Learning Lean Through Michael Phelps

Is there an Olympic story that is inspiring you?

I’ve stayed connected to the stories.

Michael Phelps is “lean”.  And, I don’t mean just with his body.

His story is classic.  He is physically gifted.  He has matched those gifts to hours of training in the pool.

He has relied on coaching.  In other words, he could have spent hours practicing but he wouldn’t have made it without a coach who became intimately interested in Phelps’s process of swimming.  They used high speed cameras, laboratories.  They learned in the smallest detail what caused Phelps to go faster.  Phelps would then take that knowledge to the pool and work with it until he could “feel” it.  Then, he repeated it until it became second nature.

After he won eight gold medals in China in 2008, he decided he still wanted to swim competitively, but he didn’t want to work as hard. 

He gave us his regimen.  Started playing some golf.  Smoked some recreational marijuana.  Would take a junket trip to Las Vegas.  Guess what?  He also started to move down the ladder.  He was getting beat pretty often by others who were working harder.

He said this weekend, that about 18 months ago, he finally got fed up with losing.  If he was going to swim, he wanted to put in the effort to win.  He began to work hard again.

The Olympics started slow.  In his first event, he finished fourth and didn’t win any medal.  He got a silver in a relay.  Got touched out in a race and lost by a hundredth of a second for a silver.

He admitted that he hadn’t prepared well for the first race and that he got edged out because of poor technique in the second race.  “I got exactly what I deserved.”

The rest of the week went well.  Phelps prepared well. Swam well.  The medals piled up.  All of them Gold. 

So here’s what I learned or was reminded of:

1. To perform excellently, it will take an effort to find the small things and learn how to use them.

2.  We will learn better in teams and with coaching from others than if we go it alone.  We won’t be as good as we can be until we are humble enough to learn from others.

3.  After the learning, the work begins.  We have to build the new things into our routine.  We have to make the new things into a better habit.

4.  Like it or not, we have to be disciplined and consistent in our pursuit of excellence.  We stop doing the things that achieved excellent results, the excellent results will disappear.  We must “do” what we “know” to be effective.