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...