I go to a swimming Stroke Improvement class with my wife twice a week. I learned a reasonably-correct front crawl about 13 or 14 years ago, and sort of figured out breaststroke and backstroke by myself. Pretty clever, I thought. . .

At Stroke Improvement, however, the instructors seem to want me to improve ALL of my swim strokes, and so I’ve finally realized that it’s time to take them more seriously. Which means getting them to correct my stroke.

As far as I’m concerned, backstroke always looked to me like synchronized swimming, and everyone I saw seemed to know how to do it. I avoided doing it. Mostly because of the up-the-nose water. Well, that was a big part of it. It was mostly because I didn’t feel like I was doing it properly.

The point of this post is really that I realized something about a week ago which has adjusted my attitude. I already knew that I was avoiding the backstroke (reasons above). What I realized was that by successfully avoiding doing the backstroke, I was also successfully remaining very bad at it. The tiny attitude adjustment sounded (in my head) something like this:

…Maybe if I commit to getting some feedback and then actually doing a reasonable amount of backstroke lengths, I might conceivably get better at it. Maybe even good at it…

Don’t worry – I haven’t been called up by the Olympics (well, not yet). But there has been a transformation. I’m not avoiding the backstroke any more. Don’t hear me say I’m enjoying it. I’m just not avoiding it. The difference is that I decided to try, to deliberately do it, to listen to my coaches and to incorporate their feedback into my technique.

This seems to just be one of those non-glamorous things that requires effort to engage with and effort to improve at. But when I consider my own life, it has been things which require effort which seem to be the most meaningful.

Essentially, I have learned that doing the backstroke (literally) has helped me remember that small decisions can have a large bearing on performance and success. Improvement – at least, meaningful improvement – requires an investment of energy and, often, time. And a teachable attitude.

You probably have your own “backstroke” activity which leaves you less-than-enthusiastic. A small decision to engage in that activity (with appropriate support) might be all it takes to re-orient you.