Monday, May 27, 2013

Better vs. Faster

We have always been amused at how the English (and we suppose all) language is used. We are especially intrigued when it comes to which words are chosen to describe various activities as they relate to swimming and coaching since these are topics near and dear to our heart.

Often we find coaches, swimmers and parents using the words “better” and “faster” synonymously. We find this amusing and or confusing. It seems to us that often the “better” swimmers aren’t actually faster and the “faster” swimmers are not actually better.

So we looked up the words in the dictionary and this is what we found.

Under “better” we found this:

Comparative of good
(1): Greater than half better part of an hour
(2): improved in health or mental attitude better
(4): More advantageous or effective better solution
(5): improved in accuracy or performance better engine

Under “faster” we found this:

A: characterized by quick motion, operation, or effect: 
(1): moving or able to move rapidly: swift 
(2): taking a comparatively short time 
(3): imparting quickness of motion fast bowler
(4): accomplished quickly
(5): agile of mind; especially: quick to learn fast students

B: conducive to rapidity of play or action

When we consider our swimmers we are always asking ourselves: Is the swimmer getting better – more advantageous or effective; improved in accuracy or performance?

If this is happening then we are certain that the swimmer is usually (though not always) getting faster – moving or able to move rapidly.

In competitive swimming we are concerned about the “fast” element. To get faster we need to teach/coach/swim “better.”

In our minds the transitions goes like this. The better you get the faster you go. The faster you go the more your flaws are revealed. This then gives you another round of things to work on so that you can get better and then faster. When this happens additional flaws are exposed which gives you more goals to work on so you can become better, and faster and establish new goals based upon the flaws that get revealed due to your new speed.

It is in fact a never ending cycle, which is actually a good thing in that there is never an “end of game” moment where one stops improving. The ultimate goal is to keep getting “better” not necessarily “faster”. Don’t believe us? Ask any Masters swimmer…

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Emotional Capital

A week ago we finished our high school championship weekends. On our club team we have swimmers in 13 different high schools representing 3 separate leagues which compete in 2 different CIF (California Interscholastic Federation) Section meets. To make matters even more challenging these meets happen over a three week span. So we decided and declared that “We are not tapering you.” We explained that each swimmer would need to figure out which meet – the League or the Section – was the most important and then tell us what they needed. To make matters a little more challenging, one Section has hard cuts and one has soft cuts (much like NCAA where there is an automatic cut and a consideration cut). So the swimmers had a specific idea of the cut or they had a reasonable idea of what it would take to make the Section meet.

Sound a little confusing? Well now you know what we (and they) were dealing with here in Northern California! At any rate the bulk of our club team races in the MCAL (Marin County Athlete League) meet and that league is in the NCS (North Coast Section) and we have soft cuts. So the majority of our club swimmers needed to choose when they were going to get their cuts. They had two choices; 1) at a dual meet where they got fired up and went a fast time or 2) at the League Champs meet.

After all the racing was done we (Ken and I) evaluated our swimmers performances at both the League and Section meets. For many, the Section meet was the more important one since it brought the fastest from the various leagues together in a “winner take all” environment. For others, the League was the big meet since it represented a level of competition that was more in line with their capabilities.

Our evaluation was this: from all the meets we had, nearly every swimmer got best times. Many scored points at their Section meet by placing in the top 16. Unfortunately, many of these best times came at the League meet, not the Section meet. At the Section meet we had several swimmers miss the A final and some miss the B final when the times they swam at the League meet would have been fast enough to make a B final at the Section meet.

If you are a coach or swimmer you understand all this. If not, no worries…what it means are that for many of our swimmers they did not swim their fastest when it counted the most. Wow, I (Don) should figure out a way to tell the story quicker!

Why did this happen is the critical question. Ken was his usual brilliant self in analyzing our dilemma. Too often the League meet is overblown for too many swimmers. They get wrapped up in the Meet where their parents, grandparents, friends etc. come to cheer. They get their name in the local paper; they get to be “League Champions” or “League Finalists”. To do this they put on tech suits and go a little faster. Some even shave when they don’t need to, to get the times they need to be in the Section meet.

Ken called it “spent emotional capital.” End of story. Look at any NBA team. The season is 82 games long. No player goes full blast for every minute of those 82 games. There are 16 teams that make the playoffs. Most of those teams already know they are in the playoff picture. They do not play hard for more than a few minutes a game until the playoffs, and then some still hold back…saving their “funds” (emotional and physical capital) for the games that matter the most…the ones that will lead to a berth in the Conference or League Championship series.

