2016 In Review: What I've Learned
2016 was a good year, and that is an understatement to say the least. 2016 was a great year, indeed, and I want to share what I've learned over the past twelve months. Although I do not believe in New Year's Resolutions, I do believe in annual "year in review" sessions and planning ahead for future years, and twelve hours on a bus en route to Florida for our yearly training trip allows plenty of time to look back, and look ahead.
The following is not all that I've learned - just that which is appropriate for public consumption, and thoughts that might help you as you embark on what will no doubt be a productive and successful 2017. These are in no particular order, and as such, one is not any more important than the other - just a collection of thoughts as I look back on another year in the books.
1. Meditation works
The science is finally just now catching up to the age old wisdom, as study after study now touts the benefits of practicing mindfulness and other forms of productive meditation. Some studies even suggest that meditation can change the physical structure of the brain - pretty impressive if true, to say the least! I started meditating years ago, but only fully embraced the practice over the past year and a half. It took several months for me to notice any changes, but in 2016 I certainly reaped the benefits. Lower stress levels, greater emotational intelligence, increased resiliency towards stress, a clearer mind, better sleep, and increased creativity are just a few of the benefits I have noticed, and I am excited to continue the practice. I have long meditated while writing sets for swim practice, and now make general mindfulness meditation part of my daily evening routine. There are few better ways to end a stressful day, and as mentioned, I sleep better having solidified this habit.
Some in the Christian community look at meditation with skepticism - I do believe Christianity and meditation are in fact highly compatible; it all depends on how you do it and what you choose as the focus of your meditation. I do not chant, I do not repeat "sacred" syllables and so forth...no, I simply focus on breathing deeply and allowing my body to fully relax - a rarity for type A personalities like myself, with endless to-do lists and a never satisfied attitude towards personal and professional life. Consider the countless Bible versus that mention meditation, and then reexamine whether this is a practice that is compatible with Christianity. Specifically, consider Joshua 1:8 if you are a believer that looks at meditation with the aforementioned skepticism. While made popular by eastern religions, I see meditation as a tool, similar to exercise, with which to better oneself - a concept that can be shared by multiple religions without fear of transgression.
2. Writing a book is challenging, but a fantastic experience.
Writing a book is a lot of work, for lack of a better term. I spent the better part of 9 months, from December of 2015 to August of 2016, writing Power & Towers & Swimming: The Guide, and officially launched the book in October. Did I mention it was a lot of work? Throughout the process I learned quite a bit about the publishing industry, and learned as much in regards to what not to do, than what to do. It was a great experience, and one that I will tackle again soon. Specifically:
- It took much longer than I thought, and I should have planned accordingly. I originally wanted to launch in September, but the editing process slowed me enough that another month was needed to finish the book. Even then, the first print run was not perfect, and another round of editing was needed to ensure the book was worthy of the cover - a gorgeous painting of a Power Tower from one of our former student-athletes.
- Communication with editors is key, and I will leave it at that.
- Murphy's Law applies to nearly all phases of the book writing process. I will plan ahead next time.
- It's not about the money. I knew this going in, thus it was not something learned, more so reinforced. I didn't write the book to make money, and that's a good thing, because few authors hit it big. For every Dan Brown, J.K. Rowling, Stephen King, Robert Galbraith, and John Grisham, there are thousands you'll never know. Only the true book snobs will catch what I did there.
- I have heard it said before and never fully understood it...I do now. A book is a labor of love, to say the least.
But again, it was a great experience, and extremely rewarding. The response from the book has been nothing but positive, and I sleep well knowing it is providing tremendous value and having a positive impact on coaches worldwide, from Australia, to the U.K., and beyond. As to the above point about the money, while I didn't write it for riches, I am pleased to say that after more than 110 total sales, I did break even from the dollars invested in printing and editing services. I am currently researching/brainstorming/framestorming for my next project, as this will not be my last foray into the world of book writing.
