Sunday, December 28, 2008

In Between

At this time of year when we are between the main holiday season and the start of the New Year we have a chance for reflection; reflection on what went the way we intended and what didn’t go as planned.

We suggest a time of quiet reflection; a time filled with praise and appreciation for what you and those around you have achieved. It is true that those around you are a big part of your success and so it can be important to look at their progress as well as your own. Perhaps a training partner or a coach had a great breakthrough this year. That improvement may have actually been a reason that you achieved some measure of personal success.

We won’t go down the usual path of New Year’s resolutions in this space. We will however ask each of you to join us as we begin to look ahead with renewed enthusiasm and vigor. We spend a fair amount of time in our pursuit of excellence as coaches pondering the possibilities. We have weekly meetings that almost always include the “what if” component. We talk about individual swimmers, sub groups – the sprinters or the 200 gang – and the team as a whole. We include discussions about how our support structure can be improved; our access to water…the list is endless. What is constant is the fact that we discuss these items routinely.

We believe success comes from many places, has many influences. We encourage you to look at the past, the present and the future with equal inquisitiveness as you ponder your possibilities.

And of course, if we can assist you in any way, let us know!

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Breathing in the Pocket

One of the challenges when swimming freestyle is to keep your body aligned correctly when you turn your head for a breath. Once you have your head in the correct position - leading with the crown - you want to keep it there or as close to that position as possible.

When you turn your head for a breath do so with the absolute minimum of rotation. We have success with our swimmers by asking them to keep their lower goggle in the water. You can check this by making certain your eyes are open when you breathe and looking so that you see under water with the lower eye piece and just over the surface with the upper eye piece.

What is really cool is that in addition to this as you swim down the pool leading with the crown of your head you actually create a "bow" wave, similar to a boat pushing through the water. Right behind this wave is a small pocket that sits below the water line. You can breathe right in this small pocket, below the water line! That's right; you do not need to lift or turn your head above the surface to get a breath. In open water this may not be possible but in the pool unless there is a ton of chop it is easy to do so.

You cannot do this if you need to turn your head up for a long time so make certain you have exhaled nearly completely. This will allow you a quick turn of minimal distance enabling you to grab a bite of air in the pocket and then get your head back to the proper position.

When you watch an Olympic caliber freestyler you sometimes don't even really see the nose - that is how little the head turns. Play with this and see if it doesn't make your stroke more powerful since you no longer need to lean on your non breathing side arm while you get your head up so far out of the water.

Let us know how it goes for you!

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Self Discipline

Why are some people more successful than others? Why do some people make more money, live happier lives and accomplish much more in the same number of years than the great majority? I started out in life with few advantages. I did not graduate from high school. I worked at menial jobs. I had limited education, limited skills and a limited future. And then I began asking,

"Why are some people more successful than others?" This question changed my life. Over the years, I have read thousands of books and articles on the subjects of success and achievement. It seems that the reasons for these accomplishments have been discussed and written about for more than two thousand years, in every conceivable way. One quality that most philosophers, teachers and experts agree on is the importance of self-discipline. As Al Tomsik summarized it years ago, "Success is tons of discipline."

Some years ago, I attended a conference in Washington. It was the lunch break and I was eating at a nearby food fair. The area was crowded and I sat down at the last open table by myself, even though it was a table for four.

A few minutes later, an older gentleman and a younger woman who was his assistant came along carrying trays of food, obviously looking for a place to sit. With plenty of room at my table, I immediately arose and invited the older gentleman to join me. He was hesitant, but I insisted. Finally, thanking me as he sat down, we began to chat over lunch.

It turned out that his name was Kop Kopmeyer. As it happened, I immediately knew who he was. He was a legend in the field of success and achievement. Kop Kopmeyer had written four large books, each of which contained 250 success principles that he had derived from more than fifty years of research and study. I had read all four books from cover to cover, more than once.
After we had chatted for awhile, I asked him the question that many people in this situation would ask, "Of all the one thousand success principles that you have discovered, which do you think is the most important?" He smiled at me with a twinkle in his eye, as if he had been asked this question many times, and replied, without hesitating, "The most important success principle of all was stated by Thomas Huxley many years ago. He said, 'Do what you should do, when you should do it, whether you feel like it or not.'"

He went on to say, "There are 999 other success principles that I have found in my reading and experience, but without self-discipline, none of them work." Self-discipline is the key to personal greatness. It is the magic quality that opens all doors for you, and makes everything else possible. With self-discipline, the average person can rise as far and as fast as his talents and intelligence can take him. But without self-discipline, a person with every blessing of background, education and opportunity will seldom rise above mediocrity.

In the pages ahead I will describe seven areas of your life where the practice of self-discipline will be key to your success. These areas include goals, character, time management, personal health, money, courage and responsibility. It is my hope that you'll find a few "nuggets" that will help make your dreams come true.

The article above was excerpted from the book "The Power of Discipline" by Brian Tracy. It is reprinted here with permission. You may share this story as long as you do not edit the content; leave the links and this resource box intact.

Simple Truths, LLC.,
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Phone: 800-900-3427 / 630-946-1460
Copyright 2008, Simple Truths, LLC. All rights reserved.

"It has always been my thought that the most important single ingredient to success in athletics or life is discipline. I have many times felt that this word is the most ill-defined in all of our language. My definition of the word is as follows: 1. Do what has to be done. 2. When it has to be done. 3. As well as it can be done. 4. Do it that way all the time."-- Bobby Knight, College Basketball Coach

"Setting a goal is not the main thing. It is deciding how you will go about achieving it and staying with that plan. The key is discipline. Without it, there is no morale."--Tom Landry, NFL Football Coach

"I believe in discipline. You can forgive incompetence. You can forgive lack of ability. But the one thing you cannot ever forgive is lack of discipline."--Forrest Gregg, College & NFL Football Coach

"Why do I dominate the 400 meter hurdles? That's easy. Training. Just expertise. I know what I'm doing. I concentrate on this as much as I would engineering or physics or whatever I'd be doing. The discipline I had from engineering and physics got me through school and really stayed with me."--Edwin Moses, two time Olympic Champion

"Discipline is a part of the will. A disciplined person is one who follows the will of the one who gives the orders. You teach discipline by doing it over and over, by repetition and rote, especially in a game like football where you have very little time to decide what you are going to do. So what you do is react almost instinctively, naturally. You have done it so many times, over and over and over again."--Vince Lombardi, NFL Football Coach

"If my players work hard every day, then they won't have to worry about game plans, or where they play, or whom they play, or about rankings and so on. They have their daily behavior--their discipline--to fall back on."--Pete Carroll
"There are four parts of self that lead to success. The first part is discipline, the second is concentration, the third is patience, and the fourth is faith."--George Foster, MLB Player

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Angles and Leverage

We have had some success lately with our swimmers by encouraging them to focus on their hand position in all phases of the stroke: the catch, pull, push and recovery.

We talk constantly about angles and leverage. It is nearly impossible to do a push up with your arms straight out in front of you. You don't have enough strength. The closer your hands get toward your shoulders the easier it becomes to push your body up. This is because of the angle and the leverage you have.

Similarly when we swim, if we get our hands in the correct position it is easier to pull ourselves forward because we have better leverage on the water. Simply stated, keep your knuckles facing the direction in which you wish to travel. Keep your palms facing the opposite direction - that which you have just come from. Keep your finger tips pointed toward the bottom of the pool during the catch, pull, push and the recovery as well.

Many swimmers want a long fluid stroke and mistake that to mean that their hands should glide out in front, extending the entry as far forward as possible. When we see swimmers like this at the pool we often think, "Look at how long and smooth that swimmer's stroke is". Well, it may be long and smooth but it isn't very efficient. One of our coaches likes to say that "Water you can touch, but cannot grab, does you no good".

Indeed that is true. When your fingers are fully extended, palms facing the bottom of the pool, knuckles to the sky, you cannot pull yourself forward.

So, slip your hand into the water and immediately get your fingers facing the bottom by cocking your wrist, bending your elbow keeping your shoulder and armpit up. Think of it this way...your fingers are below your wrist, which is below your forearm which is below your elbow which is below your shoulder.

Once your hand is in this position, first catch the water, then pull on it (in so doing you pull yourself over your hand) and finally push the water. At the finish make sure your palm is facing backward, your knuckles forward, your finger tips pointing to the pool bottom. When it is time for recovery, simply lift your hand out of the water by lifting your elbow, rather than "throwing" your entire arm forward from the shoulder.

Play with this and be willing to feel a little clumsy until you get the hang of it. Keep your knuckles facing the direction in which you wish to travel. This applies to all four strokes.

Let us known how it goes and if we can help in anyway!

