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by Bob Jennings

August 1, 2014

Inspiration from an unlikely source

Many of us are always trying to swim faster, improve our strokes, and delay Father Time. To accomplish these goals, we talk to our coaches, watch training videos, attend clinics or camps, watch and try to copy elite swimmers, read articles, books, and the USMS website, and talk to other swimmers and coaches. These are the logical places to find inspiration to help us swim better, but they aren’t the only ones.

In reading “The Best Game Ever” by Mark Bowden, I discovered techniques that would help my swimming. The book is about the classic 1958 NFL Championship game between the New York Giants and the Baltimore Colts. According to the book, Hall of Fame receiver Raymond Berry was an average receiver when he entered the league. He knew if he wanted to be successful, he would have to listen to his coaches, work hard, and study the sport.

I’ve always wanted to improve my swimming, but I’m only 5 feet, 6 inches tall and an average swimmer. Nonetheless, I’ve always had a good work ethic and have tried to listen to my coaches. But it was Raymond Berry who helped me take it one step further. Not only did he take notes on his opponents, he took notes on what his coaches asked him to concentrate on. He constantly studied these notes, reviewing them days before each game and especially on game day. He would walk the field before games looking for anything that would give him an advantage.

We know what we’re supposed to do in a competition. Sometimes in the heat of a race, I forget and lose focus. This is where Berry’s approach to success has provided guidance and helped improve my swimming.

Taking a page from Berry’s book, I, too, have created a notebook of articles I’ve acquired over the years. The articles have come from a variety of sources: STREAMLINES, the USMS website, ASCA, Swimming World, athletic magazines including Runner’s World and daily newspapers. The topics include everything from stroke mechanics and open water swimming to nutrition, hydration, and sports psychology. I go back and reread the articles in my notebook from time to time or share them with friends.

My coach is a great stroke technician and has helped me make incredible improvements. In practice I try to concentrate on what he tells me to do. But changing old habits does not come easily for me, so I started making lists of what I need to concentrate on. I review and edit my notes regularly, especially several days before swim meets. Just before I swim, I review the race strategies and techniques I’ve been working on that are listed in my notes. It’s become as important to me as a good warm-up and eating properly.

Another prerace tradition that’s helped me is walking around and checking out a pool before warming up. I look for anything that may help me out psychologically in a race. Some 50-meter pools have lines dividing them into thirds or quarters.  Objects outside the pool such as poles and bleachers guide me in backstroke. Knowing where these objects are helps me know when to pick up the pace, especially in longer distance races.

While taking a graduate class, I was reminded by another student, “You can learn something from everyone.” His comment has helped me in more ways than I would have ever expected. Who would have thought that a book about the greatest NFL game ever would help my swimming?


  • Technique and Training


  • Mental Training