Age Group Training: No Weaknesses by Jennifer Gibson (2002)


I just want to welcome everybody, and thank you Pat.  Thank you.  First, what I would really, really like to do is just welcome people.  I need to say a big thanks to people that have made this possible for me.  First of all, thank you for coming.  I hope everybody is enjoying the Clinic.  I hope everybody is benefiting from the Clinic.  I think it is a great opportunity for our profession.  I started coming to these clinics back in 1985, and remember my first few clinics. I watched a lot of people, didn’t know a lot of people, was amazed to be in the same room with a lot of people, as in coaches, that I just knew of their reputation, and knew the swimmers that they had produced. So, I really hope that you walk away feeling energized, and ready to go with your own programs at home.  There are a lot of people that I really need to thank.  I really need to thank ASCA.  I really need to thank them for what they have done for our profession and also I would really like to thank John Leonard and his staff – they continually put on such a great, great Clinic every year and all the other services they provide to make our profession ~ professional.


I have been lucky to have great mentors in my life and if you were at Speedo’s Women’s Clinic that they put on last night, and  talked about mentors and who has had mentors in their life.  I was very fortunate to have as great mentors my parents; both my mother and my father.  I really feel that they are responsible for me being here today.  They have always been there, always supported me.  They continue to support both my husband Dave and I, that is where my 10-year old son is today – in their good hands.  Besides my parents, I have been very, very fortunate to spend the last 20 years of my life with a mentor that has always been there for me, has always helped me, has always expected me to grow – both personally, but also professionally and that is my husband Dave.  He is also my work partner.  He is also my boss.  He is the head coach of our swim team program in aquatics.  I am the head age group coach, but it goes farther than that.  In early years you know, Dave always challenged me, but he was always so open with the knowledge that he had, always willing to answer questions, always willing to help me find answers or guide me in the direction to find answers, but then when I reached a certain point or level there was also a time that he quit answering my questions and made me go out and find those answers and I really, really think that was important in me developing my own coaching style.  That he just didn’t always give me the answers and there were times I would get mad at him for that- “you know, you know the answer-why can’t you just tell me,” and you know, he knew what he was doing, so I really need to thank Dave – it’s that he is always there, always supportive of me, but, I also need to thank our son.  I have a 10-year old son, Harrison, I thank him not only for sacrifices that he makes when I am not there, a lot of evenings, a lot of dinner hours that we don’t have, a lot of first days of school that I have missed because I am – you know – National team trips; or I am away with the high school team, or – you know – just things that I haven’t always been there for, but for some reason he always comes back so lovingly, understanding, I know mom, its your job, so, I really need to thank him cause he is really a neat little kid – and just understands a lot about the real world.  I was also fortunate, I think, in this world as far as coming to ASCA, to have a female mentor that really made an impression on me.  In the early days, and I think she did it maybe when it wasn’t as easy for females, and she would give talks that meant so much to me, that I used a lot, when I went home and very closely, as far as work with Pat Logan and that is Kathy McKee.  If you have ever had the opportunity to meet Kathy or be around Kathy, she is a, phenomenal lady.  I called her on the phone many times when I didn’t know how to handle a situation or I was becoming too emotional about a situation with a parent, or with an athlete, and  very calmly she would spend the time with you, talk to you, just make you know that it was okay what you were doing.  Other people I would like to thank, is the USA Swimming staff.  I think of the opportunities through the years when they believed in me, believed in a young coach that wanted to give her time, that wanted to grow, not only knowing Dale Neuberger out of Indiana Swimming, but Sue Anderson for believing in me and letting me do camps out there, Tom Aviscious.  Tom Aviscious, originally was a coach in Indiana and just shared a lot of time, opportunity to talk, just personal talks.  Denny Persley, National Team director he just makes you feel so good.  He is National Team Coordinator and has a lot to do with coordinating the staff national team trips.  But also I don’t want to forget Candy who is behind the scenes and does a lot with those trips also.  And lastly, just thanking my employers who always support me whether I am at work, away from work, taking time away from work to do other commitments and that is Ft. Wayne Aquatics, and also the school district that I teach swim lessons for, but then also the high school that I coach for.


In moving on, you will notice the handout – I could have probably done three times as many handouts.  When I, especially the first four or five years coming to clinics, man, those handouts were like the wealth to me.  Any time somebody had a handout that I could walk away with and take it home and look at that and if there was something I could use out of those handouts that was great in starting a new season.  So we are going to kind of use those throughout the talk a little bit.  If you notice and I have to be appreciative because it was done for me, my husband Dave and the coach, the head coach, Jim Wright, did that for me the other afternoon.  They went and made all those copies and they collated them – well, the first thing I do when I see them, I complain because they did it backwards so I am complaining and I shouldn’t be complaining, so we will start the other way with them.  We will start with the one that is on stroke drills so about my talk – I keep saying I am not going to say anything new.  It is not earth shattering.  I mean, this isn’t rocket science here, that we are doing, but I just really want to share what I have done, what I have done, I think, for maybe a long time, and Pat said maybe it is because you take it for granted because you have done it for the last twenty years of your life so I just want to share what maybe has been good in our area because it has been consistent.  We have been with this program – this will be our 15th year together with Ft. Wayne Aquatics.


