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!