3. With a dream, hard & smart work, a supportive administration, and a colossal amount of faith, anything is possible.
We announced a new 50-meter facility here at Liberty in May of 2016, and that was just six years after starting our swimming & diving program from scratch in 2010. To say that we are blessed is an understatement, and one of epic proportions. From a new program in a 6-lane, 25-yard pool to one of the best facilities in the country in six years is mind-boggling, and trust me, the gravity of the situation is not lost on me. I will ensure that it is not lost on our current and future student-athletes as well. There is much I could say here, but will refrain. Let me just mention two things briefly:
- This pool was not my doing. There were and are a lot of people involved, from current and former student-athletes to administrators and beyond. It took a village. I just happened to be in the right place at the right time, and we worked to build a program that might be somewhat worthy of the facility we will soon inherit (does anyone really deserve a 50m dotted i?).
- Faith goes a long, long way. When I left the cozy confines of the Big Ten and Penn State University, where I was assistant from 2006-2009, to start this program from scratch here at Liberty in 2010, my friends, family members, and colleagues in the coaching ranks thought I had lost my mind. Leaving Penn State? For Liberty? Where is that? Is that a Division I school? Are you crazy? And so forth and so on...the doubters were many, and the believers were few. But I was sold on the vision of LU during my interview, and I had faith that yes, we could indeed build a program here. I believed a new facility would eventually be built, yes. I believed it was a question of when and not if. Looking back, I am thankful that I kept the faith!
4. Airplane mode is your friend, and turn notifications off!
I have always been a diligent worker: limiting distractions, putting in the long hours, and getting on with my countless to-do lists and personal productivity. In 2016 I had to go further, for writing a book, coaching full-time, and raising a family requires a higher level still. For the better part of the past year I hammered away on my iPad Pro with full keyboard in relative seclusion, in airplane mode, and with all notifications on my iPad turned off for times when I did in fact need to connect to the web. That little red number on the text message app was and is nonexistent, and the same holds true for all the apps on my iPad, for again, all notifications were and are turned off. The results were spectacular. As mentioned, I wrote the Power Tower Book, recruited an excellent class of future Flames, wrote extremely thoughtful and creative swimming workouts, and still made it home for dinner (almost) every night. I also led a men's only Bible study and published 22 articles here on the blog, many of which were quite lengthy, and all of which were extremely thoughtful. The above is only possible if one limits distractions, and airplane mode combined with notifications turned off allowed me to do it.
But don't take my word for it; let me refer you to someone even more productive than I. In his recent book Deep Work, Georgetown computer science professor and author Cal Newport describes his method for extreme output, which includes going so far as to shut down Facebook and Twitter as well as using airplane mode to his benefit. While I won't be shutting down my Twitter account any time soon, one cannot argue against Cal's prolific output.
I'll say this - Thank God we didn't have smart phones when I was in college, and Thank God text messages were still 10 cents a piece. Imagine this...we had to log on to to an actual computer to use Facebook, which was just made available to those outside of the Ivies during my sophomore year at Shippensburg. Now, the current college student:
- Has a smart phone.
- Has Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, Twitter, web browsers, games, and who knows what else right there on said phone, and it is with them at all times.
To say that airplane mode is instrumental for producing meaningful work (or earning a respectable GPA) is an understatement, again to say the least!
5. Weight belts flat out work...
...To echo the great Sam Freas. I write at length in the Power Tower Book about weight belts, as well as Power Towers of course, and we are busy exploring weight belt use and limits here at Liberty. Yes indeed, weight belts work. I still have not figured out how exactly, but work they do. We are swimming faster in-season than ever before in our program's young history when considering talent levels, and I am excited to see the results come our conference championship meet in February. So much do we now value weight belts that we loaded 300+ pounds worth onto the bus for our Florida training trip, as we couldn't stand being away for more than a week. I've already let our sprint group know that next year they will be taking a belt home over Thanksgiving and Christmas break, and will be expected to use it often.
I trust you had the opportunity to take some time over the holidays to take stock of your 2016, and strategize on ways you can accomplish even more, and provide even more value to your organization in 2017. A year in review session, when one tackles it with brutal honesty and objectiveness, is a great learning experience, and if you have not yet done so, I would encourage you to give it a shot.
Here's to a great 2016, and I am excited for even more in 2017.