Reasons why we do not see improvement
All athletes share a common understanding that a personal best is the bottom line for success. Our job as coaches is to secure the belief in an athlete's mind that it is the road to success (the journey) and not the end result (the destination) that matters the most.
Furthermore, improvement alone, without relating the outcome to a potential, is mediocre at best. I have a girl in my group who I felt could go 4:45:00 in the 400 free by the end of short course season - she laughed as she had not yet broken 5:00 ! This past weekend a 4:51:00 time was recorded and now she realizes that the expectation wasn't at all unrealistic!
Additionally, the Junior National standard is 4:40:00, and maybe, just maybe, who knows, with a little more hard work, she could have achieved that, too!
The important thing is that young people relate to expectations. The education system taught us this by making reasonable demands towards a level of competence we felt was necessary to keep pace with the rest of the world.
After a training camp I was so impressed with another girl that I asked her to join our group for a while on Tuesdays and Thursdays. She was excited to come (this is a good thing), and I saw some potential in her fly, which, at the time, had considerable room for improvement. Feeling that the only thing she was lacking was rhythm, I asked her to place her hand on her chest and feel her heartbeat and to describe what she felt - "Boom boom", was her reply. I told her to swim like that, keeping her breath low - stunningly, she was off to the races - by the end of workout I asked her what her time for the 100 fly was - it was 1:20:00 - I told her to get ready to swim a best time right there - now 1:18:00 is her best time! I spoke to her about the NYAC 11-12 girls and our expectation for them to reach the provincial standard - I asked her if she would like to try to accomplish that (NYAC girls can race with the best), and she said yes. Well, first you have to make Provincials…- and at the next meet she exceeded the provincial standard in the 200 fly by over six seconds!
This story illustrates what I've learned over years of experience on my part - you develop an eye for talent and, even more important than talent - potential. This is what good coaches and teachers do and no amount of money can buy. To inspire, and to give the gift of confidence, makes this job very unique.
However, this "treasure" needs to be kept hidden from the over-excited parent with little or no coaching experience. Devastating results can happen if you put the carrot of potential too far out of reach. To the athletes, I would like to say - remember one thing - chances are that you are better than you think you are - never ask for guarantees, and there is no substitute for hard work and heart. Go NYAC!
Tips for Improvement
"A coach's feedback on swims can acknowledge a best time, but should be related to training elements and goals that are being worked on at the time."
"Game plan - are they rehearsing a strategy that teaches them how to race effectively? This is: build - attack - finish."
"Race splits - you learn this at a young age, or else it is next to impossible to learn later on"
(See "NYAC race split formula" below for calculating proper race splitting).
Need versus Desire
During my tenure in Etobicoke (1985-88) I was constantly trying to impress my Head Coach at the time: Paul Bergen. I remember writing an article that impressed him so much he could not say enough about it. It must have struck a cord within him because he remembers it to this day. This was the only time I ever received praise and it was in front of the whole staff!
The article tried to tie together "winning" and "basic human needs". Water is a basic need, that without it, we die. For me, I needed to be successful, that I ate, slept, walked and talked swimming all the time. Even socially, the conversation was eventually steered towards swimming or some kind of achievement. Needless to say, my only friends became other swim coaches. If you were not obsessed with something to win at, I did not want to be around you. Desires for me were things that, well if I didn't get it, "oh well" I just moved on.
Needs are things you have to have satisfied in order to live. For me the pursuit of winning was no different. Later on I read that sport psychologists said this was unhealthy and what I was really describing were desires and doing your best. Those things that we put our mind to we can achieve. They must be right, of course, but I never got sold. Even at the expense of everything else, my life still revolves around swimming and winning. For that one moment, you have to have it. It sustains you. For me winning is a need. It always has been and always will be.
Step into the Winner's Circle
Top 10 Winning Strategies
- Be anything except satisfied about what you have done
- Get informed - know results - top 8 time to score - top 3 time to medal - time for 1st place!
- Try new things
- Hate to lose and push yourself to the max
- Get an ego and find ways to inflate it
- Gain the trust of others around you
- Take the lead on anything i.e. training circles - even if you get passed sometimes
- Ask a lot of questions and question everything
- Listen more than you talk
- Find ways to win i.e. exploit the opponent's weaknesses
Top 10 Strategies for Age Group Swimmers
After 30 years of coaching, here they are: (not in order of importance)
- Read the pace clock - always know your time (the digital generation has killed this skill) See this article on how to read a pace clock.
- Be streamlined and kick off walls
- Split races properly
- Do pushed, not pulled stokes
- Do figure 8 fly and breast turns
- Do high elbow catch on all strokes
- Can do negative splits in all races and all styles
- Do NCAA freestyle turns
- Do underwater dolphin kicks i.e. 30 kicks in 15 seconds
- Work proper finishes on all repeats
Superior Race Tactics
The coaching staff has confirmed a race strategy format that is applicable to all our groups. We want to speak the same language and have our young athletes understand the specific fundamentals that promote superior race tactics.
For 100 - 400 races - (but not including the IMs)
know there are always
a beginning - a middle - and a finish.
and remember these three stages:
Build - Attack - Finish
and focus on
Stroke length - Build - 1st part of race
Stroke rate - Attack - middle of race
Strongest kick - Finish - end part of race
Too many of our young athletes fail to break the race down. This format guides the swimmers´ efforts towards specific actions in these three stages.
Our athletes need to know that a typical NYAC swimmer has the following trademarks when they race:
- NYAC swimmers always finish races strong.
- NYAC swimmers do not breathe off walls.
- NYAC swimmers never get passed without a fight.
Advanced split tactics are used once the athlete understands the basics.
And here is the NYAC Race Split Formula
For 100 - 200m races, coaches work out the difference between the the split times on 50s for the 100 or 100s for the 200.
Breast is under 4 seconds eg.:
1st 50 43.3
2nd 50 47.2 (+3.9)
Fly is under 3.5 seconds
1st 50 38.5
2nd 50 41.5 (+3.0)
1st 100 1:25:2
2nd 100 1:28:4 (+3.2)
Back is under 2.5 seconds
Free is under 2.0 seconds
for 200 IM, a difference of no more than 5 seconds between 100s
for 400 IM, a difference of no more than 10 seconds between 200s
for 800 Free, a negative split
for 400 Free, a difference of under 3 seconds
for 1500 Free, less than a half second between 100s