Just a little bit about me.  I grew up in Ft. Wayne, Indiana so I am pretty much a mid-west person.  Thank heaven, I have a lot of opportunity to travel because the Midwest is conservative – a great place to raise children.  People are dedicated to you so we don’t experience a lot of jumping from team to team.  I think when somebody believes with you, they stick with you, through thick and thin so that has always been great in our programs because parents work things out with you.  You do not have a lot of parental problems.  You know, a lot times when they look at starting with the program they see it as an investment.  They do their homework and they stick with you so that’s I guess where the conservative part is a good thing.  How do you say – I over-commit so I am one of those people that would probably be the last to leave, last to leave a workout, the pool, last to leave work, last to leave a meet. I don’t know, maybe that’s how I have met a lot of people or maybe seen the little things because I am not afraid of the weird hours.  I am not afraid of the long hours.  It pays off so I really think that that has helped in this role also.


A little bit about our club, Ft. Wayne Aquatics, when we started 14 years ago, it was down to about 90 swimmers – we took over and had a great facility, an older facility but an awesome facility.  It is a six lane indoor pool, but three of the walls were glass.  It had all kind of palm trees, the greenery, just a really neat environment.  We lost our pool to the S&L crisis for you that remember that – Savings & Loan – they just came in and shut the place down.  We had to make a decision what we were going to do.  We chose to put a bubble over a four lane outdoor 25 meter pool with no gutters, just those walls that have bricks on top and in northern Indiana in the winter swimming in a bubble is like swimming in an igloo and if you have ever been through a bubble before you kind of understand what I am talking about.  The water was a constant 82 degrees.  It was wonderful for the swimmers, but you are standing up there with layers of clothes on and it is dripping, but looking back, those were probably the four most phenomenal years that we had as a team.  Just working together, and I really think that is what kind of took us to the next level.  After that we had a 50 meter indoor 8 lane pool that was built.  That is where we are now.  The other facility that we work at is, where I teach swim lessons for a school district.  It is a two-year old indoor 8 lane pool.  We rent time there two times a week.  I don’t want anybody to think that we have control over these pools.  We are now presently, we run between 140 and 150 pretty steady swimmers in our program.


I just want to kind of take you through the levels of our program.  I think it is page 4 starting with the stroke drills in front.  Page 4 just kind of takes us through our training groups starting with the starfish which is our non-competitive group and then it goes through our four age groups – stingray, barracuda, mako and gold and then on the flip side it has the senior national program.  I work primarily now with the gold group.  When we first started Dave and I worked with everybody.  We didn’t have a pre-competitive group, but we worked with everybody; stingray through senior national team.  Now I work just primarily with the gold group and Dave works with the senior national team and then we have coaches that work within the other four groups. A little bit about our schedules.  Primarily, as an age group coach my schedule with our top age groupers – we do a lot of transitioning when we move children to the next group.  In makos, the group below mine, line the 9-10 year olds we don’t usually make a clean break – okay – one day you are in this group and the next season boom you are in this group.  We do a lot of transitioning – moving them from group to group.  I really just feels that it helps as far as comfort level.  We do that a lot during the summer when they don’t have pressures of school.  I think a little bit more time as far as to work with.  Usually sleep isn’t so much of a factor issue because a lot of our workouts are in the morning so they haven’t put in a long day at school and we were trying to increase their time in the water, practice time, training time – I just really feel that, if I can do it at a time when it is less pressure, I think that is good for the child, good for the swimmer.  So, before they move into my group the first step would be, that they spend two days a week in the summer with me, like Tuesdays and Thursdays, they are with me,  the rest of the time, they would be makos before they move into my group.  Once they are in my group, age group gold, which would be like your 11-13 year olds we go six days a week.  Each workout is an hour and a half in the water and then two to three days a week we do 45 to an hour long,  long session of dry land and it kind of really depends on what is going on in the facility where we train.  It is a gorgeous 8 lane indoor 50 meter pool, but a typical workout from the months of October through February, there is probably at least three to four things going on in that pool.  At one end is an adult aerobic class going on.  In the middle of the pool there are two different club teams working out.  they each have six to eight lanes and in the diving well it could be high school diving workouts going on.  So, it is very crowded.  It could be very loud, but we all make it work so it is great, it is great if it is crowded.  It is great when nobody is there you just you know, focus on the kids.  Our philosophy as far as with our swimmers, age group gold – the biggest word that I can use is progression – really trying to start them out young.  The total focus would be on fun and learning your strokes.


