Addressing Persistent Weaknesses

by Mike Coughlin

Addressing weaknesses is a tricky thing. Once identified, it is tempting to either fight them like a gladiator, or avoid dealing with them altogether. The latter approach will ensure weaknesses remain so, while the former is likely to erode strengths and lead to burnout. I know this to be true because I have tried each of these strategies!

So how hard should we work on our weaknesses? First, it is worth noting that a weakness may actually be a hidden strength if it has never been deliberately trained, as many adult-onset athletes have joyously discovered. If this is the case, regular training of the activity or skill will reveal this wonderful news. If it is a persistent weakness, such as my swimming for example, the following strategies can help.

  • Connect the weakness with your goals: Motivation to work on persistent weaknesses is typically low, and a vague sense of “getting faster” isn’t usually enough. By recognizing exactly how improving a weak area will result in achieving a goal, motivation improves. My goal race at the Ultraman World Championships last year included a 10k ocean swim, so it was easy to connect working on my swimming with race success there.

  • Find the strength within your weakness. Even within weaknesses we have strengths. Though trial, error, and testing, it was determined that I was most effective as a swimmer with a high stroke rate. Although 10k is a long way to swim that way, I trained specifically to be able to hold a high stroke rate for 3 hours.

  • Be creative and try new things. When classic approaches to swim training that I had used for years were no longer resulting in improvements, I shook things up with different swim groups, multiple swims per day on some weeks, and challenging drills such as dragging a towel attached to an ankle band through the water. Some ideas were more effective than others (water treadmills did not work well for me for example), but a willingness to experiment helped me break through my plateau.

With motivation, context, and creativity, weaknesses can be improved with time and energy left over to do what we all like best – maximizing our strengths!

Enjoy the ride,


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