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.