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Overcoming Adversity

"Cracked ribs made it hard to breathe. A chipped bone in his hip ached as he walked. And 60-mph winds stabbed at him like ice needles. But at that moment, Trevor Thomas of Charlotte, N.C., could not imagine feeling better...the peak marked the end of a 2,175-mile journey...Hiking the entire Appalachian Trail is an accomplishment few people can claim. This year, about 1600 have tried and about 460 have finished. Only one of them - Thomas - was blind."
Unable to see, unwilling to quit - by Clay Barbour

"Here's to the memory of former Cal football player John Erby, who died recently at 68. He received two Purple Hearts during his service in Vietnam, where he lost part of his right leg...he told people that going through life with an artificial leg "isn't so bad. There is always someone not far away who has it so much worse. No matter how bad you think you have it, stop feeling sorry for yourself. Get up and go help someone."
Bruce Jenkin's 3 Dot Lounge

We see stories similar to this on a fairly regular basis. Most times we don't read beyond the headlines or the first paragraph or two. We are too busy, have too much to do, places to go, lists to be attended to etc. We believe that coaching offers many of the same benefits that swimming does. It gives us a chance to be grateful for our opportunities. We trust that you, as an athlete, are grateful for your opportunities as well.

As John Erby said, "Get up and go help someone". We are going to do that today. We challenge you to join us!

Head Position Counts

When looking for faster swim times or a more efficient position in the water so that more of your energy goes toward forward propulsion start with the spot highest on top...the crown of your head.

The crown of your head is best described as the point on top of your skull. You can visualize it as that spot of intersection for a line that comes up from your shoulders through your ears met by a line drawn from the base of your skull by your neck which intersects with a line from your chin up through your nose over your forehead. If you ever wear a baseball style cap they often have a button on top that is the intersection of the various pieces of material forming the cap. That would be a similar approximation of this line.

Another way to see in real time is to stand in front of a mirror with your chin more or less parallel to the floor. If a board was balanced on top of your head the place of tangency would most likely be the crown as well. We call this head placement the "neutral" position.

When swimming freestyle - which is the stroke most of us use for training purposes - we want our head in this neutral position which means we lead with the crown of our head.

Anytime you lift your head up, even a half an inch, something opposite happens at the other end of your spine. Your hips drop accordingly. In the old days (1950's through the 70's) it was thought best to hold your head up with the water line at approximately your hair line. The idea was to get up on top of the water. Today this is not the case. You want your body to swim as flat in the water as possible to minimize resistance from your chest, belly and hips. The easiest way to do this is to drop your head, leading with the crown.

Initially it will feel like you are swimming downhill or underwater. This is not the case. It merely feels that way because what you are used to is swimming with your head held higher; in most cases too high. If you can see ahead of yourself in the pool then your head is probably too high. Look straight down at the bottom of the pool. You can practice this position standing in front of the mirror; simply get your head in the neutral position and then look straight ahead. If you were to rotate your entire body 90 degrees you would be swimming on your stomach in the correct body position in the water.

Give it a try and see how you feel. Once you get used to it, you will feel better; for sure your stroke will be more effective as you are now presenting a smaller amount of body resistance to the water.

Let us know how it goes!

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Post Olympic Paths

In the wake of the excitement of the swimming at the Beijing Olympics it is interesting to see what some of the participants are doing, what path they are on if you will.

Some have definitely retired - or at least that is what they are saying now. Of course, Dara Torres has retired a couple of times only to have been reinvigorated by her passion for swimming and competing at the highest levels.

Others, such as Michael Phelps and Natalie Coughlin have said they will retire after the London Games in 2012. There was an interesting piece in Sunday's San Francisco Chronicle about what Natalie is up to these days.

And of course Phelps has had tremendous exposure lately. He has appeared on Saturday Night Live, 60 Minutes and this week was named Sportsman of the Year by Sports Illustrated. He is the only swimmer ever to be named to the magazine's prestigious award.

Then there is Ryan Lotche. At last week's US Swimming Winter Short Course Nationals he competed in four events, winning all four and posting remarkably fast swims. By his own account he did not swim for two months after Beijing and has been training only an hour a day since returning to the water.

While money is certainly a motivator for many of these swimmers we believe that their love of the activity is a main factor. Training and racing at high levels requires inordinate levels of commitment and not just of time. One must have a willingness to make sacrifices, pay attention to the details of training and stroke, nutrition and life style - the list is endless. Personal satisfaction drives nearly all high level performers.

It is wonderful to be involved in a sport that has both such compelling storylines and lifelong benefits. Enjoy your swim today, or your coaching, knowing that you are in fine company!

Specificity of Training

At some point in your training you will want to consider the value of the concept of "specificity". There are many ways to describe this idea but for the sake of simplicity let's call it something like this: train the way you want to race, or exercise in accordance with your goals.

With respect to racing...
We always talk about the need to swim faster in practice if you want to improve your race times. This may seem obvious but at some point each swimmer needs to ask him/herself if they are actually doing this. If you are warming up and doing your main sets at relatively the same speed week after week, month after month, then you are setting yourself up for racing pretty much at the same speed.

And a word for you Masters swimmers out there...Certainly as your body changes and you start to slow down over time you still can maintain a forward "leaning" attitude about your training such that while real times may slow down, relative times will actually improve. We have not seen a scale of "relative" times for age advancement but if you are competing well as you move up in your age groups then you probably are improving relative to your own personal base line.

Once or twice a week add in a race specific set to your training. For instance, if you are working on your 200 distance you would add in a set that might look like this:

4x50 at 80% effort on the minute
1x100 easy
4x50 at 85% effort on the 1:10
1x100 easy
4x50 at 90% effort on the 1:20
1x100 easy
4x50 at 95% effort on the 1:30
1x100 easy

That's 1200 yards/meters of race specific training. Each group of 4x50 would be held at the same time with the times getting faster as you go through the set. This is an excellent way for you to learn what it feels like to swim 4 consistent 50's (your 200). And to swim them at a more demanding level (faster) as your go through the set. One of the biggest challenges in racing a 200 is to keep all the 50's tightly bunched. The swimming speed of each of the 8 (4 if long course) laps is the same. The only difference is the time of the 1st lap since there is a dive. Consider the splits of Karlee Bispo at last weekend's Texas Invitational in the 200 freestyle: 24.44 - 26.44 - 26.54 - 26.42 (1:43.84). And while very few of us are that fast, we can all learn from the even distribution of effort as evidenced by the split times. One of the nice things about swimming is that the stopwatch never lies!

For you exercise swimmers out there consider what your goal(s) is and then think about how you can once or twice a week create a workout that supports your goal. Even if your goal is to swim for the simple fact that it relaxes you and provides some stress relief, you can make a workout that does that. For example, how about going to the pool and swimming for a certain amount of time, regardless of the number of laps you have swum? Wouldn't it be nice to once a week go to the pool and simply swim? Perhaps you could stop whenever you felt like it, maybe chat with a fellow lap swimmer, or simply enjoy the time in the water or in the sun if you swim outdoors. You get the idea.

And if you need more suggestions, drop us an email and we'll be glad to help no matter what your goal is! Have some fun this week, because if it ain't fun it usually isn't worth doing.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Perhaps Now Is The Time

...the time to rest, that is...This Saturday we went to the Old Mill Park in Mill Valley, California where the Quadruple Dipsea starts and finishes. There are actually three Dipsea races each year. In early June the Dipsea runs 7.1 miles from Mill Valley over Mt. Tamalpais to Stinson Beach, California. It is, along with the Boston Marathon, one of the oldest races in the United States. In late June they hold the Double Dipsea which is a round trip. Then every year on the Saturday following Thanksgiving about 250 hardy souls show up for the Quad Dipsea which is two Doubles. This course, whether you run it once, twice or four times in a given day has more vertical climb and descent per mile than the Western States 100 Mile Endurance Run. It is quite a challenge.

At this year's event we met runner and author John Morelock whose column appears below. Ultra Running Magazine, where Morelock's article appears, is the Bible for anyone who longs to run any distance that is beyond a marathon (26.2 miles). You can substitute the word "swim" or "bike" with the word "run" and see some value for yourself.

We hope you enjoy the Holiday season as much as we do. Read and rest. It might make all the difference to you. Let us know how it goes for you!

Run Gently Out There
by John Morelock
Ultra Running Magazine.

Mind Over Matter

Athletes tend to simplify things that they perceive relate to their performance. Many coaches and keen observers like to think that an athlete needs to be "tougher" to improve. Getting "tougher" is usually broken into the separate components of the body and the mind. Want to get faster? Train harder; it's that simple. Want to get to the top? Get your head together; that's the key.

Well. It is true that you need to train as diligently as possible; hopefully that capacity improves daily. It is also true that if your state of mind is centered, if you are focused and able to perform while distracted by any number of stimuli, you stand a much greater chance of success. However, there is more going on than meets the eye.

