Learning to Slap My Own Back

Think back to the most recent annoyance of your life. For me, it’s that as I write this, my flight is currently delayed out of Tampa, meaning that I will not meet my goal of tucking my baby boy in to sleep tonight.

Frustrations, big and small, are real and deserve more than to be dismissed as negativity. They present their own opportunities, even if they can be hard to see or even accept in the moment. Right now I find myself with a little extra time to put thoughts down on a page before I’m en route.

I’m writing this the day after I talked about Optimism to the crowd at the International Swim Coaches Hall of Fame Clinic. I’d arrived the previous morning, uncertain of what to expect. I meant to include a rather heavy anecdote about finding the opportunities in the worst situation, but I forgot in the heat of the moment.

In any case, upon arrival I was not greeted by a crowd with pitchforks. In fact, nary a pitchfork was to be found for the entirety of my stay. Instead, Kelsey Ida provided the most warm greeting I’ve ever gotten at such an event. My observations back up that I was not unique in that.

The Flattery Olympics

I was subjected to an uncomfortable amount of flattery over the course of my brief stay. Perhaps that is another case where I must take my own medicine. One of the sub-topics I lectured coaches about was the importance of taking some credit when things go well on their team. That they should actually model that behavior that they would want their athletes to display when achieving success.

So I am slapping my own back. It is a shock to get out from behind the computer and meet someone you’re quite certain you’ve never spoken to and find out that they have heard you loud and clear. I encountered plenty of people that disagreed with one thing or another I had written, and I’m more comfortable with that than I have ever been. I didn’t feel any need to apologize, or back down, or modulate my tone.

We do, unfortunately, work in a structure where the golden backslaps go to many for all the wrong reasons, and good people are too quiet about what’s wrong. I told the coaches that there is nothing wrong, or inherently negative about complaining.

Complaints can come from a place of optimism. When people feel helpless they don’t complain, they just accept that the problems they see will never get better. They complain because they believe that things can get better, and they most likely actually care to see that happen.

So in this blog I advocate for what I think is the right way of doing things, and call out what I think is wrong. I do so because I love swimming too much, and I want to see it become a lot better experience for everyone involved, not only athletes but coaches who are in many ways in as much crisis as they have ever been.

As I made that last point I looked out into the crowd and caught the eye of the lone representative of “the federation” in the crowd, the one that everyone says looks like Santa Claus. He was not among the many people who professed to like my writing, in case you’re keeping score at home.

My own inner pessimist often makes more or less successful attempts to snarl my progress. “Nobody likes you”, it says. “You should stop, no one cares”, or “you’re just making things harder for yourself”.

Sometimes, it’s pretty nice to be able to answer back, “keep going!” in concert with others.