COACHING A SWIMMER TO COACH HIMSELF
By Bob Miller, Swim Coach, Cascade Swim Club
(From the Amer. Swim Coaches Assoc. 1st World Clinic in Montreal, 1971)
“Coaching A Swimmer to Coach Himself “ is a questionable title, but at least a thought provoking one. Probably a better way to say what I mean is; “coaching a swimmer to know himself arid be aware of what activity and program is best for himself and then most important of all do it. This includes the whole range of activity: dry land work, health, mileage, quality of work, attitude, competitiveness, attendance, warm ups, psyching up, evaluating mistakes and correcting them, experimentation, observing others, skill drills, confidence in what is best for himself, etc.
To develop a swimmer to this level requires years of development. When he finally arrives and is of national caliber, you can be assured that we! have an ideal candidate for our U. S. Olympic Team. At Cascade Swim Club, we have three or four such candidates. Two of them have arrived. The others are still in the making.
Probably the greatest restriction Cascade has had over the years is facility. This has certainly limited our workout size, team unity and identification with one coach. Cascade swimmers have been limited to one 20 yard, four lane, and three foot depth pool. The pool is 25 feet wide, Workouts are limited to 25 swimmers. With 120
swimmers and about 20 after school hours a week, a lot has to be accomplished during weekends and morning hours.
Our team is divided into four workout and ability groups.
C Group- 3 times a week – 45 min
B Group- 4 “ “ “ – 1 hour
A Group – 5 “ “ “ – 1 hour
Senior Group – 5 “ “ “ – 1 ½ hours
Unless swimmers can get to bed by 9 or 9:30 P.M. they shouldn’t I t come to morning workouts.
During the younger age group years we emphasize team effort, promote inter-club rivalry and competition qualifying for the A relay teams. As the swimmer develops more into senior swimmers, I begin to hit them with the. term, “individual concept.” By this I mean swimming for himself. After all, by the age of 12 , an individual is smart enough to realize that he is really in there swimming basically for himself.
There are certainly many good and bad byproducts developed through an individual’s determination to do his best for himself. An experienced coach knows what to expect and should guide a swimmer in his attitude toward work and goals. The best way I can describe what I do to develop a swimmer to think, train and compete for himself is to take you through a winter and summer season and interject my ideas and explain the work to do,
Before we get into the winter season let me preclude by saying “hard consistent training over a 6 10 year period is the only way to success in this competitive swimming world today. There are no shortcuts, I have accepted this fact and remain patient allowing the athlete to mature at his own rate. Too much push at an early age may result in losing a real talented athlete.
Our Cascade short course season begins in mid September. This goes for all age levels. our senior swimmers spend the first six weeks running, dry land pulling drills, calisthenics, and swimming. We run about every other. day, increasing the mileage from two miles up to six miles. Both boys and girls participate in this program. Prior to each run we build up to 150 sit ups and approximately 10 minutes of other stretching and limbering up exercises, Before the run begins re repeat 300 surgical tubing pulls. The run is around Green Lake (three miles) one or two laps. I run with them.
After the run we get back to the pool for 45 minutes to have a swim. The swims on these days are usually easy and add up to about 3,000 yards. On the opposite days we do approximately JO minutes of skill drills and stroke work before our main series. The main series range from 2 3,000 yards and are on relatively easy send offs. I continue to remind them that “we are slowly increasing the load. “ We are “sneaking” into shape. We cannot do the work with sloppy strokes. Apply what we have been working on through the skill drills and stroke work.
With 20 minutes left in the workout, I will often divide the group in half and allow 12 swimmers to repeat sit ups on the deck while the others are repeating 80 yard swims of major strokes other than crawl on varying sendoffs (60 sec. to 90 sec) Remember we have only four 20 yard lanes. After 10 minutes I switch groups. We usually finish off this introductory training period with a November Saturday morning running cross-country meet. Prior to our next phase of training which I call the Intensive Training Period, we have our second Senior Team meeting.
Incidentally, we do have a general teammeeting in October and a parent’s booster club general meeting in November. We have booster club board meetings monthly.
