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In for the Long Game

27 June 2023
Graph showing progression of Michael Boult's breaststroke times over time.

2 weeks ago I started a new job as an acoustic engineer, and no, I’m not a DJ.  Despite doing an engineering degree, I don’t actually know anything about acoustic engineering so it’s been pretty tough because I’m not very good at my job. That’s not surprising though, everyone else in the office has been doing this for years.  

I remember when I was swimming, we would have new people join us and swim everyday for a month or two, maybe even a year.  But the most successful swimmers were the ones who swam for years.  The longer we do something, the better we get at it.  It’s pretty simple and it makes a lot of sense.  If you’re able to commit to something for a long time, then you’re going to be much better at it.  

I started taking swimming seriously when I was about 13.  Before that I was a coach’s nightmare, only coming to training when there was an upcoming school swimming or surf lifesaving carnival.  I was not a talented swimmer, everyone I was training with was years younger than me and I think my 100 breaststroke PB was around 1:30.

I committed to it for a long time, training pretty much everyday for 7 years.  I improved a lot over that time, but it was never a steady progression.  To show this, I’ve put all my times for 100m breaststroke that I did in a graph, at the top of this blog.    

Some seasons I went backwards, some I improved a lot but most were all over the show.  Looking back, that was definitely something I needed to work on.  

Before I started as an engineer, I coordinated the Rackley swim school at Centenary Pool in Brisbane, where our performance squad has some of Australia’s best swimmers.  There’s nothing different about what they’re doing, all the sets we do are the same, it’s about how they do them.  The Olympians we have at Rackley’s are committed 100% to their program and their coach so every time there’s an effort in training, they have their racing bathers on and it’s all in.  They’ve been doing this not just for one session where they were feeling good, but consistently every time for 10+ years.

Being consistent like this is a battle.  It can be easy to change your goals and make up excuses for yourself.  And sure, there is always a place for picking your battles in areas you want to be successful in.  I stopped swimming when I was 20 and started triathlons.  I started racing professionally about a year ago but there’s still a lot for me to improve on. Some of my competitors have been doing this for 20+ years.  But I know that just like with swimming, if I commit to it for a long time then I’ll improve.  I might get worse or stagnate for a bit, but if I commit to it for a long time then I will eventually improve.

One of my favourite phrases I heard from a coach was to get comfortable being uncomfortable.  It’s pretty obvious but it’s great to have in the back of your mind because persisting with a goal is going to get uncomfortable sometimes.  But the longer we stick at it, the more we improve and your success means a lot more if you’ve worked towards it for a long time.

From Michael Boult

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