Sunday, December 9, 2012

Knoxville Clinic

We just spent the last several days in Knoxville at the Winter Junior Nationals. At every meet there runs concurrently an informal clinic as coaches and swimmers discuss the wide range of topics of interest to them. We were struck particularly with how fast some of the front runners were in the various heats. 

And in the finals it was even more pronounced – the fast were really fast.

We started thinking about how they get that way…really fast. Since this is competitive swimming (and competitive coaching too!) we found ourselves going back to basics.

The cell needs energy – fuel – to work. That energy comes from ATP. The cells create ATP from two sources; oxygen and lactic acid. An event that takes less than 2 minutes (which is most of the ones in our meets) requires the cells to make ATP from lactic acid and to a lesser extent oxygen.

Now this mix is the constant source of debate among coaches. We will admit that we are not scientists and therein may lay the flaw to our reasoning. Yet we remain convinced that the most important muscle in the body is confidence. And when it comes to swimming fast, especially in the big meets, the one thing that builds confidence is fast swimming in practice. Fast practices create fast expectations. Few if any athletes excel with diminished expectations.

We wonder how many miles the typical elite 400 meter and 800 meter runner ran as a 12 year old. We are going to research that one. Our guess at this point is not nearly as many as some of our 12 year old swimmers swim, even factoring in the 4:1 ratio of running to swimming. The 400/800 runner is our 100/200 swimmer.

Now we grant you that running is much more impactful than swimming and therefore it is unreasonable to assume that they could run that much even if they wanted/needed to do so. And yet we wonder what is the value of all those yards as proscribed by the proponents of high yardage to build the aerobic base for the future?…especially when the fastest swimmers aren’t using all that much aerobic functioning while racing.

And that’s what this is all about – racing.

Our supposition is that the value of laps as a youngster is the imbedding of technical know-how. Groove your strokes; build muscle memory, myelin wraps. More importantly it is the feel for the water and how your various levers and muscle groups work in concert with one another to move you through the water.

We posed these thoughts briefly to David Marsh of SWIM MAC. His reply was, “That’s the question we should be asking.” He also said he figured he was probably swimming far less than most of the other athletes at the meet. He admitted to doing widths in a 6 lane pool twice a week.

Dave Salo dropped the line in Las Vegas at the ASCA clinic that he is more concerned with metabolic rates than heart rates.

Greg Troy at the same clinic said the swimmer who maintains their stroke technique the longest in a race usually wins – especially at the elite level where the athletes are generally at the same level of fitness (all right, that can be argued as well…).

Elite level coaches Marsh, Salo and Troy have empirical evidence to support their various methods of training. We wonder as we prepare our teenagers for the rigors of college swimming if we need to spend all that much time counting laps.

We may just be better served counting high speed efforts…and when the stroke falls apart then stop and swim easily (not necessarily slowly) rebuilding the technique, working the myelin wrap.

The swimmer, who can swim faster repeats – even if that means only 25 or 50 yards- and more of them, will create more confidence thereby building higher expectations. To our knowledge no one ever got to the top – and remained there – without expectations of doing so.

To simplify; to build technique you need lots (as in countless) of strokes done correctly; to swim fast you need the technique done quickly; to swim fastest you need both. Do that and you will have a waiting list for your team, and swimmers in the A final at Nationals.

Your comments please…

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