Sunday, April 28, 2013

A Breakthrough of Sorts

When we got back from Orlando in March we took stock of our swims and had to admit we really weren’t in as strong a position as we needed to be for our 500 freestyle event. Our swimmers raced with intention but didn’t have the necessary conditioning and skills, both physically and mentally to do the swim the way they wanted to.

So we made some adjustments. First we called spades spades. We didn’t sugar coat it. We simply said we need to train more specifically for that event for those who want it on their list.

So for the last 5 weeks we have done the following: every Monday we have gone 10x500 on the 5:30 or 6:00 or 6:30 or 7:00 depending on the swimmer. The first 5 are negative split and the last 5 are negative split and progressive. Every Wednesday we have gone 3 rounds of the following: 1 x 500/ 5:30 (or 6 or 6:30 or 7) and then 5x100 as fast as you can go on 2 minutes.

We did this faithfully. We didn’t have complete joy in the ranks but we didn’t care about that. We wanted our swimmers to know the event inside and out. As Dick Jochums would say, “specificity works.”

This last week on Monday we went 8 x 500 (instead of 10 – a 20% reduction), 1-4 NS and 5-8 progressive. On Wednesday we went the following set:

1x100/1:20 strong
5x100/2 fast as possible
1x200/2:20 strong
4x100/2 fast as possible
1x300/3:20 strong
3x100/2 fast as possible
1x400/4:20 strong
2x100/2 fast as possible
1x500/5:20 strong
1x100/2 fast as possible

We had the somewhat slower swimmers go the 100 on 1:20, the 200/2:40, the 300/4, the 400 on 5:20, the 500 on 6:40...all the 100’s fast on the same 2 minute interval.

We had some very impressive swims on the 100’s fast as possible plus the 300, 400 and 500. This week at their high school meet on Friday, several of the swimmers posted lifetime bests and the rest had really solid swims.

We believe the training over the last few weeks has improved their conditioning and confidence and awareness of where they are in the event as they swim it. And those are really important qualities to have as you face your big swims…no matter the event or distance...

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Lemonade and Skylights

We are always working to get our swimmers to realize they have a place in the process of our/their team’s growth. A lot, in fact maybe most, of our youngsters have very full days. They get up early for either morning workouts or school. They go pretty much fully scheduled until after school when they do some homework, socialize a bit then get to the pool for practice...where of course they socialize some more while working out...that is "coach speak" for "they need to work harder and socialize less".

But the upside of that situation is that they are having fun interacting with each other while ostensibly training to get better at their craft. Our team is no doubt much like many of may even be like your workplace "team"---working more or less diligently to finish a project or get a bid together while having some socialization time. We humans tend to be social...but this is not a commentary on the population and its tendencies so we apologize for the digression...

Back to today...we have a swim-a-thon in progress right now. It is a chance to do two things at one time; 1 - raise some money for the team and 2 -  raise the awareness about our team within its community while simultaneously increasing the size of that community. However, to do that each team member must commit to the process of asking folks to sponsor them...and here is the rub.

Our kids, maybe like yours, have trouble doing that. It's not that it is hard to do so; it is that it is out of their realm of normal activity to do so. We coaches prod them, encourage them, and do some role playing on how to ask…all the usual stuff. Most folks will say “yes” when asked to help the team but the "ask" is the critical component.

For many it is far easier to ask their parents to write a check...and we say NO to that. The parents are always writing checks and that is the point. Swimmers must learn that they are involved in the growth and financial health of their team. A “laps for donations” event is so common place these days – think walk-a-thons and bike-a-thons and you name it, it is out there.

So why is it so challenging to get our swimmers to do this?

And so we come to the title of today’s writing. Ken was his usual brilliant self at our team meeting on Saturday explaining how sometimes we must do the difficult work to enjoy what we have. He spoke of his new (to him) home with its wonderful deck and shade trees and sounds of birds and quiet. He told the team how he likes to often sit on the back deck with cold lemonade and simply relax and enjoy the peace and quiet that the space affords him. He weaves a tale like none other – believe me!

Then he spoke of the work that was needed to enjoy the space. He spoke about the leaves that need to be raked and the skylights in the house that needed to have the bird poop cleaned and how that part wasn’t so much fun…but he sure liked the lemonade...

There were lots of smiles in our circle…the kids got it better than any other admonition or exhortation...gotta do the dirty work to get the reward. That’s the way it works...learn that much and the swim team will have been an enormous value...regardless of how fast you ever get.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

The Thread vs. the Whiteboard

We are reading “Bruce” by Peter Ames Carlin. This is a fascinating story of how Bruce Springsteen grew from a normal youngster into the living, still relevant musician. We choose the word “normal” because he really was just a kid who grew up in a working class family. His introduction to rock music per se was watching Elvis on TV and being fascinated by the whole concept. He begged his Mom to rent him a guitar. He and “it” – his career – went from there.

In the mid 1990’s he talks about – Carlin writes – it being “…particularly important to a veteran artist who couldn’t abide the prospect of being dismissed as a figure from yesteryear.”

Springsteen says, “You’re having a conversation with your audience. If you lose the thread of that conversation, you lose your audience. And when people say so-and-so don’t make any good records anymore, or people talk about favorite bands from whom they haven’t bought any records of in the past fifteen years, I always feel that the reason is they lost the thread of that conversation and the desire to make that conversation keep growing.”

