Sunday, November 25, 2012

Random Notes

We were looking for something on the “notes” spot on our phone the other day and discovered some “random” thoughts heard at the September ASCA Clinic. Often the best information you hear from fellow coaches comes from “throwaway” lines in the hallways. You can often pick them up at meets as well as coaches exchange ideas about what works for them or how they are solving challenges that may be similar to your own.

In no particular order with credit given when known:

No swimmer who has trained well ever misses a taper.

Punctuality is a choice not an accident. (Karen Moe Humphreys)

You have the most growth when you are living on the edge. That is what an athlete does. (Karen again)
The swimmer who has the best technique for the longest period of time in a race has the best chance of winning.

No matter how much you care or how hard you try you cannot coach someone who doesn’t want to be coached, so it is important to clarify this connection. Said another way, when the swimmer is ready, the coach will appear.

It’s OK to be wrong so long as you have the courage of your conviction. (Greg Troy)

Inside every piece of stone is a beautiful statue. (Michael Angelo) The coach’s job is to find and grow the champion inside every swimmer.

Have a plan and follow it; modify if necessary but have a plan. Some are better than others but you must have a plan.

Swimming is not that important. It is what you learn from it that counts. (Greg Troy)

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Simplifying Tapering

The subject of tapering is a never ending one among swim coaches (and we would guess the same is true in every sport- baseball teams want to “peak” at the right time – Go Giants!). We looked for a couple of standard definitions and present below first from Wikipedia and then from the USA Swimming website.

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
  • In the context of sports, tapering refers to the practice of reducing exercise in the days just before an important competition.[1] Tapering is customary in many endurance sports, such as the marathon, athletics and swimming. For many athletes, a significant period of tapering is essential for optimal performance. The tapering period frequently lasts as much as a week or more.
As a general rule of thumb, longer endurance events are generally preceded by longer tapering periods, with the curious exception of particularly long endurance competitions, such as ultramarathons and multiday races. In swimming the opposite is true; distance swimmers will often taper for only a week or less, while sprinters (50 m-200 m) taper for up to 3 weeks.[citation needed]

And this from the home page of USA Swimming…
“A progressive nonlinear reduction of the training load during a variable period of time, in an attempt to reduce the physiological and psychological stress of daily training and optimize sports performance and enhance training adaptations during the taper period.” (Mujika et al. Sports Med. 34:891-927,2004; Thomas & Busso Med. Sci. Sports & Exerc. 37: 1615-1621, 2005)

This is further explained as a –
1 – Reduction in volume in the range of 40-90%
2 – Reduction in frequency – below 20% is not recommended
3 – Reduction in intensity – higher intensity is better than lower intensity, given 1 & 2 above

So what does all this mean?

Ken and I have been coaching for a combined 70+ years which means two things…no smart remarks here please! 1 – We are older and 2 – We have seen a lot of tapers.

We are taking our swimmers to a “big” meet in early December. Our entire training group has a “taper” meet, though the meets are different ones, they all occur within 8 days of one another. Then we have finals and then we begin build up into our winter training block. So we are in taper mode right now. 

And what does that mean?

To us it means this…a time when expectations for fast swimming are heightened. These expectations are what fuel the big meet. They come from and are justified by the recent meet performances and the workout swims we see on a daily basis – either fast repeats or super smooth technique – both of those are confidence builders.

The key ingredient in our minds is confidence and that comes directly from recent fast swims as well as the swimmer feeling like s/he is making progress on their stroke technique. We do a lot – and we mean a lot – of fast swimming without a watch. We are looking for technique and stroke balance and pacing. We can tell when a swimmer is closing the gap between training and racing speed by watching them perform certain skills in the course of a workout. We praise effort and pacing, not the time on the watch.

Ken has a great reference in this regard. He calls it “checking the oil.” He asks them, how often they check the oil in their car before turning the key. We all know the answer to that one…never. So why do they keep asking us to time them for a 25 or a 50? We tell them, no. They are not allowed to check the oil. They need to trust that the speed will be there.

I once had a swimmer tell me that “you don’t need to worry about me coach at this meet because I am going to swim fast.” That simple declaration was perfect. It stated the positive expectation he had. The only question that remained was “how fast”…and that is precisely why we go to the meet!

So taper = reduce the volume, reduce the workouts per week by only a little, look for higher levels of intensity…and never ever discount the power of belief. Positive expectations fuel positive races. Positive expectations come from recent meets and recent workout accomplishments – either speed or stroke improvements.

Keep it simple…always. It is easier for them to digest and for you to deliver.

And always smile…either the one that greets a great swim or the one that ruefully greets a swim that got away.

As Bruce says, “Some guys they just give up living
And start dying little by little piece by piece
Some guys come home from work and wash up
Then go racin' in the street

Be one of those guys…

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Finding Center

By Abby Pledger 

The ping of the alarm, not the pitter patter of little feet or a babe’s cry, jolts me out of a deep sleep. As I drowsily turn off the alarm I glance at the clock. 5:25 am. I quietly drag myself from the warm bed, pull on my swim suit and slip out of the house. Swim practice awaits. As I roll onto the pool deck 15 minutes later there is already a buzz in the air and steam rising from the pool. 40-50 others are crazy enough to join me in this early morning venture. I shiver as I sprint on my tip toes across the icy pool deck. It’s a cool 39 degrees this morning. A booming hello and a “yip, yip, yeah” greets me from my coach. I can feel the energy enter my body. I plunge into the pool and my body comes to life.

