Sunday, June 29, 2008

Ian Thorpe: “Because of this thing called competition”

That is the quote from Ian Thorpe, former Australian Olympic swimmer and world record holder when asked if Michael Phelps could win 8 Gold Medals at the 2008 Beijing Olympics. Thorpe is betting against Phelps. In this Sunday's San Francisco Chronicle sports section, noted columnist Scott Ostler posed the question about whether it is reasonable to expect that Phelps could actually pull off the feat.

The US Swimming Olympic Trials began today in at the Qwest Center in Omaha, Nebraska. The top 2 finishers in each event qualify for the Olympic Team in each event. Consider that less than half of the one percent of the swimmers in the country even qualify for the Olympic Trials. You must then finish 1st or 2nd to swim the individual event. (In the 100 and 200 freestyle the top 4 make the relay and the 5th and 6th finishers typically are taken as alternates to swim the prelims of the relays at the Games themselves).

Phelps appears to "own" the 400 Individual Medley and the 200 Butterfly, though nothing is for certain. The other events he competes in have multiple challengers that pose a real threat to his even making our team in the various events. And then he needs to be selected to the relays based upon his performance as well.

In golf not long ago, Tiger Woods ruled the world. Many of his contemporaries began playing for second. If Tiger was "on" he was unbeatable. However, golf, like swimming, has many competitive people in its ranks and the one thing history teaches us is that it is much easier to win a championship than to defend one.

When Woods, or Phelps, or Roger Federer win consistently it actually motivates many in their sport, pushes them to places they have not been and thereby changes the landscape - forever; as did Woods, Phelps and Federer when they came up into the championship ranks...and so it goes.

Some people say that competition isn't healthy; that it puts too much pressure on others; that it destroys the purity of the game. Our view is that competition, when entered into in a spirit of willingness, a spirit of genuine love of the game, brings out the best in each of us. It increases our appreciation of our sport and our place in it.

Whether I am a weekend warrior, an up and coming Olympic hopeful or world champion the benefits are the same. I find out what matters to me; how to perform under some scrutiny and where my personal limits are.

We suggest that you go to the pool soon and push yourself a little and see what your reaction to that is. Let us know and tell us how we can help!

(Olympic Trial coverage is on the web and on TV all week long. Check your local listings for details.)

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Why Do I Do This Sport?

Another story….
There is a young man on the team I coach who has had an extremely successful swimming career to this point. He has competed at the National level and done well in his High School swimming. Next year he will be swimming at the college he has chosen, and they are quite happy to have him on the team.

With all that he has going for him in the world of swimming, he has gone through more than one wave of questioning why he even doing the sport in the first place. He stresses over the fact that there is pressure when he competes and that the training can be no fun. When I reminded him of all he has accomplished over the past year he acknowledges that it was all a blast and he wouldn’t trade it for anything, but he still has that feeling of stress and lack of fun. His continuing swimming was in doubt...he felt burnt out.

This begs the question of why you are doing this sport in the first place (or any sport for that matter). Something about it must make you want to keep doing it or most likely you would have given it up fairly quickly. For most competitors it is the thrill of the race. Most swimmers can vividly remember their first race and the feelings they got from it. Back when you started (especially if you started out very young), what time you did for the race was most likely not important…trying to win or perhaps finishing were much more important elements.

As you move on and swim for a long time, these basic elements sometimes disappear as we chase the all important time standard or something similar, but I think remembering the basic joy you get out of being a competitive swimmer is something that you should connect with every now and then. When you look at Masters swimming, for most swimmers your times will get slower as you get older. You will most likely post times that are not as fast as your younger years, but the joy of competing can be just as rewarding. Times were not real important when you started and I can make a case that they should not be important after a long time at doing the sport as well. I really believe this type of mind set actually helps you do better as you are swimming with less performance pressures.

I am happy to report that after some soul searching my young friend has started training again with a renewed vigor. There is no guarantee that it will continue, but I think his ability to reconnect with his love for the sport has him coming back for more.

Remember why you are doing this!!

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Remember What Got You There

Recently a talented young swimmer I have the privilege to work with has made a huge step for any swimmer to make. She has qualified for the Olympic Trials at a fairly young age. As you can imagine her team mates, coaches, and family were quite excited with the accomplishment and we are making plans to be there for the swim.

A lot of work went into getting her to this point. While the support certainly worked hard to give her (and others) the best chance to achieve her goals, ultimately it was her hard work that got her the Olympic Trial invitation. There was certainly a lot of training and sacrifices that went into making this dream come true.

