Peter Banks is Certified ASCA Elite International and came to the United States 5 years ago. Previous to coming to the U.S. he lived and worked in Ireland. He has been involved in coaching swimming for nearly 20 years, having coached in Ireland, first at Club Level, then at State Level, followed by National and International Level.
In 1989, after being part of a very successful program that sent two swimmers to the 1988 Seoul Olympics, he wanted the opportunity to expand his coaching and he felt the U.S. was the place to do this.
He has been working with the Brandon Blue Wave Team since 1989. Coach Banks has been very fortunate to have the opportunity to be able to build a pro gram at Brandon Blue Wave that leads itself to ideals and believes in swimming. Presently he has 4 swimmers at Senior National Level with 8 swimmers at Junior National Level. His Age-Group program is always ranked in the Top Six at the Junior Olympics Championships. The Blue Wave program has 95 year round swimmers with 75 swimmers in the summer program.
Good Morning. I had about 60 to 70 of these handouts in the back of the room, and now I see they’re all gone at this stage. I under estimated the popularity of the talk, so hopefully we should be able to get these. It’s very hard to sit down and go through what I wanted to talk about for 45 minutes 45 minutes feels like an awfully short time. What I’ve tried to do in the last 4 or 5 y ears in Brandon, as Paul mentioned; I came to this country 5 years ago, basically to pursue a professional coaching career. In Israel and, I’d been coaching as a part-time coach, and also working in the recreation management field. I wanted to try to get a feel for if I could get in to full-time coaching, and I felt the best place to do that was the United States. Brandon gave me the opportunity to do that. It’s about a 30 year old facility. It’s got a fifty meter pool, and that’s what really attracted me to the facility. The program itself was basically nonexistent as far as a year round program. It had a summer program, but the year round program wasn’t in existence when I came. We got a pool heater, and basically decided we’d try to get the program going on a 52 week of the year basis. We have done that, and basically the result is what l feel is a very successful program, based on my beliefs and what I feel over the last I 8-19 years of coaching are very important criteria to develop young athletes.
This talk is basically about distance free-style or distance swimming, but I think it’s the whole basis of this talk and the whole basis of my philosophy is based on how I feel swimmers should be developed from an early age. I don’t think you can just categorize it into distance freestyle or distance swimming. I think the whole purpose of what I try to do is to try to develop young athletes from an early age into what hopefully will be outstanding athletes at an older age and continue in our sport so that we are not losing swimmers because of drop outs or because of not achieving a level of improvement throughout their swimming career. I think one of the things that I try to do is make sure that the progressive development of the athlete is always there, that we’re always looking to try and improve the athlete, to try and improve the swimmer into a better individual, physically and mentally.
The first overhead I have up there is something I just put together, and I share this with you because this was part of the plan when I came into Brandon five years ago. One of the things I felt I needed to do as a coach was to give myself a goal. Because as a coach I think as coaches we sometimes or all the time are thinking of goals of swimmers and what we want the swimmers to do. To me it was very important to sit down and know why I’m in Brandon; why I am there, why I want to be there, what I’m going to do while I’m there in the number of years I’m going to be at Brandon. One of the goals that I set for myself was the goal of trying to start with our team and see from 1990, where in 6 years’ time-a 6 year plan where we could be in 1996. And when I presented this to the swimmers and their parents, basically a lot of parents laughed and said, yes, sure, we’re never going to reach that goal; we’re never going to have swimmers at the Olympic level. I still believe we will have swimmers at the Olympic level. This year has been a tremendous year for me as far as getting swimmers to the next level and having Brooke Bennett at the World Championships this week. This has been a tremendous goal as far as our team is concerned, and certainly it looks as though our goal at the top of the pyramid there is certainly going to be reached. But I just share that with you because I think that’s very important as part of the plan of what I wanted to do and my own personal goal of making sure that I knew where I wanted to go, and I think that’s very important. It doesn’t matter if you’re distance or sprint or whatever you want to do as a coach; I think you have to have that plan.
