By Chuck Wielgus//Executive Director, USA Swimming | Friday, February 19, 2016
It’s not too often that you’ll see a story about a high school swim team on an early evening network news show, but that’s just what happened recently as I sat at my kitchen counter and watched the 6:00 p.m. national news.
The Carmel (IN) High School girls’ swim team had just won its 30th consecutive state championship, making it the longest-running state championship streak of any sport in any state in U.S. sports history.
The news story of this extraordinary accomplishment got me thinking about the relationship between consistency and high-level sports performance. Most American sports fans will be expecting the U.S. Olympic Swim Team to go to Rio this summer and continue the success that our swimmers have maintained over the past 4-5 Olympic Games.
Great athletes are usually fanatical creatures of habit. Some might call some of their actions superstitions, but doing the same thing over and over in the same way every time is really all about establishing consistent performance. Talk with any accomplished athlete about their performance success and they’ll likely bring up the importance of how practice routines lead to winning competition results.
Watch any basketball player, from high school age and up, shoot foul shots and you’ll see that player do the same thing every single time they are at the foul line. You’ll see the same from golfers and baseball players, who hone their own routines in setting themselves up for consistent performance results.
Swimming is no different. Who among us doesn’t recognize Michael Phelps pre-race routine from the time he parades out and stands aside his block to the moment that he reacts to the starter’s gun?
These routines are the entrance ramp to consistent performance. Of course, there is a lot more than just these standalone routines that lead to winning performance results, but you’ll never see an athlete or a team win without a commitment to consistency in their preparations.
Whether in athletics or in business, there are keys to consistent performance. Consider these:
- Set goals; don’t be afraid to dream big. Commit your goals to writing. Many an athlete grew up with their goals written down and taped to their wall or posted on a bulletin board. You want to be reminded every day of what you are seeking to achieve. Dream big and have a lofty goal, but don’t clutter things up with too many goals. One single goal is plenty, and committing it to writing makes it real.
- Create a plan for how you will achieve those goals. You can’t stumble your way to success, create a plan. Work with a coach or a mentor and create a written outline for how you will go about achieving your goal. Your plan might include keeping a notebook so that you can log your daily progress.
- Be singular and be selfish. If you’re really lucky you might have a best friend who shares the exact same goal as you. If so, then you will have an incredible advantage because you’ll be able to push each other forward. However, most of us won’t be so fortunate. We have to remain singularly focused on our plan and at times this will require us to be selfish with our priorities.
- Do the work necessary to reach your goals. In his book Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell states the obvious in saying that it takes at least 10,000 hours to become good at something. But, those 10,000 hours of preparation must be focused on steady improvement and putting in place the building blocks for future and long-term athletic success. What counts is 10,000 hours of intelligent hard work.
- Don’t compromise on the really important things. Staying true to your goals means you cannot let yourself compromise on the really important things. In creating your plan, you must identify precisely what things are essential to your success, and then you cannot allow yourself to compromise when temptation crosses your path.
- Manage your dreams. Our dreams can change over time, and you shouldn’t be afraid to establish new goals based on new dreams. With that said, you won’t achieve greatness if you are constantly changing your dreams and setting new goals. New dreams should evolve from your personal experiences, and you should listen to your heart when it challenges you to go in a new direction.
magical forces at work. College basketball will never again see the likes of UCLA’s reign under Coach John Wooden in the 1960s and 70s, when the Bruins won an astonishing 10 NCAA Championships over a 12-year span.
The Los Angeles Lakers led by Magic Johnson and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar won five championships in 10 seasons. The University of Connecticut Women’s Basketball Team has won six NCAA Championships over the past 11 years.
In swimming, Honolulu’s Punahou High School Boys’ Swim Team, won 29 straight state titles from 1959 to 1986 to set the national record. In addition to Carmel, the boys swim team at Bolles won its 28 consecutive state championships this year and St. Xavier in Louisville goes for its 28th in a row next weekend.
When comparing these and other sports “dynasties” with the 30 consecutive state championships won by the Carmel High School girls’ swim team, the magnitude of the accomplishment starts to sink in. Congratulations to all the girls on the swim team at Carmel High School. They have contributed to extending what it now the #1 high school sports dynasty.
The next challenge is now up to our U.S. Olympic Swim Team to maintain its stature as the #1 ranked swimming nation in the world. That test will come this summer at the Rio Olympic Games.