Someone mentioned that I've some fight left in me, I responded flippantly but he's got a point. I do go through life with a sort of quiet stoicism. That's being Northern I guess, but some of it is down to a past life as competitive swimmer.
(this is me, the one on the right, and two mates on the way back from a swim trip to Chicago. We thought we looked cool. We didn't)
Come to think of it, I learned quite a lot from swimming. I think it's worth sharing for two reasons;
1. I think a dose of exercise is good for people in general (sorry if that sounds a bit like Mr Bronson from Grange Hill - who also played Admiral Ozzel, the first character to get 'force choked' by Darth Vader).
2. What I've learned has been helpful for a struggling planner living Up North. Up here we have to work hard to justify our existence and prove our worth. Planning isn't ingrained in agency cultures, you have to really make people want you in the room. Planning anywhere takes hard work, patience, humility, maturity, a thick skin and being able to take the knocks. Out here this is doubly so. You get nothing by right, you can enjoy the value of rarity - but you have to bloody earn it.
So enough with the tenuous links. What I learned was:
- Working hard pays off. To get anywhere, you have to train for three hours before school and three hours after. And push it to the limit. That's a lot for a twelve year old. But on the day of the race, all that work was worth it. Talent is fine, but slackness finds you out in the end.
- Discipline can equal fun. With all that training, and school, homework and eating the required 4,000 calories a day, there wasn't much time for playing out and doing the things kids do. So you learned very quickly to do the dull stuff with no fuss, that way you could have more time for fun. That also meant that the organised kids had the best time.
- You need rivals. Quite simply, they keep you sharp. They force you to never relax.
- Love people better than you. When I was in the under 8's, i trained with the under 10's. It was hard, but they pulled you along. I also watched what faster swimmers did, and tried to copy them.
- Process and technique win over brute force. You had to be fit, you had to be strong. But there were these huge,strapping kids who just made lots of splashes. A bad stroke gets you nowhere fast. There were also kids who had great strokes but bad starts and turns. In a sport where success is measures in flakes of a second, little things matter.
- You need other people. I needed a coach, Mum and Dad to take me places and cheer me on (it mattered), I needed chaperones when I was abroad without them and I needed the people I trained with. When you go through that much together, you need it to be fun. We all got very close.
- There are times when you just have to get on with it. Traveling abroad without your parents at 10 is quite scary, so is ordering food, staying with strange families and meeting American girls who think you're older than you are ;-0). You can quiver and not do things, or you can grab the experience with both hands. It's no accident that my best friends in lower school were swimmers, so were my girlfriends. We were simply more grown up than the people at school.
- Losing is good. There's no point having a tantrum or giving up. Understand why you lost, learn from it. Put it right. Sometimes people are simply better than you. That's quite a shock for a young boy.
- Patience is a virtue. It takes time to get good. Good technique, getting fit, those things take time. You'll fail a lot, and badly, before you start to win. Also, the wait between heats and finals seemed forever. You got used to waiting.
- It's good to be around people like you. There used to be a bunch of lads who were deadly enemies in the pool, but liked being around people out of it. We all knew what we'd done to get here, the sacrifices, the work. There was some sort of unwritten, mutual respect that's hard to explain.
- You learn the value of transferable skills. Cross country is a doddle and bullies can't keep up. Growing up quick also helps avoid the first term meltdown some university freshers go through.
- You learn humility and generosity. When you're competing against your best friends, you don't crow over beating them, and you try and help when they're down.
- Focus on what you're doing. If you're always worrying about what people are doing, how good they are, you're not focusing on what you can do. If you've done your best, and you always look to do even better, the rest will follow.
So there you are. That should be helpful if you're daft enough to take up swimming, I think it's been helpful for survival as northern planner too. I suspect it could be useful for a planner elsewhere too.