Sunday, March 29, 2015

About a Third of the Time

We coach a small prep school which has a few swimmers on it who have never been at a swim meet before. You can imagine the trepidation when it comes to learning to dive off the blocks. At a recent meet one of our girls, Emma, said she wanted to go off the blocks, that it was a little embarrassing to use the side of the pool.
So we went to work and she figured out how to launch herself in a reasonably respectful way. Her dive wasn’t the best nor the clumsiest…nicely in between. What was interesting though to us was that near the end of the 15 minute teaching session, after she had mastered the basics we told her, as she climbed up for one more practice start, “You don’t want to use up all your good starts. Save a couple for the meet.” She looked back a little confused. Us again, “You only have so many good dives in your career so be sure not to use them all up early.” More confusion…then we smiled and said, “Emma, only about a third of what we say is actually true. The rest is just noise. Your job is to figure out which third.” We all smiled knowing that we had shared a teaching moment.
We won’t get into a discussion on the actual percentages here. That’s not the point. What is the point is that no source is correct 100% of the time. Some sources are correct all the time about certain points. Gregg Troy comes to mind when he says, “I know of no pursuit where doing less work brings more results.” (Apologies to Gregg if we have butchered the words but the meaning is crystal clear). But we doubt if Gregg – as accomplished as he is – believes he knows everything there is to know about competitive swimming. We bet he is learning nearly every day.
Love the internet; hate the internet; all that information; all that misinformation. Our task is to sift and find what really works and more importantly, what really works in our individual specific situation. Then add in to the mix we are working with people. Each person is different and so…
You get the idea. Figure out what is true for you and let go of the rest. If every good idea sends you scampering off in a new direction you will never stay the course long enough to know whether your path will lead you to your goal.
It makes life interesting and certainly worth living. See you at the pool!

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Taking the Next Step

We are flying home from Orlando after participating in yet another fabulous NCSA Winter Junior Championship. It is an amazing and most stimulating experience to watch so many (1625) swimmers from such a wide diversity of clubs (289 plus Unattached) come together to race.
For our team, North Bay Aquatics, the challenge is very clear. How do we take the next step from qualifying for the meet to earning a spot in the top 40 for a night time final swim? The question is very well defined. The answer is more intriguing.
Swimmers are so inculcated to chase time standards. This awareness on their part begins at a very early age. First there are B standards, or cuts as they are simply called; then A, AA, AAA, AAAA; then Junior Olympic. The list goes on all the way to Olympic Trials cuts. Except for a very few in the population of our sport, most of our swimmers need to “lay it out there” to simply get the cuts to go to the meet.
Then when they go to the meet they face the challenge of moving up from 188 seed to top 40 (in this particular meet) so they can swim at night. In swimming lingo they want to “get back”.
So how do we as coaches assist them in the process of going from getting the cut so they can go to the meet to pushing their way into the top 8 or 16 (in the case of our high school championships or to 24 or 32 at most major senior meets or even top 40 at NCSA? When we know the answer and have the readymade solution we will have a waiting list for our club.
It seems to us that the list of demands includes – but is certainly not limited to the following:
Create challenges in training that mimic the meet
Create stressful environments to simulate the meet
Create awareness on their part that this is actually possible for them
Create time and space for both us coaches and our swimmers to brainstorm this challenge
The key concept here is “Create”…that is what forward thinking, ever expanding coaches do. We create. It is easy to follow someone else’s blueprint but that doesn’t answer the critical component – our swimmer(s); our situation(s).
Each swimmer is unique, each training environment is different. Each team trains at a different time of day. We met one team on this trip who trains from 4-6AM 5 days a week and then swims and lifts on various afternoons.  Those kids are used to getting up early – 3:30 – and performing long before the sun rises. If you cannot swim fast in the morning, you will not get a nighttime swim. Ask any college coach about this; something to think about for sure.
We would love to see a major coaches’ clinic discuss this topic. We think it is critical to keeping our athletes moving forward. If a swimmer makes a cut – say for NCSA for instance – and is seeded top 100. The jump from 100 to 40 is often less than a second in short races, no more than a couple of seconds in 100’s, less than 4 in 200’s…you get the picture. Since kids are used to chasing times, we have them be aware of those top 40 cuts. Then we work at the process of “what do you need to do to make your jump?”
You will know when we have been uber successful. How? You will see lots of NBA swimmers in those finals. That is our goal for the next 12 months. We have communicated this to our team. They have said they are “all in” for the work. See you in a year!

