The can't syndrome

I feel very lucky as a swim coach being able to integrate with our wonderful teaching staff at BPS. It always offers insight into strategies and opportunities to develop learning on poolside, to get the best out of our students.

A few words which are well used in international schools across Asia are Open and Closed mind-set. In basic terms, these terms describe the ability of someone to take on board a new or challenging task, before striving to complete it in a positive way. Conversely, a closed mind-set would simply garner a negative response which sees the task remain incomplete.

On a recent teachers CPD day, we sat through a power-point which challenged us as staff to show our own mind-set (you can imagine the enthusiasm around the room at this point). We were asked to write down, in private, one skill which we have always wanted to learn, or have always admired in someone else. The challenge was set, 6 months… ride a skate board (without looking too ridiculous).

I walked away, still wondering if it was really worth spending the time learning a skill which had no obvious benefits to my career.

During the following few months, I barely touched the board thinking “you will be fine, do it next week and you will have plenty of time to learn”.

However, as time went on, I started to get more and more nervous about an activity which I had been so confident about just weeks earlier. I started to feel the common feelings associated with closed mind-set… “I can’t do it” and “If I don’t start, I can’t fail!”

Mind-set can be learnt, it can be practised. The hardest part is beginning the journey, beginning with the “I can!”


During our season, triggers are formed for certain responses. Swimmers can say any word and a session can become one for the ages, or equally a total write off. We move through tens of thousands of meters per week, and yet one word has the ability to change everything.

The word “can’t” is banned at swim sessions, the word “can’t” is a virus which can hold back a swimmer, hold back a squad from achieving what they are capable of. My favorite repost ‘I don’t write sets you cannot do, just sets which challenge you to be better’. Swimmers strive to become the best they can be yet, in the deepest of winter, the very darkest early morning sessions often bring out the ‘I can’t’ speech… it’s too hard.

There are times when this word creeps into all of us, when the task at hand seems too much to comprehend. As a coach, I am the first to admit there are times where I feel like it. It is at this point that we must break the task down and push on, building character and resilience, allowing us to open our mind to the learning opportunity rather than giving in to the task at hand.

When you are next at the pool, coach, parent or swimmer, be the one with an open mind, be the one who says “I can” and see if you’re swimming or coaching, or even life goals suddenly get more achievable.

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  1. Posted by Brian Taylor, 13/11/2017 at 19:05