Sunday, February 28, 2010

A Sampler from Vancouver

We have been enjoying the competition from the Winter Olympics in Vancouver these past two weeks. Watching the best in any field come together testing their courage and confidence is always a treat. We especially take note during the interviews of the self talk of these athletes. You'll remember a while back we noted that when you hang out with champions you can learn a lot listening to how they talk. It was then suggested that you keep a sharp ear for how you talk about yourself and your performances as you go through your day.

The following are excerpts from some US medalists. If we lived in Germany or South Korea we would have more quotes of a similar nature from German or South Korean athletes.

Evan Lysacek - figure skater
"It was definitely my best, and that is what I came here to do. Of course you know it's been tough the last couple of months not thinking about the results, but I've had to shove all those thoughts out of my head, and my thought process was just mind your own business. I wrote that on a little card when I got here and taped it up in my room: Mind you own business, worry about what I have to do and what my job is, and the truth of the matter is that mission was accomplished here."

Julia Mancuso - alpine skier
"My coach kept saying, 'You've got to just keep doing it, just keep going on,' no matter how frustrated I got in all the fall races...but my training has been really good and I proved today I could do it."

Bode Miller - alpine skier
"At our level it's more about self-discovery." As for the Olympics, he added, it's not about obsessing over medals - and certainly not about obsessing over other people obsessing about your winning medals. "It's about digging deeper and finding inspiration...having fun, about skiing like I did when I was a kid." More from Miller - "I've never had too many confidence issues in my skiing. But to execute on a day like today, and the way I executed, the way I've skied, is something I'll be proud of for the rest of my life. I've put down absolutely wide open runs before - I could have skied better today - but I skied with 100 percent heart and I didn't hold anything back."

Whenever top performers are interviewed you will most usually see similar self-talk. Take a moment over the next couple of days to monitor what you say to yourself (and others) as the events in your world unfold.

Have a great week in the pool...we know we will!

Sunday, February 21, 2010

An Example of Advanced Clear Thinking

We were at a CAL dual meet a month or so ago and had a chance to chat with Nort Thornton. Nort has coached so many swimmers - many of them among the world's fastest - that he has seen stroke progressions few have had the opportunity to witness. Whenever he talks we listen. He offered to share with us his views on some things he believes really make a difference. We shared this information with our team and we can tell you they were all ears. So, with Nort's permission we offer the following. Below are some of the key points. Enjoy...and thanks to you Nort for sharing!

My Thoughts on the New Breaststroke

by Nort Thornton

After coaching for fifty plus years as a head coach at the high school, country club, U.S. Swimming Club, Community College and NCAA division I levels, where I had sole responsibility of coaching the whole team on all of the four competitive strokes, I retired from the University of California at Berkeley where I have been for the last thirty-three years. I decided to volunteer to help out, and our present coach David Durden was kind enough to put me to work. It isn't really work when you love what you are doing. We decided that I could be the most helpful if I looked after the breaststrokers swimmers, so that is what I have been doing for the last two years.

When you only have one stroke to think about, I found that I could think about it in much more detail, and in different ways. There is an old saying that goes- "when you look at something differently, the thing you look at changes." I believe this to be true. Here is my thought process. I looked at a couple laws of nature. 1.) Water is 1000 times thicker than air. To move through water takes concerted effort. Hydrodynamic principles that affect our movement in water tell us that as our movement becomes more forceful, and speed increases, water's resistance to it increases by the effort squared. If you fight the water, slap at it and splash around, tangling with the water's surface tension, and creating counter productive waves, the resistance explodes by cubing your increase in effort. The water not only resists our effort to move through it, it has various forms of drag. Molecules of water in the form of sheets that must be pushed aside to open a 'momentary hole' through which the body can propel itself. You could spend the rest of your life in the weight room getting stronger, and not win this battle. 2.) The quickest and most dramatic way to improve your movement though water is to ensure that the swimmer understands proper technique. A 10% improvement in technique will usually result in a 10% better effort.

What we need to understand is that speed comes from our body position, our line between our arm pulls. If we can have a narrow streamlined body line, so as to not push much water, we can slide through the water faster and farther on each stroke cycle. So basically the best swimmers are the ones that don't over power the arm and leg actions, but have the best streamline position.

The second most important element in fast swimming, in my opinion, is the ability to move water quickly, which increases as the swimmer first gets stronger and then more powerful. Finally, increased conditioning (getting in better shape) plays the third most important part. It is critical to be able to hold speed for your whole race distance, while dealing with the increasing discomfort. But think about the fact that it would take about a 50% improvement in conditioning to produce the same 10% improvement in effort that better technique affords.

