Monday, March 31, 2014

Swim Speed Secrets

This book by Sheila Taormina came to our attention from one of our Masters swimmers last month. Thank you so much Sunny! What we like about this book is that it is straightforward and easy to understand. The pictures are of real swimmers from the 60’s – Mike Troy; the 70’s Mark Spitz and National Team Members Allison Schmitt and Peter Vanderkaay.

The twin concepts of distance per stroke and tempo are explained in perhaps the most basic and easily understood fashion we have ever seen. The sequential photos nail the biomechanics – “A” plus Sheila!
We agree when she says, “Technique is 80 % of swimming.” In her estimation when compared “to strength, conditioning or the size of a swimmer” technique is by far the most important item on the list of what you need to improve in the water.

She also says “I see too many athletes allowing their strokes to fall apart when they tire at practice. Or, worse, I see people choosing to forego technique altogether and thrash at the water in order to keep up with their lane mates.” Sheila, were you at practice with us this weekend?

But don’t take our word for it. “Sheila T. is just 5’2”, but she swims like she is 6’2”. We still use her as a model for our swimmers today on how to swim the strokes.” – Jack Bauerle, Team USA Olympic swim coach and head coach of the University of Georgia swim team

“Sheila Taormina may be the greatest athlete in the modern Olympic ear. She’s the only person I know who has made four Olympic teams in three different sports.” – Jim Richardson, head coach of the University of Michigan women’s swim team

Check it out. This is a fabulous resource for your sport’s library.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Ken DeMont – Coach of the Year

Swimmers are first and foremost people. By and large as members of a US Swimming club team they are most often young people. This means they are in a constant state of flux. Older people – like Masters Swimmers and parents of younger swimmers – have pretty much figured out how the universe works, how it is shaped and how they fit into it. The young ones haven’t gotten there yet and so they are still figuring things out.
That is why coaches have a unique position in the order of the universe. How they work with teaching that order figures in quite heavily on how the young person grows into their own view of how the universe works. And thus the impact the coach makes on the swimmer’s life.
Children don’t get to choose their parents; they just get what they get. Parents don’t choose their kids either but – and this is a huge but – they do get to influence and shape them….especially for the most formative years – the years before the coach comes into the picture.
The coach is asked, or assumed, to take the swimmer and help shape him/her. At some point in the process it becomes about times. Parents say “all I want is for my kid to be happy. All she needs is faster times and she is good to go”…but herein lies the rub. What if faster times are harder to come by? What if a year or so goes by and the needle isn’t moving on the chart? Then what?
Then the coach is quizzed, often first by the parent at home wondering out loud, perhaps at the dinner table to a spouse while the swimmer is there as well and then finally to the coach. Parents, if you are reading this, go to the coach first and do not wonder out loud at the dinner table. When you do that the coach now is 2 strikes behind in a three strike count. Certainly the coach is quizzed by the swimmer.
The answer is usually very complicated. Why? Because young people are not old people yet. They do not know how the universe works. And it is all so confusing. Hard work usually helps but often the hardest workers aren’t the fastest. Usually it is the smartest workers but that is harder to do. Why? Because the younger you are the more challenging it is to be smart – in the ways of the universe. Why? Because you don’t know how it works yet. And some people are faster learners than others.
So you need patience. And that is not how our universe works today. We want it all and we want it now. We expect it that way because that is what we are told is needed and what everyone else has and why can we not have it too?
And; lost in all of this discourse and musing, aka my (Don Swartz) rambling, are two immutable facts about swimming: the stop watch never lies and the water is always right (thanks to Pete at UC Davis for that succinct capsule).
My personal view is that the second of those truths in the universe – the water is always right – is where everything about competitive swimming starts and ends.
And now we get – finally – to the crux of today’s piece. Connor has wanted; forever it seems, to go faster than he has ever gone before; nothing new there about a competitive swimmer. What he hasn’t understood is the value of patience and figuring out the process. And therein lays the value of his coach…Ken DeMont.
Ken has exhibited an otherworldly level of patience with Connor. Connor has sometimes willingly and other times not so much, put his trust in Ken. This is what coaching is all about…Ken has given Connor an invaluable lesson in how the universe works. Someday Connor will remember this week, these last several months, and pass this lesson on to his kids…the water is always right. Work with it and magic is readily apparent. Fight it and you always come in last.
The photo below is taken from the NCSA Junior National Championship just concluded in Orlando. Connor swam 55.3 and 25.5 for the 100 and 50 breaststroke, making the B and A final respectively in each swim. We have never seen the smile you see below, not in 4 years. It is priceless in the true meaning of that oft overused word.
The smile on Ken’s face is one of satisfaction, knowing he has once again performed a job well done. Connor’s smile is one for the ages.
This is why we coach. Well done Connor and Ken; well-done indeed!