Our swimmers used too much (or in some cases all) of their emotional capital in the smaller, less significant meet. When they got to the Section meet they had very little “left in the tank”. And so their swims suffered.

Greg Troy, the Men’s 2012 Olympic Coach, told all coaches who had a swimmer with a chance to make the Olympic Team, to make sure they prepared their swimmer(s) for 2 meets. You cannot look past the US Olympic Trials meet if you do you may not make the team. However, the Games themselves are more important.

It is interesting to note that our swimmers who competed in the CCS Section, which had hard cuts, swam better at their championship meet since they knew in advance of they had a cut that would get them into the Section meet.

Bottom line is this. Each of us has a somewhat finite amount in the bank when it comes to emotional capital to spend. We need to make certain we spend it correctly. If we need to spend it to “get into the meet” then so be it. If we can get into the meet without tapping into our account then toughen up and do it! You will be even better served at the higher level of racing.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Message to the Team

Each week we write a message to our high school team. We thought we’d share it with our greater audience this week. Perhaps there is something in here you can use. Have a great week!

Hello Branson Swimming!

Was that big fun or what?! With a couple of exceptions, our team swam faster than ever at MCAL’s and that is always gratifying since one of our mantras as coaches is to “do your best when it counts the most”. If you did exactly that, good for you – now move forward; if you didn’t, dang it – now move forward.

In sports and life it rarely goes exactly as scripted and that is part of the intrigue. Think about it, if you really knew how you were going to perform why bother? Someone wiser than me once said the trick to living fully is to “learn to live without certainty”. Doing so actually heightens awareness, sharpens the senses and ultimately pays a bigger reward when things go well.

The NCS seedings happen on Monday and we will see how many (not if) swims make the next meet. We are very proud of your accomplishments and as I like to say, be grateful and ask for more.

See everyone on Monday for a post meet swim and a prep swim for next weekend. If you are not in line for an NCS berth we still encourage you to participate this week. Your energy will help those who are moving forward to Concord.

Finally, after every season we ask our swimmers to tell us what went right and what needs correcting. So, I ask each of you to be prepared to give your coaches feedback, thumbs up and down, and we will do the same for you. We made some adjustments this year due to last year’s feedback and we saw better team wide results this season. Your input is critical. Thanks in advance.


Don Swartz
North Bay Aquatics

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Derby Day – What We All Can Learn

Louisville, Ky. Tim Wilkin Albany, N.Y. Times Union

All week long, Shug McGaughey, the quiet horse trainer, sounded bold. He told anyone who came by his barn on the Churchill Downs backstretch that he was more excited for the 139th Kentucky Derby than he had been for a race in a long, long, time.

That's because he had a 3-year-old colt named Orb in his barn.

Orb made sure his trainer didn't sound like a fool as he gobbled up the sloppy track at Churchill Downs and turned America's most famous horse race into a mini-rout. Orb and jockey Joel Rosario won the 11/4-mile race by 21/2 lengths in front of 151,616, the ninth-largest crowd in Derby history.
In the process, Orb stamped himself as the top 3-year-old in the country and he'll take his five-race winning streak to Baltimore in two weeks for stop No. 2 in the elusive Triple Crown.

"I said to myself that I was going to go over there and have fun," McGaughey said. "I did think I had the right horse. When they swung the latch, I thought to myself, 'Just enjoy the race.' If it works, it works. If it doesn't, it doesn't." (Wise words for all trainers, coaches and parents)

Orb rallied through the stretch, passing Normandy Invasion inside the eighth pole and then holding off the late charge of 34-1 shot Golden Soul, who rallied in the stretch to get second, a length ahead of Revolutionary. The final time was 2:02.89.

This field was considered one of the more wide open in recent years and, besides the Pletcher five, featured Santa Anita Derby winner Goldencents, who was the 7-1 third choice. He was ridden by Kevin Krigger, who was attempting to become the first African-American jockey to win the race since 1902.

Goldencents was never a factor and finished 17th.

"I thought the winner ran an unbelievable race," Doug O'Neill, Goldencents' trainer, said. "I'm just still trying to figure out what happened to our colt. It's hard to believe it could have been the track. He just didn't fire. It's part of the game. They aren't machines. Sometimes, like humans, they just aren't hitting their jump shots. It's not their day, and things happen." (Hmmm…more wise words)