Sunday, December 27, 2009

Can You Believe?

It is 2010 - well in 5 days. Yikes. We must be having a ton of fun 'cause time sure is flying! And at this time of year we always think about what we have learned and what we can improve upon. Fortunately there are many items in each category.

When thinking about your swimming we will wager that one of the most significant things you can do to improve your fitness, speed and effectiveness is to become a stronger kicker. So early in the New Year - say by the 10th - after your legs are really warmed up, grab a kick board (or certainly you can do this on your back, or on your stomach with your hands at your side breathing through your snorkel) and kick a 100 yard/meter effort for time. Record that time.

Now three times a week grab a board and do a set of 500 to 800 yards of kicking. Set your intervals so that you are getting about 20 to 30 seconds of rest after each repeat. One month from the date of your January test repeat the effort. We are willing to bet that your time will be faster and that the amount of improvement will impress you.

Kicking takes no talent. It matters not your genetic make-up. All kicking requires is will power and that is in ample supply presuming you are motivated. You will also notice that your swimming repeat times in practice will improve as a result of more leg power. As your legs get in shape you have better control over the lower 2/3rds of your body and its position in the water relative to resistance. You will find that your legs stay more directly behind your hips which reduce drag and make you more efficient and therefore faster.

Even if you have no desire to become a faster swimmer simply by building your leg power you can become a smoother swimmer. This will make your exercise sessions all the more enjoyable.

Have a great start to 2010 and let us know how we can help!

Oh more thing. We mentioned use of the snorkel. If you don't have one do yourself a big favor and purchase one. It is the single best tool for improving your swimming. More on its use coming your way shortly.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

The Importance of Self-Talk

We have always been interested in how our athletes treat themselves. One of the easiest ways to monitor this is to listen to how they talk to themselves and others. We know that "put ups" vs. "put downs" make a huge difference in how a swimmer feels about what she/he is doing and how it contributes to their success. The real value is what each individual says to him/her self and then to a lessor extent (but still significant) what others to whom we assign value, have to say. We like the exercise offered below. Keep your ears open. You might just grab an insightful moment! Have a great week in and out of the pool!!

Excerpt from Secrets of the World Class, by Steve Siebold

Self-talk is what we say to ourselves all day long and also how we say it. For years, philosophers, psychologists and performance experts worldwide have known about the impact self-talk has on us. That being said, average performers
are oblivious to what they are saying to themselves and how it's affecting the quality of their lives. The pros have always been aware of the power of language in programming and reprogramming the human computer.

Dr. Shad Helmstetter, in his magnificent book, What to Say When You Talk to Yourself, writes that up to 77% of the average person's self-talk is negative. According to Dr. Helmstetter, we spend our lives talking ourselves into and out of things.

Champions believe and embrace this idea. As a matter of fact, the easiest way to know you're in the presence of champions is to listen to them. The world-class has spent years overcoming prior programming, and this process usually begins with the use of language, both with themselves and others. The great ones believe almost anything is possible, simply because they have repeated that idea - and others like it - to themselves for years.

To quote Dr. Helmstetter, "Repetition is a convincing argument." Developing world-class self-talk may be the most powerful of all the mental toughness secrets of the world-class. Like most of the habits, traits and philosophies in this book, it's so simple that it's often overlooked. As a result, amateur performers continue to perpetuate amateur language with themselves and others. Meanwhile, the great ones create ideas out of thin air, convince themselves achievement is possible, and then go out and make it happen.

Action Step for Today:

Begin monitoring everything you say to yourself and others. Ask this critical thinking question:

"Is the way I use language programming me for success or failure?"

Next, begin listening to the way people around you use language.

Ask yourself the same question about them. This is an eye-opening experiment.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

One More Set for Masters

As the holidays draw near we are in the training mode for our Masters group with the intent of giving them something they can hang their hat on before the various obligations take hold turning the best intentions into dust.

We laugh at practices, noting how little we are doing and how much the rest of our lives intrude...but we seem to embrace the intrusions while taking a certain amount of personal pride in our training efforts.

Today is Saturday and we begin at 7:15 vs. the normal 5:45 during the work week. So, all of us, coaches included, are a little more rested, (or not depending upon Friday evening's activities! - such is the life of adults!!) ready for what the day portends.

Here is our set. The goal is to have some aerobic work wrapped around some ever increasing intensity with a touch of speed work. We believe the lactic levels were rising throughout the set.

After a 25 or so minute warm up of 1000 + or - yards we did the following:

5x100 negative split with about 20 seconds rest - first lap fly
4x50/1 all at 75% - in a perfect world all the times are the same

4x100 neg split as above with 20 seconds rest - 2nd lap back
4x50/1 all at 80%

3x100 neg split, 20 seconds rest - 3rd lap breast
4x50/1 all at 85%

2x100 the 2nd one a little faster than the first, again, about 20 seconds rest
4x50/1:10 the first 3 at 90%, number 4 at 95%

1x100 cruise

This set is 2300 yards. Afterwards we loosened down with about 400 yards of easy swimming. Several folks did less. Our belief is that Masters swimmers seem to do less loosening than the younger swimmers and this is not so good...but then, adults are off to the next thing in their day and are not thinking too much about the next workout or on balance, life is good!

If you give this one a try, let us know how it goes for you! If you have a favorite workout for the holidays please tell us and we can share it with the world via the www. See you in a week!

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Two Different Sets

We had some good response to the ideas generated by the set for 200's last week so here are two different new ones designed for the 500 swimmer. They will of course work in various modifications for any type of endurance swim.

This first set is designed to push aerobic thresholds while dealing with some lactic acid tolerance. You of course can adjust the intervals; these are for our Senior Training group.

5x100/1:30 progressive 1-5
4x100/1:25 pro 1-4
3x100/1:20 pro 1-3
2x100/1:15 pro 1-2
1x100/ be under 1:10 (most were under a minute)

1x250 snorkel recovery swim pulling your stroke back together

4x100/1:25 pro 1-4
3x100/1:20 pro 1-3
2x100/1:15 pro 1-2
1x100/ be under 1:10

1x250 snorkel recovery as above

3x100/1:20 pro 1-3
2x100/1:15 pro 1-2
1x100/ sub 1:10

1x250 snorkel recovery as above

2x100/1:15 pro 1-2
1x100/ sub 1:10

1x250 snorkel recovery as above

1x100/sub 1:10...we actually had all guys and girls under a minute here, tongues hanging

This set is 3500 yards at effort plus 1000 yards recovery based stroke work

The second set is designed to get the swimmer to feel the intensity of the 500 yard swim, to make the commitment to dealing with the discomfort...or put another way, to get comfortable being uncomfortable. In every swim, perhaps except the 50, there comes a moment where the swimmer needs to push through the barrier caused by the exertion level. We believe that if they do that in workout occasionally they will have the confidence to make the positive decision in the meet: confidence is, after all, the most important muscle in the one's and swimmer alike.

Again this is for our Senior Training group. We establish race pace for the 500 for each swimmer. Those working around 5:00 for the swim go the 100's on the 1:15; those working on 4:30's go the 100's on the 1:10. All the 50's are on the .40 and everything is foot touch except the last 50. We do the first 50 from the blocks. All swims at race pace or at the bare minimum at race pace effort.

1x100/1:10 or 1:15
1x100/1:10 or 1:15
1x100/1:10 or 1:15

We did this set last Tuesday which is 17 days from our December shave meet. We will let you know how our 500's go at Sectionals in Long Beach!

Got something similar to share? Please send it our way and we will include it in a future posting. Have a great week at the pool!

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Training Set for the 200

One of the continual challenges for us as coaches is getting our swimmers ready for the rigors of a 200 race. This race is viewed by most world class swimmers as a "long" sprint in that it rarely takes longer than two minutes. It combines the elements of speed found in the 50 and 100 distances with a touch of endurance required as well, perhaps not the same measure as needed for a 400 or 500 but definitely something more than the 100.

If you look at the splits for the fastest swimmers you will see that all the laps are swum at virtually the same speed with the only difference being the first lap is faster due to the dive. So how do we get our swimmers to accept the notion and then be able to pull it off?

The answer to the first is education; we have them look at splits from the top swims in major competitions and then compare their own splits to find room for improvement. The answer to the second lies in the training for this swim. We have some success recently by tweaking the way we view a 200 swim. Since it is short course season here in California we are focusing on 200 yard swims but the same concept holds true for 200 meter long course except that you would adjust the training set below accordingly.

We swim the 200 by focusing on the three 50 yard segments that occur between the first and last lap. A set we did Saturday that works on the twin concepts of keeping those 3 x 50 times the same while keeping your "head" in the swim looks like this.

We took the goal time for the 200 and broke it into even 50 splits as follows (remember that we got these ratios by looking at the fastest swimmers in the world): the first 100 is two seconds faster than the 2nd 100. If you were swimming a 2:00 race you would be out in 59.0 and back in 1:01.0. The individual 50's would be 28.5, then 30.5, 30.5, 30.5. Conversely a 1:38 200 looks like this - out in 48.0, back in 50.0 with 50's that are 23.0, 25.0,25.0, 25.0. In our set each swimmer knows their goal time and has the splits figured out. The percentages below were set arbitrarily with the only goal being to keep all three 50's exactly the same, foot touch, preferably to the 10th of a second (at least that is the goal).