What is great enough to pull a mom of two little sleeping kids from her bed? A search for me.

I swam competitively from age 6 to 20. It was my life. It was where my best friends were made, where my personality was formed and what I identified with. In college I lived, ate and breathed swimming. By the time I graduated, I was ready for a change. I needed to find my identity beyond the pool. I swam intermittingly, on and off for the next 16 years, but never with much intensity. I focused on my career, creating a family, and squeezing in a workout when I could.

Over the past 5 years, since becoming a mother, I’ve felt a bit lost as an individual. It’s as if I had lost my center, my grounding. I’m sure many relate to this feeling. When you transition into motherhood you give all of yourself to your babies. At day’s end, you are a bundle of mental and physical exhaustion. There is nothing left to give. As the babies grow, you catch glimpses of the old you and bit by bit recapture some of what used to make you happy. Of course you have new fulfillments in your family, but it is critical to also be true to yourself and focus on what fuels you. For me, the gas tank was in the red.

For my 37th birthday last year, with kids ages 2 and 4, I gave myself the gift of a triathlon. The race was on my birthday and as my family cheered me on at the finish, not only did I feel a great sense of accomplishment, but a deep joy. I had touched the core of me again and was surrounded by the people I loved most. As I raced I kept telling myself, “This is for you Abby. This is your race. Go for it!” While the joy was pure, the feeling was fleeting. I quickly was wrapped back up in the trials and celebrations of being a stay at home mom of two kids.

I carried on, got into road biking, and slowly was finding my way back to center. I always knew the day I would enter the water again at a serious level would come. I did not know when, but I knew the call would come. After all, it is the core of me. And then one day it happened. There was no major revelation or magic moment. One night at dinner I shared with my husband that I had found a team and I planned to get back into the water. That was that. I committed to him that I would make 3 workouts a week. And more importantly, he committed to me his support in helping make that happen. Once I put something out there, I don’t generally back away. So there it was. Time to face the music.

I was quite nervous, but getting back in the pool with a team of swimmers felt like coming home. These are my people. These people I hardly know, I understand. I know what makes them tick. A few months later as I finished a grueling workout I looked up at my coach and said, “That was a crazy hard workout.” His comment back, “Well, it made you smile.” I guess—as I had a huge grin on my beet red face! And really, that’s the essence of it. I come home with a huge smile on my face, crazy tired, but happy. And that happiness is what matters.

You see, in the water I am not a mom, a wife, a daughter, or a consultant. I am Abby. The same Abby I have always been, with her head down in the water, pouring every ounce of energy into her swim, in complete focus, with no distraction, and pure joy. And that is why as the alarm goes off at 5:25 am in complete darkness, I get up. I get up to be me. I get up for joy. I get up to keep my center. 

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Lessons Learned

We have had quite an exciting time the last couple of weeks here in northern California being part of the San Francisco Giants run through the baseball playoffs culminating in the victorious World Series with the Detroit Tigers.

We choose the word “with” carefully over such other options as “over” or “against”. Our opinion is that all competitors perform closer to their potential when the stakes are higher. When you get into a World Series you are compelled by the event to dig deeper into your talent base and resolve…the Super Bowl, the World Series, the Olympics, the local high school championship meet – it matters not the “stature” of the event. What matters is your perception of it.

The lessons learned from the Giants are the value of teamwork; the importance of each person contributing when needed; the willingness to sacrifice ego and pitch when you are asked to do so…the list goes on.

What our swim team takes from this are several things. When you are against the wall, facing elimination…dig deeper…ever been in a swim off? Most swimmers have. Ever swim poorly in your first swim at an important meet and come back to have your best meet? Most swimmers have. Ever been asked to anchor a relay and lose the lead? Most swimmers have. Ever needed an encouraging word from a teammate, coach, or parent – and gotten it? Most swimmers have (though sometimes they ignore it).

What is amazing about baseball is there is no clock. You never hear a team saying, “We would have won but we ran out of time.” Swimmers, unless your most recent race was your last – EVER – you are not out of races!

Think about this for a second…every season, every professional baseball team will win about 1/3 of their games and lose 1/3 of their games…it is what they do with the remaining 1/3 of their games that determines the success of their season.

Rebecca Soni won the Olympic 200 Breaststroke in London breaking 2:20 for the first time in her life – no one else had done it before. She had not swum her best time in that event in 4 years…don’t you dare complain about not having swum your best time in a few weeks, months…

What are you going to do with the all-important 1/3 of your races?

Friday, November 2, 2012

Building Our Team

We are in the process of readying our team for one of several major December competitions. As is often the case with club programs, not every swimmer in the training group is pointing at the same meet. However, on our team we have a meet for every swimmer to aim for in the next 30-36 days. One of our main challenges is to keep the team working together cohesively when they have three different meets they are pointing toward on an individual basis. All coaches know the power of “Team”. The trick is to get the individual members to know the power as well.

In an effort to make this higher on their awareness list, we have been discussing the concept of team a fair amount in the last couple of weeks. We handed out the following image that Ken found. It is written on a door that leads into the training facility in Santa Clara, CA where the San Francisco 49ers train. We liked its straightforward simplicity. We agree that less is more when it comes to “rules” and this certainly meets that criteria. We hope it hits a positive nerve for you as well.