I’m just going to talk about developing fundamentals at an early age, and I think when I started the program we basically had one level of swimmer and that was the developmental level of swimmer. What I try to do is look at the best way of trying to get those athletes to swim the best possible way technically and then what I want them also to be able to do is be able to swim and be fitter athletes. I think that is the one thing that was in the back of my mind to try and make sure that as athletes they were fitter, better individuals. We start at a very early age with introducing them to try and get them into swimming longer. We have our age group swimmers swimming a lot of distance sets with fins, aids, anything like that, just to get them involved and use to getting into 200’s, 400’s, 800’s, 1500’s. We have 8 year olds, 9 year olds, just starting out in our developmental, or junior competitive program as we call it, and they would do up to 3000 meters to start off with, as they are developing into those programs. I think that’s real important to learn that it’s not all about doing 25’s and 50’s, but it’s about being able to develop them more physiologically, that they are better and fitter athletes. As they come in and develop through the program, they are not going to be shocked from transition from one level of our team to another level of our team. It’s been part of the program, as they go through, that they are used to doing longer distances. They know that they are going to have to be able to do those longer distances, and it’s not just on freestyle, but a lot of the other strokes. As we get through that we try and look to the swimmers and ask them to think of themselves as not swimming all the time just to improve a 50 or I 00 times but try think of improving their overall ability as they swim through so even at 8, 9 and 10, we try to enter them in 400’s or 500’s depending on the season. Early Season try to get them use to those events. We don’t push them into those events. We encourage them and we try encouraging the swimmers to get involved in those events.
We have had a lot of success with the swimmers enjoying those events and I think they try and get into those particular swims and feel they can improve. Start off with a 10 minute 500 or whatever, they can show improvement on bigger scale and it is easier for these swimmers to see that improvement.
One of the things we try to do is not to look at distance swimming as an exception in your program. Unfortunately, sometimes if you are a distance based program with a lot of skepticism, rather than looking at what we can or are trying to achieve, both short term and long term we as coaches have a responsibility to develop a sound basis for where we can develop these swimmers into outstanding athletes and by developing an aerobic base, it will help to establish a strong base to work from. One of the problems I encounter in our program is when swimmers come from other programs, they do not have the background in aerobic work and it takes longer for that swimmer to fit into our program both physically and mentally. I think US Swimming and age group program development has developed swimming in the shorter distances. I think US Swimming needs to look at trying to establish some kind of criteria to develop longer distance programs for age group swimming. I think if you look at European swimming, they do have a distance base program within their system. I have had some contact obviously having lived there for a number of years. They encourage younger swimmers to swim 200’s/400’s free-style and some 800’s and 1500’s in strokes at an early age. I think US Swimming needs to look at what some of the European countries are doing in that sense and expand our age group program to know that we can encourage our swimmers to go into that field.
Educate the parents in what you believe; this is a big part of what I do. Try and talk to the parents and know that what we are doing is right for the athlete. I think it is so easy to be drawn into the other club syndrome, what the club down the road is doing , what we are not doing and why someone is swimming faster than Johnny or Mary. I think you have to talk the parents into letting them know that maybe Johnny or Mary has not developed just right at this time, physically or mentally, to be able to swim as fast as some other swimmers at this point. But we are trying to develop the athletes on a long term basis, and really that’s what we try to portray in what we are doing on a daily basis within the team.
I think a lot of what I am going to talk about today is a brief outline of what my and the team’s philosophy is. With the success we’ve have had with some of our swimmer the last number of years, I am going to follow my plan of the last year of so. I am going to show you what I have done with Brooke Bennett and John Ryke and show you the type of work they’ve done and hopefully get some discussion after that. For our season planning we divide the year into 50 weeks. We have two weeks off every year and one week at the end of the summer (or 10 days after the summer) and 3 days after the spring. I don’t believe that swimmers need to get out of shape. I try not to have the swimmers at any point in their career get out of shape and I think that they need to stay in shape as much as possible. Even if they are out of the water for those two weeks I encourage them to walk, bike or run, whatever they need to do to keep themselves feeling that they are still in shape. We go from a yearly plan to a seasonal plan to a cyclical plan. The seasonal plan is September to March, March to August. The cyclical plan is 6 week segments and then the weekly plan which is six day segments. This is how I divide the year up. This is something that I sit down at the start of each year and this is how I physically look at what the year holds for us. This is the 93-94 season plan.
