As a psychologist I find Ryan Lochte fascinating. Not only is he a great swimmer and a great competitor, he embodies something that I believe in deeply about human nature. We are not fixed, we are not consistent. We do not behave according to traits.
I don’t know Ryan, unfortunately, but as a swimming fan and observer I’ve tried to learn a little bit about him and I’d like to share those observations with you.
The Inner Switch
As he says in this video, “something switches in my body and I’m no longer that laid back Ryan Lochte, I’m that racer and I will go toe-to-toe, head-to-head, with anyone in the world, any time”.
That switch, from someone that everyone would recognise as a laid back character, skateboarder, surfer… ..to a hungry, powerful, dominant, “hunter” as his conditioning coach says in the clip.
For coaches, he’s an important lesson in understanding your swimmers and not labelling them as “difficult” or “lazy”, as an easily bored teenager he appeared to spend as much time in the showers as in the pool, finding ways to get kicked out – and this is the important part – unless there was a tough set to do:
“But most of the time, he was doing something wrong, pulling on somebody’s leg, blowing bubbles underwater, hiding at the other end of the pool,” Steve Lochte, Ryan’s dad (1)
Here we see aspects of Ryan Lochte’s personality that, while they might be viewed as trouble by a coach trying to keep his eye on a pool full of swimmers, are an asset. He loves a challenge – the tougher the better and he’s highly motivated by enjoyment and excitement. This means that he’s unlikely to be troubled by anxiety, but he has to have a lot going on (hence the skating and surfing) or he will get bored.
I’d suggest that he manages the potential boredom of training by pushing himself further and by using innovative methods and variety (look at the different types of land conditioning in the video).
Lochte is also appears to be unafraid to stand out from the crowd, to be different. That fits with the mischievousness described by his father (above). As young athletes, we often just want to fit in, and even being a talented athlete can be hard to deal with because it makes you different.
And his switch to Mastery
Finally, there’s that ‘switch’. This is the part that absolutely fits with my views on psychology. He becomes “the hunter”. He’ll go toe-to-toe with anyone, and you wouldn’t bet against him. His competitive spirit comes from within, from that love of a challenge, not necessarily from wanting to be known as the best.
“I’m just going to go out there and try to win the race. When you go out there trying to go for a record, you’re usually not going to get it” Ryan Lochte
That switch is important. You can’t be that intense all of the time. You have to be able to learn to be the swimmer that you want to be, when you want it. If you try to be like that all of the time, you’ll probably burn out and alienate a lot of people, and you’ll probably be unable to find the intensity that you need, when you need it.
To some, Ryan Lochte might be bafflingly inconsistent. But what he has is balance, and adaptability. It’s not only incredibly effective, but healthy too, and something we can all learn from.
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