The Pickle Jar

By Coach Joe aka SwimmerJoe

When I was 12 years old and an age group swimmer for the Blue Dolfins at Rollins College, Dr. Keith Bell, a famed sports psychologist, came and taught us a little lesson about consistency that many kids really don’t see too often today.  Dr. Bell held up a huge pickle jar full of uncooked popcorn. Each kernel represented the practices of a swimmer. 

He started talking to us about commitment, consistency, and doing things properly everyday. 

Then Dr. Bell asked us, “What if you miss a practice or two?” 

And then he took a handful of the kernels out of the pickle jar. The kernels represented the missed practices.  Then he said, “What if you just go easy and don’t really concentrate on what you are doing in a few practices?”  

Then he took another handful out. 

He went on to mention a day off on Friday and a day off for a party, and then two days off to watch a game for a brother.  Three big handfuls came out of the jar.

Then it became clear; I figured it out.  Dr. Bell was showing us how much we lose out of our “tank reserves” when we skip practice, dryland, or a regular practice.  The jar was a little less than half full after all the missing and distractions.

Then came the biggie…Dr. Bell brought out a second jar with no kernels taken out of it….that signified the very dedicated athletes, the record breakers, the Olympians, the All-Americans that don’t miss, etc. Wow! What an example!

It was a early illustration of somebody like Michael Phelps, who chose to train Sundays, birthdays, and even Christmas day. Phelps has explained that gives him as many as 50 or more practices a year over his competition. 

Dr. Bell’s exercise has lived with me this entire time; it feels like it was yesterday. 

Today, most younger athletes and even many parents don’t realize the dedication it takes to be a high level athlete in any sport.  I am not implying you should miss really important family events and the like, but when Coach Charlie and I were kids, our parents always found a way to do both the family things as well as make it to every single practice!

There is a time to train and a time for rest….just not the entire season!  Right now I have swimmers that don’t really know how great they can be…perhaps they need the pickle jar story to show them through dedication and hard work, they can reach that potential.

Thanks, Dr. Bell!