3x50/1 at 80% effort defined as race pace + 3.0 seconds
Easy 100 snorkel swim to regroup strokes

3x50/1 at 85% = race pace + 2.5 seconds
Easy 100 snorkel

3x50/1 at 90% = race pace + 2.0 seconds
Easy 100 snorkel

It is very easy for the swimmers to swim faster than the suggested times. We asked them to adhere to the times for consistency of effort with them occasionally commenting that it did require a touch more effort to keep the times the same. This is what happens in the race.

Then we went to the blocks and dove a 25 foot touch at race pace on the .30 interval followed by 3x50/1 foot touch at race pace followed by a 25 hand touch last lap. In a sense it is a broken 200 but we did not time the opening or closing 25's. All we were after was the 3 x 50 at race pace and for them to feel what the effort needed was like to achieve the times desired.

The entire workout was about 4500 yards with 450 at sub max effort and 200 at max effort. We are 21 days from our December shave meet. We will do this same set next Saturday which is 14 days from the meet. On this kind of set we are really fussy about details and the swimmers are focusing on the tasks while mindful of the results. Our mantra is stroke technique first during warm-ups, race composition during the set and finally goal times. We find that if the swimmer stays on point, that is, on task, the times will take care of themselves. These sets tend to build a ton of confidence since they know that they can stay sharp with their focus for 2 minutes +/- depending on the swim.

You can also do this for the strokes which have a variance for the splits and IM's as well. On the IM's the 50's are fly/back, back/breast, breast/free.

Anyone out there have a favorite set of similar nature, or any set for that matter? We will share around the coaching and swimming community. Thanks for checking in!

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Suits that Make You Go Fast

This week we want to pass on some interesting insights from Shawn Klosterman.


As always, let us know your thoughts. Enjoy!

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Fresh Ideas

Every now and then we admit to plagiarizing workouts. This is one such case! Several of our club swimmers attend universities with major swimming programs. The workout below is from the sprint group at a top 10 NCAA Division 1 program. We find the variety refreshing and please note that the level of intensity is huge. You can re-work the amounts, intensity and interval to suit your needs. Think of this as a template...or just go for it as written. If you choose the latter, remember we told all that stuff about checking with your doctor before strenuous exercise...etc.

Have fun, let us know what you think and even send us your favorite, or latest creation. We'll share it with the swimming world; let us know if we can use your name/club etc.

Warm-up 4-4-4
400 flop
4X100 on 1:30
4X50 on 50

2 rounds

100 on 1:15 go 60 seconds exactly
2X25s kick
75 @ best 100 time
2X25s strong drill
50 on 50 go 30 seconds exactly
2X25s strong swim
25 200 pace
2X25s 0 breath

3 Rounds

100 swim 9 strokes/lap
100 kick strong
50 swim 100/2 + 7 seconds
50 kick fast
on the 4:30, about 5-10 seconds rest in between swims

100 swim 9 strokes/lap faster than first 100
100 kick strong
50 swim 100/2 + 5 seconds
50 kick fast
on the 4:30, about 5-10 seconds rest in between swims

50 swim 100/2+ 3 seconds
50 kick fast
25 swim fast
25 swim 0 breaths
5-10 seconds rest in between swims then right into

25 efficient swim
25 easy
25 efficient swim
25 easy
25 efficient swim
25 easy
50 easy

Then after
3 75s
25 kick fast
25 swim fast
25 swim fast hold breath to halfway
on the 130
25 kick fast
25 swim fast
25 swim fast hold breath to 15
25 kick fast
25 swim fast

Sunday, November 8, 2009

A Great Idea!

We got an email from Ryan Woodruff at the North Carolina Aquatic Club. Check out his blog. It is filled with stimulating ideas. You can find it at The Swimming Workout Wizard.

Here at SwimCoachDirect we take great satisfaction in sharing information and ideas. We believe our sport is somewhat unique in that most coaches around the world are willing to share. Thanks to Ryan for 1 - having excellent ideas and 2 - sharing them!

His idea of Freedom Fridays is explained below. For more challenges go to his link. And then let us and him know what you. Have a great week at the pool!

Freedom Fridays by Ryan Woodruff.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Inspiration Comes in Many Forms

One of the young women on our US Swimming Club (North Bay Aquatics) was fortunate to be recruited and accepted at UCLA this fall. Her coach is Cyndi Gallagher. Cyndi is credited with having the #3 recruiting class in the nation this past year and has reloaded her team nicely; watch for fast swimming from the Bruins!

Cyndi was afforded the opportunity to attend the impressive 2009 Women’s Conference just recently. We thank you Cyndi for allowing us to share your comments from what was obviously an inspiring gathering of highly energized people.

One of the cornerstones of our coaching is to share what we have in hopes of making our sport more meaningful to all who are involved. Please feel free to share this posting with your swimmers, fellow coaches, parents and officials.

2009 Women's Conference, hosted by the First Lady of California, Maria Shriver.
Cyndi Gallagher's notes from the conference:

I was lucky enough to be a guest of Kristin Gibbs, the director of marketing for Lean Cuisine, one of the major sponsors of The Women's Conference. Kristin had the honor of introducing Maria Shriver - a big step from being a UCLA student-athlete and assistant coach at UCLA! It was an amazing day filled with emotions and inspiration. I walked away a different women - a better woman and so grateful to have been able to attend.

The mission of the Women’s Conference is to recognize your own voice, your own power and have the courage to be who you are. The conference is held to inspire, empower and educate women so they can be the architects of change in their own lives and the lives of others.

A few of the speakers last years were: Condoleeza Rice, Billie Jean King, Gloria Steinem, Warren Buffett and celebrities Sally Field, Jamie Lee Curtis, Jennifer Lopez with Bonnie Raitt performing. A few years back, Dalai Lama and Michelle Obama were speakers.

Some of the speakers this year were Katie Couric, Madeleine Albright (first women secretary of state), Richard Branson (founder/president of the Virgin Group- airline/records-employees over 50,000 people), Eve Ensler (of the Vagina Monologs - hysterical!), Caroline Kennedy, Geena Davis, and Alicia Keys performed.

There were three topics presented in the program along with breakout sessions. The three conversations were “Tough Leadership Decisions in Tough Times”, “How A Women’s Nation Changes Everything” and the most powerful sessions for me was “Grief, Healing and Resilience”. It was moderated by Maria Shriver who is suffering from the loss of her mother and uncle Teddy and the three speakers were Elizabeth Edwards, who is currently battling breast cancer and lost her first son, 14 years ago, Susan St. James who lost her 16 year old son in a plane crash and Lisa Niemi, who lost her husband, Patrick Swayze, a few weeks ago. They are all in different stages of grief.

Another wonderful thing about the conference is the award ceremony called The Minerva Award. Minerva is the Roman Goddess of wisdom who is the tireless warrior and goddess of peace. The four women where honored from everything for tutoring homeless children (school on wheels) to having a pediatric hospice (George Mark Children's House) for families that are going through the devastation of a dying child. Their stories, and the lives that they have affected, are amazing.

Here are some of my notes from the conference:
  • If you want something - work hard and take opportunities – you can make it happen

  • Embrace change and give up the need to know

  • Be grateful – list the reasons your life is right.

  • Practice gratitude everyday.

  • Robin Roberts’ mother’s mantra: “Make your mess your message to help others”

  • You’re not too old, too young or too busy to serve. Find your passion to help the world, to serve

Good decision making:
  • Get opinions – ask others

  • Do not be afraid to try things and fall on your face

  • Do not take NO for an answer

  • Understand what the risks are and take calculated risks – protect downside!

  • Inaction is not an option

  • The more you make daily decisions, the easier it will become

  • Approach things positively, not with fear of failure

  • To be good in business be good in math or hire someone who is!

Good leaders: “Just be yourself, everyone else is already taken”
  • Listen

  • Make it fun for people who work for you

  • Have courage


  • Focus on solutions, not problems

  • Decide whether you want to be liked or admired

  • People change on what they feel (emotions), not what they know. Make the message inspirational

  • Leaders show their true selves in times of challenge. Courage and Wisdom

Build a team through good times and bad times. Zero tolerance for backstabbing. Be willing and able to agree and disagree with each other – saying it with respect.

Trailblazers: Madeleine Albright – the 64th Secretary of State and first women ever to hold that position. “There is a special place in hell for women who don’t help women”
  • Don’t impose your values (spending more time with children, working less) on your spouse or judge choices of others (stay at home mom vs. working mom). Every woman has the right to choose

  • You are always evolving – communicate with your spouse, boss, and children

  • You define success for yourself – choose who you want to be

  • You can be what you envision – dream it and visualize it

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Here We Go Again - Time vs. Effort

It is the beginning of the competitive swim season and all across the country, indeed the world, swimmers and their coaches are hitting the first couple of meets to see what is going on.

So, what do we see? What exactly is going on?

