Hang Up Those Question Marks

by SwimSwam 10

June 19th, 2017 Lifestyle

Courtesy of Stuart Dustan

If Charles Darwin had chosen not to bother questioning the origins of life on Earth, the assumption might have remained that a supernatural being, ‘God’, shaped each living organism on our planet. Of course, this belief has been since ‘blown out of the water’ due to the debate which ensued from Darwin’s Theory (or rather, fact) of Evolution through Natural Selection.

Questioning one’s beliefs and, debating the opinions of others, has transformed civilisation over the past 500-years; it remains our societies most important tool in progressing peace, social justice, and, science – although, this is not an exhaustive list.

Debate can reveal to an ‘opponent’ the gaps which permeate their knowledge and, may, lead them to fill-in said gaps of ignorance with the appropriate information. Criticism of an idea can lead the originator to question the accuracy of their belief and, can assist in improving it – this may entail abandoning it all together. At the very least, engaging in an open discussion about a concept can improve the advocate’s articulation of it to others.

An important distinction to clarify is the difference between the critique of an idea and, an ad hominem attack on a person. The former involves scrutiny of a thought created in one’s mind – it has no feelings, it does not care how much you criticise or ridicule it. The latter involves fallaciously rebutting an opposing point by attacking the person, rather than debating the argument itself; even if the criticism of the individual is accurate, it has no relevance on whether the claim made is valid.

Ad hominem non-sequitur:
“You’re an ugly person. Therefore, you’re wrong” – the perceived beauty or, suggested lack of, has no bearing on whether the opponent’s argument is sound or not.

Scrutinise what the person is saying, not who is saying it.

That said, there are many unfortunate individuals and, organisations, in society who cannot bear to hear an opposing opinion – particularly, one which confronts a long-held view. They wish to remain in the safety of those who agree with them and, run away from, or verbally attack, anyone who dares trespass into their blissfully ignorant world.

What is the worst that could happen? You’re proven wrong, through the use of rational argument – based on evidence. As I see it, you are left with two options: 1. You can continue to deny, in the face of logic and the evidence, that the critic’s view is not accurate and continue to shamefully remain within your ‘safe zone’ or, 2. Explore the person’s claims through your own research, and, if the evidence appears to be valid, accept it, utilise it and, voilà, you have improved your view/opinion/model/strategy/, etc.

No one’s opinion is infallible; rejecting to hear an argument against your view suggests you believe it to be so.

This skill can also be applied to your own ideas. Indeed, it is often essential to dispute one’s own beliefs before challenging those of others. How do you know you’re right? How do I know what I know, except that I’ve always been taught it is so, and, I’ve never been told otherwise?

As the philosopher, Bertrand Russell once said, “In all affairs, it’s a healthy thing now and then to hang a question mark on the things you have long taken for granted.” When is the last time you hung up those question marks on your long-held beliefs?

Depressingly, in the world of swimming, the art of critical thinking and scientific scrutiny has not permeated many levels nor is it a skill employed by all swimming coaches – I would boldly claim that the majority do not. That said, this is not entirely the fault of coaches. Unfortunately, the pool of scientific studies into competitive swimming is relatively limited and, can be rather difficult to find – not to mention that most coaches aren’t taught how to review or analyse, research papers. This a major shortfall on the part of swimming organisations and sporting bodies – a topic I wish to write about in the near future. Instead, coaches often resort to belief-based practices: copying other club programmes and reading swimming ‘manuals’ which are themselves based on dogma. Only now, as the evidence sources (and reliability) increases, we see the debunking of many traditional training practices – training which YOU likely use in your club programmes.

There has been no better time to debate the training prescriptions of other coaches, research the science available (and learn how to do it properly!) and, start questioning your own beliefs. No matter how long you have coached for, no matter what your track record is, no matter how strongly you believe you are right, hang up those question marks!

About Stuart Dustan

Residing in Scotland, Stuart has been coaching for numerous years and has belonged to a variety of clubs across the country. He started his coaching career with Forres Bluefins ASC moving on to Perth City SC whereby he worked alongside one of the most experienced coaches in Scottish Swimming, assisting with the development of a number of successful swimmers including an Olympic medal-winner. Stuart now spends his time coaching within a large swimming club in Dundee (Dundee City Aquatics) and, he is also a long-term member of the executive training team within one of the only specialist sprint clubs in the UK – Free Style SC. Free Style utilises an evidence-based and scientific approach to training. Stuart has experience as a researcher in Medical Science and he utilises this experience to critically review scientific literature related to athlete performance. He can often be found on Twitter engaging in respectful, yet critical debates with other coaches on swimming science (@SwimCoachStu).

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5 years ago

This is very different than the “normal” SwimSwam articles… I had to Google about half the words

Stuart Dustan
Reply to  Poptart
5 years ago

Poptart, I think that’s a really health exercise; I am forever searching through a dictionary. I hope you enjoyed reading. Cheers.

5 years ago

I’m sorry, but I’m pretty sure that the “theory” of God has not been “blown out of the water,” seeing that, according to various sources, 68-84% of the world believes in a higher power, a third of those believing in God.

Stuart Dustan
Reply to  huh?
5 years ago

Read carefully, you’ll notice I’m referring to evolution, in that, the idea of creationism has been “blown out the water”. It’s also worth noting that regardless of how many people believe something it may not be true – it’s also not a very good reason to believe something at all.

Reply to  Stuart Dustan
5 years ago

Your view that creationism has been “blown out of the water” is an opinion, which may not be true. As well as macroevolution, no matter how many people believe it to be true, may not be true at all.

Stuart Dustan
Reply to  huh?
5 years ago

The theory of Evolution by means of Natural Selection has been shown to be fully supported – the evidence does not rely on “how many believe it to be true”. We use carbon dating on fossils, DNA analysis and, we match traits to common ancestors to support it. I shall not go any further on this point within a swimming platform. You’re more than welcome to believe in ‘Creationism’.

5 years ago

Set that strawman up and knock him down! Most of the successful coaches I know have integrated various amounts of exercise science into their programming. Why attack other coaches? Why not just say hey we could all do a better job, here are some good resources? Which you don’t seem to provide any of…

Stuart Dustan
Reply to  O_O
5 years ago

You’ll perhaps notice that I stated it is “not entirely the fault of coaches” and, declared. “this a major shortfall on the part of swimming organisations and sporting bodies”. I also mentioned I would write in the future about these failings and, indeed, what could be done about it. I also have a WordPress blog where I have wrote numerous articles (https://swimcoachstu.wordpress.com); you may be interested to read. Finally, I actively engage with coaches on Twitter @SwimCoachStu.

5 years ago

Maybe you can connect with Rushall and “prove” everyone else wrong.

Stuart Dustan
Reply to  Cynic
5 years ago

What an odd response – care to elaborate on that proposition?