The third point is becoming comfortable with less air while spending more time underwater. Since the walls of the pool are where you can generate the most power! speed, we need to be able to take full advantage of them. If lack of air leads you to shorten up your underwater sequence of the dive or push off from your turns, then you are giving up you main advantage~ Remember that you can move through the water from a push off in a streamlined position faster than we can swim on the surface; you do not want to give this advantage away under any circumstances.

I believe that proper technique (the least amount of drag and resistance) requires that:

  • A. Swimmers maximize the streamline off of every wall (which takes breath control) and training to do this in oxygen deprivation.

  • B. Extending the body to maximum reaching streamline position appropriate for each stroke, especially while in oxygen debt. Developing the neuromuscular adaptations to perform under the combat of racing is key to success.

  • C. Not rushing the stroke just to sneak in another breath. Holding our stroke length and tempo at all times.

  • D. "Less is more." Too much effort inappropriately applied during a race will not necessarily make swimmers move faster, but it will assuredly make them tired faster. Since you can only get a certain level of physical fitness, and the water continues to square or cube it's resistance, it should be obvious by now the greatest opportunity for improvement comes in the area of eliminating resistance and drag, or better technique. (more speed between the arm pulls.)

My thinking is, and it became very obvious, that we cast a "body shadow," as if we were standing directly under a floodlight, which casts a shadow on the deck around our feet. We need to successfully find a way to squeeze that shadow down to the smallest possible circumference. This should be our racing streamline position. Anytime we move our feet, legs, hands, elbows or arm we need to find a way to have these movements inside our shadow, in other words, not increase the circumference of our drag shadow.

Since the high tech swim suits are no longer legal, at least as of this year. Actually the wording of the new rules, which allow knee length suits, is written in such a way that the swim suit companies may be able to produce suits that still can give you some assistance. We will see how much money is to be made from these suits, and of course this will determine the direction that the sport of swimming will head. Assuming that we will need to produce proper body position on our own~ it is very important to learn to create body tension throughout the core, so as to maintain the bodyline that will allow you to maximize your elimination of resistance and drag. To swim downhill, you must learn to press your chest down, which because of your lungs, is the most buoyant part of your body. The body laying out on the surface of the water (face down), is balanced somewhere near the navel. If you relax your body tension, your chest will float up and you lower body will sink. At his point you are swimming vertically, which will create the most possible drag and resistance. The top swimmers have learned to develop enough tension in their core to keep their chest slightly lower than their hips in a tight streamline. Please do not think that you need to try to swim higher in the water. Any energy that is devoted toward staying higher in the water, is energy that is taken away from forward propulsion. Speed can best be achieved by maintaining a straight line.

In the water, we want to manufacture velocity. There are two ways to get faster swimming: 1) through biochemistry (the operation of muscles and expenditure and resupply of energy) and 2) through biomechanics (the physical forces that govern propulsion and the generation and conservation of momentum).

Most swimmers and coaches devote the bulk of their time and attention to conditioning (the biochemistry half of the equation) and very little tine to technique (the biomechanics). Most are only concerned with producing horsepower. But what is most important? Shaping and positioning the body to reduce frontal resistance. (Eliminating and/or reducing the resistance of the water to the body's passage through it.) This will create and/or improve the force production properties of the stroke.
If you can be a good "eliminator" and just and average "force producer," you can be very successful competitive swimmer. The eliminating skills depend far less on pure talent than do abilities in force production. You can swim a great deal faster by staying out of your own way as you move through the water. (Boats, cars, planes, and swimmers are all designed for the same purpose).

Sunday, February 14, 2010

More from Drive

"Drive" by Daniel H. Pink continues to enthrall us. "As a psychology professor at Stanford University, Carol Dweck has been studying motivation and achievement in children and young adults for nearly forty years, amassing a body of rigorous empirical research that has made her a superstar in contemporary behavioral science." It occurs to us that we coaches and swimmers are very similar in that we are working daily in the field of behavioral science.

See if this doesn't intrigue you........

Dweck says, "Effort is one of the things that gives meaning to life. Effort means you care about something, that something is important to you and you are willing to work for it. It would be an impoverished existence if you were not willing to value things and commit yourself to working toward them."

