Training the Club Swimmer- Some Guidelines on how to handle the age-grouper
BY: Don Gambril and Alfred Bay
I believe that all swimmers should establish a sound foundation of correct stroke mechanics and middle-distance training when they are young. It is much easier to learn from the start how to swim correctly that it is to purge bad habits years later. It is important that the swimmer begin building stamina, increase heart and lung capacity, and developing strength while he or she still growing rapidly.
A case can be made that more is better. It is true that the young body has amazing recuperative powers. This has been demonstrated many times. Forbes Carlile of Australia, for example, has swimmers under 10 years of age training 50 miles a week. I believe that it is possible that a 12-year-old be conditioned to swim 20,000 meters a day, six days a week (112 miles a week) without physical harm, but I would not endorse such training. I believe that physiological and social considerations should determine the limits of training mileage, not sheer physical capacity.
The typical young athlete is just not equipped to handle the tedium of long -distance training. If training becomes too demanding-or just too boring- the swimmer will leave the sport. Anymore, few Olympic medals are won by swimmers younger than 17. In fact, the average age of world-class swimmers is increasing; some now are as old as 25. If a swimmer is to succeed in international, or even in national, competition, he or she will have to stay in the sport eight, 12, maybe even 18 years. It is the age group coach’s responsibility to consider the long-range effects on the training course and to allow each swimmer to develop in his or her own time.
I endorse middle-distance; all stroke training for age-group swimmers. Just what that means – how much mileage, in what manner, at what age- I shall discuss next.
However keep in mind that that the actual content of training is not as important as the development of self motivation and a good mental attitude.
Ages 7 and 8
Seven-and 8 year-old need more structured practice. A tremendous amount of teaching needs to be done: stroke technique, body position, starts, timing, rhythm, and turns (turn should be taught on both sides). All strokes should be taught and . practiced, but until sufficient strength is developed through kicking and pulling drills, not much time should/ be spent swimming butterfly. And the drills should be repeated often. A coach should never allow the young swimmer to get away with sloppy technique.
Competition should be part of daily practice, but it should be fun, relaxed, and should have social thrust; such things are relays: “Alligators versus Crocodiles”. There· should be little criticism; Kindness goes much further with this age than hard discipline.
This is also a good age to introduce dryland work – not weight training yet, but flexibility work and · conditioning exercises. People this young rarely benefit directly from strength or flexibility work, but exercises become part of the routine discipline that will be necessary when that get older. These exercises improve coordination and prove a variety which helps keep workouts interesting.
It is a good idea for swimmers of this age (or little older) to start keeping a logbook with workouts and weekly mileage totals. This gives them a feel for the content and rhythm of the training course and allows them to see documented improvement. It also develops interest in statistics.
The coach, of course, should also keep track of mileage. Seven and 8-year-olds should be swimming no more than five miles a week, and spending no more than one and half hours, three days a week, in the water.
Ages 9 and 10
We hold five practice sessions a week for this group; totaling no more than 12 hours weekly – meets, team meetings and social events inclusive. Absences should be permitted for involvement in other activities, such as Scouting. Especially at this age, the swimmer should be encouraged to maintain outside interests.
The 9-year-olds work out from 60 to 90 minutes day and cover maximum weekly distance of 25,000 to 30,000 yards. The 10-year-olds work about two hours a day, with a commensurate increase in yardage.
Intervals generally be kept short so that the swimmer can concentrate on good form and hard effort (though, once in a while a long swim of a mile or more offers a challenging change of pace). At this age, work emphasizing forced oxygen debt is introduced. This work continues through the age of 11 or 12 for girls, and 13 or 14 for boys.
At about this age, great disparities in the maturation levels of age peers develop. Some girls are fully mature at 11 or 12 and are ready for an adult training load.
Some boys aren’t ready physically or emotionally for that kind of work until they are 13 or 14. This should be taken into account, and training groups should be composed by performance, as well as by age, with time standards being instituted for each training lane. Remember that “late bloomers” frequently turn out to be the best swimmers when they get older: these more slowly developing swimmers must be given attention and encouragement. They should work more over-distance and do less sprint or quality effort.
For example, Tim Shaw, one young swimmer who was in my program from the age of 9 until he was almost 15, trained only one session a day. Yet less than two years later, when he was 16 and doing double workouts with Dick Jochums, he broke the world record in the 400-meter freestyle. He was the best in the world for several years.
The 9-or 10-year -old swimmer should have-a sound grasp of style and the mechanics of all four strokes, starts and turns. It is time to start teaching him or her the basics of training theory and practice: what the different types of training are, and the benefits of each; how to time splits, figure pace and monitor one’s pulse.
