Joju Aranda wants you to be water.
“Most people think that if you move super-fast or just use strength, you are going to swim better, but, you have to use the water to swim,” says Aranda. The Spanish swimming coach who now lives, trains, and coaches in the Canary Islands of Spain, has a different approach to coaching swimming that doesn’t revolve around meters, equipment, or 100-meter repeats. With swimmers of all ages, from around the world, from beginner to professional triathletes and swimmers, under his guidance, just maybe Aranda is on to something.
Aranda started swimming at nine years old and within two weeks he had learned all four strokes. “I always had a good feeling in the water,” he says. “I’m always relaxed in the water. I feel safe and happy, and it was like that from the beginning. When I started to compete, my goal was always to achieve that feeling of calm. I’m not the strongest swimmer but, all the time, I can use my mind to swim well.” Aranda was a member of the Spanish national team for years, ranked in the top 8 within Spain, and collected many accolades, medals, and honours. In his final years of university, Aranda knew he wanted to coach so he transitioned from being in the pool to being on deck.
But his mindset didn’t change.
Aranda’s superpower as a swimmer is the same superpower he has as a coach: his mindset. Now with two decades of coaching experience, he is focused on giving that experience and skill to every one of his swimmers. “I give calm to my swimmers, working on their confidence and giving them tools and skills to help them have that calm and confidence the water,” Aranda says. In practice, he says he mirrors that mindset in his actions, never yelling at his swimmers or having any negative energy. He tries to understand the mindset of his swimmers too, paying attention to body language, asking them how their day was, seeing how they put their equipment down, noticing if they are smiling. “I can’t always speak to them, but I can see, I always pay attention,” he says. Aranda’s philosophy doesn’t mean his swimmers get off easy—his hard training sessions are enough to push any athlete—but it’s about having a calm mindset, especially when you’re being pushed physically and mentally, so you can work with the water, not against it.
“You have to be water,” Aranda says. Or rather, like water. Drawing inspiration from the Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu, water can adapt to any situation, it doesn’t fight, it flows, and so he tells his swimmers, “think, feel, flow.”
"Water is the softest and most yielding substance. Yet nothing is better than water, for overcoming the hard and rigid, because nothing can compete with it."
— Lao Tzu
“The water gives back what you give. If you give the water stress, the water gives you stress. If you move your hand in the correct rhythm, you’re going to hold more water. You have to be in balance with the water,” Aranda says. “First, swimmers have to change their mind,” he explains, noting it can be the most difficult step. Whether it’s a fear of the water, a frustration from lack of improvement, or a competitive athlete looking for a new edge, “they have to think and feel, and then when they connect with the water, they swim faster,” Aranda smiles.