One of our swimmers came across a fascinating article on this subject written by two sports psychologists at the University of Texas at Austin's College of Education. Drs John Bartholomew and Esbelle Jowers write clearly and succinctly on this subject. Included in the article is a really good Q&A with Olympian Garrett Weber-Gale.

We hope you find this helpful. Let us know what you think!

Don't Even Think About It: Athlete’s mental toughness as important as physical strength

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Is the Grass Really Greener?

In the world of sports, at least the world of professional sports, it is all too common to read about the switching of teams by coaches and players. The reasons for changing are usually money though no one cops to that, at least not outright.

In our sport of swimming one of the most common reasons for athletes to change teams is the frustration that comes with a plateau or even a drop off in performance. All swimmers begin their career with steady, often meteoric improvement. This is natural since they are starting at zero as it were. Couple this with the growth factor and by 13 or 15 years of age the expectation has been set; namely that a swimmer "should" see some kind of regular drops in time.

What often goes unrecognized is the contribution the swimmer makes to the improvement. By this we do not mean the training, the laps swum or the weights lifted. We mean the intention that the swimmer has and how he/she acts based on those intentions. Parents are the ones who usually pull the plug on the current team. They see a swimmer or swimmers who their youngster used to beat in races who are now out performing their son/daughter. And so, they decide after some discussion that it must be the coaching or the program in general that is better on the other side of the fence.

The change is made and life goes on. What too few realize is that the swimmer who moves takes with them their "stuff"; namely stroke strengths and weaknesses, racing strategies, mental toughness (or lack thereof), focus ability (or lack thereof) and training habits. Until a swimmer is willing to honestly address their whole package the change itself will do little in the way of lasting improvement. It is common to see a quick bounce but lasting change is a whole other issue.

Since the inception of $500 racing suits and professional endorsement contracts swimming's profile has changed. In this week's mainstream sports media it was announced that two time Olympian Katie Hoff, who trains at the North Baltimore Aquatic Club, has switched coaches. In a related story, Michael Phelps' coach, Bob Bowman, formerly at NBAC then Michigan has returned to NBAC. Paul Yetter, also a coach at North Baltimore, coached Katie Hoff until this week. In the stories about the changes it tells us very little. The one comment that is worth noting is Hoff's when she talks about the intensity level that Bowman is famous for and how she thinks she is now ready for that. This is the "stuff" we referred to above.

We certainly do not know enough about the intricacies of this story to comment with certainty. What we do know is that all of the players, Hoff, Yetter and Bowman bring their own skills and weaknesses to the table.

This has happened to all three of us here at SwimCoachDirect. It isn't always a bad thing either. Sometimes a swimmer who switches gets and gives relief all at the same time. What we do know for sure is that before you switch you really need to make an honest assessment of your own set of tools. Do you really need new ones or can you sharpen the ones you have? If you need new ones and they are not available in your current program that is one thing. If they need sharpening perhaps you are the one who needs to do the work and not the coach.

Something to think about...

Have a great week and let us know how it is going for you!

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Heartbreak and Inspiration

Each of us can relate to this story in many different ways: the athlete who works incredibly hard to do something no one thinks can be done, and then just when achieving it has it unjustly taken away; the coaches and parents who have devoted love and support but are powerless to change the outcome; and the inspiration of the athlete who finds his way through the flames of the bonfire to give back again over and over as a coach. So no matter who you are: athlete, coach, or parent in any combination, and no matter what your personal 'Olympics' are, we all can learn from "Gold Medal Lockdown".

Sunday, November 16, 2008

When Opportunity Knocks

San Francisco Chronicle columnist Nancy Gay covers the NFL for readers. She just profiled an interesting situation recapping how the Miami Dolphins are rebuilding their recently woeful team. In her recent article "The right way to rebuild" she talks about Chad Pennington the former Jets and now current Dolphins quarterback.

We found that several of her observations and Pennington's comments hit the proverbial nail right on the head. Sports often mirrors life in that one seemingly hopeless situation often morphs quickly into a wonderful opportunity. The key ingredient is usually the mindset of the people involved.

Some key points from Nancy Gay's story:
  • Pennington has quietly completed 66.5 percent of his passes this season (185 of 278) for 2,200 yards and eight touchdowns. Pennington has tossed five interceptions - a byproduct of Henning's gambling downfield style - but he's also had 24 completions of 20 yards or longer, which ties him with Peyton Manning, and is one more than his replacement with the Jets (Favre has 23 completions of 20 or more yards after getting two Thursday against the Patriots ).

  • "Well, I think the one thing that the NFL is about is opportunity. When one door closes, a lot of time another one opens and as long as you keep the right mind-set and stay confident in how you do things as a professional, I think you can really take advantage of the opportunities presented to you and that's what I've tried to do," Pennington said this week. "I've tried to come in to the Dolphins organization and be the best that I can be every day and work extremely hard and see what happens."

  • Tony Sparano was looking for a quarterback to whom the young players would gravitate, and Pennington established himself straight away as that guy - just as his front office envisioned. "Once we had the opportunity via the Brett Favre thing ... to, maybe, get a player like this, it was fortunate that Jeff (Ireland) and Bill (Parcells) felt strongly about this," Sparano said. "We went out, we got him, we brought him in here and, from Day 1, when he walked through the door, the players were following him around like he was the Pied Piper."

  • Pennington's history made the transition much easier. "I was familiar with the system because Bill Parcells drafted me in 2000 in New York and I knew what type of system it would be and how the organization would be run. They value smart, tough, disciplined football players and guys who not only know how to be professionals but really take pride in being a professional football player," said Pennington, who was told he would be expected to provide leadership and be a mentor to the younger players, a role he relished. "I knew that that would fit me and I felt really good about the situation."

Have a great week. Who knows, perhaps opportunity will come knocking on your door?!

The Value of Starting Blocks

A quick reminder this week about the value of "starting blocks". And those words are in quotes on purpose. By starting blocks we mean any event that puts you in a slightly more competitive situation than a regular training situation.

An intrasquad meet, a team time trial, an alumni meet, a recreation league sponsored open water swim, a local "Tri" that is really nothing more than a development type of competition all are examples of a slightly more competitive situation than a normal workout setting. Any of these formats will more accurately simulate the process you will go through in prepping for and actually racing in competitive situations than a workout. It is also a good way to mix up the emphasis.

We took our team this weekend to an "Invitational" meet. There were six teams invited and most of the usual events were offered. The swims rolled one upon another fairly quickly which meant the swimmers had short rest periods with little loosen down time. What is great about these meets is that while times count (Colorado scoreboard, fully sanctioned and officiated etc.) the emphasis is on doing your swims correctly. Each swimmer has a chance to practice the mental and physical approach all the while knowing that the times may not be the best.

Our team is going to one of two big meets in a month; the deciding factor is the qualifying times they have. Each meet will be a "shave and taper" meet. There is only one way to truly prep for such a competition; namely, getting up on the blocks and racing, specifically racing someone you do not ordinarily swim against every day in training.

So, we encourage you, regardless of your own particular level of competition, to seek out a local meet or racing opportunity, sign up and then go and see what happens. You wouldn't enter a course of study at school that had only one final exam, would you? These lower level racing opportunities are akin to weekly "pop" quizzes or mid terms.

Even if your response to this is that "I don't really do this to compete" we encourage you to give it a try. You may find that it opens your eyes a little or re-kindles a greater level of awareness about the value you place on your training.

Let us know how it goes!

Sunday, November 9, 2008

A Little Friendly Competition

Most of us enter races for the fun of it; for the personal sense of accomplishment; for the socialization aspects. Occasionally, the 'harder core' among us do so to actually race up in the front.

At SwimCoachDirect our hats go off to all of you regardless of your motives. We applaud participation vs. the art of spectating!

Now and then some interesting twists occur when events are held that cater to both groups. At the recent San Francisco Nike Women's Marathon an unusual but not unheard of conclusion occurred - the winner of the Women's Elite field - the one awarded the money and receiving the accolades didn't actually post the fastest time. Yikes! You read correctly - Arien O'Connell, an elementary teacher from New York City running in the general runners group and not the Elite group, posted the fastest time.

Nike overlooked this detail and awarded the the first place recognition and trophy to Nora Colligan. When O'Connell asked the race officials about it Nike told her that "we've declared our winner." With the subsequent media attention Reebok, Nike's competitor, jumped all over the opportunity. Reebok awarded O'Connell a trophy, a free pair of shoes every month for a year, T-shirts for all her students and a $2500 donation to her school. Nike, then back peddling as fast as its shoes would go, gave her a crystal Tiffany plaque.

Often in swimming and triathlons weekend warriors get to race with the pros. It is fun and stimulating, especially for the weekend warriors. At swim meets across the country there are many youngsters who get to compete in events that also include some of the fastest swimmers in the country or even the world. If occasionally some of the 'pros' get their comupance then so be it. It doesn't happen very often but when it does it should be noticed accordingly.