At the Senior Team meeting we discuss what meets I want them to point for. Many meets we swim through. Often times during our discussions we will have a difference of opinion. When a swimmer becomes active during a group meeting, the coach can learn a great deal as to how he thinks and where his interest lies. I often times will assign topics to various team members to report on. It is surprising how well prepared they come with very good thought provoking information. The group is more attentive during these assigned talks, than if I were talking to them. They become bored listening to the same voice day after day,
One of the most attentive sessions was when I arranged for Dan Hannula from the U •. of Washington to give a talk on “mental preparation for a race” I wish I had taped that talk. He really related to them, and they in turn responded with personal questions which could identify with themselves. These talks varied from staying healthy all the way to racing tactics. Besides general meetings, I make a point to have a 20 30 minute private conference with each senior swimmer. I encourage my two assistant coaches to do the same at the younger age group level.
During this conference I like to determine their goals in swimming, what is required to reach those goals and what they can do to improve their chances to reach them. I usually have the attendance record with me at the conference. This alone often proves a swimmers dedication. Do his actions support what he claims his goals are? It is easy to say my goal is the Olympic Games, but how many swimmers at 14 or 15 years of age are going to make the Olympics, training 57 times a week on a hit and miss morning work out schedule?
Through the personal conferences I can discover personal problems, problems with parents that I had not been aware of, and even feelings of not being liked by oneself. Many coaches don’t think it is necessary to have such a personal conference since they see and talk to their swimmers daily. However, I have learned that a different communication results from a conference. It is almost like a patient on the couch spilling all his problems to the psychiatrist. They are definitely worthwhile. Try them if you haven’t already done so. Keep records to compare with next year’s conference results.
The intensive training period lasts approximately 16 weeks, November thru February. This offers the following number of workouts for the different workout groups as indicated;
Seniors 12 workouts (17½ hrs., per week)
A Group 12 “ (15 “ “ “)
B Group 5 “ (5 “ “ “)
C Group 3 “ (2 ½ “ “ “)
Very few of the A swimmers take advantage of the morning and weekend workouts and only about 60% of the Seniors take advantage. Of those 60%, about 50% make near 100% attendance throughout this intensive teaming period. We keep an attendance chart which we post at the end of each month indicating the number of workouts offered as the denominator and the number of workouts made as the numerator. This fraction will appear after each swimmer 1s name followed by a percent figure which indicates the percentage of workouts attended. I make up statements like “ no senior swimmer should be allowed to go to the nationals unless he has made 80% of the workouts during this period. Even if he misses the workouts because of illness, this is no excuse. Other swimmers are not going to quit training just because he is sick. I tell them it is all part of the learning process. An individual must stay healthy during this training phase. If he is not in shape to get in shape via the introductory training period, there is a good chance he will not survive the intensive training period,
In order to enter the Regional Championships which comes usually around the middle of March, they rust have attended 60% of the workouts through this period. Some of the swimmers don’t think this is fair, but it has been proven through studies that remaining healthy a d receiving the full benefits of this intensive training period is most important to base a good taper upon. Of course good work habits also play an important role in the development and success of a competitive swimmer, walking at the turns, early take offs, one handed turns on fly and breaststroke, pulling during kicking drills, stopping during repeats to ask how many etc., are a few bad habits that only hurt themselves. Steve Tallman and Carl Hamry, our young flyers, have been reminded time and again to use both hands at the turns. They seldom do and then wonder why they come in wrong on so many turns.
When I told them it is because they never allow themselves to practice approaching the wall at full arm’s length, the importance of turning with two hands on the fly sunk in. This mistake cost Carl the difference between fourth and ninth place at the outdoors in Houston in the 200 fly. Mark Spitz is a swimmer who seldom hits a turn badly in the butterfly. He has had much experience and almost always hits that wall at full arm’s length.
Working hard in workouts is not possible every day, but when I ask for a good series they should respond. I sometimes ask my swimmers to take a pulse count for six seconds right after a hard series. This not only indicates to me how hard they are working a series, but often times I will do this purposely to point out to some individual the rut he is in. We have a distance swimmer who mentally tires of a sustained series of hard work never 3 or 4 days. His repeat times become slower and so does his pulse. When he gets to this point in his training, I sometimes give him three or four days off. He fights this treatment, but it seems to be the only solution. He is slowly overcoming this problem,He is the type of swimmer that will blast everything you give him, He is slowly learning to save some thing for what’s next in the workout, His attack to a workout is a much easier problem to solve than the swimmer who never quite puts everything into it. We have more of those on
our team than the former. Our swimmers are quick to let other swimmers in the workout know who is working and who isn’t. If they wish to be part of the group, they conform.