Coaches see swimmers doing the following:
1 - Attempting new techniques
2 - Struggling with new techniques
3 - Doing the same old routines
4 - Being dissatisfied with results
5 - Wondering if they are in shape
6 - Wondering if they are out of shape
7 - Asking familiar questions
8 - Asking new questions
9 - Eagerly trying new racing strategies
10 - Frustrated by results when using new racing strategies

You can see this list is nearly endless, or so it seems to us.

What is very clear to us however is that to improve upon previous performances, swimmers must look to gain new insights to swim more effectively. If you want to swim faster you must embrace change...and know what to change and what to keep the same but do more efficiently or effectively. The difference between these two is a subject for another time.

Today we want to reinforce the need to look at the difference between times achieved when racing and the effort or improvement achieved when racing. Our sport is wonderful in that we require zero subjective input – namely, no judge determines the outcome of a race based upon how we look while we swim. The clock tells the story, period. And this is often the bane of our existence, especially as coaches. Extended improvement occurs when new skills are learned. For the sake of simplicity we will say today that those skills fall into two categories: technique and pacing.

When you race using a different technique you are challenging your brain enormously. Old habits are tough to overcome. When you race using a different pacing strategy you are challenging your brain enormously. Old habits are tough to overcome.

No, you didn’t read that incorrectly. The brain and its wiring are extremely powerful in regards to how we swim and how we race. The same old strategies and techniques that yielded the same old results make it challenging to make change.

This is the same for all swimmers, from the slowest to the fastest. When you think of the fastest swimmers in the world they too must continually challenge their preciously held beliefs about what works and what doesn’t.

The message today is that while you are working on change focus on your effort. Time improvements occur when more effective technique blends with more efficient pacing strategies. Those two items require time for the brain to make the change and for you to become comfortable with that change.

For now, focus on improvement and let the time take care of itself. When we were in sophomore history looking at the clock, waiting for the period to end, the teacher remarked, “Time will pass, will you?”

Enough said. Enjoy your week at the pool! Let us know how it goes.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Hang Time

On page 94 of this month's issue of Outside Magazine Nick Heil writes an absorbing article entitled Hang Time. See if you can find it, perhaps even online. The captivating part of the article is Heil's assertion "that by moving slowly and repeatedly through complex and dynamic movements, we can rewire our minds to perform those movements more efficiently. The unfamiliar movements get the brain reacquainted with muscles that it rarely calls on (or may have stopped calling on in the wake of an injury) but that are quietly waiting in reserve."

Here at swimcoachdirect we have been reading a lot about the brain over the last six months or so. We have ideas to share with you in the coming weeks about what we are learning. This article is one of many that have been popping up in more mainstream print media lately that talk about the connection between the brain and the body. Science has learned a huge amount that is now being shared about how the human performance machine works, what causes some folks to be more efficient than others...the list is nearly mind boggling!

So, for now and for the pure fun of it follow this link and watch the five short video clips of Nick Heil in the "Lab Rat" section as he demonstrates technique on 5 very familiar exercises. What we like about them is that they are simple, can be done nearly anywhere and yet when done correctly will make a huge difference in the way your body is able to move.

So check it out at and let us know what you think. See you at the pool!

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Then There is the Matter of Confidence

As US Swimming Club coaches one of the many bonuses we have is real time connectivity to a number of collegiate programs. This connection comes as a result of our swimmers who graduate high school and matriculate into college and university programs.

This week one of our swimmers sent to us an interesting article he received as a member of his school's swim team. Sport and Clinical Psychologist Scott Goldman, Ph.D. writes about the matter of confidence. In all areas of performance, not just sport, confidence plays huge role. We were particularly struck by Michael Jordan's comment that one of the big reasons for his success was his failures.

Have a great week in the water. Enjoy the article and let us know what you think!


Sunday, October 4, 2009

The Case for Surfing

There are any numbers of cross training activities that can be beneficial to swimmers. Indeed, swimming is a very favorable cross training activity for many other types of athletes! But we digress...

Many swimmers currently do some sort of dry land training which may incorporate anything from basic calisthenics at home to more detailed lifting programs in a gym to spin classes to gymnastics to yoga to tai chi and other forms of martial arts to boxing. The list is nearly endless.

If the activity does any of the following it probably has merit:
Promotes basic strength
Develops any type of core muscles
Has any cardio element to it
Safely promotes risk taking

We know lots of swimmers who bike, run, hike, rock climb and box in addition to the more standard (still enormously beneficial) weight lifting.

Here in northern California we have some on our team who love to surf. This option is not available in many locales but for those who have access we would ask you to consider it. We even go as far as giving those who surf a regular pool workout off so long as they go to the ocean.

In our minds surfing has excellent value. It is water based and as such it still places a premium on figuring out how your body works best in the water. It often demands super strength in the upper body to get the board out into position. When you catch the wave it presents all sorts of timing issues which is great for swimmers working on coordination in the water. Then when you stand up on the board all sorts of core muscles are being recruited.

Perhaps the quality we like best though is the one involving choice and risk. Every day the ocean is different such that you never really know if what you expect is what you will find. That is very much like many swim workouts and never really know what you are up against until you engage. The icing on the cake in surfing is that once you are there and get a "read" on the scene it still changes! One minute you are looking at riding 4 footers and then along comes a 6 or 7 footer and everything immediately and without warning changes. If you look over your shoulder expecting a 4 footer and are faced with a 6 or 7 footer you are faced with a decision that must be made NOW. Are you willing to attempt riding it? And if so, what do you need to do to be successful?

Competitive swimmers often face instantaneous decision making. How well you respond often determines how successful you are. You had a great prelim swim and now you are in the finals - often unexpectedly. You are racing a well known competitor and suddenly she/he makes a move that is not expected thereby catching you off guard. How will you react and how well will you handle the unknown?

To our way of thinking, surfing presents you with a chance to practice all these skills. For that reason alone it is a favorite cross training activity in our book. If you have ever surfed and have a story to tell, let us know. We would love to share it with the swimcoachdirect community. Have a great week!

Sunday, September 27, 2009

The Only Real Limitations Are Self-Imposed

The following article was written for ESPN and brought to our attention by one of our swimmers who is now a freshman training at a D 1 top ten NCAA program. It is especially interesting to us since the swimmer noticed the role of the brain in the process of evaluating limits. This is a topic near and dear to us. We often do "brain training" with our team. Isn't it a little crazy that as coaches when we say things in meetings or on pool deck we wonder if anyone is really listening? Well we admit to being pleasantly surprised when this article was forwarded to us. Enjoy the tale, and then let us know what you think. Remember, the more we share the quicker we all learn!

Limits and Illusions: Michael Jordan in the NBA at 50

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Exceeding Expectations

We have been re-reading Tony Jeary’s book Strategic Acceleration in an effort to impart to our swimmers how to identify what he calls “highly leveraged activities”.

He refers to “the strategic acceleration tripod” which works to achieve superior results faster. The three legs of the tripod are clarity, focus and execution. He defines clarity as “knowing what you really want”. Focus is “about avoiding distractions and learning to identify the high leverage activities that significantly move the results needle.”

While all three are equally important in that your chances of success go down dramatically when you lack one or more of them, execution is where you spend the bulk of your time. Execution is the “doing” and that is where we spend the majority of our time and effort. As such it is important to consider the impact of exceeding expectations.

Jeary points out that he has learned “a lot about meeting and exceeding expectations, and one of the things I’ve learned is that it’s not complicated or hard to understand. Expectations are met when things happen the way people expect them to happen. However, expectations are exceeded when positive things happen that people do not expect.”

He goes on, “I want to be very clear about why exceeding expectations is the strategic mind-set that leads to the creation of superior results. Exceeding expectations is a strategic way of thinking based on the fact that we ultimately become and do what we think. The mind is the engine of action, and action produces results.”

We have our swimmers regularly consider the power of goals on their actions. When a swimmer tells us that they want to swim in college, we ask them to consider if their training supports their declared intention. It is a way for us to help keep their focus in a world busy with homework, social and athletic pursuits. What we are attempting to do – and we are having a pretty darned good measure of success with it – is get them to understand that their thought process leads to their actions.

And if they want to get there faster then they need to consider the concept of exceeding their level of expectation. To use Jeary’s words, coaching becomes the following in our eyes: “To persuade others to exceed expectations requires us to be able to persuade them to think differently about what they do and how they do it.”

On our set Saturday after discussing this concept with them we asked them to exceed their expectations as they trained. Many did just that and as a result swam faster and tougher as the challenge rose the deeper we got into the set. We have our first meet next week and we are asking them to do the same thing there, regardless of how they feel due to heavy training. We feel confident that most will respond to the challenge!

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Making the Case for Open Water

We just got back from a local open water swim and it sure was fun to see so many swimmers from around the area as well as a few famous ones who traveled in for the event. Today was the Tiburon Mile; the 10th annual time the event has been staged with the money raised this year going to Hospice by the Bay. This swim in San Francisco Bay begins with folks gathering in the town of Tiburon, CA doing all the usual things: registering, picking up numbers and ankle bracelets, goodie bags etc. Then all the swimmers get on one of two ferries and head across the open water known locally as Raccoon Straits to Angel Island. There they disembark and head for the beach area for the starting line.