Congrats to O'Connell for lifting the spirits of us all!

The Two Keys to Speed

The science of faster swimming can be broken into the two most basic components of tempo and distance per stroke. By working on each of these separately and then collectively you can really improve your speed. This works for both pool swimming and open water events.

Tempo is simply the measurement of the number of arm strokes. The unit of measure is in seconds and the number of arm strokes is an arbitrary one. We measure with a stop watch the amount of time it takes to complete 8 (4 left and 4 right) strokes on freestyle and backstroke. On breast and fly we count for 5 strokes.

As an example, this weekend at a meet we had two girls swimming the 100 yard breaststroke. The first girl had a tempo of 5.7 on lap 1, 6.1 on lap 2, 6.6 on lap 3 and 6.6 on lap 4. Her stroke counts (which is the other component - distance per stroke) were 9,9,10 for laps 2,3,and 4. (We generally don't concern ourselves too much with lap one since it has the dive) The second girl was 8.4,8.1,8.7 and 7.4 with stroke counts of 8,8,9.

It will come as no surprise to you that the first girl swam 1:09.0 and the second girl was 1:14.8. The key difference was the tempo. For the first girl to swim faster she needs to get her stroke count down to 8,8, and 8 while keeping her tempo up. The second girl's tempo is too slow and she needs to reduce her number of strokes as well (improving her distance per stroke).

By comparison, the woman who won the gold in Beijing had a tempo of 5.1!

So, play around with your tempo - your own personal rpm (revolutions per minute - or in this case, per second). You could swim a 75 having three different tempos. That is a good drill to increase your awareness. Then you can do laps counting your strokes trying to reduce the number of total strokes you take - thereby increasing your distance per stroke.

You will find that as you master the concept you will swim faster and more efficiently. In the swimming world, just as in the running world, there are jack rabbits and plodders. The fastest folks (and by this we mean in the absolute sense as well as the relative sense) are the ones who have fast tempos combined with excellent distance per stroke.

So, have some fun with this and let us know how it goes!

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Debbie Meyer

Debbie Meyer's story is a fascinating tale of youthful innocence. Her interview on Swimming World's Morning Swim Show is worth the time as she explores a variety of topics pertinent to today. Highlights include 12-25-64, California flip turns, swim-offs as a 13 year old, swimming fast in practice, 2 beat and 4 beat crossover kicks, "I love to swim, I love to race, I love the challenge", and a lot more. There is so much in this interview with one of America's truly great women swimmers that we recommend you viewing it. And it would be an awesome interview to share with other youngsters, even if they are not on a swim team! Please let us know what you think.

Playing Favorites

A while back we came across this article written by John Leonard. John has coached at all levels of swimming; indeed he still coaches some these days. However, his main focus is the American Swim Coaches Association. He is the Executive Director of ASCA which is headquartered in Fort Lauderdale, FL. In a recent conversation with him we learned that while the economy is certainly a challenge these days, ASCA is stronger than ever. Membership is at an all time high as is attendance at their various clinics. They host annually the World Swim Coaches Clinic which is attended by coaches from literally all over the world. Under John's extremely capable leadership ASCA continues to be a positive force in swim coaching. He is a forward thinker and a very capable communicator. We especially liked his article on the ever present subject of coaches and playing favorites.

Please let us know what you think! - John Leonard's Playing Favorites.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Rehearse Daily Championships - Start with the Legs

Gotta love this internet thing…check out…As coaches we are always looking for new ideas or new teaching concepts for trusted ideas…

Dry land training takes on all sorts of forms from fancy gyms with personal trainers to basic backyard set ups with ingenuity mixed with personal passion. Go to Floswimming and check out Germantown’s dry land program. The young man demonstrating was outside by the parking lot with a simple 45 lb bar, a medicine ball, a wall against which he was sitting (no chair) while doing exercises. He also showed a nice set of jump ups onto simple wood boxes of various heights. And then, rope climbing with the pool as his “net”. That one might be tough to figure out in an outdoor pool. The message was clear. A few simple and inexpensive tools and you have an athletic dry land program.

If you ever doubted that leg power was important, then you missed the Olympics on TV. This week – as seen on Floswimming – on October 21st Coach Paul Yetter at North Baltimore had his gang kick 5x200 descending 1-5 on the 3:10 interval. One of the gals kicked a 2:13.4 on her back. A bunch of people were under 2:40 in #5. Very impressive.

The motto written on the wall spoke volumes about the mindset in that facility. “If we are to be champions, we must rehearse daily championships within ourselves”. Each of us, coaches and swimmers alike, need to remember that it is daily application of our best that sets us up for championship performances.

Have a great week and rehearse daily…!

Practical Application of Mental Toughness and Use of the Gap

We shared the article from last week with our team. We reinforced several of the ideas focusing on the "Gap" concept. To recap...authors Rick Paine and James Robinson state that mental toughness is "an inside-out, self-leadership, principle driven, developmental process for athletes."

Mental toughness, they assert, starts, "out with self-awareness, with an understanding that (swimmers) could control their thoughts, emotions and thus their behavior...There is a small gap of time between the stimulus they receive and their response. Between each stimulus, such as the conclusion of a race, the human brain has a moment of time to create its response; the Gap. The decisions swimmers make in that moment of time either enhance or teardown mental toughness...All swimmers are capable of deciding what their thoughts, emotions and behaviors will be in the Gap. Human beings have the power of choice...Each choice (is) like a small thread of steel. With each decision to compete rather than fold, another small thread of steel (is) added and before long the habit of mental toughness (becomes) like a steel cable, strong enough to support them in any situation."

Finally they add the "typical club/high school swimmer will take approximately 23,000 freestyle strokes per week during training. Do you have any doubt that doing anything 23,000 times a week becomes habit? The question is, is it a good habit or bad habit?"

We thought the concept was so simply and clearly presented, not to mention accurate in our minds, that we began referring to it in practice. This last Saturday we constructed a workout that was designed to specifically give each swimmer a chance to practice their response in the Gap.

Here is the workout...

Warm up: 1500+/- 30 minutes
Main set:
Progressive to 80% on the final swim of each distance
swim 150 snorkel cruiser

progressive to 85% on final swim of each distance
150 snorkel cruiser

progressive to 90% etc
150 snorkel cruiser

- all swims - 95%
150 snorkel cruiser

then pick one, your choice...
1x100 or 2x50 running dive in fast suit...go for it

set=2475 + running dive.../60 min...900 of it cruise the rest at up interesting to see how they handle it by the end of the set

3975 + loosen of 500 = 4475

Some notes of explanation about this workout. These are senior level swimmers some with National/OT cuts. The pool is 25 meters. The work to rest ratios led to some very fast swimming toward the end of workout. On the running dive swims we had them put on a fast suit (no LZR or blueseventy). A sample of the times we saw were 100 frees in the 55-57 range for guys, 59-1:05 for girls, we had a 1:02 fly for a 14 year old boy and a 1:07 for breast from a 17 year old guy.

What we talked about all morning was the Gap. After the faster swims in each set they began analyzing how they were doing and it was interesting to note some became critical of how slow they perceived themselves while others were pleasantly surprised at their speed. As the authors mentioned above, each swimmer has a choice in the short gap of time between the stimulus (in this case, workout times) and the response. We believe that the response helps (or doesn't) the mental toughness habit.

There were 4 swims, one at each distance from 100 down to 25, at 80% effort; then 4 at 85%, then 4 at 90% and finally 4 at 95%. And then their running dive swim(s) in a fast suit. We practiced a fair amount of fast swimming with plenty of discussion along the way about the Gap. We have a meet in two weeks and we will be ready for it with more mentally tough swimmers.

You can use the workout above as a template and simply modify the distances etc. Most swimmers train without much thought to the concept of building mental toughness daily. We believe each day is an opportunity to build it. Let us know what you think!

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Resistance Training

We are always looking for ways to train that incorporate good technique with extra resistance. In the olden days (the 60's and 70's) swimmers would swim with Clorox bottles tethered to their ankles with rubber straps cut from inner tubes. We would then fill the bottles with differing amounts of water for resistance. Swim coaches weren't looking ahead much in those days...they missed the manufacturing and marketing opportunity! Today all sorts of resistance devices are available. We do quite a bit of training (at least one day a week) with parachutes for drag. We are looking to build power.

While on the plane ride home from Junior Nationals this summer Ken and Don were discussing the idea of developing a suit that had pockets which could be filled with water to add weight without distorting the body's natural position and shape. Like many excellent ideas this one got shuffled to the back burner.