My #1 goal as a head age group coach is I want my athlete to swim as a senior and a national level swimmer with us and I want  them to go to school and I want them to go to college and I want them to really look at the opportunity of swimming beyond high school and a lot of times that means that maybe I put some of their goals on hold.  I want them to move to the next level.  I don’t want them to be burned out, I want them to have the opportunity to do other things so progression is probably the best way that I can describe our philosophy, really trying to start out where they are only in the water one or two days a week and you know gradually adding to that.  I am very concerned about intensity.  You know I thought about that, I thought you know I don’t do a million test sets.  I don’t pound them in the water, but our retention level is phenomenal.  I would say year to year our retention is probably 95%.  Probably, I average between 35-40 kids in my group.  I bet at any time when I think about them moving into the senior group, their freshman year of high school, their junior year of high school, out of those 35 or 40 there I probably over 30 – between 30 and 35 of them, that make it through, like their senior year in high school.  I just think that we have been very fortunate that we can keep our swimmers all the way through our program and I am sure that has a lot to do with the consistency – just because most of them start with us when they are 8 or 9 years old and they have the same set of coaches all the way through high school until they leave for college and I really, really believe that that has been a big factor in our success, in our ability to retain the athletes.


As far as moving into important ingredients for an age group swimmer to possess or to work through before they move into a senior level swimmer – first and foremost would be developing their strokes and on this first page, I went through and made a stroke drill page, like I put on the top, maybe some of you guys know every stroke drill on this page, maybe some of you guys have never had somebody that has really sat down and gone through stroke drills with you and maybe you are first or second year coaching – you are always looking for new ways or new ideas to teach strokes.  They start out extremely basic and I try to move through it to some of the stroke drills or stroke ideas that you would use with a more advanced level age group swimmer.  These can be expanded upon, as far as to fit our own wants or needs or maybe even your own coaching style.  I know there are some people that wouldn’t use some of these drills just in the way that they teach.  Other people would have other drills that they would build off of these and what I would like to do is give you an opportunity if there is a drill that you don’t understand as I have written them through here because I don’t want to go through every single drill for every stroke, but I don’t know if you just want to look through them and if there is a discussion that you would really like to have on freestyle or any of the other strokes I would be glad to do that but I am going to go through and emphasize the drill that I feel that have really worked for me, that I use a lot and there are certain drills that my kids just know because I don’t let them pick their own drills.


I don’t let them pick their own breathing pattern.  I name them.  I think I would name it from the time that we warm-up until we warm-down.  If we are using drills what drills you are going to use and what the breathing patterns are going to be.  Those are probably the things that I am probably strictest on, out of anything that I do is – are stroke drills and breathing patterns.  We do a lot of work with body position, and more than that I just use it mainly just going into floating and kicking.  I don’t  spend a whole lot of time, we just try to go over it on a regular basis. You know once a week, all the way through the season, just some reminders about you know where their head should be, where they should be looking, you know those kind of things as far as with body position you know I just try to really keep it simple.


I become pretty animated on the pool deck.  Sometimes I think I am more of a 12- year old than I am a 42 – year old.  I am very comfortable with 12 and 13 year olds talking at that level. I think sometimes I am more comfortable with them than their parents because I don’t know what to say to their parents, but if you give me 20 or 30 kids I feel like I work better with them.  So I think I act out a lot what I do on the deck and I really think that helps them.  I don’t use grease boards or anything like that.  I would really like for them to be able to listen and watch, watch me, watch each other.  I think personally if we write it all on a grease board it takes some of that away.  I like them to be able to hear things, have to work it out and not just be I guess spoon fed everything.  I know there are people who disagree with that.


We do a lot with breathing patterns.  I start out pretty basically even doing it on boards with them, much like you would do in learn to swim, you know making them you know exhale, breathe to the right, exhale breathe to the left – its very simple things like that.  I do a lot with a six count, three count rolling.  I use three count catch up probably too much.  Some coaches may be over-emphasizing long stroke, holding out front, but I think it has paid off as far as their stroke and where they start and finish their stroke.  I don’t do a lot with single arm.  I do use a lot of Demont right, Demont left if you are familiar, not familiar with that stroke.  Stop me if you want me if want me to show you what a stroke is. Demont right, Dumont left okay I call Demont right Demont left because supposedly a great freestyler, Rich Demont liked this and Matt Biondi used this stroke a lot too.  What you are going to do and I will demonstrate it is it is a one arm stroke.  You breathe away from the arm that you are using so if you are using your right arm your other arm is down to your side and you would breathe the opposite side.  You want to emphasize them breathing every time.  Some of them get very frustrated because they do have a weak side.  A lot of them have a side that is harder than another but I make them breathe every stroke. I make them try to emphasize finger tips pointing to the bottom of the pool because it kind of helps to keep that elbow high so they are not crossing over so it just looks like this.  You want them to try to hold the water for as long as they can.  It is really great for roll because that other arm is down and you can really roll, use your hip,  use your shoulder.  You can really roll your body there.  I use it a lot.  It is one of those drills.  I like to throw it in there because they have to think about remembering how to do it.  Face drill – it is almost the opposite.  You are going to breathe towards your arm.  The other arm is out front.  Is everybody familiar with this?  It really makes me think of Popov.  If you look at pictures of him when he would do his stroke – if you would look at a lot of his pictures – he would lead with his thumb first so we have them do this drill very low – wall here.  Just like I always tell them, it is like your elbow – the bottom string is from the ceiling, you lead with your thumb, go past your face.  You want to continue it.  I do have kids that will stop here.  I do try to keep them continuous.  When you are trying to keep your elbow up for as long as you can and then just dropping out front.  I make them drop in pinky first because I have so many swimmers that want to go the other way and when I try it when they recover, I almost try to have them lead a little bit more thumb first so on this drill I really just try to exaggerate that and have them drop in here and then roll and then roll and do it again this way.  I really like that too, as far as it really works on high elbow, a lot of control, really having that hand close to the water, close to your face when you are doing that drill.  It is a hard drill for a lot of those kids to do and do correctly.  My older age groupers, just because they have done it and just I think as far as with coordination they do that drill a little bit better.


