A week ago we finished our high school championship weekends. On our club team we have swimmers in 13 different high schools representing 3 separate leagues which compete in 2 different CIF (California Interscholastic Federation) Section meets. To make matters even more challenging these meets happen over a three week span. So we decided and declared that “We are not tapering you.” We explained that each swimmer would need to figure out which meet – the League or the Section – was the most important and then tell us what they needed. To make matters a little more challenging, one Section has hard cuts and one has soft cuts (much like NCAA where there is an automatic cut and a consideration cut). So the swimmers had a specific idea of the cut or they had a reasonable idea of what it would take to make the Section meet.
Sound a little confusing? Well now you know what we (and they) were dealing with here in Northern California! At any rate the bulk of our club team races in the MCAL (Marin County Athlete League) meet and that league is in the NCS (North Coast Section) and we have soft cuts. So the majority of our club swimmers needed to choose when they were going to get their cuts. They had two choices; 1) at a dual meet where they got fired up and went a fast time or 2) at the League Champs meet.
After all the racing was done we (Ken and I) evaluated our swimmers performances at both the League and Section meets. For many, the Section meet was the more important one since it brought the fastest from the various leagues together in a “winner take all” environment. For others, the League was the big meet since it represented a level of competition that was more in line with their capabilities.
Our evaluation was this: from all the meets we had, nearly every swimmer got best times. Many scored points at their Section meet by placing in the top 16. Unfortunately, many of these best times came at the League meet, not the Section meet. At the Section meet we had several swimmers miss the A final and some miss the B final when the times they swam at the League meet would have been fast enough to make a B final at the Section meet.
If you are a coach or swimmer you understand all this. If not, no worries…what it means are that for many of our swimmers they did not swim their fastest when it counted the most. Wow, I (Don) should figure out a way to tell the story quicker!
Why did this happen is the critical question. Ken was his usual brilliant self in analyzing our dilemma. Too often the League meet is overblown for too many swimmers. They get wrapped up in the Meet where their parents, grandparents, friends etc. come to cheer. They get their name in the local paper; they get to be “League Champions” or “League Finalists”. To do this they put on tech suits and go a little faster. Some even shave when they don’t need to, to get the times they need to be in the Section meet.
Ken called it “spent emotional capital.” End of story. Look at any NBA team. The season is 82 games long. No player goes full blast for every minute of those 82 games. There are 16 teams that make the playoffs. Most of those teams already know they are in the playoff picture. They do not play hard for more than a few minutes a game until the playoffs, and then some still hold back…saving their “funds” (emotional and physical capital) for the games that matter the most…the ones that will lead to a berth in the Conference or League Championship series.
Our swimmers used too much (or in some cases all) of their emotional capital in the smaller, less significant meet. When they got to the Section meet they had very little “left in the tank”. And so their swims suffered.
Greg Troy, the Men’s 2012 Olympic Coach, told all coaches who had a swimmer with a chance to make the Olympic Team, to make sure they prepared their swimmer(s) for 2 meets. You cannot look past the US Olympic Trials meet if you do you may not make the team. However, the Games themselves are more important.
It is interesting to note that our swimmers who competed in the CCS Section, which had hard cuts, swam better at their championship meet since they knew in advance of they had a cut that would get them into the Section meet.
Bottom line is this. Each of us has a somewhat finite amount in the bank when it comes to emotional capital to spend. We need to make certain we spend it correctly. If we need to spend it to “get into the meet” then so be it. If we can get into the meet without tapping into our account then toughen up and do it! You will be even better served at the higher level of racing.