Our mileage during the first half of the intensive training period has usually followed a pattern of quality work on Tuesdays and Thursdays and lower quality mileage on Monday, Wednesday, Friday and weekends. During the second half of the intensive training period, more days are devoted to quality and less to endurance work.
For example: Monday, Wednesday, Friday and one or two weekend workouts would be quality, and learning two or three days to endurance.Contrary to most clubs, we are forced to go quality during our early 5:30 A.M., workouts on quality days ‘because the pool is less crowded and is more conducive to this type of a workout, especially when other strokes than crawl are swum. A main series on a mileage day might be 10 x 500 on different send offs. One lane leaves on 5:30, another two lanes leave on 6:00 and the fourth leaves on 6:30. Sometimes I have slower lanes leave on the same send off as the faster lane, but swim 2 or 4 lengths less. We have tailor made endurance repeats such as 10 x 300 fly leaving on 4 minutes. When I want more quality
at this distance, I will just give them an extra minute break after a series of 3 x 300 fly. They may then total 9 x 300 fly 3 (3 x 300) or 12 x 300 fly 4 (3 X 300), I don’t believe in allowing swimmers to break a series up by changing strokes. The same goes for pulling and kicking. I am convinced and I have them convinced that to improve at something requires working at “it” • By interjecting other activity between repeats only allows those muscles to rest. We want work in the ·water, the rest comes later. For our distance swimmers v will throw something tough at them especially early in the intensive training season and when they have time to rest afterwards and with a light day following, This builds mental as ,;ell as physical toughness. This type of workout I am referring might be 10 x 1650, 100 x 100, or 40 x 400. Some less distance oriented swimmers may do a portion of these repeats plus something else. I usually tell the swimmers in advance when I plan on such a workout. They need to plan more time for that workout and become mentally prepared for it. The reaction and performance in this tells me something. It tells me who is ready and eager and attacks such a workout, who is afraid of hard work, etc.
On a quality day we vary our rest interval and swimming distance considerably. This is influenced because of number of swimmers, length of workout, number of workouts that day, how tired the swimmer is, and the number of weeks into the intensive training period. We may go 20 x 200 in 2:10 minutes, or we may go 10 x 80 in 50 sec. We may go 10 x 80 fly in 55 seconds, or 10 x 200 fly in 2:20 or 2:30, We may go 10 x 100 in two hours or 5 x 200 in two hours. Our quality days will average about 7,000 yards and our mileage days will average about 10,000 yards.
I have determined that there are many different types of competitors; those that only compete in races, those who compete all of the time, in workouts and meets, and those who compete great in workouts, but poorly in meets. Of course there are those who have different degrees of competitiveness under workout and meet conditions and there are those who compete best only when conditions are best for them. A swimmer who meets all the other qualities of a champion is not going to be a real champion unless he is competitive. For many successful competitors this trait seems to come naturally. Some swimmers actually become “mean.” This desire to win is almost totally innate. At least I seem to have had very little success in developing this quality in a swimmer.
So far our two training seasons have covered stroke mechanics and preparation for the next grueling intensive training period which has stressed the for mentioned areas: Attendance, Health, Hard work, Mileage, and Competitiveness, This ‘Whole process has been one of toughening and forcing the individual to make decisions for himself, After all, he is the one in there doing the swimming.
Throughout the intensive training period, we enter a meet about every three or four weeks, I encourage our swimmers to enter as many events as allowable, especially early in the season. For some swimmers, just before the “taper period”, I will encourage them to enter many events. For those who have already made national standards, it gives an opportunity for an overload of quality work, It also takes the pressure off them and a bad time here or there is more excusable and doesn’t bother them going into the taper.