Finger tip drag, I am not a big fan of finger tip drag.  Because, I think alot of times, I find they use it  and they are lazy with it because they can swim with it and so I am very careful as far as using finger tip drag.  I do it a lot with that, 4-point progression where they start with the wrist and then just go down knuckle, finger tip  and then a 25 swim – something like that.  This swimming I know has gotten a lot more popular – my kids watched several teams this summer using the gloves and using them to warm-up and it was real interesting because they were the ones that questioned if that was something that would be good for them, if it was something that we should try, so I really gave them a lot of credit that they noticed that other people were trying different things and maybe that that would be something good for us to do as a team so we do, do some of it without.  That is one thing that we are going to do more of this year.  A lot of them have bought the gloves.  We are just going to try to start using that in our workouts also.


Breathing patterns, like I said we do all kinds of work with breathing patterns.  You know talk a lot about racing and breathing patterns that you want to use in different races.  Breathing patterns that you use in practice versus breathing patterns that you want to use when you are racing and then moving into stroke count work.


Backstroke – do a lot of shoulder roll, six count roll, three count roll, a lot of single arm, pretty much just I think I really use a lot of those drills.  The only drill I don’t do very much of is double backstroke just because a lot of times I don’t like the way they look when they do it.  They just don’t seem to – I don’t know – they are sloppy, their head go under water.  It is just not a drill that I use a lot.


Breaststroke – I believe that out of all four strokes I teach breaststroke the best and it may be because I am very, very particular with breaststroke.  I enjoy the results when a swimmer or child really can conquer breaststroke.  I was a breaststroker maybe that kind of feeds into it, I don’t know, but the best drill I have ever found for breaststroke, whether you are in a learn-to-swim program or an age group program to work on timing is that pull, breathe kick glide drill with a kick board – the absolute best thing that I have ever found to work on timing, even with your non-breaststrokers and it does say pull.  You cant pull when you are using a board but I really emphasize that they need to be saying that to themselves so I put them in a board.  Their hands of course are out front and make them start so that they are looking at the bottom of the pool, really trying to get their hips up, good streamlining and I make them say pull and then they breathe, you kick and you glide, really emphasizing dropping that head back down and holding the glide with their face in the water.  So many times people want that head to pop back up, but that is – I would do that drill every day for breaststroke if I could.  I just cant say enough about that drill.  That is my favorite breaststroke drill.  I have learned to use sculling a lot more.  I didn’t use sculling.  I would avoid it because I didn’t feel like I did a good job as far as emphasizing or understanding what sculling did so I really have used sculling a lot more with breaststroke and just keep it simple with them you know just that sculling out front.  You know just do a – you know just go 25 with them. It really just emphasizes where you want to start that stroke on breaststroke.  The classics as far as a one pull, three kicks, one pull, two kicks, three under, three up, three high strokes, three long strokes.  If anybody has any questions stop me, otherwise I am just going to try to get through it, just kind of go through these pretty quick.


On butterfly, probably of my favorite things to do is kicking with a board, breathing every fifth kick, yeah breathing every fifth, excuse me.  I really like that too because it keeps them on the surface.  It really helps to prevent them from diving, diving with their head.  It really keeps their hips up on top.  We do a lot of kicking that way with our face in the water, breathing every fifth kick.  We do a lot of combinations you know two right, two left, two full strokes, 2-2-3, 2-2-4.  they really like that.  I don’t think I have been very good about pushing them to do longer distance of butterfly and I found when I would do a lot of this you know the 2-2-2, the progression of 2-2-2. 2-2-3, 2-2-4 that they seemed to be – I don’t know, they just did a lot better holding that drill, going farther and they just seemed to be a lot more open about working on butterfly workout you know I have really used that a lot and it has just really seemed to help them be more open and they don’t do as much like breaststroke kicking or legs coming you know feet drifting apart.  That has just really seemed to help them a lot.


