up and down the pool for hours,” Lawrence recounts. 

 

Ultimately, the last laugh is Sieben’s. 

 

All those workouts doing kick, building highly conditioned legs, are what power him down the final 50m in Los Angeles, mowing down the soon-to-be-former world record holder, Michael Gross, to win gold and set a new WR.

 

The lesson?

 

Setbacks, injuries, and adversity can feel demoralizing in the moment. 

But there’s always a way to adapt. 

 

And those adaptations can often result in a new superpower.

 

Whatever happens:

 

A competitor trounces you in your best event. 

 

Practice gets canceled. 

 

You get injured.

 

Adapt.

 

See you in the water,

 

Olivier

 
 

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