This is what I did last August. Basically how I came up with a plan. I distribute a copy to my swimmers and meet with them to discuss and show them this. I think a visual copy of this which is far easier for them to understand, rather than something you just talk about. I give them a copy of this and show them where our highs, lows and competitions are going to be and I think this is real important. I think a lot of time we will only talk to our swimmers and team meetings. Swimmers, I feel, are visual people and like any young person they need to have something in their hand to see and I found over the last number of years that they take this and place this on their bedroom wall and they come back to me and say we are supposed to be a little bit lower this time of year or a little bit higher here at this point, they keep a check on me. It’s good because it reaffirms to me what I should be doing. It also helps them and their parents know when the work becomes more demanding and where our competitions are and where they relate to what we are to do with our practices .
We have basically at the top the months and the dates of our competitions, our club meets, age-group meets in September, October High School meets, and again we have high school meets in Florida September to November. You’ll notice for someone like John Ryke, who is a junior in high school last year we didn’t rest, our training stayed basically the same. The weight training was kept very heavy on the first part of September, October, and November. Our meters started off 45,000 to 50,000 per week and we built up to 70,000 -80,000 meters within 4 or 5 weeks. We don’t take very much time to get into yardage. Very quickly with doubles, 5 mornings, 5 afternoons a total of 10 sessions a week. We work basically 80,000. The only thing that changes is the intensity. I believe in the Distance program the intensity is the factor. It’s not the amount of yardage you do, it’s the more the intensity you do. It is important to note that when you are doing 70,000/80,000 and you are doing it as a constant, the intensity needs to change at certain times of the year and at certain times of the week.
You look for a lot out of the individual swimmer where you’re looking for heart rate differences and that’s a big part in what we try and do. I’ll go through that a little bit later on but as we start in that we go through the fall and we went to December where we had the US Open meet and we dropped off the weights, but we basically didn’t drop off the mileage and we had a real good meet there. Brooke had a real good meet, but John had a terrible meet at the US Open, so that didn’t work very well for John but he had quite a good High School Meet. That was more an emotional type of swim about a week before at the State High School Meet winning two events. He didn’t rest for those events and swam a very good 200 and 500 freestyle. It was more of an emotional event and he went to the US Open tired from that High School Meet and from the amount of work we were still doing. Dropping off the weights didn’t give him enough rest from what we were doing. We went back into work straight after that. We didn’t really actually stop, we went back into the weight room or the land conditioning program and over Christmas time we went up to about 90,000 meters when they were on a break. We followed on to basically to February/March. You can see at the end of February and March we dropped basically the weights program totally (our land conditioning program) and we drop it totally doesn’t mean we don’t do any thing. We basically do sit-ups and things like that. We just don’t do a lot of hard work in that period of time. For those 4 or 5 weeks we continue with sit-ups and things like that and then we drop the mileage. When we were down to Junior Nationals and Senior Nationals week and we didn’t go any lower with Juniors this year and Brooke went on to Juniors in March and John didn’t, he went on to just went to Seniors. Brooke went and swam some events at Juniors, but she was still swimming 50,000 meters while she was swimming through that meet. We went onto Seniors and we continued the mileage same for both of them; but they didn’t drop an awful lot. They worked out twice a day at the meet. They kept going. I just feel that at that age, as I said talking about the intensity, they still need to work within the volume of work that they are used to doing the volume of the work. The volume of work they are used to doing is obviously higher than 40-50,000. Therefore they’re not losing that feel of the water when they are swimming that distance. We just change the intensity when it comes to what we do within those times. We gave them a week off after that.