Surface stroke – finish drills.  I am not sure.  That is a little bit harder I think with age groupers, but I think age groupers are so weak finishing their stroke in the back that that is a good drill to use.  A drill that my husband Dave has used and I think this is probably the #1 favorite stroke drill for his kids and they will request it like they will say I think I need to do some fly releases.  It has just been phenomenal.  They will do this on their own.  They will do it in warm-up and he just has them do it in the deep end.  You guys, I don’t know if you have it where you will kick off the bottom and you will just kick up and you will use it you will kick up and it is just like  you are going to do like underwater part of your stroke and just right here is where you finish and then your arms will just come up out of the water.  You are just kicking to the surface and then you use that – the underwater part of your stroke, the breakout and then you will let your hand finish and just release and come around and Dave will have them do a series you know they will do  like I don’t know ten of them and then they will take a break and then they will do you know ten more of them, but I work a lot in high school with his senior level swimmers, a lot of them are on my high school team and the butterfliers amazingly – always ask, can I use some fly releases.  They just feel that it does more for their stroke, their timing, their finish than any other stroke that they have worked with so that one is kind of new.  He just really started using that about a year ago.


Definitely emphasize using land drills with the younger children, you know, working on breathing, head positions out of the water.  Something that I had seen in one of Mike Bottom’s tapes, when he worked with sprinters, was having them do mirror swimming, so I’d do it if your locker rooms have big mirrors, or if you got a weight room, or if you have got a place to put a mirror.  It is almost like they can act it out and kind of go through it   You can kind of see where their elbows are.  They can kind of see where their head should be or where their head is.  I think it is kind of some feedback that is also kind of fun.  Another thing that I have always encouraged with, especially real young age groupers or you know like your 8-9 year olds is act it out – walk around – swim.  We started that with our barracuda group and our mako group and it is really funny just having a young swimmer at home.  He would walk around the house and it was so funny because he would walk around the house doing  his weakest stroke and I found that interesting that he wouldn’t be doing breaststroke or butterfly, but he would walk around working on his backstroke and it was amazing because it seemed to help him because he would ask questions where it should be or whatever and I would find him – he would walk around the house for five or ten minutes doing backstroke and believe it or not, I really think it helped him – maybe its just because I wanted it to help him I don’t know, but you know anytime that they can act out what they should be doing I think it benefits them.


So, if you want to ask any questions or later when we get done I can talk a little bit more about some of those stroke drills, but I really, really feel that is the #1 most important thing for an age group swimmer.  Second of all, is training, and #1 belief, as far as with training is, if I have done my job and I have done my job well, then I got the best IMers in the pool.  Probably the 200 and the 400 IM are my favorite events for my athletes to swim, but I know if they can swim a great 200 IM and later on a 400 IM then I have done my job.  To me, that is, the best way I can measure myself and what I am doing with an athlete is to watch them swim an IM and because, that way, I can get the feedback about all four strokes. I believe in training equally with all four strokes.  I know, they can’t handle maybe as much butterfly, or I don’t believe they can handle, as much butterfly, as maybe they can freestyle, but that doesn’t mean that we don’t spend time on stroke work with butterfly,  as equal amount of time that we do with freestyle.  I’ll tell you, if you can do that, and you find that out early as a coach, it really keeps things a lot more interesting.  Not only for you, but your athletes.  I can’t imagine going in three, four days a week and having  to spend ¾ of my time swimming freestyle and I know that there are programs out there and they have been very successful distance freestylers and that is awesome because that pays down the road.  But I really, really believe in spending equal time on all four strokes so I can’t say that enough.  I am very, very, very IM oriented because I know they have all four strokes and I think it is fun too because they can learn a lot of strategy about when their best stroke comes into play, when their weak stroke comes into play, how they can overcome that, how they can learn to finish a race and I could stand up here and preach on IM work all day, but I really, really think that you are doing everything you can, if we can really expose them to all four strokes and make them or help them realize that there is always time to specialize, and we are not going to be a butterflyer or we are not going to be just a backstroker, we are going to work on everything and we are going to be able to swim everything and you know, just really trying to make them excited about swimming all four strokes and I think if you do that young it just keeps them that much more open-minded about swimming everything.  Like I stressed before, everything is done on a progression.  I think the third hand out that is in there is a sample of different workouts from different times of the year, some early season stroke work to on the back of that goes into the mid-season aerobic work.


The big question comes up, quality versus quantity, and probably the farthest I have ever gone with age groupers would be over Christmas break when we do some 2 a day, probably the farthest I have ever pushed them in a workout is between 6,000 and 6.500, so we don’t swim real far on a daily basis the rest of the season.  I start out early season, probably being you know September through early mid-October, going anywhere from 1500 to 2000 yards and then moving in and probably going at the beginning of the holidays, Thanksgiving 3500 to 4000 and then working them up to Christmas break going 5000 over Christmas break – you know and you workout 5000 to 6500, but I would say on any given day from November through February the max that I do is 5000 yards and those are with all of our 12-year olds and probably the majority of our 13 year olds on our team.  I know that there are a lot of people who do more, but like I said, my big emphasis is on stroke.  I want quality and I am not afraid to take the time away as far as from sets.


