Written By: Nico Messer
Thinking outside the box is a metaphor that means to think differently, unconventionally, or from a new perspective. When it comes to thinking outside the box, it’s essential that you are prepared to take risks and make mistakes. If not, you’ll come to a standstill before you’ve even begun. Instead focus on all the things that could go right, it’s often that some of our best pieces of work (or lessons learned) evolve from our mistakes!
Now, how exactly do we do that? With the start of a new year you might have set aside some time to reflect on things you want to change or improve with your coaching. Although not technically the end of season, we just concluded the first part of our season with the short course focus meets and will now work towards long course success in the spring and summer. And I have certainly done some thinking and analyzing in order to evolve our season plan and allow our athletes to keep getting better.
One thing we identified and really want to emphasize is to increase the awareness and “responsibility” of our athletes for what they are doing in their practices. We’re doing this in different formats in the top three groups of our team. All of them get the chance to decide what our practices look like one day of the week. Our Head Age Group Coach will even let them decide on whether they want to run practice themselves (this options has been very popular) or simply provide the idea and swim with the rest of the group. With my group(s), the athletes also get to decided what we’re doing during the second hour of our Friday practices, however, they will still swim with the rest of the group (so far, no 10x200’s fly were suggested). During the first hour of these sessions, we will take a workout (or part of it) from another coach and his team - you can find an example of this “process” on the ProSwimWorkouts Instagram (Streamline Teams’ Alexis Keto provided us with some great sets).
While this might not be the “out of the box thinking” you were expecting, it certainly did challenge me to do exactly that! The “epicenter” for out of the box thinking would probably be my friend and longtime former University of Michigan Assistant Coach Mark Hill. A small example of this can be seen in the video “Vertical Dynamic Motion” from 2017 while he was working at the Old Dominion Aquatic Club.
Remember - thinking outside the box is more than just a coaching cliché. It means approaching problems in new, innovative ways; conceptualizing problems differently; and understanding your position in relation to any particular situation in a way you’d never thought of before. And you might find that many of the problems coaches in other sports face are similar to the problems in our own, but that they’ve developed really quite different ways of dealing with them.
“Don’t think outside the box. Think like there is no box!”
I would really encourage you to look at other sports and get out of the swimming box. Of all, a movement of “no drills” from soccer has provided me with quite a few ideas in the last years. When you’re willing to consider alternative points of view and ways of doing things, you’ll be more open to a variety of different points of view and potential solutions. When you’re open to limitless possibilities, the possibilities are endless!
Lastly, a quick tip to help you think and might even help you improve your health at the same time - a Stanford study revealed that walking frees your creativity both during the walk and for a short time after. Give it a try!
Nicolas Messer is in his second season as the Head Coach of the Swim Regio Solothurn in Switzerland and the founder of the ProSwimWorkouts platform. Previous coaching stops included working with the High Performance Program of the Swiss Armed Forces and other club teams in Switzerland. Nico has also spent time living and coaching in Scandinavia (Sweden and Norway) as well as in the US.