Once the gun sounds it is a mad dash for the water and the best spot in the pack. Depending upon your goals, you either charge toward the front, enduring the rough going as swimmers vie for their preferred line or you hang back a little looking for your own "sweet spot" as you settle in for the more or less one mile swim back to the town. As you get into the harbor there is a well marked chute which leads you up onto a small patch of sand and gravel where your ankle bracelet trips the electronic eye and records your finish with both elapsed time and place.

There are multiple divisions from elite to age group to wetsuit. It is fun and challenging all at the same time. You swim with some of the world's fastest open water swimmers even if you are a weekend warrior type. The finish area is complete with ardent well wishers and curious town folk just out for a Sunday morning coffee.

But what is extremely fun to watch is the expressions of the predominant pool swimmers who are making their annual open water swim or even perhaps their first attempt. The water is a chilly 55 or so degrees, you cannot see the bottom, there is no line to follow, people are pushing each other - sometimes intentionally, most times not - there is a current to deal with and usually some wave action plus today there were seals frolicking near the entrance to the harbor.

Most folks learned something about themselves today in their pursuit of adventure. We saw lots of smiles and folks being proud of their personal victories. What we liked was the fact that many of the pool only swimmers got out of their comfort zones today. Regardless of how fast they were in comparison to the field they all had an experience they will remember for many years. Nearly all who started finished; to our knowledge no one was seriously injured and several hours later we are guessing that most if not all have warmed back up enough to allow themselves a well earned feeling of contentedness.

So if you are a pool only swimmer check your local listings for an open water event near you and give it a try...and conversely, if you are an open water or tri-athlete check with your local Masters swim scene and go racing in the pool sometime before your season is over. It is always interesting to step outside your immediate comfort zone! Let us know how it goes for you!

Sunday, September 6, 2009

The Twin Power of Tempo and Distance Per Stroke

All swimmers know the power and speed that comes from a combination of turnover - tempo - and efficient stroke technique - measured as distance per stroke. A recent article in the SF Chronicle captured this perfectly, as applied to track. We underlined a couple of key points for emphasis.

What's next for Bolt - the 400? the 800?
John Crumpacker, Chronicle Staff Writer
Sunday, August 23, 2009

(08-22) 16:56 PDT -- What kind of numbers are these? Nine and five-eighths? Wasn't that O.J. Simpson's helmet size, 95/8? Nineteen nineteen? My dear, departed mother was born in 1919.

What's next, 430? That's my credit score if I don't get these bills in the snail mail.

Until a flash of lightning named Usain Bolt came along, times of 9.58 for the 100 meters and 19.19 for the 200 just did not compute. Even the fastest of men did not, could not, dream of running such times.

Then along came this Lightning Bolt from Jamaica jouncing down the track wearing a suit of green and yellow ebullience and all of a sudden, world sprinting has been redefined.

I sat in awe of the man a year ago at the Beijing Olympics, and this past week in Berlin at the World Championships he obliterated those jaw-dropping 2008 records.

At 6-foot-5, Bolt represents a paradigm shift in sprinting. What makes him unbeatable is the length of his stride combined with his turnover, the time it takes him to put one foot down and then the other.

Bolt's turnover is just as quick as his shorter competitors, but with his longer stride pattern, he takes fewer steps to get from the start to the finish. Can't beat it.

A year ago, Michael Johnson took in the measure of Bolt at the Beijing Olympics and had this scouting report: "He has an incredibly long stride, which affords him the ability to cover more ground. He has been able to take that long stride that he has and combine it with technique and with his high turnover he can destroy the field."

Our sport of swimming is not unique in that every now and then an athlete comes along who re-writes the record book combining technique and speed from the body type they were given genetically. Everyone in 2008 was talking about Michael Phelps. A few years back it was Ian Thorpe from Australia that had everyone buzzing (remember his suit by the way? Completely form fitted in case you forgot...).

In golf 10 years or so ago Tiger Woods came on the scene. He completely altered the way pro golfers train. Why? Simply put: pro golf is competitive (probably all golf - we wouldn't know!) and if you want to beat the person in front of you, you had better do what he/she is doing and then do something more and or different.

Usain Bolt is "unbelievable" and yet we are willing to wager that there are more than one or two track sprinters out there who are already working on how to beat him. This is the nature of competitive sports (or business or education - don't think for a moment that colleges and universities are not aware of what the "competition" is doing) - either you are improving or the competition is getting further ahead. It is really quite simple; not complex at all.

The trick is to figure out what to work on and in our sport most, if indeed not all of it gets reduced to the twin concepts of keeping your tempo up while keeping your distance per stroke rate at the maximum you can achieve.
For starters, next time you swim a lap count your strokes. If you can somehow reduce that number by one while keeping your stroke rate - tempo - the same, you will swim the lap faster.

Good luck and let us know how we can help!

Sunday, August 30, 2009

And Then There Is Co-Curricular

We were having a staff meeting today discussing how we would present our program to a group of new swimmers and parents. One of our coaches, David Winters, used the word "co-curricular" in the most interesting and fascinating way.

We are working diligently to get our senior training group swimmers ready for the challenges facing them when they go into a collegiate swim program. It is not merely enough for them to have fast times; they need to be ready to handle the work load often required by top level programs regardless of in which Division the school resides.

In our area the Summer Swim League is so dominant that it often dwarfs the US Swimming programs. Since the League only swims 50's of the various strokes all the way through the 14 year olds, when we get a swimmer from one of those recreation programs they have no idea how to swim 100's and 200's let alone a 500. And amazingly the swimmers and their parents think that it is not that big a deal to step up to the longer distances and often have unrealistic expectations about the learning process.

So we were thinking about a good way to explain this to the new group we are cultivating. We likened it to the scholastic process. If your child is headed to say Harvard for an engineering degree but doesn't take the necessary math classes in high school, including Advanced Placement ones, he/she will be so far behind the curve as a freshman in college that success will be darned hard to come by.

We also reckon that many parents look at US Swimming as an "extra-curricular" activity when in fact it can be a major influence in a) where the student athlete goes to college and b) her/his ability to actually gain admission to the school of their choice.

David was correctly suggesting that we change their mindset to one where US Swimming is regarded as in fact co-curricular so that they view its potential more seriously. Getting admitted to college is so competitive these days that any edge can make the difference. Being a recruited member of that college's swim program - again regardless of the Division of the school - often makes or breaks acceptance. We have swimmers on our team who can attest to this fact.

So, as you go about the business of "selling" your program to future and current participants perhaps you can frame your points of reference in such a way that they better understand the "value added" of what you deliver. Good luck and let us know how it goes for you!

Sunday, August 23, 2009


Garrett Weber-Gale is a member of the US National Team. His blog comes to us by way of US Swimming. We find it refreshingly honest. Let us know what you think!

Living and Learning...Sometimes the Hard Way
by Garrett Weber-Gale

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Breaststroke Timing

Breaststroke is an interesting and somewhat more complex stroke to master, at least initially. One reason this is so is that it has what appears to have two separate and distinct propulsive phases. Yet when done correctly there is continuous propulsion; meaning that either the arms or legs are always working.

The two main technique errors seem to be: 1) being out of streamline position at most or all of the time during the stroke cycle and 2) gliding at the end of the kick phase.

Here is the contradiction: the fastest breaststrokers spend more time in the streamlined position than they do in the pull or kick phase and yet they never stop to glide. How can this be, you wonder? The answer is easier to give than to accomplish in the water: they never stop pulling or kicking...hmmmmm.

Get someone to time your complete stroke cycle from when your hands begin to separate on the pull to when your heels come together at the end of the kick's propulsion. (There are several different ways to time a stroke cycle; this is simply the one we use. It matters not which one you use so long as it incorporates a complete arm/leg cycle.) The fastest folks are no longer than 1.7 seconds and most are 1.3 or 1.4. What this means is that they are really moving at a fast tempo which allows them to be in a streamlined position for more of the cycle.

One common error is that as your hands begin to separate for the pull you will be bringing your feet up toward your hips to kick. If you do this then you are pulling your body in a non streamlined position since your feet and thighs will be dragging in the water. The other common error is as you begin to push with your feet your arms begin to drift apart anticipating the pull part of the stroke. When this happens you are also kicking a wider surface than if your hands were together in a streamlined position.

How do you fix these problems? Start with a pull buoy and go one lap simply pulling yourself with as short a pause after each pull as you can manage. Don't be alarmed if this leaves you breathless. Then take the pull buoy and hold it out in front of you and kick with as short a pause as you can. Do several one lappers this way alternating pull and kick. Then tackle a one lap swim with both arms and legs, making certain that you pull with your legs straight behind you and that you kick with your hands together in front of you. At first this may seem rushed to you but if you stick to shorter distances with enough rest to do it properly you will find that you can manage to do this correctly.

Remember: pull then kick and keep the recovery of the arms and legs moving quickly as well. We also recommend that you count the number of strokes you take for a lap as a reference point. Over time you will find the balance between tempo and distance per stroke.