One of our SwimCoachDirect members turned us on to Hyper Vests about three weeks ago. And we thank you Mark! We contacted the company - you can find them at - and found an innovative and progressive group of folks who wanted to know more about how this would work with swimmers. They have had some swimmers use their vests during dry land training. We were interested in how they might be used in the water.

We now have several of their vests and recommend them highly after our initial testing. The vests fit comfortably. The weights can be fairly easily changed to increase resistance. One of the things we like best is that since the additional weight is distributed over the entire thoracic cavity there is very little chance for a specific muscle or joint strain occurring due to the additional weight. We are always watchful about injury due to change in resistance. These vests seem to pose no problem at all. We recommend that you kick with fins since the extra weight (up to 5 lbs) does make a significant difference in how the body rides in the water. We also suggest beginning with 25's until the stroke can be down correctly with the added weight before moving to 50's.

Remember, as in all things new, progressions are the key. Let us know what you think!

Mental Toughness

The following article is an exceptionally well written treatise on the subject of mental toughness. We are in the midst of heavy training right now. We have had a couple of early season meets that are taxing our swimmers. We talk often about doing the best you can with what you have available on any given day. We discuss that all racing opportunities have merit including the ones that come during the season when you are not rested. This article hits the nail on the head. We really liked the concept of the "Gap"! Congrats to Paine and Robinson on a job well done!

Swimming World Magazine
October 8, 2008
"Coaching and Recruiting the Habit of Mental Toughness"
by Rick Paine and James Robinson

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Public, Prep, Home Amateur, Professional

The landscape is certainly changing when it comes to secondary educational opportunities. At the same time, the path for swimming development at the higher levels is changing as well.

There have always been "Prep" schools, or so it seems. Many on the East Coast have been in existence for over 100 years. Originally they were considered mainly for the wealthy, the elitist folks - read, the ones with money. The overwhelming secondary experience was in public high schools or to a lesser degree the "trade" schools which were also public.

We were thinking about this topic the other day as we coaches pondered the work load placed upon today's student/athlete. It seems that schools take it fairly easy on freshman, then turn up the work load in the sophomore year, sort of acclimatizing them for the junior year which is by far the most rigorous, or so it seems from our vantage point. If you can survive that third year you probably will handle whatever you need to do to finish up in your senior year. Granted this is a generalized snap shot but it seems a valid one.

Then we came across an interesting article in this month's Swimming World Magazine by Bill Colucci who is the director of Admissions for Bellarmine College Prep in San Jose, CA. Colucci states "Prep schools offer swimmers the opportunity to excel not only in the pool, but to develop into young men and women who have the intellectual and social skills necessary to meet the challenges ahead of them in college and beyond." His article goes on to make several points about the value, as he sees it, of the prep school experience. It focuses on the "Opportunity for Growth" and the "Emphasis on Leadership".

We'll leave it to you to agree or not. In our county there are numerous private school options, as well as charter schools and religious based schools. And of course there are some public high schools with wonderful reputations and others with, what? not so grand images. We guess our landscape is not so different from yours.

Now there is even a very real and growing presence of home-schooled youngsters. We know of several places in the country where home-schooling is the preferred option if your youngster has been identified as an outstanding swimming prospect.

You read that correctly! For decades parents with "promising" tennis players and young gymnasts have enrolled their youngsters in "academies" focused around those sports. Part of the curriculum has been academic but the focus was on the sport. One of the driving forces is the money and fame (read more money) that comes with excelling in those sports. Until recently swimming was not part of that mix.

Today that has changed. Swimming superstars command impressive amounts of money. Put aside Michael Phelps and his economic appeal. He is similar in our sport to LeBron James or Tiger Woods in theirs. We are talking here about the rest of the field. Every single swimming Olympian on the US Team - and there were 51 besides Phelps - has a pay day coming.

So if you can home-school your son or daughter what do you lose? A very good argument can be made for that option. He/she still gets an education. The swimming career is fully explored. Socialization occurs with the team and the travel to meets. And there is no interruption of the training regimen due to homework or school demands. So the swimmer has a much better chance of reaching her/his potential. We are not saying this is correct or even true. It is, however, the argument being made.

Correspondingly, the path was always from secondary to collegiate. Now that is not the case. The fastest swimmers coming out of high school are often faced with the option of signing a lucrative professional endorsement deal vs. signing a letter of intent at a university. Either way their education gets paid for. Either way they can compete at the international level. Once they sign for money they cannot compete in college. Michael Phelps did this 5 years ago. Our understanding is that Kate Ziegler and Katie Hoff have followed this path.

So, while we will keep our opinions to ourselves for today, we think it is interesting to note that educational options and swimming path options exist today that were not available even a few years ago. Life is rarely static. The very nature of it makes it dynamic. We challenge ourselves every day to adapt, to be aware of the changes. We hope you will as well.

This much is true. If you don't keep your eyes and ears open, you will not be equipped to deal with the change - any change.

Task vs. Result

Here's something to try this week. Pick something that is fairly challenging to do in a workout. It could be a set or a particular skill such as a stroke correction you have been working on. Or it could be a particular dry land routine you have been trying to master. An example would be a new stretch to lengthen your hamstrings or a certain weight you have been attempting to bench for 6 or 8 repetitions. It could even be some particular cross training segment you have attempted before without much luck such as a spin class or a particular trail loop that is a tough one for you.

Whatever the task is, it has been a challenge and you would really like to master it. You want the result as it were. Following along from the examples above it might look like this.

1 -You have struggled with 8x100 repeats on the 1: 45 for a few weeks now.

2 -Try as you may, learning to breathe on both sides seems impossible.

3 -No matter how hard you try you cannot master the jump rope.

4 -Your hamstrings will not cooperate; you still are no closer to touching your toes than you were a month ago.

5 -You can get 4 (or 5 on a good day) repetitions of 90 pounds on the bench but 6 or 8 are out of reach.

6 -The spin class at the gym is so frustrating. Everyone else seems to do it with ease, at least compared to you.

7 -Whenever you get to that section on the trail where it heads up you run out of steam, no matter how hard you try.

Research into high level performance consistently shows that those who are at the top of their game know what they want in terms of a goal. Yet the achievement of that goal comes from an ability to stay present in the moment focusing on the task needed to deliver the goal. Some call it process orientation. The concept is still the same. Focus on the task and you will achieve the result. Focus on the result and often you get overwhelmed with enormity of the challenge before you get half way there. You end up judging yourself even as you attempt to do the task which will yield the result. It is important to evaluate. The question is "When". We believe the answer is "Later". Quite simply stated, if you want something, figure out what you need to do to get it. Once your plan is in place focus on the execution of the plan - the task - and you'll have much more success getting the result.

Following on our list of examples above, a task oriented approach might look like this.

1 - Instead of trying to do 8, just do one or two and then a third, taking each one separately. If you can do 2 or 3, 8 is simply a matter of really relaxing about it and simply doing the swimming.

2 - Swim one lap breathing on the non normal side. Follow that with a lap breathing on each side, every third arm stroke. Do that one more time. You will have swum a total of 4 laps. Put that aside for the day. Come back tomorrow and repeat the drill. The third day add two more laps really focusing on the exhale and head rotation. Take as much rest as you need. When learning a new skill be patient with yourself. Give yourself permission to be imperfect.

3 - Try jump roping without the rope at first until you can master the motion, rotating your hands and wrists as if you were holding a rope. Then add in the rope. Perhaps you can only do 5 or 10 seconds before you stumble. No problem. Just do what you can. It is amazing how quickly your body will adapt if you give it a chance. Or, instead of focusing on doing a certain amount of time count your repetitions instead. Jump for 5 then 10 then 12 etc.

4 - Measure your progress in terms of halfinches or in degrees of bend if you lie on your back with a stretch cord. Work toward 90 degrees and then progress from there. Practice patience and persistence.

5 - When lifting the weight imagine a set of pulleys attached to the ceiling that someone else is pulling on and you are simply guiding the bar up and down; or that the bar has helium balloons attached to it and their job is to assist you in lifting.

6 - In the spin class focus on what you are doing all the while giving yourself a pep talk. Positive self talk is such a key to getting what you want. If you compare yourself to others you will always be frustrated because there is nearly always someone who can out perform you. Also, a very wise Tai Chi instructor is famous for saying that if you compare yourself to the person next to you, you must assume all of their "stuff" - the unpaid bills, the car in the shop, the hassles at work, etc. You don't want to go "there"!

7 - Focus on the running motion, not the top of the hill. Keep your arms moving gently and strongly at the same time. Relax your face and keep breathing rhythmically. Think of your legs and arms as the pistons in an engine or perhaps the wheels of a locomotive as it chugs along the track. Pick an image and run "to" and or "with" that in mind. Forget about the top of the hill; you will be there soon enough.

You get the idea. Give it a whirl and let us know how it works for you!