As you see, after that week we went straight back because I was concerned that was a short season we had after the Spring Nationals. We had a shot at the World Championship trials. John had finished second in the 400 free at the Spring Nationals and Brooke had finished very reasonable places in the 400/800 and 1500. I felt it was a possibility and it was certainly a possibility to be able to get into the whole scene of swimming for a World Championship spot. So, I came home after Spring and I sat down with the swimmers and decided to see how close we were to having a shot at a World Championship spot, knowing that it wasn’t part of our overall 6 year plan but why not take it while it was part of what we were doing. So, we got back into the water and basically I had to sit down again and reinvent the wheel for that season. I changed the plan half at mid season thinking that we need to look at what we where we are going to try and do for the World Championship Trials. I decided that we wouldn’t change the first half very much. We had a break, we got back into our pro gram and I thought of a little more yardage. We were coming to summer and got more time in June and we got back in April after Seniors and then getting back up to 85,000/86,000 meters again developing the intensity as we went along so that as the lines go through those months the intensity might start at a lower level but got higher as we went through we went at that point they got selected to go to the distance training camp in Colorado, I knew that at that point they would go a higher mileage so I didn’t have a 100,000 on our chart but they obviously went 220,000 in that two week period in Colorado. They got a big jump in the mileage that they were doing up in Colorado with all the altitude so I didn’t know how that was going to effect it, but I knew we were conditioned well enough going in with the 85,000 to 90,000 that to jump up into 100,000/110,000 meters wasn’t going be a big jump for them as far as physiology wise because I felt that they were fit enough to handle that, and, also that ! JO ,000 was going to be done over a 7 day period rather than our normal 6 day period. I felt that they shouldn’t have a problem with any kind of change in the yardage. When we came back obviously they dropped down to about a 90,000 85,000 and from there we went right down to a where we went to Senior Nationals and where we were about 40 weeks out John, I gave a little bit longer taper this year. It was about 2 week 2 I/2 week taper. While, Brooke I still went on about a 10 day taper for her into the Trials and we basically went from there down to where we were doing about 30,000 a week at the Trials. The week of the Trials we were doing 3,000 in the morning and afternoon at the Trials so we were doing about 6,000 a day and then hopefully the plan was that they would make the World Championship Team.
Brooke made the World Championship Team and John didn’t. Physically wise John was as ready as Brooke was to make the World Championship Team. I think mentally he didn’t handle the pressure of the meet as well as Brooke did. I think she was more determined and was affected by much of the atmosphere of it and I think John as a 17 year old boy had ended up swimming against 21 year old men and I think that is a big difference between 17 to 21. I don’t think the difference from I 4 to the girls is such a huge difference at 14 I think she is able to handle it a little bit better. So, I added on a little tail at the end here where we went a little bit more and we went back to I 5 days of work for the World Championship. She swims tomorrow in Rome and we went 15 days divided into 3 segments of 5 days where we went 50,000 for each of those 5 days I 0,000 a day over 5 days so she was back up to 150,000 for the 3 week period leading into the World Championships and as far as I can gather she is doing well on that and we will see tomorrow. That’s basically the way we have divided the season and as I say, again, I pick those two because they are the successful ones within the program. When you’re talking for 45 minute you try and look at individuals or a particular part of your program that people can relate to and hopefully this will relate to most of what you wanted to know about and what we are doing.
I talked a little bit about our heart rate work and what we have done and how we gear what we do as far as intensity there. We work an awful lot and we go back to the age group and development part of the program. We teach our athletes to monitor their heart rate so that we get to the point that they know exactly if they are swimming at I:20 pace what their heart rate should be. If they are swimming at 23 heart rate we do a 10 second count on the heart rate, what their time should be so they relate a lot to what we do. A lot of our workouts, are basically everything is that we ask them to do is basically done with the heart rates. We ask them to do 10 x 100’s on 1:30 holding a 24 heart rate or 10 x 100’s on 2 minutes holding a 28 heart rate so they know by the heart rate (the intensity) that they are supposed to swim. I think that is a real important part of what we try and teach the athletes as part of all this as part of the development as to what they are doing because, I think if they don’t realize what they are doing as far as their body is doing, I think they don’t realize what they are aiming for. I think that if they don’t know that their body is working at certain levels because, many times you will get athletes in the water and they will swim and they are trying their hardest and you say give me your heart rate and they will say its 23 heart rate. It’s just then they know that some days we explain to them that some days you might feel your trying your hardest and you’re not. That your body is not able to adjust on that particular day to do the work and that’s fine some days. They cannot do the work at the level you want them to but if they are working hard and their heart rate is real high then you know it is also a problem so it’s a good tool for the coach and it’s also a great tool for the athlete. I also think, that educating them at their age to that level of swimming is very, very important and I think that’s what we try to do to make sure they understand what they are doing in the water every day. That it has a purpose and the intensity must differ on various days. They know in the morning times we will do a Jot of aerobic work. In the afternoon we will do a lot more specific work though they do a lot more heart rate oriented work in the afternoons. We will be looking for a lot more different types of intensity than possibly what we’re looking for in the morning time.
