Home' Trinidad and Tobago Guardian : June 23rd 2015 Contents There are no shortcuts to long-term
development. Sport like anything else in
life is an amalgamation of skills. The way
to proficiency must be long, winding and
difficult. To take a straight path would be
to cheat yourself of precious experience.
While some things can be taught, the most
valuable lessons are only learnt first hand;
the hard way.
True wisdom has to be your own, it can t
be someone else s. Much in the same way
that the proverbial borrowed plume never
I will probably never know as much about
anything else in my life as I do about com-
petitive swimming. For what it s worth, in
this very narrow esoteric scope, I can claim
to be an expert. Afloat, in this amniotic
dream, I have swum along with the current
of life that has flowed up and down, through
countless competitive swimming races all
over the globe for over 26 years.
In terms of distance swum, I am nearing
the end of my second lap around the Earth.
In my teenage years there were character
building weeks, totalling over 100 km, com-
prised of ten pool practice sessions, each
over ten kilometres plus gym work.
It s inconceivable to imagine just how
much repetition there has been on my jour-
ney to mastery, and that s exactly how it
At first you learn by imitation, with years
Tuesday, June 23, 2015 www.guardian.co.tt Guardian
of practice required to learn the proper form. During
this stage you seek to emulate the current masters.
I can remember studying the form of the dominant
older Caribbean athletes as I watched their races at
the regional age group competitions.
Back then, before I was winning medals, whatever
insight I was able to garner was then brought home
as my only souvenir, to be practiced for another year.
Coaches were also instrumental as I relied on their
experience to further guide my development in these
formative years. Naturally as I progressed, the level
of athletes that I sought to emulate also improved
until I was fixated on mirroring the very best.
I studied Alex Popov s style and for years practiced
how he moved and what he did. I have since been
faster than Popov, which goes to show that if you
do it right, your idols will eventually become your
Assiduous emulation can only take you so far.
Progress to the next level in any art form requires
bold innovation. The imitated and borrowed skills
of others must then be made your own through fur-
ther careful practice and deliberate execution. The
art form is then moulded by you to suit your own
unique strengths and weaknesses.
This is where the sport becomes an art by embrac-
ing the infinite possibilities of subjective right ways
to do things. In this way the limits are continually
pushed as novel new techniques and skills are
inevitably invented that others following behind will
seek to emulate and then eventually surpass.
The highest level of mastery is rarely known. This
is where the art is transcended. At this level, you
aren t just doing it, it s also doing you. It s a difficult
concept to comprehend, but hopefully this example
will help to clarify things.
In baking, at first you follow a recipe, then even-
tually you adapt the recipe to suit your individual
taste. However, there are bakers out there with so
many years of experience that they no longer follow
a recipe or measure anything anymore. The ingredients
seem to be haphazardly thrown together and it comes
out perfectly every time.
"How much yeast did you use? How many eggs?
What about flour?" To which they might reply per-
plexingly, "I don t know, I can t remember exactly,
I just sort of put about that much."
And sometimes to further baffle us, they may say
something like, "well if it s rainy or feels a bit humid
I use this much." At this highest level of expression,
the activity is reflexive and is completely natural and
This is the state that is referred to when you hear
great athletes and artists talk about being in "the
zone". It s a thrilling, incomprehensible state where
everything seems to be happening very quickly, with
such precision, and yet somehow automatically.
In the zone you re just along for the ride, watching
as everything unfolds by itself, exactly the way it s
supposed to be. I would describe it as a controlled
accident, that you let happen, free from the conscious
intention that brings tension with it.
"Wow! How did you do that?" You might ask.
"Hmmm. I don t know." They might reply vaguely.
"How did it feel?"
"I can t really remember. Easy, I guess." :)
• Follow George on Twitter: @georgebovell
When sport becomes art
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