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Break Out of the Box

Every now and then it is good to shake up the routine, to break out of the box as it were. We continue to challenge our swimmers and ourselves to seek new pursuits that compliment what we are trying to do in our sport that are also "outside of the box".

This weekend in northern California we had an opportunity to do just that. Several of our pool swimmers swam in the annual RCP Tiburon Mile open water swim. For many of them it was the first time they had swum in San Francisco Bay. Several overcame anxiety about being able to see the bottom. We encouraged them to do this because, in life, we often never "see the bottom" as it were.

We encourage you as well to try an open water swim. There are many every year in lakes, rivers and the bays that are near you. Pick one that has good support and safety features. The RCP Tiburon Mile had numerous chase boats, kayaks and support staff. While this swim annually features top Olympians and Open Water professionals swimming with amateurs, many of the swims in your area are less formal. That doesn't mean that they are not equally valuable to you. The value, we believe, is in the trying of something new. Each time you step outside of your own comfort zone you have the opportunity to learn new things about what works for you...both in and out of the pool!

Let us know how it goes for you!

Relaxation vs. Arousal

These two states of readiness and more accurately the balance between them is something coaches and athletes continually strive to "get right". The fascinating paradox is that what is "right" for one is rarely "right" for another. The article by Ms. Kolata in a recent NY Times edition provides some interesting insight into the age-old challenge; namely how does an athlete find her/his groove? Read the original article, "Before Hustling to Finish, Relaxed Is a Good Way to Start" to learn more.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Nike is Out...And So Are We

Bad news for the free market of swimming came this week as Nike declared itself "out of the elite swim wear market". It stated that they are no longer going to be in the business of providing high tech suits to the sport. They said something about it not being in their corporate business model...sounds like another politician speaking.

From here it looks as if the 800lb gorilla in swimming named Speedo won this round so clearly and financially devastatingly that Nike was unwilling to keep after the lucrative swim market. We know nothing about either companies' business plans or their financial interests. We only know what we see poolside.

We know that the high tech suits from Speedo are in the $500 range and those from blueseventy are only slightly less expensive. Speedo suits are reportedly good for a handful or so of races while blueseventy are good for a few dozen (we haven't used ours that long to know for certain).

We know that with one less major manufacturer in the game all consumers suffer. We suffer from a lack of choices. We suffer from a lack of competition which helps the product get better and cheaper over time. We know that athletes suffer from a smaller range of corporate sponsors. Aaron Piersol, Branden Hansen and all former Nike suit athletes now can try to get a deal with a field that is significantly smaller. And the teams that counted on their relationship with Nike are also left to ponder "What next?"

We have seen what happens to our country when there are only two choices at the top. Let's hope the same thing doesn't happen to our sport.

Assigning Value

On of the things we are working on with our team this fall is the concept of assigning value. As swimmers we often associate fatigue or the discomfort that comes with training in a new and more challenging way with a negative value. The simple statement "Man this is killing me!" or "This is really hard to do!" is an example of assigning negative value.

We have been working on breath holding quite a bit lately. With the types of drills and sets we are doing our swimmers are pushing themselves into new territory. Not every swimmer has the skills to kick underwater dolphin kick for 10 or so meters. Those that do definitely need to increase their ability to do so on every lap of a race. Those that are not suited for this particular skill nonetheless need to be able to hold their breath just the same.

All swimmers swim faster when they keep their body in line. Breathing, except in backstroke, alters the perfect body line, the body position. In freestyle and fly in particular the less breathing you do the faster you will go. Michael Phelps is an exception to this rule. He breathes every stroke in fly (except that last one in the Olympics in the 100 race!) but has figured out how to keep his body extremely flat when he does. The fastest swimmers in the world swim the 50 free with 1-3 breaths depending upon yards or meters. All fast swimmers push the walls diligently since they are the fastest part of the swim and they typically do so without a breath. As a minimum their feet are past the flags (5 yards/meters) before they are breathing. Top flyers are under water 10 meters each turn. This goes for im'ers as well, in all four strokes.

So whether you are a racer with world ambitions or a fitness swimmer looking to take your swimming up a notch or two we encourage you to work off the walls, streamlining and holding your breath for a little longer than you probably are currently doing.

The way to do this is to make certain you are not assigning too much value to the need for air. (We are not advocating you hold your breath any longer than is prudent. If you feel dizzy or lightheaded in the least, then by all means breathe!) You can begin your practice with this concept by simply pushing off the wall and taking a couple strokes before you breathe. Or you can go for a little longer distance before you breathe; or a combination of the two. Even a fitness swimmer benefits from this because hypoxic training (training in the absence of oxygen) is widely believed to increase the number of mitochondria which in turn increases your ability to process oxygen.

The key to this, in our belief, is relaxing while not breathing. Simply take a breath and hold it with as little tension as possible in the rest of your body. Check to make sure you are not tensing your jaws, throat and shoulders. You can practice this sitting in a chair at home. Try it right now...breath in deeply and then just hold your breath for say 5 or 10 seconds without tensing the rest of your body. It is really pretty simple so long as you don't assign any value to the momentary and very temporary lack of breathing.

Let us know how it goes for you!

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Professional vs. Collegiate

It is fall and in many places in the United States the focus is on football. Football used to be a fall sport, just like baseball used to be a late spring/summer sport. But money and the professional leagues have changed all that. With football you have mini camps in the very early spring and summer and then training camp followed by preseason and then the start of the regular season which is 16 games long, but actually 17 weeks since each team has a bye week - read more television revenues. Of course this is followed by playoffs and since there is a wild card add another week to this post season setup. Sometimes the Super Bowl is the first week in February which is so far removed from the fall that...well you get the point. Even the college game goes into the first week of January.

But today's idea is that for those of you who have gotten jaded by the professional game, the money, the off field antics etc. perhaps you will be better served by the collegiate product. Make no mistake; it too is driven by money. However it is played by youngsters who are prone to error by the very nature of their developmental progress (or lack thereof) so the game has a much more "real" feel of a game than of a carefully scripted piece of entertainment.

What does this have to do with swimming? From our vantage point it has a lot to do with it. We just witnessed the Olympic Games in all their splendor and glory. And the swimming portion was truly captivating. We are biased of course. The sport of swimming at the international level is truly professional. Money exchanges hands openly. The faster and more marketable swimmers can and do make decent money.

There is a whole other level of swimming out there that is very much like college football in that it is almost always done for free. With the exception of a very few swimmers most collegiate swimmers pay to swim. Their tuition gives them the right to try out for the team. Most are not going to the Olympics or making money while they train. They are doing it for their own personal satisfaction. To our way of thinking that is a more "pure" pursuit. This does not in any way cast an unfavorable light on those who can profit; it merely states the facts: most swimmers do compete in college for the pure joy of doing so. Soon they will be forced out by the necessities of adulthood.

As a fan of swimming you can enjoy this collegiate experience for free as well. Nearly every college swimming program has meets that you can attend for free. Bring the whole family. If there is a charge it is usually minimal.

Swimming in college is a winter sport. Having said that, nearly every school that has a swim team is now training, even though it is fall. They will begin having meets very soon, often with an intra-squad and or Alumni meet. College swimming provides a lot of information about the sport at There are teams at four levels: Division I, Division II, Division III and the NAIA level. Even most Junior Colleges or Community Colleges have team, though for many the sport is in the spring.

Check out your local area. Chances are if you are in or near a college town you have a swim team you can follow. In the larger cities and metropolitan areas there will often be several choices. If you are a Masters or fitness swimmer you may find a program at the college that will work for your own swimming needs.

Swimming is a lot like football in that while there is a professional level which is well publicized, there are many levels below that support the top end while giving thousands of enthusiasts a chance to participate. And there is always the opportunity for you to volunteer at the lower levels. You can time or officiate or become the announcer!

Check out your local college team. Our guess is that you'll be glad you did!

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Goal Setting Process - Step Three

The first two steps - taking responsibility and then identifying and eliminating obstacles - are followed by the third step, the one everyone usually wants to start with. The third step is design and create a plan to produce the results you want.

We are paraphrasing Natalie Reid here from page 102 (5 Steps to a Quantum Life). All of us have the same set of tools with which to work. That means ALL OF US! People who achieve goals in life and those who do not have the same tool kit available to them. Some use the kit; others do not.

  • Choices and Decisions

  • Thoughts and Feelings

  • Attitudes and Beliefs

Additionally, all of us get the same resources.

  • Inspiration: this is the thing you want

  • Vision: the picture of you when you have it

  • Anticipation: the expectation that it will be yours

Think about this for a moment; the only difference between you and Natalie Coughlin or Michael Phelps is how you use your tool kit and your resources to mold your world.