An interesting thing happened after the goal was achieved. This swimmer began to train with less vigor and desire and began to show signs of trying to take an easier path than before. After a few weeks of this downturn in dedication, we went to a bigger meet that was sort of a test run for the trials. It was really no surprise that she did not do well. Everything that was accomplished just a few weeks before suddenly looked so imposing to her.

Since that meet, I am happy to say our swimmer is back to work and is determined to bring her best race to Omaha. A lesson was learned and hopefully the pitfall can and will be avoided in the future.

Often times it takes a lot of hard work and dedication to achieve meaningful things in your life. When you do achieve an important benchmark, whatever that may be, it is wise to look back at what you did to get to where you are. To get to a higher mark may take more work than before and that is the nature of life. Most likely you will have a difficult time getting to where you were by doing less, although most people will try that method, usually with little or no success.

So if you have done something great in your life, remember what got you there. If you have that type of mind set, getting there in the future will be easier to accomplish.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

What Makes Something Real?

The swim suit wars have heated up, or should we say, the battle has been joined. The cover of this month's Swimming World Magazine shows an underwater photo of the TYR Tracer Rise and the new Speedo LZR suit with a swimmer between in what presumably is yet another suit. The title on the cover is "Meet the New World Record Holders". It implies that the suits are the new record holders. And on page 6 publisher Brent Rutemiller writes an article titled "A Voice for the Sport - Who Rules The Pool?"

What follows is in interesting look at the FINA rule GR 5.5(b) Material. He states that "FINA changed the definition of fabric altogether, catching many leading manufacturers, athletes and national governing bodies completely by surprise during an Olympic year."

Just this week FINA announced that new suits by Mizuno, Arena and Adidas have been cleared as meeting the rule. Others cannot be far behind.

And the Olympic Trials in Omaha for US swimmers begin on the 28th of this month! The Games themselves begin August 8th in Beijing, China.

SwimCoachDirect has been intimately involved in the Olympic experience since 1972. We know what is at stake when it comes to racing for one of the most coveted prizes in our sport. We can say without a doubt that each swimmer has "the suit" on their minds. "The suit" is the one which each individual believes will help her/him swim fastest.

At the end of the day, it is the swimmer inside the suit that achieves recognition, either personally or worldwide. Today at the Japan Open Kosuke Kitajima set a new world record in the mens 200 breast with a time of 2:07.51, breaking Brendan Hansen's 2 year old time of 2:08.50. Earlier Kitajima wore a T-shirt stating stating "I am the swimmer" in protest of the Japanese Swimming Federation restrictions on the suits that Japanese swimmers can wear.

Each swimmer will definitely wear the one he/she believes is the fastest. As many elite swimmers have, Kitajima choose the LZR. At this level no one wants to take a chance. Each swimmer wants everything available, within the legal limits. That, in our opinion is what makes something real.

As you watch the coverage on TV (or in person if you are so fortunate) be ready for lots of discussions and debates over "the suit".

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Assigning Value

We have begun training again for our 4th and final block of the season. Our high school NCS and CCS championships are in the rear view mirror and we are looking clearly down the road to the California State Sectionals in late July in Bakersfield and then to the US Swimming Nationals in Minneapolis in August.

Our training has naturally changed from taper to work. We as coaches love this. The swimmers have other feelings! Many like the "burn" associated with increased work loads accompanied by lactic acid. The feeling of nausea that comes from maximal exertion is another "good thing - bad thing" as well. And then comes dealing with occasionally slower practice times as the work load ramps up. This is followed perhaps by doubt. Doubt is never a positive sign. We have had a few swimmers this week wonder if they are "alright" because their practice times are slower, or it takes more effort to do a certain time than it did a couple of weeks ago. Some have said they feel weaker.

The normal cycle of training, adaptation, recovery and finally improvement is in progress. What is critical to adjusting to this cycle is making sure you don't assign too much value to the times you swim either in practice or meets that take place when you are training at a high level of effort. Some days are simply better than others. There are all kinds of reasons (not the same as excuses - which we do not allow to enter the conversation, not on our pool deck!) why this happens; fatigue from the end of school year and final exams. A new job, a move, a change in address and change in living situations all make for stress and that can make for slower training performance. If you have recently ramped up to a new level of training, perhaps because you are more motivated, you will find slower practice times occasionally part of the process.

Not to worry. The cycle is working. If you train, then adapt by building in recovery time, you will see improvement in your practice times. Then if you go to a meet or open water swim, or triathlon you will get improved results as well.

Enjoy your training. If you race, make certain you enjoy that as well. If it isn't fun, why bother? Let us know what you think. Go to the pool today. Get out the door and go!