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.

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"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.