Three Views of Belief

This post is about belief: cold water swimming, running and belief; Arctic Circle swimming and more belief; yet more swimming and yet more belief.  Three short stories and three takes on belief.  Here we go.  (Don’t stop ‘til you get to the end.)

Enjoying the view of the starlings’ murmuration in a December sea. Photo by Kevin Meredith

Enjoying the view of the starlings’ murmuration in a December sea. Photo by Kevin Meredith

Belief 1: A Coach’s Gift

Last week I caught up with a client from last year who had plunged into the world of triathlon with an amazing Ironman 70.3 in Portugal. She is now enjoying the challenge of plunging into the cold sea each day, seeking out meaningful moments of connection with herself, others and the environment – as in this wonderful photo she sent me at New Year.  We chatted about the trust and belief that a coach can have in someone, despite what others or sometimes even the person themselves may think.

I was reminded of the time, long ago now, when I was first approached by one of the Run Coaches at Brighton & Hove Athletic Club.  Out of the blue he asked if I would like to be coached by him.  I was a very skinny, rather shy thing then, nervously making a new life for myself at Sussex University and getting more and more into running.  At that stage there really wasn’t much to see in me – not just the skinniness but also because I was making up the numbers, way down the field in local cross country races.  Not an obvious up and coming star.

Simply the fact this coach, Roy Taylor, showed an interest and a sense of belief that I might have more in me, more than I imagined at that stage, was genuinely life changing.  That Roy put in the time and thought to devise training plans and then share in my delight as exciting results started to come through – maybe confirmation on his part, definitely surprise on mine – lifted me and spurred me on to reach further for new heights, training harder and revelling in doing well.

In turn, I aim to pass on the same generosity, shared excitement and belief in others that had such an impact on me.

Belief 2: Passing on the Gift

Which brings us to the next story, this one about a woman who came to me for a one to one swim session just a few days later.  Her friends (we’ll use the word loosely at this point) told her she would be joining them in doing a big swim in July.  No arguments.  Just get on and register.

And not just any swim.  Together they have entered the Arctic Circle 3km swim, crossing a wide river between Finland and Sweden, the Arctic Circle and a time zone just after midnight.  If they can do it under around 55mins they will have finished before the day they started!  How cool is that?

Now, our would-be Arctic swimmer has never done distance swimming before.  As she started training her concerns grew as she had to stop every few lengths to draw breath.  She came to me saying she was sure to be told she had terrible technique and convincing herself she was a no-hoper.

In my eyes neither was the case.  We worked together on her breathing and on developing more of a rotation to slice through the water, all the time emphasising the feel – of all the right muscles engaged, of holding and pressing the water back and the stroke coming together.  In just an hour we began to see more of the strong, joyous swimmer in her.  She’s since emailed after her first swim on her own to say how “excited and full of vigour” she now feels.

… and this looks like it will be great fun! (Photo from Arctic Circle Swim site)

… and this looks like it will be great fun! (Photo from Arctic Circle Swim site)

I’ve written elsewhere about Fixed and Growth Mindsets – the frustrated, incapacitating “why can’t I do this – I’m just rubbish” fixed way of thinking versus the growth sense of excitement at trying something new as if a voyage of discovery.

Growth is so much more fun.

Belief 3: Without Boundaries

And so on to our final set of swimmers and stories in belief.  As it happened, right after the one to one Swim Analysis session, I went straight in to teaching some wonderful Level Water swimmers.

Level Water was set up as part of the 2012 Olympics’ Legacy to fund one to one lessons for children with disabilities.  I have a regular set of children I teach each week but on this particular day the three one to ones were new to me as I was standing in for another teacher who couldn’t make it at the last minute.

And wow!  How amazing each of these swimmers were.

One was a young boy of 10 who came poolside with his dad, using a walker and needing some support to steady himself.  I asked him what he liked doing and got the fabulous short answer “swimming!”  We slowly inched our way down the steps into the water and once in, whilst I was figuring out what floats and other aids to use, he gently said to me “I can do more than you might think”.

I can do more than you might think
— Young Level Water swimmer

It was said with clear, quiet assurance, as if inviting me to believe in what he could do and to share in in the pleasure of his accomplishments rather than to look only at the disability.  What a brilliant thing to say.  A future slogan for Level Water t-shirts, caps and billboards?

In a similar vein, another swimmer and another dynamo: a 7 year old little minnow, sparkling with enthusiasm, needing to lip read (not the easiest of things to do in a pool).  We started in the shallow end, where she was barely tall enough to stand.  Before I had much chance to decide what to focus on she said she’s like to swim to the deep end.  “Okay” I hesitantly said, unsure whether her regular teacher would take her out that far and thinking at least by staying close I would be ready to support her when needed.  Off we set, her arms going round like a paddle steamer and every now and then a big pause to lift up her head, draw breath and grin from ear to ear.

We made it all the way to the end and then had some fun inventing different jumps and dives.  With our time running out I asked if she felt up for swimming all the way back to the shallow end.  “Can we make it a race?” she asked.  More gasp, grin and gleeful determination to make it all the way.  (For those interested, it was close but she won.)

A third young child could just about make out shapes so needed some help to orientate herself and know when we were coming to the wall.  Completely undeterred, she would launch herself off into full-on, head first, high energy swimming.

unlocking self belief

What do these different stories of marvellous, self-believing swimmers (and a skinny runner) tell us – some helped to find their self belief, others seeming to have it in such natural exuberant richness?  First, I’m always struck by the Level Water children’s boundless enthusiasm and playful excitement, enjoying being active in the water.  As the Swim Teacher by their side, it made me think I need to make sure I don’t put limits on what they can do by my own preconceptions or assumptions (within the bounds of keeping it all safe).

They, in turn, highlight the question with our Arctic swimmer and many like her, of where the self-doubts come from.  To some extent of course going for a big challenge should engender a sense of having to find something special in ourselves, of a justifiable nervousness and recognition of what’s going to be needed – in endurance sports sometimes expressed as respect for the distance.  How brilliant when this can be channelled into a sense of excited anticipation about what lies ahead and the discoveries to be made along the way

Ah! Those were the days - enjoying the view at the front (in the red vest and white shorts)

Ah! Those were the days - enjoying the view at the front (in the red vest and white shorts)

Many thanks to all these super swimmers – and, hoping he gets to read it, to the Coach who continues to have an inspiring effect on me all these year on, Roy Taylor.

As always, please add your own reflections and thoughts below.