Of course, if you want to sign up for a video analysis we can help that way as well. Let us know how it goes for you!

Sunday, August 9, 2009

One More Thing To Consider

We are in Federal Way just outside of Seattle this and next week competing at the US Open and Junior National Championships. One of the most gratifying opportunities at such meets is the chance to exchange ideas with fellow coaches, swimmers and officials. Whenever you get a group of like minded people together there are always good information/perspectives available.

One of the most respected coaches is Terry Stoddard of Swim Pasadena. He is the one who gave us the quote that "Long course swimming is the truth serum of our sport." We were discussing with him various reactions athletes have after their swims. He had an interesting perspective.

Swimmers can be frustrated, angry, disappointed and even discouraged if a swim doesn't meet expectations. Terry said, "It's OK to be disappointed; but never OK to be discouraged."

We hope those words ring the same way with you as they did with us. One of our swimmers wasn't very happy with a swim this week. Emotions were very real and very exposed. We said that it was OK to be upset but not to get down on yourself. You are in a National level meet competing with the very fastest swimmers available. If you handled your swim in less than perfect fashion it is not a sin; it is merely a swim that didn't go as planned - learn from it and move on. Use the disappointment as fuel for motivation for the next swim or the next round of training. Getting down on yourself, or as Terry would say, getting discouraged is pointless. It has no short or long term value. All the mornings you got up before the sun, all the lifts in the weight room, all the sacrifices you have made in fact make it impossible for you to be discouraged. You have made such a personal commitment to excellence that will always be of value no matter how fast you swim a particular race.

This goes for coaches as well. Disappointment is something we must learn to cope with. As long as we do our level best we cannot allow ourselves to get discouraged. We hope this viewpoint helps. We are all striving for personal improvement. We are all measured on the outside by how we swim/coach compared to others when in fact we can only control how we do and more importantly, how we handle the outcomes on the inside.

We hope this helps. Let us know your thoughts and have a great week!

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Hitting For The Sake Of Hitting

There was an interesting article in this Saturday’s San Francisco Chronicle about the Oakland Raiders and their somewhat unique approach to training camp. David White writes, “Take the old school of two-a-day practices, add the new school of football teaching, and that explains all this standing around at the Raiders training camp…Instead of doing what normal NFL teams do at training camp – strap up and hit somebody – the Raiders are spending the first four days of camp in an outdoor classroom. No pads. No hitting. No plays run. No sweat broken. Just lots of teaching and, Cable (Head Coach Tom Cable) hopes, lots of learning. “It seemed like it was weird at first,” linebacker Isaiah Ekejiuba said Friday. “But you go through it and it’s a great concept.”

This is Cable’s idea: Teach the players what they are supposed to do, down to the last details, before cutting them loose to do it on the field. Injuries are limited, if only because it is near impossible to get hurt practicing at the speed of jog. “It’s a chance to really sort it all out and work through it before all of a sudden you put the combative part into it,” said Cable. He adds, “This is unique because we don’t have the stress, we don’t get beat up. We’re really learning and relearning.”

They are not hitting merely for the sake of hitting.

Swimming For The Sake Of Swimming

Often coaches, especially at the beginning of the season, want to emphasize aerobic fitness with their swimmers. Masters swimmers and tri-athletes often do the same. What can happen if you are not careful is that you end up doing a lot of swimming merely for the sake of getting in the yardage. To be sure, lots of yardage can (but is not guaranteed to) drive the general fitness level up; but at what cost?

We suggest that you take a page from Tom Cable’s coaching manual and spend some time getting your strokes more proficient, especially early in the season. If you are already in mid season training phase why not take one day per week and simply focus on technique? This will get you back to basics and give you a recovery day at the same time. Perhaps you take a lesson that day, or watch a video and then get in the pool and play with the new drill(s) you saw in the video.

We have swimmers on our team who are in great shape but make the same mistakes technically over and over again. We think that has some to do with ineffective coaching and part to do with swimmers who think they can “muscle” their way to the top.

We can tell you this much about the World Championships taking place in Rome this week: those swimmers in the suits setting world records are very efficient and proficient in the pool. It is inspiring us to rethink how we will begin our season in the fall.

Swimmers who want to swim fast need first to swim correctly and then work on their training systems. That much we are sure of…the rest of the stuff we are still working on!

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Long and Strong

Several coaches were hanging out poolside last weekend talking about the recently concluded National Championships/World Championship Trials held earlier this month in Indianapolis. We asked one coach who put a swimmer on the US Team headed to Rome for the World Championships this month what his opinion was about the meet; what did he take home from the experience.

His answer was succinct and to the point: "Long and strong," he said. "All the fast swimmers are long and strong."

In a 50 meter pool, which as you know is where all World Championship and Olympic contests are held, swimmers do indeed benefit when they are long and strong: Long with their strokes and strong to carry their speed over the longer distance of the 50 meter pool.

What can we all take from this simple advice? We always need to be mindful of our distance per stroke. We always can work on our general and sport specific strength component.

We recommend that each workout has a set of drills and a set of training that incorporates the concept of distance per stroke. A quick example of this would be to swim a 50 (yards or meters) counting your strokes per lap and keeping them the same. Once you arrive at this "X" number you have your base line count. Then swim a couple of 50's at X-1; then go a couple more at X-2. You can do any stroke you wish so long as you count the number and work to reduce it. Then do a set of 9 x 50 swimming all of them at the same time but do the first 3 at X, the next 3 at X-1 and the last 3 at X-2. there are other examples but this gives you an idea of how to mix the concept of "long" into your workout.

The "strong" part is pretty simple. If you go to the gym and already have a routine then simple add a couple of pounds to the lifts you do, or add a couple more repetitions to your sets. Work on the prime muscle groups that you use in swimming and if you are not sure then ask one of the trainers at your gym.

Or you can do pushups and pull-ups, squats and calf raisers at home. It doesn't take a gym to get stronger; all it takes is your desire!

Give this a try for 30 days and we are pretty sure you will feel and see the difference in your swimming. What works for the fastest swimmers in the world works for all of us.

Have a great week in and out of the pool. We are here to help so let us know how we can!

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Growing Pains

As businesses and teams work through these competitive and challenging times we think it is wise to use the proverbial "growing pains" as an opportunity to learn, to improve our product or service and to re-examine how we deliver the same. If you have the best product but are weak at delivering it you will soon be out of business. If your business is a swim team your "product" is perhaps more accurately described as a "service" that you provide. Again, we think the delivery of this service is what sets the strong apart from the weak. And we will be so presumptive here to suggest that it is relatively easy to draw the distinction between the strong and the weak.

Healthy teams are ones that continuously grow; the numbers of athletes are up; the financial foundation is solid; the coaching staff is growing; the swimmers are having more fun and swimming faster when it counts, meaning at the more important meets. In any given geographical area there are always at least two swim teams, usually many more. This gives the swimming public a choice. We find that folks most often vote their approval with their checkbook and their presence.

Our team here in northern California is healthy and at the same time we are experiencing growing pains. Our staff has been spending time this summer asking our swimmers to evaluate and where necessary to re-think their concept of what a team is, how it functions more effectively. In so doing we looked for examples of other successful athletic programs. This led us to an enlightening article about Pete Carroll who is the Head Coach of the football team at the University of Southern California. His teams' record over the last decade is more than impressive. He has had winning seasons, won National Championships, and been in more Bowl games etc than any other program. What caught our eye was that he has not been through a normal "win and then re-build" cycle. He just keeps on winning. Talk about consistency.

We found it instructive for our purposes working with our team to learn that Pete has only 3 rules: 1 - Protect the team; 2 - No complaining, no whining, no excuses; 3 - Be early. Pretty simple and yet these three rules encompass what you need to have a strong foundation as well as a major structure on top of that foundation.

We especially like the 2nd rule. Winners in life are accountable to themselves and their team. They don't complain because if they were to do so they would be victims. Winners are never victims...and victims are never winners.

If a person says "I couldn't do "X" because..." they are off-loading the responsibility for their performance onto someone or something else. They are abdicating their responsibility and being a victim. A winner simply says, "I didn't do it today, tomorrow I will". End of story.

As we help shape our young people's tool kit we believe understanding this distinction is critical to their success - both in the pool and in life. We are interested in your opinion!

Sunday, July 12, 2009

If You Felt Like Swimming a Mile...

Every now and then when you think about going to the pool you may consider "How far am I going to swim today?" And for some peculiar reason we often think in terms of how far we swim or the number of laps we carve out for ourselves.

In our sport of competitive swimming the "mile" is the term given to the 1650 freestyle. We have no idea how that came to pass since an actual mile is 1,760 yards. If there are any swim historians out there please illuminate us! At any rate a 1650 is 66 laps in a 25 yard pool and is often a distance swum in practice by competitive swimmers who race at that distance. You may have done so yourself - more than once; or you may have considered doing so but thought it would be boring or that you would lose count - or lose your mind doing something so repetitive.

