Sunday, December 30, 2012

Prepping for Success –
or Holding Athletes Accountable –
or The One Thing All of Us Have in Common

We don’t know about your team but ours is a constant work in progress. It is so dynamic that it can border on maddening at times. In many ways this very characteristic – the work in progress – is the most stimulating part of any development process.

Make no mistake about it either; club swimming is a work in progress. It is not the end game that often describes college or post-grad swimming.

We have just recently made a shift in our approach to how we treat swimmers and the “next big meet”. We like to think we are better prepared for success as a result of this shift. We believe that holding athletes (and their parents) accountable for their choices is a very important part of the maturation process. In so doing, we as coaches also hold each other similarly accountable for our leadership role.

The one constant each of our swimmers has in common is the time factor. Each person has 24 hours in a day, no more, no less. Each swimmer has a different level of ability and interest. Each has a distinct parent level of commitment and support. And as much as you can point to differences, they all have 24 hours. And they all choose to use it in some way, shape or form.
Those choices define their payback.

We recently experienced the annual event known as “studying for exams, taking exams, resting from all that brain work, holiday shopping and prepping for holiday merriment, holiday merriment, family travels, sleeping in since I have no school, seeing my friends who I never get to see, being able to be a normal person for once in my life” – have we left anything out?!

We have had double workouts ever since exams finished. We only had one on the 24th and none on the 25th. And we had nearly 20 at every workout. The other 10 came sporadically and the other 10 vanished. Some will no doubt reappear for the start of the New Year and they all will gather on the 8th since school resumes.

And they all will want to know about their big meet in March before the high school season begins. Many will be ready for March and some will be scrambling to get ready and some will be looking at getting ready for the high school season.

We are not allowing those who have cuts and or money to “buy” their way into a big March meet. That meet is earned the old fashion way. Work works.

Make the choice and earn the payoff. Make the other choice and miss this particular payoff. Either way the choice is theirs and what better way to teach how life works?

Sunday, December 23, 2012

What Swimmers Can Learn From Cam Newton

The following article, written by Vic Tafur, appeared in Friday’s San Francisco Chronicle. You don’t need to be a fan of football to enjoy it. All you need to be is a fan of improved performance. We underline the last paragraph for emphasis. Everyone one reading this has been on “both sides of the world”.

This is the year of the rookie quarterback, but what's happened to the rookie quarterback of a year ago, Cam Newton?

Superman's been down in the dumps and back, an alarming and confirming follow-up to a year in which the Panthers' quarterback broke the NFL rookie record for passing yards.
Carolina started 2-8, with Newton having more interceptions (10) than passing touchdowns (nine) and openly pouting on the sidelines after an ugly loss to the Giants. Then, on Oct. 21, after a loss to the Cowboys, a depressed Newton said he was going to put out a suggestion box for reporters to help fix the problem.

But just when everyone was ready to write off Newton, he is back.

Smiling big and making plays nobody else can make.

"He's playing with the swagger he had," Panthers coach Ron Rivera said.
The 5-9 Panthers, who host the 4-10 Raiders on Sunday, have won three of their past four and Newton has thrown nine touchdown passes, rushed for three more and hasn't turned the ball over once in those games. The "wow" plays are back. Like in the 30-20 win over Atlanta, when Newton took off for a 72-yard touchdown run, the fifth-longest by a quarterback in the Super Bowl era.

"Some stuff, you can't practice for it," said Raiders linebacker Omar Gaither, who played with Newton last season. "It's like you're playing against Kobe (Bryant), you know what he can do, but somehow he still hangs 40 on you."
In the immortal words of Bobby McFerrin, "Don't worry, be happy."

Newton had to learn how to lose and how to deal with the disappointment.

"He's never had to go through that," Rivera said. "I think part of it's just the pressure of it. He puts so much on himself. He took a lot of the blame himself.

"I think he understands and has figured out how to cope with it. Not accept it, but cope with it and make things better."

The Heisman Trophy winner from Auburn hasn't thrown an interception in 152 passes, the longest current streak in the NFL.

With 373 yards passing in his last two games, Newton will eclipse Peyton Manning's total of 7,874 yards for the most in NFL history by a quarterback in his first two years. 
"I could not have done it without my offense, and they could not have done it without me," Newton said. "There are a lot of guys going unnoticed behind the scenes that make this work. 
"It is not a one-man team. I think that's what we have learned more as the season has progressed."

Yes, the swagger, the one that prompted AFC players to actually hit him hard in last year's Pro Bowl, is back. But you also have to credit hard work and being more patient. 
"He has really improved, especially with checking it down to the second read or dumping it off to the backs, or with getting the ball out of harm's way and throwing it out of bounds," Panthers offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski said. "Those are the things that quarterbacks can do to keep drives alive.

"We've been good at creating big plays and getting things down the field. He's doing a good job of stringing those together with the check-downs and the short passing game." 
The Panthers also have solidified their offensive line with Garry Williams, the fourth and most effective player at the problematic right guard position. 
Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III have grabbed the limelight this season, but Newton wants it back. He is just not going to live and die over it every day.

