Sunday, December 29, 2013

Top 40 – Top 5

Our team looks a lot like yours, we would guess no matter if you have age groupers, senior club, high school or college or even post grad. In fact your group at work or school has the same look, maybe even your family!

We have 40 slots in our Senior 1 training group. This group is designed to be populated by high school age kids who have decided that at this point in their lives they want swimming to be their #1 activity outside of school. For the most part they are faster than the average bear as well; some are national level, others regional or local. While their relative speed does differ, their intent – at least outwardly – is homogenous.

And yet upon closer examination the intent isn’t similar at all. Rather it seems to split into 3 different sub groupings: those that attend regularly (90% or more) and lean into it effort wise; those that attend @ 2/3 of the time and lean into it when they come; those that come 2/3 or more of the time but “hide” when effort is required.

This is another “no rocket science” situation. Attendance + effort = progress; fall short on attendance or effort – or both – progress comes to a halt…simple. Consistency is the name of the game.

The design of the group is to assist all in reaching their individual goal levels of achievement. Each team member is supposed (in theory) to be adding to the group dynamic, helping all members to do the same thing. Yet if not all are “in”, the group suffers. It’s like at work if someone always shows up late for a shift then everyone else has to do something extra until that person gets there…and it isn’t about the fact that the late person may receive less pay, it’s about the reality that the group suffers when not all are pulling their fair share.

Pretty standard team dynamics from where we see it. If we coached a college team it would be easy; don’t come to practice, turn in your gear; simple. But we are in the development game so we need to look for another way to drive home the point.

Our solution today is to rate the members of the group like this. First, are you in the Top 5 in terms of attendance and hard work? If yes, then super; if no then why not? And this list can and will include more than 5 swimmers at a time. In fact, it is possible to have the entire group of 40 in the Top 5! When/if we achieve that we will be a Silver Medal Club (we are currently a USA Swimming Bronze Medal Club).

We plan to evaluate our numbers weekly and report them to the team, without naming names. We are pretty sure those who are in the Top 5 know who they are; if there is any doubt they can always ask. We will give a non-personal factual reply.

And lest any parent or swimmer get their feathers ruffled, we shall simply remind them that this process of evaluation takes place routinely at the school they attend. In the workplace the evaluation takes place in the form of continued employment or a pink slip.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Our Source for Change is You

This is what we told our athletes as we convened for the first team meeting after the Winter Junior Nationals. We, as is the case with many of you, are in the winter break time. There is some family time, some travel, and of course the coaches’ dream – training camp…no school, lots of pool time and an abundance of enthusiasm! Well, at least on the coaches’ part…

So exactly what does all this mean in a practical sense? We, swimmers and coaches alike, are fueled by what we see/experience at the meets. Why the meets? Because we are competitive swim teams. If you are a club within USA Swimming then you share (or presumably share?) the 3 core objectives: 1- build the base, 2 – promote the sport, 3 – achieve competitive success.

Not all teams function this way but ours does. We are proud of our competitive program and its corresponding national level of success/recognition (North Bay Aquatics is a Bronze Medal Club).
To do this we need to recognize that at our upper level we need to hold each other – swimmers and coaches alike – to a high standard.

Therefore, our goal this winter is to get better which is often times reflected in getting faster. We want to swim at night at the highest level possible…swimmers say/ask, “Did you get back?” meaning did you qualify for a final? We want to swim at night…simple as that.

How do we get there? By doing things we haven’t yet done. Pretty simple when you get down to it. Ever done a set of 100’s on the 1:10? Maybe you should try…even if you cannot finish the set at least start it! Begin the task first; finish the task second. At some point in time every one of you can do something you have yet to do…and when that happens, doors open for you…

Your task is to open as many doors as possible. One of our swimmers recently asked about emailing college coaches to generate some interest. Our response was this; “Spend time on getting faster at what you do. Swim fast enough to get the phone ring.”

