In his new book PEAK Andres Ericsson (with Robert Pool) describes in detail how neuro science can now measure that which coaches (and teachers) have known for decades; namely that to move forward in pursuit of excellence you must break free of your comfort zone(s).
The value of deliberate practice, not merely 10,000 hours of practice, is measurable these days in a variety of ways. Sports, music, chess, and surgery – you name it and the evidence is irrefutable. You simply must push past what you already know and or can do in order to get better.
Another key component is developing mental representations of mastery. In our sport of swimming this would be in the area of developing flawless technique. Teach a competitive swimmer how to best move through the water using mental representations. Simply put, have a swimmer look at a video clip or even a still picture of a proper technique point, then film him/her and let them see the comparison. Then allow them to develop their own mental representation of them doing it correctly. Then allow them hours and hours of deliberate practice to adapt to that representation…all the while giving them information in the form of visual feedback.
We often use our phone to film a swimmer doing one thing or another that we are focusing on, and then send it to them so they can see it later. Sometimes, we will even show it to them at the pool if time allows.
It seems to us that there are the two equal parts to faster swimming…and we realize this is risky business, boiling things down to simplistic terms…technique and physical capabilities.
So we keep working the technique side…daily. And we have been emphasizing the comfort zone side daily as well, even if for only short periods of time.
Today we warmed up for about an hour then gave them a Finis tempo trainer. If you set it to function #2 you can set a time to a full second. Then we had them do a 200 or a 100 or even a 50 at goal pace. So, if a guy wants to swim 50 in 20.0 we had him set the TT at 10. He went from the block when the TT beeped and then stopped after the TT beeped for the 3rd time – the 2nd time he was in the water. If he was 4 yards short of the touch pad the conversation went like this. “When you put a suit on, rest and shave you will get some of the 4 yards but the remainder of the 4 yards comes from the work you do daily over the next several weeks”.
We are reinforcing the value of the daily work in training when we ask them to push outside of their current comfort zone. This constant daily pushing, breaking new ground, plus developing mental representations is going to be key to their speed going forward; plus their confidence improves over time. Next week we will do the same set and give them a chance to see if they are improving.
Swimming is beautiful –and brutal – in that the stopwatch never lies (thanks to Pete at UCD for that bit of wisdom).
Thanks to Craig at Brentwood Seawolves for untangling the TT. You must have a number divisible by 4 since the TT doesn’t have tenths of a second in setting #2. For example, a 1:56 200 you would set the TT at 29 while a 56 100 you would set it at 14.
Break new ground daily and you must get faster. As Steve Bultman at Texas A&M says, “You just don’t know when it will happen, but it will”.