In examining your tool kit the two most important tools are choices and beliefs. If you change either one a domino effect takes place changing all the others. If you make the choice to become comfortable underwater on your turns you will decide to do so in practice; you will think about it more often; you will feel proud of your accomplishment; you will develop the attitude that you can always do this; and finally you will believe in yourself and your ability to do this task. Or you can begin at the other end believing in yourself; then work backwards to the choice of doing this task everyday in practice.

The resources work this way: you are inspired to do this because it will make you a faster swimmer leading to more advanced racing opportunities. You have a clear picture, a vision, of how you look and feel turning this way. Finally, there is the anticipation that this skill is yours.

As you go about your goal setting for the week, month, season, year - it matters not what the time frame is - keep in mind that we all start out in the same place with the same tools and resources available to us.

Many people look at you and wish they could be like you. Do you ever catch yourself looking at another(s) and wishing you could be like them? We are all the same in that we have opportunities in front of us daily. We have the same tools and resources.

The question that is there for the answering is: What we - coaches and swimmers alike - going to do with this spectacular opportunity?

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Goal Setting Process

As Promised...

Last week we shared what we are doing with our team at the beginning of goal setting. This is the second installment of the process. It involves some personal thought and a bit of "homework" in that ideas and objectives need to be written down. We ask our swimmers to take their time with this process. We want their responses eventually but we are not pressuring them for their ideas. At some point we will declare we need everyone to turn in to us their work; however we feel it is important for them to take time to really think about their goals and the corresponding commitment to them. What follows is our handout from last week. Let us know what you think!

Goal Setting Process

This is not the only way to work when setting your goals. It is, however, a proved process and we suggest you consider the steps before moving forward. You will need a paper and pencil and a little time. You can begin whenever you want, take a pause in the steps, and then return as time allows. We do know this for certain, no one in history has ever made a significant improvement - and retained it - without writing a goal down. Please, at the very least do that much.

Step One: Take Responsibility.
If you are not responsible for something you cannot change it so this is the first and most important step. For instance, if you want to break 2:00 in the 200 and to do so you will need to get into really good shape and have excellent technique, then you need to be responsible for that part of the process. No one is keeping you from doing that.

Step Two: Investigate and Eliminate.
You are going to ask yourself a few questions so here is where the paper and pencil come in handy.
1 - Ask yourself what it is you want. Write it down...sub 2 minutes for the 200.
2 - Ask, why I want this. Write it down...I want this because it will qualify me for the next big meet; it will improve my chances for being on the A relay; it will help my college prospects.
3 - This one may seem counterintuitive but it is very important. Ask yourself why you do NOT want this to happen. Now you may wonder about this one...but of course I want this, why wouldn't I? Well, let's consider this for a minute...Now the coaches will expect more from me; to really get this I will have to miss some social functions and those may actually be more fun; I'm not sure I want the pressure of competing at this faster level...
The point here is that there are going to be ramifications in your current life if you actually dig in and make a change - said another way, if you set a goal, work toward it and then achieve it your life will be different and you need to be ready for that difference.

The main purpose of this second step is to find what you want and to eliminate those things that will stand in your way.

Keep in mind that the number one thing people resist is change; even if it is for the better! This is not rocket science. The way to change anything in your life: 1 - eliminate what isn't working for you and 2 - replace it with what you want.

If you know your stroke needs tuning up then simply do it...that is, work on the things you know need fixing. Ask one of us to help you. And then do it. Stop "trying" and start "doing". Even if you are only able to do it correctly for a lap or two before you get tired. Start now and work forward from this point. Think about this sentence: It takes preparation and work to make a change, large or small, but it does not take time. It may take time for anyone to notice the change but it doesn't take time to make the change.

So, get your pencil and paper out and start the process.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

The Beginning of Goal Setting

When we start our season we communicate directly with our team in a team meeting and follow the topic up by sending an electronic copy of our meeting notes. This way we have made every attempt to make sure each swimmer has seen and or heard our pitch. The following letter is a sample of what we are looking for in the way of feedback and information from them. You will tailor it to your individual situation to make it relevant. This letter is to our Senior team but the same could be done in a scaled down version to an age group program or high school team. Make certain that the parents are copied so they will know what you are asking for.

Even if you are a Masters swimmer or a fitness athlete this same process works. It is critical to the eventual success of your goals to begin with some sort of self diagnostic tool. Everyone wants to jump right to the goal setting part. We'll cover some specific ideas about that next week but for today see if this makes sense to you. Please feel free to comment and critique. We always want to learn!

Dear Swimmers,

As we look forward to our next season we, your coaches, are really excited about the direction of the Senior team. We had a wonderful season with virtually all members improving, some in spectacular fashion.

When we - meaning you the swimmers and us the coaches - look at the make up of our team we can pretty much see all swimmers on one of four paths. The paths look like this to us:

  • Path 1 = Competing effectively at the National level

  • Path 2 = Qualifying for National meets while competing effectively at the Sectional level

  • Path 3 = Qualifying for Sectionals and learning to be comfortable at that level

  • Path 4 = Swimming effectively at the high school level as well as competing at Senior Meets while working on Sectional qualifying

All 4 paths are valid and welcome on our team. Not everyone has the desire, the time or the willingness to compete in the National spotlight. That being said, for those of you who do want to see how far you can get and have all the tools necessary to get there, we want to know about it so as coaches we can help you achieve your goals. We can also help in making your goals in the pool be in sync with what you are willing and or able to put onto it. For instance, wanting to compete effectively at the National level but only training 3 or 4 times a week due to other commitments or interests would be an example of goals and commitment not being in sync. Playing another sport or taking a long vacation at an important juncture of the season would be another element in helping determine what you want to attain in swimming and needs to be considered.

We are asking you to define your intention. Which path are you currently on? To which path do you aspire? (You can ALWAYS change your intention, your declaration). Our intention is to help you achieve what you desire, to get where you want to go. This is an exercise in helping you get where you want to be. It rarely, if ever, works for us to tell you what we think you should do, especially if you are not able or willing to put in the time and effort. If you watched any of the Olympic coverage, any sport, the athletes you saw got there because they wanted it. It is ultimately not possible to achieve someone else's goals for you. It is always possible to achieve yours.

Every single swimmer on our team is important to us; we mean EVERY swimmer. Our task, indeed our mission in life, is to assist you in reaching your declared level of aspiration. It is really that simple.

So please tell us, which path are you currently on?

If you have greater aspirations, a different path, tell us that as well.

We honor all swimmers.

Sunday, August 31, 2008

The Swim Season Begins Again: Focus on Snorkeling and Sculling

For many swimmers and coaches this is the time of year for a new beginning. High school seasons in the fall as well as all the college programs and most of the US Swimming teams are beginning training again. Our team is no different than yours. We began last Monday, the 25th of August. As we start it is a chance to put all of the past behind us and begin anew. This is the natural opportunity to look forward uncluttered by what has been happening. Even if there is only a two or three week break somehow it symbolizes exactly the kind of separation needed for a fresh start.

We will have a discussion next week about goals but right now we'd like to focus on two things we are developing this season: snorkel use and sculling. You have probably used a snorkel already; we certainly have. Likewise with sculling you have probably used it to some extent already; we too have done so. What is different for us this year is a commitment to making it a larger part of our training program.

When you use a snorkel you take the distraction of the head turn or head lift out of the equation. All of your focus can be directed towards implementing technique that pulls and pushes the body forward, never needing to compensate for the breath. Flyers and breaststrokers keep your ears in the water. Backstrokers get a pass here! - Although some of our kids have fooled around with turning the snorkel such that they can actually swim on their backs with it; crazy but true. There are tons of drills using the snorkel. We do sets of repeats, sometimes with drills and others just normal swimming. And at this time of year we regroup on our technique and do not worry about the amount of yardage, just the quality of what we do.

Then at the same time we are doing this we add in sculling - lots of it. Think of the power those synchronized swimmers need to develop in their hands, wrists, forearms and shoulders to be able to do what they do. They seem to be sculling all the time! We scull with the hands out in front, down under the torso and back at the thighs. We do laps using all three positions. We work on relaxing the neck, allowing the head to rest in the water. This is where the snorkel is invaluable. We look for a long flat spine. We tighten the transverse abdominals, activate the glutes and hamstrings, put the heels and toes together (make sure you point the toes) and drag a long flat needle of a body behind the power of the scull. Start with widths of the pool if you need to, then progress to lengths, then to repeats of 25's working your way up from there. You won't get as many yards as regular swimming. You will get swimmers with elevated heart rates and strong wrists and forearms that have feel for the water and strength to catch it. They will also have an increased awareness of the need for proper body position and the value of it as it translates to the full stroke.

Many of you out there have numerous drills and technique items you are using effectively today. Why not share your knowledge with the greater swimming community? Drop us a line! See you at the pool, maybe tomorrow?!