We believe coaching is very similar. We are very much having a “conversation” with our team. We talk about our values, our concept of “team”, and our commitment to teaching life lessons, the value of swimming well not just fast. We promote swimming in high school, college and Masters swimming.

In our opinion, the talk is cheap; the conversation and the delivery of that conversation is that which distinguishes relevant coaching. A whiteboard workout is useful if it helps explain a complex set. It does not ever take the place of the personal interaction – the conversation – that distinguishes the relevancy in the delivery of a program.

When we see a whiteboard posted and a coach sitting on the sidelines we feel badly for the swimmer and our profession.

A coach and his/her program are only as powerful to the team as is the involvement in the conversation. Rest on your laurels at your own peril. 

Monday, April 8, 2013

Rubbing Elbows With Success and Failure

Someone once said, “Wisdom and foolishness are nearly the same thing because they are indifferent to the opinions of others.” And so it was last Saturday when we asked our team for their best unrested times in 100 free plus another event if they had one…most did. We even used a 200 IM and cut it in half. We got everyone’s times and after a suitable warm up of about 1800 yards we went into another short set of about 1200 yards powering up a bit.

We then asked them to swim 8 x 100 from the blocks within 2 seconds of their best unrested time. There was no interval and they could go home as soon as they completed the task. We allowed another nearly 90 minutes of time. A couple got all 8 done using 8 attempts; a few needed 9 or 10; a few more got several of the 8; a few didn’t get but 1 or 2 while using 6-8 attempts. One even emailed after practice that her time had been wrong and after she looked it up she actually was 9 for 10!

What was more interesting than the times they swam was their reaction to the set before they even got on the blocks for the first one. You can imagine the self-talk…it ran the gamut from dread (“I’ll be here all afternoon”) to some excuses (“That set last night killed me” – we did Jack Baurle’s 40x50 on the .40) to excitement (“Man, this is way better than what I was expecting”).

Then the times started coming in…and thus the title above. From success to failure which allowed dismay to surface, to failure to success which allowed determination to carry the day – we saw it all unfold over the course of 90 minutes. Some over-tried and got crushed; some learned to relax and be smarter about their execution; some asked to recheck their times (to make it easier!) and one said, “I just did my best unrested time, perhaps I should reset it – the goal time – right now!”

It was interesting to see how a difference of 2 or 3 tenths of a second could affect their mood swings. We talked about it right on the spot…really need to let go of the result and get back to the process. Work the process and you just may get the result…and if you don’t at least you are working on the “right thing” namely the process and not the result.

We talked about the swimmer we saw from a local team last summer miss his Olympic Trial cut by .01 in the 200 fly…and how that swim was viewed by him, his teammates, his coach, and his parents. Every swimmer usually has an opinion about a race and a time. What is fascinating from the coaching side of the equation is just how that opinion influences the swimmer, her next race, his next workout, indeed an entire season or training block may hinge on a single race.

We think what is even more significant and important in the long range growth of the swimmer (and ultimately the person) is their own outlook on what just happened.

When a swimmer is “off” a little in practice, can he relax and bounce back during the set. When she has a tough day, can she toss it aside and rebound soon thereafter? If a race doesn’t work out as planned what is the effect on the next race? Or if the entire season’s success rests upon achieving a “cut” for that special meet and it is missed by a tenth – or less, what is the impact on the next season?

Conversely, if success rolls along how is that handled? Does the swimmer think she has it “made” from here on out? Does he think he knows pretty much what he needs to know and stops looking for more knowledge? Or one of the biggest hurdles, “I made my cut and I’m going to the meet!” Those swimmers are best served by staying home and letting a teammate with more vision bring home a T-shirt for them, since making the cut was the “success”.

In The Ballad of Blasphemous Bill, Robert W. Service observes that in the unforgiving world of the gold rush in Alaska any number of things can kill a man. He includes “avalanche, fang or claw, battle, murder or sudden wealth…” It seems to us that the same conditions prevail in the pool relevant to the forward progress of our swimmers.

On Saturday while we were curious about the times they might be able to post, we were far more intrigued by their reaction to the whole adventure that was theirs for the taking.

Have a great week!

Monday, April 1, 2013

Kevin Cordes

After you watch the video of this awesome swim go back and watch it again with a stop watch in your hand and do some basic math. He is swimming about 100 yards of breaststroke. The other 100 yards are covered in his pull throughs. Except for the dive (about 6.1) he is underwater for about 5 seconds on average from the time his 2nd hand leaves the wall until his head breaks out. You have 8 walls x 5 seconds = 40 seconds for 100 yards. He is covering the remaining 100 yards on the surface in about 68 seconds, or less than 7 tenths of a second per yard travelled.

Also note how high he holds his hips prior to activating his kick. Talk about holding your line!

You can do the same thing with your 12 year olds or your 50 year olds. Do the math and then figure out how to swim fast enough for the remaining time needed to cover your specific distance in your specific time. Of course the same holds true for the other strokes and the IM.

You can then do some very specific time and distance per stroke training to get the feel of the demands of your goal swim.

Congratulations to Kevin on a fabulous swim and a shout out to his coaches at Arizona and Dave Krotiak at Fox Valley for setting this man up. What collaboration indeed!