One thing I did was I took some athletes and I put them on a treadmill. We do a fair bit of running, so I put them on a treadmill and I tried to explain the fact (this was earlier on in when we started the program of what we were doing with our heart rate work) there was just different levels. We did it because it’s easier to do on a treadmill and it was easier to explain to them what hap pens to the heart when they do different levels of work. What we tried to do was, to set them at a certain speed on the treadmill and with an incline. We had a treadmill that was able to move up and down and we had a 2% incline. We said you are going to stay at this pace and we set the treadmill at 7 miles per hour. Then we said we want you to run at this pace for as long as you can. We were able to show them where that heart rate just went off the scale. We showed them how far they went I or 2 minutes into the work or 2 1/2 minutes into the work on the top scale where their heart rate went up, we got the same speed and put it at zero incline and we showed them where they were able to maintain the heart rate. We found that the 7 miles per hour was just something we tried through trial and error. That was the speed that they were able to handle and we worked on starting them out at 160. They started off and how Jong they were able to stay at that heart rate and a steady state heart rate we were trying to teach them where there is a point within their training that if they maintain just the right level, they can train at that pace virtually all day without really going in aerobically. Building up too much lactate or just dropping down and not getting any benefit, we were trying to find a threshold and teach them about threshold. It is so important to work at that threshold pace. It was just a vehicle we were able to use (the treadmill). We weren’t able to do it in the water, so we wanted some way of showing them a graph of how this was possible. Just by maintaining a steady state heart rate they could maintain that heart rate and work at that level and improve their overall fitness. We did it at a slower speed and their graph was too flat and there wasn’t really any benefit out of it. We then, were able basically to find somewhere between 170 and 180 that they were able to maintain a heart rate. Basically we judged that on our swimming.
How we do that in swimming, is at the start of the season, I don’t usually give them a 3,000 meter swim. I find with age groupers that that’s very hard to judge and that T-30 test. They end up swimming 3,000 meters or a 30 minute swim or whatever you want them to swim, and they don’t either split it right, or they don’t even pace it. They don’t do a lot of the things that you are looking for so what we do is we swim 6 x 400’s. We go no more than 10 second rest at the 400. It’s a Jot easier for them to go 4 x 100’s at a same pace rather than trying to set them off in a 30 minute swim and ask them to go an all-out 30 minute swim at the same pace. I don’t think that 10 seconds is going to put our reading off at the end of the swim. I think that the 10 seconds really gives them a mind set and you can check on them as you go through those 6 x 400’s and say, “Are you still holding the 1:20 pace or the 1:30 pace? That gives us a better idea and we can check the heart rates. Also, we are able to know exactly where our swimmers need to be. Then we get a better feel for the anaerobic threshold and we know what we need to be training. We do that about 3 weeks into the start of our program and then after that we do it every 4-5 weeks. It depends when I feel it needs to done as far as the program is concerned. We try and do that as a test on how to monitor those heart rates as we go through the program. At the start of the season, there will be a test about September 11-18. Around that week we will test because they are back into the water, back into certain amount of mileage and hopefully fit enough to handle those 6 x 400’s. We then go through that and about October middle to end we will test again. It just gives us a better feel for what we are doing. Then as we go through that we can then work with our workouts. The bottom and top workout actually are just sample workouts we brought along.
This year I was able to use Hy-Tek, which I find a great advantage but I’m not promoting. I bought Workout Manager and I find it to be an invaluable tool for me to keep a record on a daily or weekly basis because it gives you a great breakdown of what you do as far as the volume, intensity of work and type of work you do as far as stroke. What we do on the very right hand side column, you can see where it has stroke, and I put in different heart rates as we do the work. We post these on the lanes as the swimmers are doing the work, they get a copy in front of the lane. We just photocopy enough copies for 8 lanes or whatever across the pool. We also write it on a chalkboard. We ask them to do various levels of work. Warm-up is 20 heart rate, and right through down to the main set of work. We are looking for 26 basically all through the main set. On the last one your heart rate is going to be a little bit higher, 28 heart rate and then back down to 20. Even the warm-downs and warm-ups we try to get them to look at a heart rate and the type of work. So, they know all the time they should be warming down with the right heart rate and warming up with the right heart rate. I think that is real important! I will try to do kick sets with heart rates. We try to get some of the swimmers to see how high they can get the heart rate up on the kicking set. Traditionally, kicking sets I always find in my program have ended up for being a time for rest. Nothing drives me more crazy than having kids lying on a board, kicking up and down a pool and feeling we are not getting what we need out of it. This year we have had a lot of improvement on our kicking by just by putting the heart rates in there and getting them to work. I’ve had my fastest kicker this year, a long course 100 freestyle kick, was a 1:13. This was the fastest I’ve ever been to have anybody kick a I 00 freestyle kick. So, hopefully that will keep going and I’ll get somebody to kick faster and faster because I think that is a real important part of any kind of freestyler or any kind of stroke work. If you are doing that, you are able to kick and maintain that kick over a distance, whatever distance you are swimming. I think we don ‘t look at it enough. As coaches sometimes we forget about the legs and we forget the legs are back there and they are some of the biggest muscles in our body and we are not conditioning them well enough to know how to keep that muscle working all the way through a race. A lot of times we get swimmers hopping out of the pool and saying, “My legs are killing me I’m just dying at the end of a swim.” You know you are killing them by not conditioning those legs enough. I’ll stop here a little bit and take some questions.