The taper period comes next. By my way of thinking, a taper is in affect much earlier than most swimmers or coaches realize. Of course the number of year’s background, the length and regularity of the training season, the number of meets completed in, and the type of swimmer (sprinter, middle distance) must be considered. I like to consider the taper starting about 10-12 days before big meets (nationals or regionals) for the indoor season and 12-21 days before the outdoor season. Our indoor season is stretched out with less mileage a day While our summer program is concentrated with almost double the daily winter mileage, At the end of the summer season the swimmer is more tired and needs more rest and time to gain full strength for the big meet. But, again it depends on the individual. I try to profit from experience with a swimmer during a season. If a taper works we try to remember why? One pattern that seems to work for Rick and Lynn Colella is to actually go through two weeks taper for a meet approximately two weeks before the nationals and then just swim easy for two weeks between meets with an occasional series of accelerated sprints.
This pattern of tapering was stumbled upon by mistake. After a mediocre indoor national by Rick and a bout of the flu at the nationals for Lynn, we entered a meet in Canada about a week later. The results w re three American records, Later we tried this same pattern for Rick off the NCAA Championships going into the A.A.U. nationals.
It worked again. With the terrific background of training behind Rick, he seems to be able to hold a peak remarkably well, Why work him real close to a big meet and take the chance of catching a cold, etc. With this information, we approached this past summer’s two big meets. First came the Pan American Games and then the national championships at Houston. As it turned out, a third and fourth meet h re added to Rick 1s schedule. He made the£ Easy Germany. and Russian trip, Rick worked hard through the third week of July (June 15 July 24). Through this period, we did quality work only two days out of six. We took
Sundays off completely because our work load was heavier than usual. We made 5½ hours on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays; four hours on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and one long three hour workout on Saturdays. Our Monday, Wednesday and Friday workouts averaged 18,000 meters a day. On these days took three workouts to accomplish this. On Saturdays, we covered 10,000 meters in one workout, After July 24, Rick and Lynn left for the 10 days of training in Florida. We counted on less mileage with more quality and rest, fortunately, this is what they did, The coaches recognized these two dedicated intelligent swimmers for their seriousness and ability to work for themselves, Lynn and Rick knew what their workout plan was and were not influenced by the other athletes, They both did well at Cali and Rick dropped considerably more at the nationals with a rest and a shave.
Upon returning from the Pan Ams they eased off with 46,000 meters a day with very little hard work, A split swim with the rest of the team was the only hard work except for accelerated 50’s and dive 25 meter sprints in a 25 meter pool. We do all our split swims timed from a block start with 10 seconds active rest. I refer to it as active rest because I require the swimmer to back off from the wall on the backstroke, breaststroke and fly and swim in at least one stroke. The watch is started when the hand or hands touch the wall. This type of split swim includes the turning time with the swim. On the crawl I time the split to the feet and then start the clock again when the feet leave the wall on the next sendoff. Splitting a swim in this manner is more realistic and the swimmers know it.
I haven’t mentioned Lynn’s taper for the nationals because of the complicated health problem she has had this past spring. It is unbelievable that she accomplished what she did at the indoors with the 200 fly and 200 breast back to back. She accomplished this with a five pound ovarian cyst tumor. This explained our concern over her gain in weight and lack of flexible body motion with the dolphin kick. Lynn wanted to put off major surgery until after the Pan Ams but agreed to surgery after considering the complications that could develop.
Once she accepted this fact she got in a hard week of training before going into surgery. She figured she would recover faster if she was in better shape going into the operation. She was back in the water within 10 days after convincing the doctor that swimming is easier for her than walking, Each week she increased her yardage by 1000 yards. She started her first day
and week with 1000 yards. No flip turns were allowed for four weeks. No double workouts were allowed for six weeks. After two weeks of double workouts, she went on three workouts a day on Mondays, Wednesday, and Fridays. From there on Lynn was on the same workout plan as Rick. At times Lynn showed signs of coming back and looking like her former self. We knew with rest she could swim much better. The trip to Santa Clara for example wasn’t worth the valuable training time missed to substantiate our belief. Lynn had more than the hard work from which to recover, You can’t t discount major surgery.
Getting down to 2:21 for the 200 fly was a real effort and accomplishment at the nationals. At least her summer wasn’t fruitless, She got some hard work under her· belt and won a couple of gold medals at Cali.