My approach as far as in the workouts – I try to write my workouts ahead of time, at least three days a week, but I try to be flexible the other three days a week because if we get into a warm-up and their mood isn’t what I have a workout written for or my mood is not that or I see something that is really glaring that we need to do as a group I will scrap everything and just kind of let it go.  Just try, to free flow, and really look at them and really, really just try to – if we get 1000 yards done we get 1000 yards done, but if I can accomplish the stoke work that I think we need to accomplish then I am going to walk away and say, hey that was a great workout.  Like I said, I know that there are a lot people that would take their swimmers farther and I am not faulting that, sometimes I wonder how they get it done, because sometimes I start giving them input or I want to do something over and I don’t do something over because I am angry with them, I do something over and I try to present it in a positive way that you know we can do this better, you guys are better than that lets try it this way.  Lets get out of the water and watch Kristen do it or lets try to do it a different way and it has worked for me.  There have been times when I will think I am not doing enough with them, but I always try, like I said on given day if we are not really doing just stroke work I will shoot for that 5000 mark, 4500 to 5000, but we really don’t go over, like I said, unless it is Christmas training so I think that is kind of reflected in these early season workouts.  I am not going to go through all of them, but if there is somebody that wants to talk about them later you know abbreviations whatever, I know we all have our own abbreviations that we get comfortable with.


The next area, that I think is real important, for age groupers to start focusing on is racing abilities and strategies.  Probably the #1 item that I really look at, with that is having the ability to race all the events and distances offered in your age group, and I think that goes along with the focus on IM training, and it is not to say and I tell them that, it is not to say, you are going to swim everything at the first meet.  It is not to say that you are going to swim everything at every meet.  I really do try to look at that on an individual basis even though that is my philosophy that everybody is going to try to swim everything at least once.


I do try to look at individuals – I do have children that just aren’t going to be 100 flyers you know and I will find that more times with boys than girls that that is just a difficult event for them to do and to have to do very often, but it is not to say that they aren’t going to do it at least once during the season.  Another thing that I really push, like I said is breathing patterns and the use of breathing patterns through workouts and also in meets.  I have kind of gone through a transition a little bit, a couple of years ago, with the coaches that work with the groups below me or beginning groups and I can tell when we have a coach that doesn’t do breathing patterns because once they move to my group we have a little battle, and we get through it, and that is one thing where I am going to be right, and that is how we are going to do breathing patterns, but you know and sometimes they will throw a look at me ~ well such and such who is 16 years old  breathes every stroke ~ and I am well ~ you know what, he is 16 years old, he is a lot bigger than you and you know what?  When he was in my group he breathed every third arm or he would breathe every fifth arm ~ so I really feel that that is a racing ability that they need to have.


Probably, my biggest weakness and it is one that I really do try to work on to get better is teaching starts.  I feel I don’t spend enough time on starts and sometimes facilities play into that a little bit because we are moved around in the pool that we are at.  A lot of times we will have lanes that don’t have starting blocks  in them.  My kids beg to do starts so if that tells you that they don’t get to do starts a whole lot, so I would say that that is a weakness of mine and I do have a young man that swam in our program that swam through college and he was a sprinter and he is very animated and he is a lot of fun and the kids absolutely love him.  He volunteers with me twice a week and he is phenomenal with starts so they love when he comes because they know the are going to get to work on starts.  So I play off his strengths and I let them work on starts with him so that’s how I kind of try to take care of my weakness and I try to learn from him.  Another thing that I feel that they really need to make sure they master and that is turns – all of their turns.  Try to have them try them different ways you know even though they are not comfortable sometimes with making changes.  If we can make those changes as age groupers I know it is only going to enhance the racing as they get older so I really do try to spend and that is one area I think I have really done a lot better on because I think I was weak there and didn’t want to – a few years ago like I said I got a little bit more caught up on how far we were swimming in workouts and so I wouldn’t spend the time on starts and turns and I (turn tape over) ….


Working on nervousness and also trying to come up with pre-race strategies and you know sometimes you will do a really good job with this early season and you try to do some goal setting with them, but I really believe that it is an entire season of work.  It something that has got to be ongoing and I know that if you haven’t done a lot of work with mental training it can be kind of scary.  There are all kinds of resources out there and I have a book and I am sorry, I meant to bring it because I really wanted people to look at it and it is at the pool that I work at and I am sorry I did not get home from Japan until late Friday night and I went to work for a couple of hours and kind of in a daze over the weekend and one of my reasons for going to work was to bring this book home.


One of the camps that I did out in Colorado Springs four the United States Swimming a few years ago – there was a lady that worked and spoke at all the camps on mental training was Suzy Tuffy and she gave me a book one time – a great workbook on mental training and in this book it has worksheets on every topic and I think it was a project that she was involved in, I don’t know if it was a grad project that they did, or when they did their internships out there as sports psychologist, but it covers everything.  Coaches that are close to me, or if you want my address or want to get in touch with me, if there is a topic that you are really interested in, it has the best work sheets on goal setting, on visualization, nervousness, figuring out a pre-race strategy for yourself.  It is just phenomenal information and I use it all the time.  I run off, I make these kids take them home.  I make them do worksheets and you know we spend time talking about them.  I send home packets throughout the season and they rate the pages that they could rate themselves, how well they do goal setting, you know how nervous are they – is it good nervous/bad nervous – just every topic is in there and I use this book every time and if you can find something like that – there are a lot of books out there, I would really, really recommend using it and trying to use it throughout your season as a regular part of your program – a part of your workout as far as that goes.


