Monday, July 13, 2015

Serious Training* at Holly's River

I have a friend who lives on a small river.  It has a nice beach, and it's a fun place to spend a Sunday summer afternoon.  It's completely beautiful, quiet and private.  You almost never see other people around and it's just this lovely spot.

Bodies of water have personalities and quirks, and Holly's River is no exception.  There are parts where the current is gentle, and other areas where the current is quite strong.  There's a rock formation on one bank about three feet under the water where the current is pretty strong.  For some reason (I forget why) they call it The End of the World.  We make a game of approaching it from upstream, bracing ourselves on it for a bit against the strong current, then letting go and letting the current take us downstream.  Then we swim out of the strong part of the current, go back up a few yards and do it all over again.

You know, just the normal kind of fun people have playing in bodies of water and playing in the currents.

I got to thinking about those endless pools you sometimes see advertised and wondered if I could actually keep a steady enough pace to swim in the same place against a pretty fast current.  

That's harder than you'd think.  I managed to keep a steady pace measuring against a rock on the bank for a little bit before I lost interest then floated down to The End of the World and braced myself.

My friend, ever liking to challenge me, said, "Hey, let the current take you and see if you can swim back!"

The current is pretty strong at that spot, but hey, why not?  Not like it was really dangerous to try or anything. (Unless I inhaled water and cracked my head on a rock or something, mind, but I had people near me)

I did manage to make it, though it was hard and I was perfectly happy to let go and float back to the beach after I did it.   However, I did learn that to be able to do it, my form had to be really good.  You hear talk of getting a feel for the water, learning to grab new water, to push against it, and all of that.   When I was swimming against that current, I really started to grok what I'd been reading about.

Not that was why I was doing it.  It was fun.  I was playing.

I like playing in water with all its changing moods.   I consider it different from Serious Swimming but I think it's part of developing good swimming skill.  Yes, you need to practice in the pool with the drills and all.  I'd never say you don't.

But I think there is a lot said for playing just like a kid -- experimenting with what your body does in the water, and what the water does with your body.  Enjoying the sensations, but also doing the unrestricted goofing around and giving yourself little challenges to see what you can do in the face of the force that's so much stronger than you.  I am certain that a lot of my comfort levels in the water have much more to do with getting knocked around by waves at the beach and getting tossed off boats into the Potomac river than ever it did with formal lessons and the swim team.  I got over the whole "I can't see or touch the bottom" issue before I was ten.

Again, it's not that those formal lessons aren't necessary to the sport.  They absolutely are!  But I do wonder for people who are training for big water events if it really would help a lot of they'd get out into something other than still water and just play.   Bodysurf, swim against currents, let currents take you where they will, dive under waves, let a wave knock you over, play games holding your breath... all of that.

That theory isn't entirely out of left field, either. You often hear that children learn by play, and I think that's not entirely accurate.  I think people in general learn and expand their comfort zones with play, but I think that we adults get so serious and work-oriented with what we want to do that we forget how valuable the play part is.  I see it in my classes a lot. I teach software, and people come in all anxious and focused.  I try to break down that focus and reserve with jokes and goofy exercises.  I don't do it to be a comedian or an entertainer, but do it because I feel like when a person is laughing and engaged (you know, playing) they're most open to learning.

* I totally wasn't training.  It was play.

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