Pink continues..."Another doctor, one who lacks a Ph.D. but has a plaque in the Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, Massachusetts, put it similarly. "Being a professional," Julius Erving once said, "is doing the things you love to do, on the days you don't feel like doing them."

We'll stop there. The best ideas are communicated simply. We think Dr. J said it better than we have ever heard it expressed.

Have a great week! Stay in touch...

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Ah Yes...Motivation

Whenever coaches get together to chat, pick each other's brains, the word motivation almost always comes up. It is the rare coaching clinic that doesn't have the topic of motivation as, of all things, a "carrot" to get you to sign up and attend.

Here at SwimCoachDirect we have often thought about the subject in both abstract terms - what will work for a particular training group this week - and concrete ones, how can we motivate Mary to get engaged in her aerobic training more?

Our coaching colleague Nort Thornton at UC Berkeley mentioned a new book by Daniel H. Pink entitled "Drive". We picked it up, began reading and cannot put it down. It is one of those books that comes along now and then and really challenges you to alter your perceptions. Without trying to sum it up, especially since we are only part way through it, Pink really wants us to think about the differences between extrinsic and intrinsic motivation. The following are some of the morsels we found particularly tasty...

"Greatness and nearsightedness are incompatible. Meaningful achievement depends on lifting one's sights and pushing toward the horizon."

When writing about extrinsic motivation (which does work in some select specific situations) he points of the downfalls.

"Carrots and Sticks: the Seven Deadly Flaws"
1. They can extinguish intrinsic motivation.
2. They can diminish performance.
3. They can crush creativity.
4. They can crowd out good behavior.
5. They can encourage cheating, shortcuts and unethical behavior.
6. They can become additive.
7. They can foster short-term thinking.

"Self Determination Theory (SDT) begins with a notion of universal human needs. It argues that we have three innate psychological needs - competence, autonomy and relatedness. When those needs are satisfied, we're motivated, productive and happy. When they're thwarted, our motivations, productivity and happiness plummet."

Over the last three decades any numbers of scientific research projects in various places across the globe are delivering irrefutable evidence that in just about every field of endeavor we are led to the same conclusion. "Human beings have an innate inner drive to be autonomous, self-determined and connected to one another. And when that drive is liberated, people achieve more and live richer lives."

This is remarkable evidence that supports some of the most visible success stories in sports. When an athlete "owns" his/her career, the level of interest and thus achievement is much higher than when the coach is "in charge of motivation." Teams function at much higher levels when the various members are pulling in the harnesses together toward a self-determined outcome.

When you begin planning for your next training block, consider what makes you feel like you are making progress. Share that with your coach or team. Get those in the support positions to "buy in" and watch the fundamental change take place. Empowering yourself and those around you can be a very "motivating" step for all concerned.

Give it a try. Let us know how it goes for you!

Monday, February 1, 2010

Lessons Learned

We went to a swim meet this weekend and to no one’s surprise we learned some more goodies about how to be effective under the magnifying glass that is competition. This particular meet was held in a long course pool meaning 50 meters long. Not only is a meter longer than a yard, when you take away ½ of the turns you really get a good perspective on how the swimmer’s fitness is progressing – or not.

There is one axiom in our sport that goes something like this: one goal of a swimmer is to be long course fit and short course fast. To swim effectively in a 50 meter pool you need to be really fit. To compete effectively in any size body of water you need to have speed. If open water swimming is your thing then you absolutely need to be very fit. If competing in open water is one of your goals you will want to make certain that you have speed as well as fitness. Many a place is determined in racing by the closing speed at the finish. This applies to open water as well as pool swimming.

You can get long course fitness in a short course pool, even a 20 yard pool or a motel pool; simply do a flip turn before you get to the side of the pool, pushing off on the water, not the pool side. Try it sometime. You’ll be amazed at how challenging it is to swim laps like this. We often have our swimmers do 100’s or 200’s doing long course turns at one end while doing short course turns at the other. In our county there are pools that are 50 meters, 40 meters and 33 1/3 yards long. Each of them offers opportunities to get long course fit.

In fact, even swim programs that have 12 month access to 50 meter water day in and day out still practice a lot going short course. Too much long course swimming makes you a sled dog. Too much sprinting makes you a greyhound. If you are going to venture into open water or long course pool swimming make certain you are fit while keeping up your speed so you can be competitive at the end of the race.

We know there are a lot of you who are tri-athletes out there. In the cold of winter you can do a lot for yourselves by swimming even in a short course pool by simply varying your routines. Give it a try and let us know how it goes for you!