8 Leadership Lessons from Masters Swimming

If you read this blog regularly, you know that I recently completed an MA in Leadership. The two years of reading,  writing, stress and late nights meant I spent a lot of time sitting so I re-gained a “Freshman 15” that I am trying to shed.  With this goal in mind, I joined a Masters Swim group and, in addition to dramatically improving my freestyle, have found some leadership lessons along the way.

1. Don’t be intimidated by a title. I’ve wanted to improve my stroke for quite some time but thought, erroneously, that “Masters” was for former competitive swimmers or people who had already mastered swimming. I really didn’t see myself as an athlete and didn’t think I belonged there. Had a friend not encouraged me to check it out, I might never have realized that “masters” swimming is for any adult at any level and that it is totally for people like me.

2. Everything is more difficult than it appears. Of course the Olympians make it look easy! They have dedicated their lives to mastering the sport. It’s going to take time and patience to improve. That’s the bad news. The good news is…

3. Everything can improve by breaking it down into its component parts. A great coach (see Dave at #7) will break it down for you and what seem like tiny adjustments to your hand position, how you hold your head, how you kick, etc. will make  an enormous difference. Where can you tweak other facets of your life to improve overall performance?

4. RELAX to improve your efficiency. It seems counterintuitive. We want to go faster and do more to go, well, faster but that’s not always efficient. Relaxing a bit and focusing on technique make you more efficient and help build endurance. Leadership is rarely a sprint!

5. REEEAAACH! My awesome coach Dave (see #7), suggested I watch my hand glide under the surface of the water as far as it will go before I start my “pull”. It turns out my old, fast, choppy stroke (yes, it was ugly) was leaving out at least six inches of water that I could be pulling. I was leaving “opportunity” on the table because I was trying to go too fast and I was exhausted by the effort. While I loathe the expressions “do more with less” and “work smarter, not harder” (because, quite often it just means you’ve inherited more work without resources), in this case both really do apply. I can get across the pool with fewer strokes and less energy if I relax, reach and …

6. Breathe! In the pool and in life if you don’t breathe, you drown. Enough said!

7. A great coach builds on strengths. Truly, my coach must have thought “Where do I start?” There were soooo many things I was, and am still, doing incorrectly. (Did you know it’s possible to flutter-kick or breathe incorrectly? I had no idea!) However, my great coach Dave was never critical – not once – instead, always smiling, he directed helpful suggestions to the entire group or a offered very kind individual direction like:  “Now what I want you to try is….” Instructions were very clear and, even when I didn’t get it on the first, second or third try (still trying to master the two-beat kick) he kept offering encouragement, a different approach or a modified challenge so I wouldn’t get discouraged. Mountains of thanks to Dave Lubrick from the Guelph Marlins!

8. You are never alone, even in an individual challenge. While you are working on your individual performance or endurance, someone encouraged you to start. Your teammates are there to encourage and challenge you. They too have their own stories, challenges and triumphs. Your coach provides expertise and guidance. Appreciate those around you because they all contribute to your success.

I only have a few more lessons left before we break for the summer so I wanted to say a huge Thank You to the swimmers in my group, to my coach Dave and to the Guelph Marlins! No wonder you produce Olympians – not just people who have technical expertise, but people who really BELIEVE in themselves. Thanks for extending that to me too 🙂

Sign me, a work in progress!


Published by Dominique O'Rourke

Public Affairs professional, City Councillor, MA Leadership graduate, problem solver and lifelong learner.

5 thoughts on “8 Leadership Lessons from Masters Swimming

    1. So where else are we deterred from trying something new because of a faulty assumption? This club has a Masters group that is more competitive, but even there, some people go to learn or improve – why not learn with the best?

      Making a splash,

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