Something about the dry land program?
Our dry land program is very much calisthenics orientated. We do an awful lot of calisthenics and very little heavy weights. We do an awful lot of sit ups, medicine ball work, circuit type of work. At least in the summer time, we do it every single day.
In the winter time we do it 4 days a week where they do basically the same program every day and we try to vary it over the number of weeks. So, we try and change the program every 3 to 4 weeks. But, we do the same program day in day out because I think we are trying to condition the athletes. I believe that we can make the athletes fitter and stronger on the land as well as in the water but I think that we need to make them stronger and fitter athletes on the land. We need to be able to run and sit up and do a lot of the things they need to do as part of getting fitter on the land. So, we spend about 35 to 40 minutes doing the general circuit type of work where they will do step ups, jumps, sit ups and dips. We put some weights in there as part of the resistance exercise but nothing really heavy. We haven’t done an awful lot of weights. We have some of our senior boys that have gone into weight room but really we don’t do an awful lot of that type of stuff. I don’t have the staff and basically I don’t like sending them into the weight room unless they are really supervised because I don’t think they will do the work anyway and I think they just go in and goof off. I don’t like them to do that so I think they need to be in there supervised and I prefer to have them all out doing circuits rather than that. We just change the circuit type of work.
Every 3 or 4 weeks you adjust it somehow ?
A lot of the stuff, when we are starting off, we change the rest intervals. What we do first of all, maybe start on a slightly slower rest of interval. We will do 3 x 400’s on 5. We might start at the beginning of the sea son leaving on 5:30 and go right down to where we are swimming better, maybe the last set is on 4:50 or some thing like that. As we go through the season, we try and change that.
In the weight room?
We increase the volume of work in the sense of the time they are doing it. We try and put in some more reps and basically we are trying to increase the number of reps or just change them in some way. If we are doing a resistance exercise where they have weight exercise, a dumb bell, or something like that, we increase the weight of that or increase the weight of the medicine ball or whatever we do so a lot of the times we just play around with it like that.
Do you monitor the heart rate?
We started doing that a little bit this year, not an awful lot, it’s a bit of fun. It was to break up the monotony of what we were doing earlier on in the season just to see what heart rate they are getting. They got a kick out of that just seeing how high they could get their heart rate comparing what they do in the land work to what they do in the water.
Q. Normal yardage per year compared from year to year?
We haven’t consistently gone above 85,000 meters in this time of the year and our heaviest time of the year. One of the reasons I did that was because I felt there is going to be a time, if Brooke and John develop into the level of swimmers I felt they could develop into, they might need to develop into a I 00,000 meter week swim mer. We may need to do it a certain time of the year which we develop into 95,000 to 100,000 meters. I’ve been real conscious of not trying to go too much yardage, just for the sake that we have another fall back. Brooke is 14 years of age and if she was doing 110,000 meters, where do I go from there? How many more hours can I put in the pool? How much more intensity can I put in there? So, by increasing the intensity of what we are doing and holding back on the mileage we can then develop more mileage and then go on. So, over a year as you saw in the yearly plan we’re real consistent and basically holding about a 65,000 meters week. So we’re right over about 50 times 65 whatever that works out to be
What percent of your senior team is doing that?