Ages 11 through 13
By age of 11, most girls are ready for serious competition. They are ready to add stress work to their training regimen, and to train twice a day (10 or 11 sessions a week). The most mature girls can handle 60,000 and 80,000 yards a week at this age. On the other hand, boys tend to mature more slowly: most of them will not be ready for this level of work until they are 13.
We start our 11-years-old (boys and girls) on an effective dryland program. At first most of the work is light-body-weight-against gravity work such as pull-ups, sit ups, and push-ups; or resistance work with devices such as pull buoys, drag suits, pull tubes, etc. AS the individuals mature, and if facilities are available we start him or her weight lifting.
By the age of 14 (15 for low maturers) the serious swimmer should be spending 20 to 30 hours training every week, covering (at peak season) 60,000 and 90,000 yards, and handling a full complement of dryland work. The dryland work includes running,
flexibility exercises and the following lifts with free weights on the pool deck: bench press, triceps press, half squads, and upright rowing.
The work at this age group is componently the same as the work done by senior swimmers. The differences are: the overall mileage is less (though 14-15-year-olds train like seniors and compete successfully against seniors); the strength work is not as heavy and the long distance group is separated as often.
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Flying Out of the Distance: Many of Gary Butt’s Pine Crest swimmers begin as distance freestylers and still do much of their training in that area.
Interview by: Mark Muckenfuss
Butts: Another thing is that most of our flyers train in our distance freestyle workout. We don’t ask them many times to swim a whole lot of butterfly in workout.
ST: Why distance as opposed to middle or short distance?
Butts: We have just found that our 200 flyers tend to be more similar to our distance freestyles than anyone else on the team. Out butterflyers, our 400 Imers and our distance people train together. And the amount of fly that they swim
_would vary by kid. Two of the best flyers we’ve had come out of here in the last seven years would be Vickie Vogt, and Martin Zubero. They swam a lot of Fly in workout.
ST: From what you have said it sounds like you prefer training your flyers for the 200 rather than the 100. Butts: The 200 seems to be more interesting race. There is a considerable bit more strategy you have to go into in swimming a 200 fly than the 100. Lately though some of our 200 flyers have been drifting off into the 800 meter free or the 1500
ST: Do you do any lactate testing your swimmers?
Butts: We have over the last few years. We started in the fall of ’84 and worked at it until last spring. Right off the bat we had real good results and got a pretty good understanding of what we were doing. We continued to push forward with it for three years. Last spring we looked at the amount of time and money we were putting into it and the size of our program, and we weren’t sure we were getting enough out of the amount of time and money being spent, so we stopped. We won’t start back until this fall. At that time we’ll look at what data’s available and what time, money and effort it will take.
ST: Do you feel you’re missing anything by not testing?
Butts: No. we might have swum better, but we were pleased with our results last summer. I’m not sure we’re missing any- thing at this point other than the data we’d be collecting. I guess I’m kind of lazy and I’m going to wait until someone comes out with a program and says this is what you do, and I’ll follow that. We just don’t have the staff or the money to test 55 kids all the time. It took an enormous amount of time away from training. But we will probably go back into it once we get a little better We learned a lot from it in terms of whether we were training too hard, not hard enough, when we had kids that we were over-training. We certainly got some direction that way.
Another thing that we found helpful, last year Paul Bergen put out a newsletter every week called Think Fast Swimming. We subscribed to that and followed that and did a lot of things he was doing and used a lot of the ideas he gave us. I think it’s one of the most incredible things a coach did and took the time to put out. He was so meticulous with his planning and program. We took a lot . of ideas from that and base lot of our stuff on it. We try to run a cycle type program. We hand out a calendar to the kids for each three month period, with all the yardage we’ll be going.
Our program is set up so that Monday is quality, Tuesday is recovery. Our yardage on recovery days is about 8,000, and on quality days it’s about .5,000. On quality mornings we go about 4,000 and on a recovery morning about 5,500.
Wednesday we don’t train, we call it · Wonderful Wednesday, followed by Terrible Thursday. We always do a timed 800 or 1000 on Thursdays, which is a quality day. We’ve been doing a timed 800 or 1000 every Thursday for seven years.
ST: You must consider it pretty important. What do you feel it does for the swimmers?
Butts: It gives them some racing experience. They certainly learn how to pace. We talk a lot about pacing and they have to learn that when they’re swimming a 1000. Friday is a recovery day for us and on Saturday we train for four hours straight, from 8-12, all water, and we go from 12,000-18,000 on those days.
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