Saturday, December 21, 2013

The Price of Raised Expectations

We just returned from the Winter Junior National meet in Greensboro, North Carolina. The fastest 18 and under swimmers in the country attended and WOW – it was indeed fast. Go online to USA Swimming and check out the results, or use Meet Mobile. It is a very intimidating meet and yet very inspiring.

Our four swimmers, three of whom were first timers, got a real education…and were disappointed due to missed opportunities. And that is the price of raised expectations. We never go to a meet just happy we made the qualifying standard, looking to add to our T-shirt collection. We tell our swimmers that unless they are willing to plunge head first into the melee and be willing to get bounced around then the belly of the beast is no place for them. Stay home and we will bring a T-shirt back for you.

Our goal at big meets is to earn night time swims. Swimming “under the lights”, as we call it, is what competitive racing is all about; make a final (usually top 24) and then see what you can do at night. If you are in the meet you have a shot…but you must be prepared to do something special, usually something you haven’t yet done.

Without raised expectations you have no chance. When you miss you get disappointment. And that is perfectly fine from where we sit. We learn so much more from failure than success. We also learn just how badly we want something. All four of our swimmers will come back more determined than ever. 

That is who they are down to each individual one.

We allow our swimmers to be disappointed but never discouraged. The word discouraged means, literally, a lack of courage. None of our national level swimmers lack courage. In fact, very few swimmers on our team lack courage, especially the older ones. We teach the value of taking chances and holding your head up high regardless of the outcome. As Ken says, “have a great race, move on;  have a poor race, move on.”

Wise words from an exceptional coach...

Sunday, December 15, 2013

The Kentfield Mile

We train at the University of Kentfield Aquatic Complex. It is a vintage 25 yard pool 4.5 feet deep with the classic 2 inch gutters. The diving well is excellent deep water for vertical kicking. We have a nice weight room and are basically set for daily training. All we need is our imaginations.  We confess that our imaginations are indeed active.

Last night we did our first ever Kentfield Mile set. We cannot even explain how it was conceived. Yet we can report that it was successful beyond our imagination. It had everyone engaged and swimming and kicking fast. And the best part is that the permutations are endless; all this and specificity at work as well.

We believe that to race fast we must train fast. No surprises there. We also believe that kicking fast is critical. We saw in person Simon Burnett’s 1:31 200 free. That image is burned indelibly in our memory.

The set: 66 x 25.

Last night we did this on the 30 second interval. We wore fins on all 66. We swam 4 and kicked 2; 11 rounds total. The swimmers left on a zero (0) and we blew a whistle on the 15 second mark. The goal was to hear the whistle 66 times.

The next time we do the set we will blow the whistle on the 14 second mark. We had a couple of swimmers say they thought 12 or 13 seconds would make the set really hard. We will give them a chance to see if they are correct.

The combinations are endless. We did the same set with Masters this morning. We went on the 40 second interval and didn’t blow the whistle. We didn’t want to wake up the neighbors at 6 AM…though come to think of it, it might actually be a grand marketing scheme.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Theo and Jon

Sometimes less is more

Theo St. Francis is an NBA alum and now at MIT. He is a national level backstroker and smart as a whip. One of his favorite sayings:

If you are going to make the time, you might as well make the effort.

Jon Urbanchek is the world renowned swim coach who has consistently helped athletes fulfill their potential. He has coached so many NCAA, World, and Olympic swimmers – many of them champions – that we cannot list them all here. One of his favorite sayings:

When you go to a big meet, shave and rest for it, if you aren’t thinking about dropping 1 second per 50 then why bother.

It seems to us that the closer we get to important stops along the way, we have more success when we keep things simple. As coaches our athletes look to us for guidance. When we keep giving them straightforward clear messages they lock in and perform better.

We go to Seattle this Thursday for the Husky Invitational. A bunch of our swimmers are going to make the effort and drop 1 second per 50.

They will not do this by focusing on the time. Rather, they will bring their intention while focusing on the process.