Our summer program is much tougher than the winter one, and because it is shorter, the swimmers are more willing to tough it out. They have more time free for workouts and rest. The hungry, tough, dedicated individual is the one I would bet on every time. A good example of this type of individual is Steve Tallman. He really is a worker. Steve tackles 10 x 300 meters fly on 4:30 and holds 3:40’s to 3:45, He can repeat long course 200 meters fly leaving on 3 minutes and average 2 :20. These efforts are made without resting up. Carl Hamry can’t match these efforts but wins in a race, at least for now.
The summer program as outlined is brief and extracted rather than followed through from start to finish. My program is an attempt to toughen a swimmer beyond expectations. The swimmers know that each season more mileage is the order, Just because a swimmer did great on 10,000 a day last year doesn’t mean he has found the magic formula. After using up most of the hours in a day the last summer season, swimmers wonder how the work load can be increased, Tough sendoffs is certainly one way and many of our swimmers talk it as a personal challenge to mastering them. 10 x 400 meters on five minutes is one workout that only four of our boys can complete. The fly repeats mentioned earlier are also a real challenge, Rick can repeat the same work out 10 x 300 meters on 4:30 breaststroke. He averages 3:55 [1:00 per 300 meters
A skill drill is the stroke or turn broken down into parts, usually parts that are weak. Often the skill will be an over exaggeration. I use them during the early season. I explain to the swimmers that I want them to execute the strokes properly before repeating them again during our intensive training. We will resort to them for five or 10 minutes during a workout during the heavy training season. We will use skill drills again very seriously during the taper period in an attempt to sharpen up the strokes, turns, and approach to the wall, etc. I use the skill drills as part of a warm up, workouts or a race.
Also for a few minutes as active rest and as a corrective measure for sloppy tired swimmers between main series.
During our taper period we will devote two or three workouts practicing warm ups. I encourage each swimmer to develop a warm up procedure of his own with certain general guide lines. I like them to get in 23,000 meters of easy swimming, stroke work, turns, starts, accelerated swims, sprints and kicking. I like them to kick first and this way they can observe other swimmers, how bad the chlorine is, and get the general lay of the environment. I like the 200 meter swimmers to get in a couple of descending split 200 swims. For example, Lynn’s warm up
for the 200 fly might be 40-39-38-37 for the first one, and 38-37-36-35 for the second one. She may get 20 seconds or 10 seconds rest between send offs, nothing is timed. I am convincing all of my swimmers that timing them in warm ups is a sign of lack of confidence. The only real service I can be as a coach is to remind them of stroke mistakes and how much time is left in the warm up.
Rick and I constructed what we call the “Rack” It weighs approximately 150 lbs. and has been added to the Colella’s backyard patio furniture. It is built like a trainer’s massage table with only about 2½ feet of table surface, The top has an incline of 6 inches in this 2½ foot length surface, Rick will lie over the head edge of the table grasping it with his arms. His hips, approximately six inches lower than his shoulders, rest just on the lower surface of the table top. When Rick cocks his feet for a breaststroke thrust, they are poised about 1/2 feet from the lower edge where an eye bolt is anchored. Attached to the eye bolt is strong surgical tubing. The other end is looped around Rick’s ankle, one for each foot. This gives direct resistance in opposition to the leg push, Since a strong kick is Rick’s weakness, we hope this exercise will give him the added development he needs to be the best breaststroker in the world.
Coaching a swimmer to “coach himself “ requires not only years to develop but extra time must be devoted explaining why we do what we do in order to make the workouts etc., more meaningful to the swimmer. The coach must convince the swimmer it is a necessary vital part of the training.
I have gone so far as to tell a swimmer his stroke looks lousy during a warm up at the nationals but it is too late now to make corrections. “You should have worked on those errors during the season.” I am sure he will remember those remarks especially if he did lousy in his race. I guess you might call this the shock method of getting a point across, Not all coaches have the patience to sit back and allow their swimmers to learn the hard way. Some are more excitable and become so closely involved with their swimmers they are leading them around by their hand; doing all of their thinking for them. I feel it will be harder for that individual to break away from the apron strings and think and perform on his own.