6 Things Swimmers Can Learn from Michael Jordan

Michael Butler
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Welcome moments of discomfort and pressure.

Remember the 1992 Olympics? Michael Jordan was injured for the opening game. The team was scheduled to play a scrimmage against Cuba. He arrived at the empty stadium an hour before the game and stayed off to the side, away from everyone else. He put on a baseball cap and sweats, walked on the court, and hit shots. He hit and hit and hit. He didn’t once take a break. He just wanted to be perfect and ready.

He threw a ball at his feet and dribbled it up and down the court. He wanted more control. At one point he tossed the ball aside and did one-handed push-ups, with his left hand, to improve his balance.

He’s not so crazy about it, but there is an active movie star I admire for the solid sacrifice that he makes. His name is Dwayne Johnson, and he’s more famous in the wrestling ring as The Rock. As a wrestler, he’s had to work harder. So he gets up at 4 a.m. every morning to go to the gym. When he’s done with that, he uses his own home gym for another hour. All the while, he spends time thinking about his business ideas.

Draft a workout plan. Plan to run through it multiple times.

Challenge your practices.

When Michael was training for his first Olympic competition, he said the hardest part was swimming in the ocean with no lane lines. He would look around trying to find the finish line. His coach asked him why he was doing this, stressing he wasn’t even close to the Olympics. He responded by saying that he wanted to see how good he could be.

Give your workouts meaning. Every swim we do should be done with purpose and with a focus on getting better and not just getting through the workout.

Trust yourself. A large part of swimming is mental. Many of the greats don’t always have the best physical attributes, but they have the mental tools to overcome their weaknesses.

Plan, and then use your plan. Michael would run in the sand, a new surface for him, to get used to the particular weight of running on sand. He’d train exactly how he wanted to swim when it was time to swim.

Focus on details. Michael said he went for a run before swim practice. He said that it isolated his breathing technique and freed his mind from distractions.

Use the underdog mentality to stay hungry.

Without the challenge that higher level competition brings, it becomes easy to get complacent. Compare, for example, Jordan’s Airness with the last great player of the Chicago Bulls dynasty, Scottie Pippen. Pippen, a seven-time NBA All-Star and integral starter on six NBA championship teams, played at a very high level throughout his career, but he never reached Jordan’s level. For Michael, it’s never enough to be at the top of any individual category. He is always working to improve his game, even when he is on top. To keep pushing himself, he sets benchmarks that even a top-tier player would find daunting.

Most of us may not have as their ultimate goal to be the Michael Jordan of our field, but there are lessons to be learned. Whether you’re a top performer in your field or not, you can use the motivator of being the underdog to keep pushing yourself and reaching for goals.

Champions are forged in the dark.

Not the darkness of a cave or isolation, but in a place where the light of self-acceptance shines so brightly that even when practicing alone you are surrounded by a brilliant light.

What matters the most to our happiness is how we feel about ourselves, and it’s difficult to feel good about ourselves when practicing your sport alone. Yet it is also a time where you can learn things you can’t learn from the media or your peers.

While Michael Jordan’s achievements are well known (5 NBA Titles, 6 MVP Awards, 10 time all star, 14 time scoring leader, etc) his attitude towards practice isn’t widely appreciated.

Michael Jordan is known for his work ethic and his desire to stay one step ahead of his competition.

Before the game, the media will print stories about the 5 point lead the Bulls have on the competition. During the game they’ll declare the Bulls closer to a 3 or 4 point defeat based on the perceived effort and hustle of the opponent. This happened so often that MJ famously responded to a reporter:

‘One thing you’ll learn about me when you really know me, is that I would play in the game, even if I were unconscious.’

Excellence is a mindset, not something you do when you feel like it.

When you hear about Michael Jordan, most people discuss his achievements in basketball. He was an icon, and the best basketball player of all time. Just about everyone knows the story of his talent, ambition, and refusal to accept failure. You probably heard that he said, “I’ve missed more than 9,000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. Twenty-six times, I’ve been trusted to take the game-winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that’s why I succeed.” Or something like that.

But nobody knows what else he achieved during his life. Did you know that he retired with a winning record? His team had the highest winning percentage in NBA history – that is until the Golden State Warriors came along. In addition to his athletic achievements, he was also a successful businessman. He didn’t just own a team; he also co-owned a restaurant chain, an athletic clothing line, and a country club.

Practice in a way that generates confidence.

While the difference in size between a basketball court and a swimming pool is substantial, both have one thing in common – the ability to produce champions.

One of the most impressive aspects of Michael Jordan’s rise to stardom is his relentless dedication to practicing. He was never too big to practice his shots, learn his moves, and be challenged. If you are looking to become great, practice on a level that you know you’re going to fail. That’s where you’ll improve.

Want help unleashing a high-performance mindset?

Here are 6 lessons swimmers can learn from Michael Jordan’s legendary training regimen.

Create a Routine

A routine is the perfect way to make your life more efficient. By developing a routine, you’re able to immediately get into a groove. And once you’ve developed that grove, you’ll be able to maintain a pattern to get things done even when you’re under pressure.

Focus on the Process, Not the Result

The basketball legend explained, “The hours of practice in the gym were the hardest part of the days. The games were easy compared to practice.”

Only Focus on the Next 24 Hours

Jordan discussed how he would stay for hours at a time, repeating skills for an upcoming game to get them just right.

Embrace the Grind

It can be easy to get frustrated with the process when the workouts are monotonous and repetitive. Jordan discussed this very topic, saying, “You have to embrace the grind.”

Don’t Trust Anyone Else’s Advice