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Older, Tougher, Smarter

That was the headline on the front page of the San Francisco Chronicle Friday, August 22, 2008. We encourage everyone to read Julian Guthrie's article. Guthrie points to the many achievements of some of the older Olympians in Beijing. Dara Torres is our sports poster woman this year for this subject. The article explains that many of our swimmers are older. Why do you think that is so?

One major factor is the money involved. It is entirely possible for a swimmer who has international experience to earn $50,000 or more in cash and sponsorships which allow him/her to continue training past college. Michael Phelps is in a different league as is probably Torres and Natalie Coughlin. We have no direct knowledge of any of their individual sponsorship deals. However, when the new LZR Speedo suit costs about $500 retail and you figure how many thousands of young swimmers are already using it you can do the math and see how it is possible for the top end swimmers to make serious money. But even the second tier swimmers, ones with Olympic exposure who do not have a medal can cash in. We think it is a good thing that swimmers can pursue their dreams while in their mid to late twenties, and into their 30's and beyond. Jason Lezak anchored the Gold Medal Men's 400 Free Relay. He is 32! The point here is that very few athletes are at their peak right out of college at 22 years of age. Michael Jordan certainly wasn't; nor was Tiger Woods.

What is of equal interest to us is that the Chronicle article discusses the additional benefits of staying physically active. Simon Melov of the Buck Institute for Age Research in Novato, CA says, "Exercise doesn't just make the muscles stronger, it makes them younger." Fascinating, encouraging and inspiring all at the same time!

Dr. Karen Francis, a behavioral neuroscientist at USF and author of "Physical Dimensions of Aging", talks about the need to challenge both our mind and body daily. Several tips are offered in the same article.

We could take this into the pool so very easily. Try breathing on the left for a lap and the right on the next lap. When you do a flip turn keep looking at the same side of the pool at each end as you push off. This will necessitate you turning both ways. Park a little farther from the pool so that you get a few extra minutes walk before your swim. The list is endless.

The overall point for us in this process is that the Beijing Olympics did a lot more than excite us. They have already improved our coaching through the sheer power of inspiration. How about you? Let us know what you learned so that we can share your knowledge with the world. We all benefit!

Sunday, August 17, 2008

What Does It All Mean?

I (Don Swartz) am a big believer in quantum physics. To simplify, we get from life what we expect to get based upon our belief system. I got turned on to the concept in the early 1970's when reading a book by Gary Zukav entitled "The Dancing Wu Li Masters". Most recently I have read an enchanting and very helpful book by Natalie Reid, "The 5 Steps to a Quantum Life".

As a coach I continue to pursue excellence professionally while simultaneously encouraging our swimmers to do the same. My wife posed an interesting question this week as we watched the swimming coverage of the Olympic Games on NBC.

"If all the swimmers are preparing for the race and all believe that he/she will prevail why do some do so and others not?" The question took on an even more intriguing dimension as Michael Phelps pursued one Gold Medal after another. When you look at the finish of the men's 100 meter butterfly - Phelps winning by .01 second - you wonder if he had a greater commitment to the goal than the other swimmer. If you look at the finish of that race under water you will see a frantic but well timed final short stroke by Phelps while the other swimmer reached for the wall and glided in to the touch pad - with his head up of all things!

Such is life. At some point, I believe, we do actually will ourselves to a place or an accomplishment that we really want. And by the same token, if we wish but do not actually believe then we usually get what we believe, not that for which we wish, but do not believe.

All this drama on the TV is good for our imaginations. We have several swimmers on our team who have Olympic talent. As coaches we keep steering them in that direction. If today, for instance, a swimmer is 22 seconds from a possible Gold Medal in London in 2012, we can chart a course for that improvement over the next 4 years. Today it may seem wishful thinking but not real belief that in 4 years it could be realized. However, if broken down into smaller segments - say 4 seconds improvement this next year - then similar next year etc - then maybe we can get there.

I am quite certain, without actual proof, that the great inventors of all time didn't walk into the lab one given day and invent - what, the electric light bulb, the radio, the Polaroid film process. It took development over time until one day the actual final pieces fell into place.

Phelps' great achievements this week, if we are to believe his public press comments, came from much earlier in discussions with his coach Bob Bowman. They talked about dreaming at the highest level; about reaching a place no one had ever been...and then working on it daily in the pool while building the belief system to support the dream.

It All Means You Can Have Anything You Want!

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Together Everyone Achieves More

We have just returned from the 2008 Speedo Junior National Championships in Minneapolis which were held from August 4th-8th. We had a wonderful week of racing and growing as competitors. Our North Bay Aquatics team finished 9th in the combined men’s and women’s scoring and we are taking a small amount of space this week to be grateful for our swimmers’ success. In the 400 Free Relays our Men finished 3rd and our Women finished 5th. This is a significant step forward for our team from last year and as coaches we are very proud of our team!

At the meet there were many T- Shirts walking the deck and we thought you’d enjoy a sample of what we saw. We think that 3 to 5 words are about the right number but what do we know? Anyway, for your reading pleasure this week we offer the following…and if you have a favorite we’d love to hear about it! We will add here that some of these saying/quotes were attributed to certain people. We have omitted their names here simply because we cannot verify the authenticity of each statement…have some fun with this!



You can’t put a limit on anything, the more you dream the farther you get

Building character one length at a time

Committed to excellence

We stand the test of time

We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence then is not an act, it is a habit

Beware to lollipop of mediocrity, one lick and you’ll suck forever

My element is water, my weapon is my body, my world is swimming

Quality not quantity

Respect all, fear none

Success comes through hard work

Coaching 4 life

Want to come in 2nd? Follow me


The harder you work the harder it is to surrender

We believe in creating the wave, not riding it

We’re not here to mess around, in fact, we’re all in

Rev- it – up

Presence is more than just being there

Simply swimming

Someone may beat me but they are going to have to bleed to do it

Losers let it happen, Winners make it happen

Dream – Believe – Achieve

In the heat of battle we’re on fire

Well oiled machine

Motivation is what gets you going, habit is what keeps you going

Ludicrous speed

One team, one goal

The will to win is important, but the will to prepare is vital

Making it happen

No time outs, no substitutions, it’s now or never

Sunday, August 3, 2008

You Are What You Eat (Do You Know What It Is?)

In 5 days the Games begin, literally and figuratively, in Beijing, China.

The Games of course mean the Olympic Games themselves. The "figuratively" part we refer to here is the never-ending contest between the agencies charged with catching the cheaters and the users and abusers of chemical aids to enhanced sport performance. Track and field along with weight lifting have generally garnered their fare share of the headlines. This summer swimming was briefly thrust into the spotlight with the positive test of Jessica Hardy. Hardy has withdrawn from the team, meaning she will not contest the positive test at this time. We only know what we read in the papers and have no more information than do you. This makes us reluctant to postulate on the details of her specific situation.

With Jessica Hardy having tested positive for Clenbuterol and linked to Advocare this is a good time to take a moment and read this important message on supplements from Bill Krumm and US Swimming. What may or may not be in supplements can be surprising.

The message from the USADA is:
"The use of nutritional or dietary supplements is completely at the athlete's own risk - even if the supplements label says 'approved' or 'verified.' USADA's drug reference resources DO NOT provide information about dietary supplements."

For those of you who are curious for more information about this whole subject we include the following links. It is sad but true that much of the coverage will focus on this subject. But then again, there are 23 hours of coverage daily and they need to sell advertising and negative news be prepared!

USDA Test Alert Card
USADA Doping Control Process
Drug Reference Online

A final thought today...much as when you read about some well conceived plan to defraud a group of investors, or even a high tech crime spree, when you read about an athlete who has tested positive for a banned substance - a substance that is already on a published list - do you ever wonder how fast the athlete might have been if they put as much effort into his/her training and total race preparation as she/he put into finding and trying and then masking the substance?

Your comments please...

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Three Times 8 = ?

The answer today is 8-8-08, the day the Olympics begin in Beijing, China.

Swimmer Jessica Hardy apparently will not be on the US Team as it makes its way to training in Singapore prior to its final stop at the Olympic Village. Hardy has tested positive for Clenbuterol. News stories are running rampant from the main stream media as well as the swimming related sites. Swimming World Magazine broke the story earlier this week.

Time will tell if Hardy, as she is claiming, is innocent. And we prefer to leave that part of the discussion to others. Our interest in this story goes down a slightly different path.

At what price is glory justified? We have no pat answer but we think about it constantly. As coaches we are always asking athletes to think hard about the choices they make. How do they use their time; what activities support their dreams; are they making the best possible decisions on a daily basis?

Some times our society puts such an emphasis on winning that the pressures on athletes become enormous. We wonder about the costs.

The great football (soccer) manager Bill Shankly had a quote for the ages that rushed to mind when the Hardy story broke.

'Some people believe football is a matter of life and death.
I'm very disappointed with that attitude.
I can assure you it is much, much more important than that.'