For those of you who like things in neat packages we offer the following set we ran at Master's workout this morning. It is exactly 1650 yards long. The terminology "X" and "X - 1" refer to the number of strokes you take for one length of the pool. Have fun and let us know how it goes for you!

After a normal and suitable warm up swim here is the set. Take 20 seconds rest after every swim all the way through. When you are done swim an easy 300 and pat yourself on the back!

8 Rounds:
1x50 swim the 1st lap at X and the 2nd lap at X-1
1x25 swim at 85% effort at X

6 Rounds:
1x75 swim laps 1&2 at X then lap 3 at X-1
1x25 swim at 90% effort at X

4 Rounds:
1x100 swim 1st 50 at X then 2nd 50 at X-1
1x25 at 95% effort at X

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Plagiarizing Is OK

We think if we "borrow" from ourselves it may not actually be plagiarizing at all! At any rate we are getting our team - see us at - ready for fast swimming later this month and early in August. We thought we'd share with you our workout from this Saturday in hopes that it would help you and at the same time encourage you to share back with us some of your ideas/special sets. We believe that sharing ideas is one of the best ways to generate discussion and find solutions. Our way isn't the best way; it is merely the way we go about getting fast swims - and we are always fine tuning the process.

Each swimmer got a copy of the Menu when they got to practice. They chose Plan A or B in the appropriate group. We began this workout with an hour of warm up activity that included a lot of drill work and some relatively benign breath holding swimming. We hold our breath often in warm ups since it pushes the pulse rate up. The Junior Olympic group races in 2 weeks, Sectionals are in 3 weeks and the US Open is in 5 weeks followed by the Junior Nationals. There were no intervals on these swims. It took us about 45 minutes to get everyone "fed". We then loosened up with a "50 Fly on the 4th of July" having each swimmer predict to the hundredth what their time would be. The winning men's time was .10 and the women's .03 from predicted. Fun stuff! Let us know what you think.

4th of July Menu Today's Specials
Healthy Appetites - National Qualifiers
Plan A: 500 carbs
1x200 broken .10 at 25, 75, 125, 175
2x100 - #1 broken .10 at 50 #2 broken .10 at 25, 75
2x50 - blocks or running dive OR 4x25 blocks or running dive

Plan B: 500 carbs
2x100 broken - #1 .10 at the 50 #2 .10 at 25, 75
2x75 broken - #1 .10 at 50 #2 .10 25, 50
3x50 blocks or running dive OR 6x25 blocks or running dive

Moderate Eaters - Sectional Qualifiers
Plan A: 400 carbs
1x200 broken .10 at 25, 75, 125, 175
1x100 broken .10 at 25, 75
2x50 blocks or running dive OR 4x25 blocks or running dive

Plan B: 400 Carbs
2x100 broken - #1 .10 at 50 #2 .10 at 25, 75
1x 75 broken .10 at 25
1x50 blocks or running dive
3x25 blocks or running dive

Heart Healthy Light Fare - JO Qualifiers
Plan A: 300 Carbs
1x200 broken .10 at 25, 75, 125, 175
1x100 broken .10 at 25, 75

Plan B: 300 Carbs
1x100 broken .10 at 25, 75
3x50 blocks or running dive
2x25 blocks or running dive

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Wisdom Around Every Corner

There appears to be wisdom around just about every corner, or so it seems to us. In yesterday's paper there was a short piece about Amare Stoudemire, the often unbelievably talented, and sometimes injured (which athlete goes through his/her career without injuries?) basketball player for the Phoenix Suns. The writer spoke of how when the Suns acquired Shaquille O'Neal a few years ago that Amare went into a funk, taking the arrival of Shaq as a personal affront to his ability and the organization's faith in him. With Shaq clogging up the middle, Stoudemire went into a shell, offering the Suns no help on defense or the boards.

A club executive said, "If Amare is going to be among the great players, he's going to have to dominate the game in other areas - rebounding, defense, passing. There's going to be a time when he can't jump as high, and he'll have to rely on his mastery of the game, not ability. He'll have to play smarter, not harder."

We are going to read this at our team meeting this week. Too often swimmers rely on more and or harder training to improve forgetting the importance of swimming and racing "smarter."

So, a short list for you this week might look something like this:

For a swimmer...When was the last time you did a set where you:
Actually watched the clock to check and see if your swims got faster as practice progressed?
Counted your strokes to make certain your efficiency was as high as possible?
Did a kicking set that really had your heart rate up into the anaerobic range?
Made sure your head followed your hand on the last stroke into a flip turn?
Got an extra two or three feet off the wall because you were underwater deep enough?

For a coach...When was the last time you:
Wrote a goal for practice, then the workout, and then evaluated your success?
Asked a colleague for an idea for a set?
Made sure you said "Hi" and "Goodbye" to each swimmer at practice?
Told a joke in the middle of workout?
Wrote the team report cards?

We are sure you get the idea here. At some point working as hard as you can will not be enough to keep your game improving. You will need to rely on your intellect. The reason for this is very simple: the people you are chasing have already begun using theirs.

Let us know how we can help. Have a great week in and out of the pool!

Sunday, June 21, 2009

More Lessons From Tiger

The great ones in any field never stop teaching. To learn from them all we need do is observe, keep our eyes and ears wide open and pay attention.

This weekend Tiger Woods is playing in the U.S. Open which is one of golf's "Majors". When he wins his next Major it will be number 15 for him. Jack Nicklaus holds the record at 18.

He is coming back from major knee surgery about a year ago, working at his game after changing his technique yet again (the great ones are always trying to improve). He said last Tuesday "I feel great, I keep getting better and better."

He is finally feeling strong enough to resume his routine of going to the practice range following a round in a tournament. Yes, you read that correctly. Woods goes to the practice range immediately after a round in a tournament.

We are not certain how many swimmers go into the practice pool for a set after a day of racing...none on our team do...not yet anyway.

More from Woods; "To get better at this game, you have to put in the time. You don't think about it and magically get better every day. You have to do the work, and I'm able to start doing that now." Woods is a golf geek in this sense. Listen to him talk about practice and you begin to realize he enjoys those range sessions nearly as much as playing in the tournaments. He didn't win 14 Majors on sheer talent alone.

Never stop learning; never.

Have a great week!

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Guaranteed To Stretch Your Brain

Last week we had a long and interesting piece on the "suit wars" issue. This week we present a much shorter take on a different but clearly (at least to us) related matter.

In his book "Virus of the Mind" Richard Brodie writes about "The New Science of the Meme". For your consideration we offer the following excerpts:

"Definition of Meme: A meme is a unit of information in a mind whose existence influences events such that more copies of itself get created in other minds.

The most interesting thing about memes is not whether they're true or false; it's that they are building blocks of your mind.

Memes can and do run your life, probably to a far greater degree than you realize.

One of the ways the memes you are programmed with greatly affect your future is through self-fulfilling prophecy.

The distinction-memes you are programmed with control what information you perceive. They actually make reality look different to you."

We find this kind of discussion fascinating since we are in the fulfillment business...helping athletes and coaches reach their vision. And to do that we all must be very aware of what our reality looks like.

Have a great week and let us know what you think!

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Very Interesting Take on Suits

We have stayed away from the swim suit issue for quite awhile, both on our own team and here on this site. The following is a bit on the long side but raises some rather intelligent questions. We thought you would enjoy. Let us know!

Record Evolution: It May Not All Be In the Suit

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Redefining Effort

In our never ending quest to find techniques that will get us to our desired places quicker...and that word "quicker" is the key one...we have been talking amongst ourselves looking for better ways to train. Our primary objective in these discussions has been to make training more relevant to our swimmers in a meaningful way. We define "meaningful" in this context as training that the swimmer can see will make them stronger and faster.

So, rather than keep repeating the same old sets on the normal intervals, we have been mixing things up a bit...and not just for the sake of mixing them up. We are exploring new territory that has direct implications to more speed. We, after all, are competitive swimmers seeking more speed.

Here are two simple things you can do that will redefine effort on your part, or on the part of your swimmers.

1 - Swim with added resistance. Take this one step at a time or you may push yourself into a deep hole. You can swim 25's and 50's with parachutes. Go to your online swim shop and start with a yellow one. Or swim with ankle weights...or with tennis shoes on...or with a Clorox type bottle tethered to your ankles with a tube or band (a cut up inner tube works well). The last one is nice because you can vary the amount of resistance by filling more water into the plastic jug.

2 - Swim with a pair of soft fins. We define "soft" as anything more flexible than the traditional zoomer style fin. Big scuba fins are too big and may load up the legs and hips too much. We also have our butterflyers swim with mono fins. The idea here is to be able to swim so fast that you become aware of what real speed feels like. You also have a much greater appreciation for body position at super fast speeds. Give your self enough rest so you can swim fast and as with the resistance idea start modestly. We swim up to 100 repeats with fins.

As you redefine effort you gain a greater appreciation for exactly what is involved in preparing for faster swimming. Give this a try and let us know how it goes for you!

