Neil doesn’t know this, but I walked around for 2 years with a sticky note in my future plans folderon which was written, “Neil Harvey - Swimming - (416) 595-3424.” (Or something like that).
I knew that if I was going to race triathlon I would need to learn how to swim, so one day I asked the swim coach at the U of G for his thoughts. He asked where I was from and gave me that sticky note.
Neil was the swim coach at NTC when I started there. He was fresh off an Olympic cycle and was coaching current and future Olympians, Ironman Champions, alongside World and Jr. World Champions. For him to even watch my stroke was probably a waste of his time. After our first practice I could tell Neil wasn’t all that interested.
This would be my challenge. Capture interest.
As an athlete, in some way this part was easy. Work hard. Really hard. If nothing else, it’s at least entertaining to watch someone working hard, especially when you throw a land-based mammal in the water. Working hard and improving was the way to capture the interest of a swim coach. Fortunately for me, starting at 6:00 for a 400m TT provided plenty of room in that regard.
In learning how to swim I began to understand that, for Neil, this was as much about developing us as competitors and thinkers as it was about anything else. Consistently he found his way underneath our logical minds with comments like: “Don’t be alarmed if you find yourself swimming fast.” and “Hard is good. Winning is hard.”
He was teaching me to swim, but more than that, he was coaching me to train, to compete, and to think.
Neil has a way of knowing what an athlete needs to hear, not necessarily what they want to hear. Along with that comes saying what needs to be said, and not necessarily what wants to be heard. It’s like looking into a mirror and seeing what’s really there. Honesty.
Not only did that honesty help develop me as a swimmer, it also changed that way that I look at myself and my thoughts. What are the thought’s you're actually thinking? What are the actions you’re actually taking? When the pack stretches out at 400m, what decisions are you actually making?
There’s of course way more to the story, and all that will be told in time. For now I’ll just reassure your suspicions that for Neil, as with all my coaches, once again this is about way more than triathlon.
Thank you Neil.