Sunday, March 16, 2014

How to Improve
The View from Two Different Angles

Alan is a sophomore in college who came through our North Bay Aquatics program. A talented guy, he used that talent to get pretty far up the ladder. That’s a nice way of saying he didn’t really work all that much at his craft. This year has marked a significant change in his ability…and it hasn’t been due to a new dose of talent. In his own words after his conference meet:

“This past year was the first year I felt as if I was actually training, instead of going through the motions. I can remember each stroke I took had serious intentions in it, and it is starting to unfold slowly. And before, I would use other people’s thoughts of my success to fuel me, but now I finally truly believe in myself. I have learned to be my own coach, I do not need reassurance every minute of practice and I trust all my training. Those are skills that I wish I knew how to figure out earlier because they make the greatest difference in my passion for the sport, and my motivation. If I could come back to the team and tell them my biggest improvement that has helped me gain success, it is literally to just race. Don’t think about times, but to just get into a boxer’s mentality and fight and earn every win I receive. And of course, have fun.”

Natalie Gulbis is on the LPGA Tour and recently was presented with the Tour’s Ambassadors Award which honors the work she has done promoting the Tour and women’s golf. She has some advice for youngsters out there who want to play the game and improve. “Play in a lot of tournaments. I learned from competing. Practice is one thing – but when you compete you learn about yourself.”

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Flipping the Switch

Last weekend we raced in Clovis at a large regional senior meet. It was a trials and finals affair in a great facility. We had lots of fast swims, some finalists and of course, a couple of swims that “got away”…pretty much a normal swim meet.

Ivan is a 14 year old boy who we love having on our team. He rides his bike to workouts, even in the rain! He is 6 feet tall, hands large enough to palm a basketball, excellent work ethic, loves to kick…all the things coaches have on their list of desirable traits.

In the meet he swam a 2:00.7 in his 200 fly and got a second swim in the finals where he was nearly just as fast. Those were two fine swims in one day.

In his 400 IM he was out in 2:02 looking good, and then the wheels came off. After the race he came up and said, “I don’t know why that happened. After the back I thought I was going around a 4:20 but I just stopped trying. I just flipped the switch off.”

He went a 4:27…but what was most remarkable was his honesty about the swim. He had the presence of mind to know exactly what happened and when…and then admit it without regard for the possible repercussions. We smiled and simply replied, “Well at least you admit what happened and when it happened.” We thanked him for his honesty and then asked if it was OK with him to share his story. 

He agreed.

So many times when a swim “gets away” from a swimmer there is the reluctance to call it exactly as it is…the “switch gets flipped.” In the same meet we had a girl swim 5:00.04 in her 500. Then, the next day she went a 1:58 plus for her 200 free. The switch never got flipped up on that one.

As coaches we like to think that each race is viewed as important, meaningful. Yet the truth is that some mean a lot more to the swimmer than others; often for reasons we cannot fathom. And that is exactly why this sport and coaching is so darned interesting. If you want guarantees you are in the wrong business.

Swimmers, the more often you keep the switch up, the easier it will be to keep it up when it matters the most – in the bigger meets. Why is that so? Simple; when the marbles are on the line, you most always race as you train…and all races are a part of training.

Monday, March 3, 2014

A 200 Free Simplified

We are watching our team (North Bay Aquatics) race 200 frees here in Clovis, CA this weekend. We have had some well-constructed swims (which have been fast) and some not so well put together which have been disappointing.

This leads us to the basic primer on “how to swim a 200 free” – born in part from Mike McDonald who coaches younger swimmers at the Tiburon Peninsula Club here in northern California.

Mike says to the younger ones if you want to swim a 200 here is all you need to know…talk about the power of keeping it simple. Swim the first 50 like you are giving a stroke demonstration; swim the 2nd 50 giving a stroke demonstration with some extra power added in; on the third 50 show me your kick; on the fourth 50 show me your character. We love the simplicity. And man does it work!

When you look at any of the faster times posted at the collegiate level (there are many this time of year as the conferences hold their championship meets with the NCAA’s to follow) simply check out the results with the splits. The guys and gals swimming up front are swimming the same speed for every lap. The first 50 is always faster due to the dive but the swimming speed is the same…whatever the first 50 is, call it “x”, then the next 3x50 are all “x+2”. The ratios are slightly different for back, breast and fly but when you study how the fastest swimmers manage their energy resources you find that they know how to meter out their reserves such that the speed stays up throughout the swim.

The easy way for a youngster to figure out that process is by the simple instructions of: “stroke demo, stroke demo with some energy, kick, character.

It works so well we recommend Mike patent it!