Monday, May 25, 2009

To Shave Off Some Time

One of the quickest ways to swim faster times in the pool, whether in meets or practice, is to work the walls more efficiently. If you watch super fast swimmers at the elite level you will notice they all turn well. While you may not swim as fast as they do you certainly can learn to take advantage of the tremendous push off of the wall. And to do so is remarkably simple.

The two main components are depth of the push off and the streamlined body position.

The "cleanest" water in the pool is between three feet and five feet under the surface. The top three feet are turbulent due to the disturbance you have created by swimming into the wall. Once you get below that turbulence you get "clean" water, i.e. more stable water you can get leverage on for moving forward again. Also, if you get deeper than five feet when you begin kicking the wave action created from your legs will bounce off the bottom. If you swim in a pool that is shallower than 7 feet you will need to adjust the depth upward accordingly. (A pool six feet deep will have an optimum underwater range of something in the 2.5 - 4 foot depth, as an example)

A way to measure this is simply push off on the surface and glide until you stop. See where you are on the lane line or side of the pool. Repeat three feet under and you will gain several inches or even a foot more distance. So push off the walls down into the clean water to gain additional distance without even swimming another stroke.

A streamlined body presents less resistance to the water and therefore allows the force used to move it further. A sports car cuts through the air much cleaner than a snow plow...forget the horsepower issue! (If you took the snow plow off the truck it would be faster!)

The three simple things to consider when streamlining your body as you push from the wall are: 1) put one hand on top of the other while gently squeezing your ears with your biceps; 2) pull your belly button up into your spine to reduce mid body sag; 3) point your toes toward the wall you just pushed off from.

If you will come off the wall in clean water (deeper down) with a streamlined body position you will travel farther with the same amount of effort. That is an excellent thing!

Let us know how it goes for you!

Quote for the Week

"Long course swimming is the truth serum of our sport"
Terry Stoddard...Head Coach Swim Pasadena

Sunday, May 17, 2009

It May Be Time To Change

We went to the races this weekend and did we ever learn some in a ton! As coaches we are a lot like teachers. If there were never any tests we wouldn't know how much the students were learning. Racing is the absolute best feedback mechanism for measuring our effectiveness as coaches and swimmers.

When we finish a training block with a series of meets that matter to the swimmers we really get a chance to evaluate our progress. When things go well it is tempting to think we have it all figured out. And conversely when they don't go well it is equally tempting to toss everything out the window and start from zero again.

As is often the case, we believe the answer lies somewhere in the middle. The additional challenge as coaches is that we must evaluate for an entire group of swimmers. The easiest way for us is to make lists...what we did well so that we keep doing those things and what we need to improve upon so we can look for solutions. We issue a "report card" to each swimmer and that gives them specifics they can work on in the context of the general workouts.

As an example, the following are two case studies from swimmers we train with a focus on the need to change what they are doing. (They do many things correctly but in the interest of space and time we will limit this discussion to the changes we want).

George (not his real name) swims the 200 and 500. He swam lifetime best times in the just concluded training block. When he races he swims with his head too high which means his body position is not as flat as we would like. Also, off each turn he pulls first with his breathing side arm which means he gets very little forward pull on the first stroke.

Solution: We will have George swim more in practice with a snorkel so he and his body learn what it feels like to swim flatter in the pool. While swimming with a snorkel he will get more aerobically fit in addition to having his correct body position reinforced. We will have him pull of each turn first with his non-breathing side arm so that his muscle memory knows that he pulls first with his left arm (non-breathing side arm) and then with his right arm (his breathing side arm). We will allow him to swim with fins for added speed assistance so he can make more challenging intervals and still swim correctly. Laps swum incorrectly are not only a waste of time; they build more poor muscle memory.

Rachel (not her real name) had a couple of tough weeks leading up to the big meets and for several reasons did not swim her best times. We think her primary event is the 200 free. She was very disappointed and frustrated. Even more critical, she has lost her confidence. She loves swimming but feels a little lost as many of her teammates had lots of success.

Solution: What we as coaches and she as the swimmer have been doing obviously is not working. It is time to admit that and find a new direction. She has excellent stroke mechanics so we don't need wholesale changes there. We are going to drop her dry land program of lifting and have her work out with a local boxing coach. This will keep her aerobic fitness level high, give her some one on one athleticism work (this coach really puts his clients through the paces in a positive no nonsense way - we already have three swimmers working with him), we will challenge her more in workouts with different sets than she usually uses (this will keep her from being able to compare too much with what she already knows about) and we will have her train with the sprint group two days a week or even three vs. the 200 group. On kicking days will have her use fins and even a snorkel occasionally so she can kick on faster intervals so she knows what it is like to move faster in the water. We also will no longer use her lifetime best times as a reference point. Rather we will use her season's best times and work from there. We don't really know if this will work. What we do know is that our current path is not working. Her confidence will grow from the work with the boxing coach and her faster swimming in workouts with fins. We may find that she needs more sprint work even though her best event is the 200. We may even discover we were wrong and her best event will be the 100 free. She also can swim fly so that may emerge as another event for her.

We encourage all coaches and swimmers to use meet performances as feedback mechanisms. Keep doing what is working well and drop that which isn't. The best coaches - measured by their effectiveness - adapt to their athletes...not the other way our opinion. What is yours?

Sunday, May 10, 2009

And the Answer Is...?

A lot of our swimmers are in the final stages of their school year and there is a round of state wide testing going on soon to be followed by final exams. Add to this the usual end of year reports and projects and it promises to be a very busy time for all student/athletes.

Oh, and did we mention that at least here in Northern California it is high school championship swim season time? Well it is! And so there are lots of excited and occasionally nervous, anxious and at times over amped athlete/students.

We thought you might have fun with this little test, even if you are no longer hitting the books as it were.

1. You are racing a 50 yard free. Would you rather be?
A) Over trained and under rested
B) Under trained and over rested

2. You are racing a 100 yard breastroke. Would you rather be?
A) Over trained and under rested
B) Under trained and over rested

3. You are racing a 500 yard free. Would you rather be?
A) Over trained and under rested
B) Under trained and over rested

4. You have a late night of studying. You will only get 6 hours of sleep. What is the best option for those precious 6 hours?
A) 10 PM - 4 AM
B) Midnight - 6 AM
C) 1 AM - 7 AM

5. If you had a choice (and you always do!) is it better to hold your breath into or out of a freestyle flip turn?

6. All things being equal which start is faster?
A) A track start with your thumbs on the top of the block for good balance
B) A track start with your back leg slightly "loaded" up
C) A start with both feet gripping the front of the block for explosiveness

7. Which of the following is the fastest part of the 100 yard freestyle event?
A) The second lap because you are still fresh
B) The first 6 yards off the turns
C) The last 6 yards to the touchpad because you are inspired

8. True or false: You want the most distance per stroke in all events from the 50 on up.

9. As soon as possible after your race you want to:
A) Find your teammates and get your picture taken
B) Find your parent(s) and have them tell you what a great swim you did
C) Find your coach and recap your swim
D) Get in the pool and loosen down

10. True or false; In butterfly you want to have a very smooth undulation from the tips of your fingers to the tips of your toes.

11. It is race day. Which of the following is most important to your success?
A) That you have your fastest suit available
B) That your goggles stay on the entire race
C) That you keep your focus in your lane
D) That you race the rest of the field
E) That you do your best time
F) That you swim your event correctly
G) That you negative split your swim
H) That you had a really good breakfast
I) That you felt good and had fast times in warm-ups
J) That you hit all your turns
K) That your start was really quick
L) That your coach said all the rights things to you before you swam
M) That a teammate gave you a pat on the back on the way to the blocks
N) That your Mom/Dad stood at the end of your lane cheering for you
O) That your Mom/Dad blended nicely into the background and were basically invisible
P) That you were well hydrated
Q) That the warm up pool wasn't too crowded and you could do everything just right
R) That your breathing pattern was perfect
S) That your depth on the push offs was correct
T) That you wore your shoes to the blocks (plus hat and gloves if it is cold)
U) That you had the perfect state of arousal behind the blocks
V) That you had a massage and feel relaxed but strong in the water
W) That if you have the chance to win, you grab it
X) That you were able to put aside for the day your "other stuff" (we all have other stuff)
Y) That your Coach/Mom/Dad/Boyfriend/Girlfriend loves you
Z) That you had a few good solid weeks in training with some fast times as well

Or the bonus option: That you "got lucky" and "it" all just worked out fine

12. Rate the above in importance from 1-27

Let us know what you think about our PRE-SAT test. In case you were wondering, the SAT comes when you get behind the blocks. Have fun and swim fast!

Sunday, May 3, 2009

More on Hand Position

We have been learning how to use some software about which we are very excited. Dartfish allows us to take video then watch it frame by frame and draw on it. We also are developing the ability to put voice over the video and still frames for stroke analysis.

We anticipate this tool will give us the ability to do technical stroke feedback for any swimmer who sends us video. We will have more to share as we move up the proverbial learning curve. What we know now is that we can demonstrate correct body and hand position if we have the video.

Last week in our blog we discussed hand position, specifically as it relates to forward propulsion. We said that if the knuckles are facing forward (and therefore the palms are facing backwards) your hand is in a more efficient position. We discussed how we use a drill where we pause for 3 seconds, then for 2 seconds, 1 second and then no pause (four laps total). All the time our finger tips are pointing to the bottom of the pool, knuckles facing forward.