Sunday, March 15, 2015

The Power of Cycles

There are all sorts of cycles in life…and in sports. No one ever went straight from the bottom to the top, not ever. The body/brain combo is meant to seek an even keel…homeostasis if you will. We of course, being hard charging athletes, coaches and folks in general do not want any part of the lull between the peaks. Yet this constant self-regulating mechanism is always at work. And that it seems to us is the proverbial “good thing”.
Maddening for sure when it happens but nonetheless predictable. There are nearly always lows following highs. The trick is to let them flow by without attaching ourselves to them. We think the phrase “don’t sweat the small stuff” is a good one. The corollary is “it is all small stuff”. This is trickier since we have so much of our time and personal energy invested in our pursuits.
We keep remembering Steve Bultman from Texas A&M saying that all hard work pays off; we just don’t know exactly when. We have a National level guy on our team who went 15 months without a best time…5 shaves…who then broke through to faster territory. The trick is to maintain your faith in your work and stay in touch with those things over which you have control.
The biggest asset you have is your attitude. When you stay in charge of your attitude all things are possible. When life gets tough and you surrender your attitude to the wind which is always blowing this way or that, that’s when the days get long and the nights get short.
Your greatest power in life is your power to choose. And with this great power comes great responsibility. You are accountable for who you are. You make the choice…even when you surrender your choice that is a choice in and of itself.
See you poolside and bring your smile!

Sunday, March 8, 2015

It’s all in how you use the words

We were watching Leo swim yesterday. He is a fairly new swimmer to our group. Like many younger swimmers he swims with his head way up, water line near his eyebrows, looking pretty much straight ahead.
We asked him how fast his 100 free is. He responded saying 52.3. We said back to him, “If you put your head down you would go 49 high”. Of course his eyebrows went up.
Then we said, “You don’t have to get in any better shape to do that, you just need to have a better shape in the water.” The whole pool got kinda quiet as that thought turned over in their minds. Then the smiles as they recognized how the same words meant different things.
Gotta love this coaching gig…see you pool side.

Monday, March 2, 2015

One Sharp Guy

On Monday at the meet Don asked Victor and me a very simple question, "What race do you think will be your white cap swim?" In no time at all I would have told you my first white cap swim will most likely be in the 50 Free, it is the race I am the most comfortable with and the fastest at.

And then my brain started to think. And after two days of thought I have come up with my answer. I have no clue. I have absolutely no clue what or when that race will be and frankly I don't want to. Racing is still something I am trying to figure out; it is like a secret formula with each ingredient being just as important as the last and no more important than the next.

And although I have not cracked the full formula I have figured just a few small parts; Sleep well before, Eat well, Warm up, don't breath, kick hard and many more. And here is my problem, what does every one of those things listed have in common? None of them are mental. Such a crucial part of my race has gone unnoticed. Much of my thought has been consumed in what mentally needs to take place during a fast race.

With help from Rebecca I have learned that in order to have a fast race you need to make your mind believe that you will/are having a fast race, mental conditioning of sorts. And this is something I have struggled with in the past year, getting into the race I am swimming. This weekend may not have been the best meet of my life but I learned two very important things about my swimming, first: if I believe I am not going to swim well I will not swim well. Second: if I truly believe I will have a great race, guess what, I have a great race. Getting a best time with pneumonia unshaved was primarily due to the fact that I was tired of two lousy days of swimming and I wanted to do well and believed that I could do well. I knew I put in lots of work over that past few months and that my body was ready to swim fast, all I needed to do was lean into it.

Because after all is said and done, training, speed camp and taper, it all depends on how you swim at the last meet. How you swim on that one race. It could be the 50 free or the 1650 which ever race I am ready to swim both mentally and physically when I truly believe that I will swim fast will be the one I will walk away from with a white cap. This could be next week or in 4 years; I have to decide.

TK is one sharp guy…and of course he will get his white National Team cap since he is unlocking the secrets…thanks for sharing big guy!