Certainty Of Outcome, Lessons from Legends

Chuck Warner, the author, is a coach and an old friend. Thoughtful and passionate about the sport, he has studied the details behind what it takes to achieve swimming excellence.

LESSONS FROM LEGENDS: Certainty Of Outcome

History proves that the person that can best ensure “Certainty Of Outcome” can have the world at their feet. Even Popes can submit to their requests. Swimmers and their coaches long for reaching a level of precise preparation that reduces chance and, as much as humanly possible, guarantees success.

We see examples of people who are compensated handsomely by ensuring “Certainly of Outcome” in many industries. Producers of movies pay tens of millions of dollars to actors that best deliver ticket sales at the box office of movie theatres. Corporate leaders, athletes and coaches are paid multi millions of dollars each year to ensure the success of companies and sports teams. People that are rewarded this way also tend to take enormous risks… on themselves.

All of those that accomplish consistent outcomes of success tend to practice three prodigious character qualities of:

  • Anticipation
  • Preparation
  • Dedication

The enormous variables for speed and success in the sport of swimming make attaining “Certainty of Outcome” virtually impossible but those that come closest are the rare athletes like Michael Phelps. They are also coaching legends that continually and consistently facilitate all types of swimmers toward reaching success at the sport’s highest level regardless of the circumstances and the obstacles that stand in their way.

To broaden our scope of understanding of this concept leading into the 2012-13 swimming year we might step back and consider what we can learn from world history about great masters of this quality. One of Lessons from Legends favorite examples is the great Italian artist Michelangelo. Renaissance art in a swim column? Why not?

As you may know, at 23 years old Michelangelo completed his sculpture of one of the most famous pieces of art in history, “The Pieta” that sits protected behind glass in St Peters Basilica in the Vatican City in Rome, Italy. The Legendary artist had a career that spanned another 60 years that included designing St. Peters Basilica at the Vatican. It is the very structure that now houses that piece of art.

Michelangelo could anticipate and visualize. He could look at a block of marble and see a beautiful figure in it. By locking onto the image he held in his mind he could consistently chip away all the excess that stood between the current reality and his vision of grace and beauty.

A swimmer or swim coach attempts to envision a season and anticipate it’s training, competition and goals based upon seeing that particular swimmer perform a time 20 or 30 weeks later. If you can’t see the end result, chances are you will never achieve it. Tough to do? Perhaps at first, but athletes and their coaches do it all the time. The most successful ones do it better than those that aren’t so successful. If you are a coach reading these words and find yourself struggling to see the athlete you’re coaching performing that goal swim, at the appropriate pace, strength, touch and energy requirements you are a blind person leading a hard working subject through darkness. Sometimes if you experience a diversion like a long run, hike or other relaxing period from intense work it will bring a visualization of your goals to light. The coach that sees the end result first is a great advantage toward helping his/her athlete achieve it.

A few years after the Pieta was completed, about 1501, the 26-year old Michelangelo took responsibility for an enormous block of marble that two other artists had rejected. The block was rejected because this particular stone was too brittle and difficult to work with and had sat unused for 25 years. Michelangelo saw something in it. A few years later out came the figure of “David” with his stone in hand and sling over his shoulder positioned to slay Goliath. The citizens of Florence were so impressed they built him a home and studio out of gratitude for the masterpiece and in the hope that he would continue to live in work in their city. For more than 500 years it has been one of the most admired artistic creations in the history of human civilizations.

Michelangelo had vision that any person on earth trying to achieve excellence can learn from.

We think preparing to swim fast is difficult. The preparation of a sculptor was arduous. One had to sculpt a model out of lighter material such as wax, and then create measurements on the model to the precise proportions inserting markings every six inches or so. Then they had to transfer those measurements over to a marble block and sculpt the form.


This is a quality that we take enormous pride in as athletes, coaches as well as parents in swim programs around the world to get to our potential. It is this dedication that can create the Certainty of Outcome that puts the USA at the top of the world at the Olympic Games.

Michelangelo’s dedication was immense. He was a sculpture not a painter.  When Pope Julius II was looking for someone to paint the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, one of the artist’s rivals in sculpture encouraged the Pope to choose Michelangelo in order to distract him from sculpting. The Florence resident didn’t want any part of painting. But the Pope threatened that if he didn’t come to Rome and paint the chapel ceiling that the leader of the Catholic Church would march his army on Michelangelo’s hometown of Florence.

Did the artist run down to Rome and perform quick work on the ceiling and hustle home?

Do coaches grumble through seasons upset at their circumstances? Do swimmers? Parents?

Truth be told, legend has it that Michelangelo did grumble about the project but he also spent six years of his life standing on lifts, bending his head backwards and lying on his back to paint one of the most admired masterpieces the world has ever seen…if his name was going to be on it, the master was going to deliver the most wonderful outcome he could possibly could.