Another drill we use is simple sculling. We use the out sweep and the in sweep to get hands in the most advantageous position. Sometimes we scull an entire lap; other times we scull maybe 3 or 4 times and then break into stroke having "warmed up" our hands to the correct position.

In the photos above, using Dartfish, we have drawn some lines to elaborate on the positions we are after. It is a shame that John Madden retired but now we are excited about having the ability to draw on the screen. We don't know enough about football to take his place but perhaps we can influence TV's coverage of swimming to include this exciting and informative aspect of our sport.

Let us know what you think. Send a quick email to as your comments help us improve our coaching. Thanks!

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Knuckles and Palms

As we continue to refine our coaching skills we look for more effective ways to communicate concepts to our swimmers - and to each other as coaches. Lately we have been working on teaching the all important catch portion of the stroke by referring to the position of the knuckles and palms early in the propulsive phase of the stroke.

Most swimmers know where their knuckles and palms are. The trick is to get them aware of how to position them, especially early in the stroke. And if you think about it, if you can determine which anatomy part they are more familiar with then you simply teach that part since the other is always in the exact opposite position. So, if you get one correct they both will be.

James "Doc" Counsilman, one of the great scientists and coaches our sport has seen, popularized our profession's awareness of the Bernoulli Principle. In a nutshell, fluids flow faster over curved surfaces than flat surfaces creating unequal pressure. If your hand is placed properly with the palm (flat surface) facing backward and the knuckle side (curved surface) facing forward (in the direction you wish to travel) you hand has a greater tendency to stay in place in the water allowing your body to move past it.

When your finger tips are pointing toward the bottom of the pool in freestyle your hands are in the correct position. Anytime your fingertips are pointing forward (at the beginning of the stroke) or backward (at the end of the stroke) your palms are facing down with your knuckles up and you are not going forward.

The trick then is to put your hand in the water and immediately get your fingertips about 8 inches beneath the surface pointing down. There are a number of different drills for this and many work best with a snorkel (to eliminate the need for altering body position due to head movement for breathing). The most basic one is when you pause your stroke with one hand in the catch position and the other in the push position at the end of the stroke.

Our typical progression goes like this. Swim one lap with a 3 second pause, then another with a 2 second pause, then 1 second pause and finally a lap of regular swimming. If your hand is in the correct position you will feel your knuckles pushing water with both hands during the pause phase. If you feel that you will know your hands are in the proper position. Keep practicing until you can distinguish the difference between fingertips pointing forward and backward (not propelling you forward) and pointing at the bottom of the pool thus allowing you to anchor your hands pulling your body past them.

Let us know how it goes and you coaches out there please feel free to share your drills on this concept as well. The more we share our knowledge the more satisfaction our swimmers will have...and that is a wonderful thing!

Sunday, April 19, 2009

You Are Either Part of the Problem or Part of the Solution

As we at Swim Coach Direct learn to grow and expand our abilities we continue to look for more effective ways to teach and learn. We have been exposed to a fascinating new book entitled “Strategic Acceleration” by Tony Jeary. We have begun reading and working with the concepts. Our initial reaction is that this may be the most influential book we have read in quite some time.

We certainly are not able today to give you a synopsis. We can say with enthusiasm that Tony’s delivery of the message has caught our attention. Today we would like to share the following excerpt: You Can Live in the Problem, or You Can Live in the Solution.

On page 20 he says, “If you choose to live in solutions, the world eagerly awaits your dreams and provides every tool and opportunity you need to turn them into reality. However, if you choose to live in problems, you will see little opportunity. This is where clarity can make such a huge difference in results. When you lack clarity about what you really want, you will find yourself being pushed toward living in problems. When you have clarity about what you really want, you will be pulled toward living in solutions. Living in solutions allows you to become more effective in all you do.”

This week at practice we had one of our swimmers talk about how “pressures” were mounting (as the school year comes to a close) and how “stress” was becoming an issue. We asked the swimmer to identify the “pressure” and “stress” in hopes that we both – swimmer and coach – would be able to specifically know what was involved. Our hope is that we can identify the solutions to the problems in such a way that we both can move forward constructively toward stated goals.

We hope this helps. We are in the business of sharing what we know; what we have experienced; improving personally and professionally as we impact those swimmers/people who have entrusted their growth to us.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Which Is More Important?

Two factors combine for swimming speed; they are distance per stroke and tempo (often referred to as stroke rate or turnover). When considering how to swim faster we sometimes focus on one at the expense of the other.

If you have very low stroke counts and therefore excellent stroke efficiency are you better off than the swimmer next to you who resembles a high speed turbine? Well, maybe not. If your stroke count is low because you glide a lot at the beginning of your stroke you may not be grabbing hold of the water very well. You may look pretty but you may not be very efficient in that your mechanics are not helping you propel yourself efficiently.

Conversely, if you move your arms (and legs) very fast but are not grabbing much water your high tempo is only that – a high tempo. Fast tempo in and of itself is no guarantee for speed. If you aren’t efficient, that is holding onto lots of water, it really doesn’t matter how fast you move your arms.

So, in your opinion, which is more important, distance per stroke or tempo? For a quick lesson Google “Nathan Adrian 50 Free”. We hope you have a great week at the pool!

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Oh, Those T-Shirts...

Recently we were in Orlando, Florida at the Junior National Championships. We saw the following on the back of a T-shirt.

"If you even dream of beating me you'd better wake up and apologize"... Mohammed Ali

This man and his body of work bear studying. Along with Michael Jordan and Tiger Woods he is today, some 40 years later, recognized as one of the most influential athletes ever. The statement above would seem arrogant coming from almost anyone other than Ali. He was an athlete of exceptional skill; a person of extraordinary principle. He went to jail, foregoing several years of his career - at his prime - rather than serve in Vietnam, because he didn't believe in killing people.

He is the same man who is quoted as saying, "The fight is won far from the witnesses." (It is what you do in the moments in training which no one else sees, that makes the difference when you compete). As we continue to perfect our craft, let us remember these ideas.

Study and surround yourself with successful people, no matter the field of endeavor. You will learn enormous amounts of precious and valuable qualities which will serve you well all the years of your life.

Have a great week. Let us know how we can help!

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Which 50 Is IT?

When swimming a 200 free we often ponder the question "Which 50 is the most important one?" When you look at the swims below you can "see" the race unfolding.

These are the top three finishers and their splits from the recently concluded Men's and Women's NCAA Swimming Championships. While each split is significant in that it is part of the swim, which 50 do you think made the difference? Then the next question is "What are you doing in your training program to make that split available to you when it counts the most?

Let us know what you think. We are here to help!

1 Fraser, Shaune FLOR 1:31.70 20
r:+0.75 21.57 45.24 (23.67)
1:08.49 (23.25) 1:31.70 (23.21)
2 Walters, Dave TEX 1:32.59 17
r:+0.75 21.66 45.39 (23.73)
1:09.46 (24.07) 1:32.59 (23.13)
3 Berens, Ricky TEX 1:32.74 16
r:+0.77 21.70 45.55 (23.85)
1:09.45 (23.90) 1:32.74 (23.29)

1 Vollmer, Dana CAL 1:42.01M"A" 20
r:+0.78 24.38 50.52 (26.14)
1:16.47 (25.95) 1:42.01 (25.54)
2 Scroggy, Morgan UGA 1:42.90 "A" 17
r:+0.74 24.54 50.93 (26.39)
1:16.89 (25.96) 1:42.90 (26.01)
3 Schmitt, Allison UGA 1:43.09 "A" 16
r:+0.73 24.50 50.47 (25.97)
1:16.84 (26.37) 1:43.09 (26.25)

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Preparation – A Key to Success

That preparation is vital to ongoing and ultimate success is not a revelation to any of you. At swimcoachdirect we are always looking for new ways to communicate lifelong maxims. We have been rereading “How Life Imitates Chess” by World Champion Garry Kasparov.

On page 70 he writes Preparation Pays Off in Many Ways:

“We can’t all have the single-minded dedication of an Alekhine. Few lives and few endeavors permit such devotion. But in truth it’s not the amount of time that really counts – it’s the quality of your study and how you use your time. Becoming a 24/7 fanatic who counts every minute and second isn’t going to make you a success. The keys to great preparation are self-awareness and consistency. Steady effort pays off, even if not always in an immediate, tangible way.”

He continues, “We cannot doubt the brainpower of Thomas Edison, but his true genius lay in his capacity for endless experimentation. In creating the electric light bulb, he tested thousands of substances to find a filament that wouldn’t burn out…”Opportunity,” Edison said, “is missed by most because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work.” This was an echo of another great thinker and worker, Thomas Jefferson, who wrote, “I’m a great believer in luck and I find the harder I work, the more I have of it.”

So, as we go about our week, let’s all pledge to find an appreciation for the preparation we already know we need to move forward toward our goals. We are going to wear our overalls to the pool this week. Join us and tell us how it goes for you!