I know kids look forward to team meetings.  I know they like that time spent and it just really pays off down the road.  There are kinds of tapes that you can get, videos that you can use and they really enjoy that and I think the more time that you spend doing this the easier it gets.  I can remember having a hard time even explaining how we were going to goal set and things that they needed to think about as far as early season goal setting, just you know short really short terms, small little bites as far as goal setting with their times and then learning to progress to set long-term goals and then I found that once we had done it and they had been with me two or three years, how much better they got just because we did it more often.  I had a girl that swam for us, on my high school team that was a team captain and she took it one step further and I was just really impressed with this and we did it as a team.  I did it with my high school team.  I am going to do it with my age groupers.  She came up with this sheet that we did team goals together and so I am going to take it and do group goals just so that they feel a little bit more of a sense of responsibility to the group and to each other on a daily basis what they would like to accomplish, what they expect from their teammates, even what they would expect from me and it was pretty amazing then when we had team meetings as a group with my high school girls what we got out of those team goals that were set.


First, we did it individually and then we took those and then we did them as team goals together and I was just pretty impressed that that came from one of my team captains.  It is pretty amazing sometimes with what your athletes can come up with as far as you know group goals or team goals when it comes to some of that goal setting process.  A big area that I have really, really come to enjoy working on and trying to develop is dry land and I want to talk a little bit about dry land – some of the dry land things that I used and it is on the back of your first page.  Tuffy – she is no longer with United States Swimming.  Some of you may know her capacity now – it is just dry land techniques.  It is not really a book.  It is like a workbook that they made and they weren’t published as far as to say to buy it in a book store it was just something like I said that they had done – I think as an internship – part of their internship the sports psychologists did and I just asked and she gave me a copy when I was out there sometime.  I will follow up and see if I can’t find that out and maybe we could get that – as far as on the ASCA website – I will see if I can find out because it is just a phenomenal book to use.


As far as with dry land and when we started doing dry land I used to not do any dry land except stretching when we were in the bubble because we had the smallest locker room just to stretch in, but you don’t have to have a big area to do dry land.  You don’t have to have a weight room.  I do this dry land program – at the pool we are at we have no area to call our own.  Everything is shared.  Even the closet where we keep equipment.  Lets see – six high school teams and two club teams share a closet so there is just not a lot of room to call our own.  Upstairs, this pool has on two sides of the pool – has a pretty big area – one end is like a concession area with tables and then all along the 50 meter side of the pool is of course the seating.  Behind the seating we probably have an area – a walking area that is what – 12 feet wide – if that – like maybe from the first row of chairs to this platform here.  That is where we do our dry land.  It doesn’t have to be fancy.  You don’t need a lot of space.  We just try to stay out of peoples way and we do the tubing and the exercise program that I start with.  Starter jumps and we just go back and forth and do a lot of sit-ups and more than anything when I am going through these I really try to stress proper body position.


More than anything, I want them to have a good feeling about dry land, so that when they move to the senior group, I know that they are going to be doing a good hour of dry land every day and we don’t use weights in our program because we don’t have a weight room so Dave, my husband, has gotten just very creative with what he is doing with them in a very small area.  We just started out really just doing sit ups and tubing and it just kind of developed from there and on that second page it said that dry land circuit A and dry land circuit B – those are really more what he does with his senior kids – more advanced – I don’t do that with my age groupers – I have kids in my group that could never handle this – one, I couldn’t trust a lot of them to handle it, it would just be too much playing and just to handle the med balls and all they just physically couldn’t do it so I really try to stick with physical moves that they can handle as far as at their level of development.  You know I have to remind them sometimes to get more serious and you know I read a lot about what Vern Gambetta has said and Scott Rodero and talking about making sure things are age appropriate and probably the best thing that you would want to do is separate girls and boys.  Well, I don’t have that luxury or that kind of time to do that, so we do it together, and I do find that all of my boys are together down here and nothing against boys, I love them – they are great, but I really believe that ~ once a boy, you are always a boy ~ that my 11-year old and my 14-year old can act pretty much the same and don’t get me wrong I don’t mean that in a demeaning way.  They just still have a lot of fun and they don’t necessarily take it as serious as all of my girls that are always on this side of me and it is real interesting when you have a 10- year old going on 11- year old girl walk in there.  She tries to do everything that the 12 or 13- year old girl is doing.  you know, she wants to please.  She doesn’t want to be shown up.  She may not be as strong.  She may not be able to do the tubing as well, but they are all trying to do things one way and then you will get the other group that I have to be careful that I am not always on them, not always trying to correct them.  I just try to make sure that they are not doing anything to hurt themselves.  I don’t get too caught up in it and things go a lot better, but just really you know try to keep them moving.  Try to get their heart rate up.  Everything is very simple as far as in movement.  As they go along they get much better at tubing of course as you watch anybody start out with tubing they have a hard time getting it even to finish behind them, to finish their strokes.  The boys have a harder time with their stretching.  They are not as serious, but we get better.  We get through it.  Anything, that where we get the starter jumps, where they can jump and move around, they love that so they all have their moments to shine.