"A wise man once said that nothing is as good as it seems when things are going good and nothing is as bad as it seems when things are going bad," Newton said. "You have to stay even keel because today you can be on top of the world and tomorrow the world can be on top of you."

Twitter: @Vic Tafur

Happy Holidays from us to you and your team!

Sunday, December 16, 2012

"Lost" Workouts

For most of our club Senior 1 training group school is over this Friday the 21st and resumes on Tuesday January 8th. Counting Friday’s evening workout through the 8th’s evening session we have 18 water training sessions in the 2+ weeks.

Every year at this time a certain number of our swimmers “lose” workouts. They go on vacations, or hang at home and find reasons/excuses not to train thoroughly through the December/January holiday period.

We refer to these missed sessions as “lost” since they cannot be regained at a later point in time. The one thing that all swimmers have in common is an equal amount of time. Each person has 24 hours each day and we all make choices about what we are doing with that time. If you are serious about moving your skill set (we often refer to it as your craft) forward, this holiday period is an excellent opportunity to do just that. An athlete can make enormous gains in fitness and skill in 2+ weeks. If you don’t think this is true then try the opposite. Do nothing for 2+ weeks and see where you are. Talk about a reality check!

We will challenge our team during this week’s team meeting (you have one of these each week, right?) to put a list of “priorities” on the board. These will be all sorts of fitness and skill related topics…goals if you will for the 2+ weeks.

Then we will provide them with a sheet – preprinted with the times and dates of the 18 sessions – and ask them to write next to each day a goal for that workout.

And we will encourage those that we don’t see to figure out what they can do while they are travelling or missing while hanging at home not to fall too far behind. But, some of them will and we will do we what we always do – smile.

We are in the development business. We will remind them that when they go to college to swim they will get “fired” if they miss workouts. The idea is to reach some of them now in hopes of turning on a light or two.

The ones that make all 18 will be our favorites. And we will do what all high level coaches do. We will play favorites. After all, that is how the games are played at the top.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Knoxville Clinic

We just spent the last several days in Knoxville at the Winter Junior Nationals. At every meet there runs concurrently an informal clinic as coaches and swimmers discuss the wide range of topics of interest to them. We were struck particularly with how fast some of the front runners were in the various heats. 

And in the finals it was even more pronounced – the fast were really fast.

We started thinking about how they get that way…really fast. Since this is competitive swimming (and competitive coaching too!) we found ourselves going back to basics.

The cell needs energy – fuel – to work. That energy comes from ATP. The cells create ATP from two sources; oxygen and lactic acid. An event that takes less than 2 minutes (which is most of the ones in our meets) requires the cells to make ATP from lactic acid and to a lesser extent oxygen.

Now this mix is the constant source of debate among coaches. We will admit that we are not scientists and therein may lay the flaw to our reasoning. Yet we remain convinced that the most important muscle in the body is confidence. And when it comes to swimming fast, especially in the big meets, the one thing that builds confidence is fast swimming in practice. Fast practices create fast expectations. Few if any athletes excel with diminished expectations.

We wonder how many miles the typical elite 400 meter and 800 meter runner ran as a 12 year old. We are going to research that one. Our guess at this point is not nearly as many as some of our 12 year old swimmers swim, even factoring in the 4:1 ratio of running to swimming. The 400/800 runner is our 100/200 swimmer.

Now we grant you that running is much more impactful than swimming and therefore it is unreasonable to assume that they could run that much even if they wanted/needed to do so. And yet we wonder what is the value of all those yards as proscribed by the proponents of high yardage to build the aerobic base for the future?…especially when the fastest swimmers aren’t using all that much aerobic functioning while racing.

And that’s what this is all about – racing.

Our supposition is that the value of laps as a youngster is the imbedding of technical know-how. Groove your strokes; build muscle memory, myelin wraps. More importantly it is the feel for the water and how your various levers and muscle groups work in concert with one another to move you through the water.

We posed these thoughts briefly to David Marsh of SWIM MAC. His reply was, “That’s the question we should be asking.” He also said he figured he was probably swimming far less than most of the other athletes at the meet. He admitted to doing widths in a 6 lane pool twice a week.

Dave Salo dropped the line in Las Vegas at the ASCA clinic that he is more concerned with metabolic rates than heart rates.

Greg Troy at the same clinic said the swimmer who maintains their stroke technique the longest in a race usually wins – especially at the elite level where the athletes are generally at the same level of fitness (all right, that can be argued as well…).

Elite level coaches Marsh, Salo and Troy have empirical evidence to support their various methods of training. We wonder as we prepare our teenagers for the rigors of college swimming if we need to spend all that much time counting laps.

We may just be better served counting high speed efforts…and when the stroke falls apart then stop and swim easily (not necessarily slowly) rebuilding the technique, working the myelin wrap.

The swimmer, who can swim faster repeats – even if that means only 25 or 50 yards- and more of them, will create more confidence thereby building higher expectations. To our knowledge no one ever got to the top – and remained there – without expectations of doing so.

To simplify; to build technique you need lots (as in countless) of strokes done correctly; to swim fast you need the technique done quickly; to swim fastest you need both. Do that and you will have a waiting list for your team, and swimmers in the A final at Nationals.

Your comments please…