Basically, we have about 14 athletes that are swimming at that level. At the moment, we have about 14 athletes that are swimming twice a day and swimming that yardage somewhere around 85. Our middle distance swimmers are going about 65 to 85, so we have a range of work that we work with middle distance. When it comes to the main part of the season, what we do is
break down this work into some middle distance work and some distance work so we are not trying to kill everybody and make them all distance swimmers. We don’t work from the lowest level in the sense of mileage wise, and having our middle distance leading the way. We have our distance swimmers lead the way and then we will work down the different team members. The sprint swimmers in a 85,000 week might only do 55 or 60,000 that week. We don’t start work from the sprint people and work up we start from the distance and work down and they are expected to be able to do a lot of yardage. I think that is real important!
Q. Is there any special thing to be aware of in heart rate measuring of work?
I think the biggest problem I have is monitoring it correctly. I worked for a number of years with lactate testing. I had my own lactate machine when I worked in Ireland. I spent time testing lactate results and so on and I found that one thing that was constant was the heart rate. The lactates varied an awful lot of time but the constant to me was the heart rate. The only problem I’ve had in monitoring it is teaching the athlete to properly take their own heart rate and I’ve tried different kinds of equipment (i.e. polar watches) and different kinds of things. I haven’t really come up with a sure fire way of actually testing the heart rate and there is going to be a little bit of error but you’re going to have to play with that as well. You have to use your own judgment as a coach and your own judgment as an individual to know if they are telling you something which is true. Get to know your athletes. I’m not trying to take the coaching out of swimming. That is one thing that I really learned with the lactate testing; it took the coaching out of the swimming. A lot of times we were standing back waiting for a machine to tell us what to do. One decision I made was that I was a coach and I believed in my own coaching ability.
I can safely say I’ve coached for five years and out of my top group I have not had one shoulder injury in 5 years. They’ve never stopped training and I put that down to the fact that they are conditioned well enough at an early age. We don’t ask them to come from 30,000 to 80,000 we condition them at an early age through the program so that they are developing that conditioning as early as we can. The body adjusts to it, the growth adjusts to it, and therefore as they go through the pro gram, it’s not a shock. They are not going to all of the sudden decide that you are a distance swimmer or you have a potential to swim more mileage and throw you into that program. We try and develop that through the whole program. There are concerns with parents when they come in and I try to alleviate those concerns. I talk to them and say this is our goal. We try to. It doesn’t work with some parents. Some parents want to go to another program and that is fine with me. You know I don’t try and sell something I don’t do. I try and sell what I believe in and what I do and I think that is real important.
How do you educate the parents?
I try and do it at the start of the season with the plan that I showed you and show the parents what we are doing and then we get to our senior teams I have a gold team & silver team. I have individual parent meetings with those teams and explain to them what we are trying to do with those swimmers. Then I encourage the parents to set up meetings with me. I can spend 2 hours after each session and 2 hours before each session at night doing parent meetings and individual parent meetings and explaining what their child or their Johnny or Mary is going to do over the next year.
It’s a real treat to get up to the higher color hand paddle because they know they can swim faster with these paddles. I find target sets at certain levels or the age they can accomplish these sets. We often use 400 and 800 swims to show them where they should be. We use 6 x 400 @ 6 minutes to determine whether you should be in that group. We also use 5 x 200 backstroke on this interval for this same reason. Not all our target sets are related to freestyle. We use Breast, Back, Butterfly distance work. We often build up the volume with our young swimmers using 5 x 400 back or fly with fins. This helps increase their stroke feel and builds confidence in what they are doing.
At what age do you swimmers enter the distance group? What is the weekly yardage they do?
I do not think there is any certain age where this should occur. It is the swimmer’s decision whether to enter the program and work hard. It is determined on an individual basis-those who are dedicated and want it more than any other swimmer. They must be willing to train harder than the average swimmer. They must want to develop and train harder than anyone else. I don’t think there is any particular age for a swimmer to enter the distance program. We have ten year olds and thirteen year olds deciding to do crazy things. We have 11 and 12 year olds going around 75,000 to 80,000 yards. It takes a special swimmer to handle this kind of volume at this age. I based this on what Brooke had done at that age. We have two distance lanes that they are invited to swim in, and it is their choice whether to attend. They know what they have to do. I don’t tell them to go to the distance lanes.