This type of dedication under adversity is a part of nearly every great swimming champion. For example Rebecca Soni’s dominance in breaststroke in recent years came after a miserable period at the end of her high school years and first year or two of college. After her freshman year at USC the coach she went to swim for – Mark Schubert – accepted the position as USA National Team Director. When she started working with Dave Salo it was a very difficult adjustment. Six years later look where she is.

If you are a swimmer that is known to be able to deliver Certainty of Outcome it can translate into college scholarship assistance and possibly even sponsorships as a professional. As a coach it means being offered better positions and often better pay.

When 66-year old Michelangelo was commissioned by Pope Clement VII to paint the Last Judgment scene at the alter end of the Sistine Chapel he could dictate his terms. Legend has it he told the Pope that no one would help him or see the outcome until he had finished. They agreed. About four years later he revealed the result of his work. It included the body of one of the Bishops that the artist wasn’t found of, painted in the massive mural as on his way to hell. When the Bishop complained to the Pope about what the artist had done, the leader of the Catholic Church told him that if Michelangelo paints you in that position the only thing left  to do is pray to GOD for help – there’s nothing the Pope could do.

As fast as some of the swims may have seemed at the Olympics, with the perspective of history they will seem slow. If as a swimmer you can create a vision in your mind of swimming at your potential or as a coach you can see your swimmer’s potential, you may be on the way to achieving amazing results. But you must prepare and dedicate yourself to the outcome. When you struggle to stick with it consider spending six years flat on your back to finish your assignment that has your name on it.

There is only one Michelangelo. And there is only one you. Find your own method of ensuring Certainty of Outcome and you will have the world at your feet.

 Legendary Mullings:

Matt Hooper at the ASCA did a study of improved times for the USA swimmers from Trials to the London Games. The outcome was 65% improvement one of the great performances in Olympic history.

Chuck Warner has been a swimming coach for more than forty years. His teams have won seven national Y team championships, been runners-up for the NCAA Division II championship three times, been a USA National Team coach three times and Big East Conference coach of the year four times. Chuck has authored two books: “Four Champions, One Gold Medal” about the training and race for the 1500 meter gold medal in the 1976 Olympics. “…And Then They Won Gold: Stepping Stones To Swimming Excellence – Volume I” is out now. It is eight short stories of some of the greatest male swimmers in history. The second volume devoted to women’s swimmers is due out next year. He is the founder, President and CEO of Arete Aquatic Services and owner of the ARETE Swim Camp.

FOR MORE INFORMATION ON ORDERING“…And Then They Won Gold” go towww.areteswim.com and access “Books/Media.”

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8 years ago

Legendary Mullings: …Matt Hooper at the ASCA did a study of improved times for the USA swimmers from Trials to the London Games. The outcome was 65% improvement one of the great performances in Olympic history.” Well…you kind of only tell half of the story with the data at the end of this article, because very small changes in time positive or negative could influence the percentage you expressed above. A clear measure of “performance” for the US Olympic team in this case would be to calculate the “improvement rate”, or the overall change in times from the Trials to the Olympics for the whole team. This is commonly expressed as a percentage of change or average change in time.… Read more »

Reply to  DR. EVIL
8 years ago

There was one 800 (Kate Z) that was 15.5 seconds off Trials. If you remove that one from the total the wowen averaged .5 improvement per swim. In my eyes a fabulous performance (and much credit due Teri McKeever for ensuring a joyus atmoshpere for the squad).

According to Matt’s study the men improved 3.2 total seconds or about .12 per swim.

Your detail is appreciated and certainly appropriate but from a broad perspective it’s been a long time since the USA team was better 65 per cent of the time in the men and the women.

Reply to  Chuck
8 years ago

Chuck: Thanks for the response and the informative data. Point well taken! The additional data is important from the perspective that most club swimmers and parents that watch the Olympics just assume that these swimmers are all doing best times and making big drops, even when they win a gold medal. This additional improvement percentage data is typically never published for any level of swimming, but should be! Knowing the improvement rate for the best swimmers in the world is the best way to demonstrate that without all the hard work and sacrifice these athletes devote, even these small changes in performance could never really be possible! However…disappointed to see this information was moved/buried under a different heading than originally… Read more »

Reply to  DR. EVIL
8 years ago

Great point about making this information more available and useful. Perhaps a good seed for subject matter for an upcoming column.

About Gold Medal Mel Stewart

Gold Medal Mel Stewart

MEL STEWART Jr., aka Gold Medal Mel, won three Olympic medals at the 1992 Olympic Games. Mel's best event was the 200 butterfly. He is a former World, American, and NCAA Record holder in the 200 butterfly. As a writer/producer and sports columnist, Mel has contributed to Yahoo Sports, Universal Sports, …

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