We just returned from the NCSA Junior Nationals in Orlando, Florida. What an awesome week of swimming and reconnecting with friends, colleagues and teams. An added bonus is that a meet like this is really a clinic within a meet. What follows are some observations from the meet/clinic.
The fastest swimmers hold onto a lot of water and have a very consistent tempo. That tempo is almost universally higher than lower in freestyle and backstroke. In fly and breaststroke the tempo is consistent and most are able to get down the pool in 8 strokes, plus or minus a tad depending on their ability to hold water. In these two strokes the trend is a stroke or even two more on the last lap, especially in the 200’s. All of these observations are consistent with the latest data publish by US Swimming on the subject of tempo.
Turns have enormous value. If a swimmer has developed the ability to dolphin kick underwater they have a distinct advantage over those who have not done so. The young gal who won the 1650 used three rapid bursts of dolphin kick off 66 walls shortening the pool to 18 yards per lap. She only swam 1,188 yards. There were many other examples of swimmers swimming only 50-55 yards in 100 yard races.
People who can hold their breath swim faster than those who need to breathe a lot. This is dramatically true in events of 200 yards or less. We watched many races of 100 back and fly where the first lap underwater was impressive, only to watch the distance travelled below the surface rapidly diminish as the laps continued. The folks finishing up front stayed down. Miguel asked us before his 50 back sprint what his strategy should be. He was kidding of course. It is after all a sprint. We answered this way. “Hold your breath for 15 meters, take 3 or 4 breaths, hold your breath for half a pool length, take 4 or 5 more breaths.” He got it...and did it.
Fast swimmers come in all sizes. Their shapes bear some similarities. They appear remarkably fit. They look very healthy. They are very strong. They pop out of the pool after their races, easily climbing out with a pull up…winded somewhat but not beat up. They all are very flexible. They have solid core muscles. To use a famous coach’s words after the rubber suits were banned a few years ago, the fast swimmers have all built their own Blue 70’s.
The kids finishing fast enough to get nighttime swims (in this meet, the top 32 swimmers out of prelims) seem to be more comfortable in the spotlight. The word “confident” comes to mind but it is more than that. Perhaps we might say “at ease being in the spotlight” or “knowing they belong in the elite level” of the meet. Even those there for the first time seem somehow a little different, even if they are scared poopless inside. For better or for worse, they have accepted their “plight” as it were and are ready to do their darnedest with the opportunity.
More coaches need to smile. A lot of the professionals seemed a little too imbued with their place in the general outcome. We believe that swimmers are due the credit when they swim fast and conversely need to accept the responsibility when they don’t. It is probably 99% their preparation or lack thereof that makes the difference. The coach is a facilitator, a teacher. Their work gets done at practice. The meet tells the coach and the swimmer if the work done was merely sufficient or not…or in some cases exemplary. Coaches need to be a source of calm and steadiness in fast times as well as slow times. Good coaching is invaluable...but only if the athlete has prepared him/herself.
We know we learned a lot more by watching our swimmers than by taking their splits. Billy’s gang from Davis swam lights out. We never saw him take a split. We officially are retiring our pen. Live Results or Meet Mobile can do that task.
Ken has said a few thousand times that he can tell if a swim is a good one without looking at his watch. The time a swimmer posts is just a time. The value lies in the swim itself. We use watches for tempos more these days than anything else.
Team means more than anything. We had some really fast swims, a lot of best times and a few races which we would like to have a 'do over'. We swam 15 relays and without exception those swims were awesome. Racing for a team gives our 'individual' sport more meaning in many ways.
We cannot wait for Monday when we can stop this silly nonsense called 'tapering' and get back to that which we embrace daily, work.
In case you wonder why that is, it is simple; work works.