Sit-ups – if you really make everybody involved where everybody has got to be responsible for counting they really seem to stay in tune with that.  Push ups, I really just started with some of them, because, I do have a lot of kids that don’t do very well with push ups, really just starting them where they are pushing off of the wall and then have them advance to the floor where they are pushing off just to the knees.  I try to change the dry land program.  Of course early season, like I noted at the bottom, I would never have a complete program like this – we just try to work on more stretching and body positions, trying to make a game of it.  We would do this more as far as the middle part of the season.


My goal to change this year is to try med balls with them.  I have never tried med balls in my group and also the large – the physio-balls – I have never used those in my group, but I really think that I need to try some new things and try enhancing – making it more exciting for those kids, something new to look forward to because they do watch the senior kids and they are asking all the time, why can’t we use this, why can’t we do that so we are going to see what happens and then at the end of the short course season I try to go back to more of the early season things, back to more stretching, really trying to re-emphasize body position just really trying to get them to tune in on what they need to do as far as at the end of the season.  After we take a break and come back in mid-April and we do a lot more.


We try to go outside a lot more with them, de-emphasize the time in the pool and try to really get them outside, try to get them moving again.  In the summer, then you know, we stay with the tubing and sit ups, Tuesday and Thursday we do a lot of running and then we do a lot of walking with that because then we do walk about half a mile to the pool that we are going to train at so we kind of use that as a between the running that we have done and then getting in the pool.  I always run with them.  I try to use that as an incentive because you always have groups that don’t like to run well they all can beat me and we will start out you know slow, but my goal is always never to stop you know they will run, some of the boys will run out fast and then they end of walking or and then I get to pass them and then they have to pass me or whatever, but I always try to do a lot of the dry land with them and I used to not do that and I found that once I started doing it with them, they took a lot more pride in it and I think they got a kick out of seeing the days when I was sore or when I you know when we would be stretching and they hated it because I could stretch better than a lot of them could and so they really fed off of that and I really found that it made a bond and it really made dry land a lot more fun as a group that because I was doing it with them and hey, I benefited from it because a lot of times I don’t do a very good job of fitting in that time for myself so I always felt at least I was you know was gaining something from it also so that was something I started doing two years ago and it really even opened up my own mind because I found out what was hard for me and what was easy, what – it helped me understand what they were doing a little bit better so that was a big change and like I said we have just had a lot more fun with it.


Just real, real briefly here as far as coaches role because I think I am going over here – just remember to be open.  Communicate, be available.  I know there are nights I get out of practice and I am tired and I am like okay, now I got through that front there and those parents are all there and I just always try to walk out there and just make sure that I am available for parents.  One of the things that I do want to emphasize is remember it is the coaches that run the program.  We were hired as professionals, but if you want to be looked upon as a professional, you need to be responsible and you do need to be professional and to be professional we need to be on time.  We need to be prepared and we need to present ourself well, and make sure that you always follow through on your word.  If you say you are going to do and if you tell a child that you are going to be there for him then do it and be there for him.  As far as the parental role – parents are the support system for their athletes – they are the support system many times for our teams.  Their #1 job is to nurture and be a parent.  Just make sure that they are included in that parent-coach-swimmer triangle.  I think things will go a lot easier. There are a lot of ways that you can communicate and I put that on the last few pages.  On the my times aren’t improving – that was a newsletter article that I did – remember this isn’t really talking about a national level swimmer.  I tried to write it in words that I thought a parent could share with their athlete and read together and the importance of warm-up.  Remember that was for age group swimmers – beginning age group swimmers – it was just another newsletter article I did just kind of emphasizing things that we could communicate and then on the back – I am not quite sure where I found the article on the world of competitive swimming, but I thought that it said a lot about age group swimming as a whole.  Just remember, there are a lot of different ways that you can communicate that are very simple with your parents, with your athletes – meetings, newsletters, office hours that you publish that you are going to be available so that they don’t bother you on the pool deck, email.  Twice a year we do coach/parent conferences and they sign up for them much like you do at school.  I usually – either do them late winter or early spring and we just sit down for five or ten minutes.  Amazing – absolutely amazing.  I used to dread them.  I love them.  Absolutely amazing to spend those 10 or 15 minutes with the parent and then also another great way is socials with the parents.


The last thing I am just going to touch on – I know this is getting long is just transitioning into senior swimming.  The biggest thing you need to do is you need to communicate with the head coach or the senior coach.  Coaches must work as a team when they are preparing to move your athlete to the senior level.  Coaches really discuss when we are going to move an athlete.  Points to consider:  age – how long they have been with the team.  Their strokes, their skills, their ability and their accomplishments in swimming, but besides that, you really need to look at what kind of attitude they have, how committed they are in their desire to achieve.  I will tell you, when you are married to the person that you are coaching with, I can’t believe how much time we spend at home discussing our athletes, and really how we try to keep it individual.  Like I said, we do everything on transitions and sometimes a parent will say, “well you are just moving them – because it is time to move them” or “my child is better and they need to be moved” and I think that they don’t realize how much time that we put into this sport or how much time we spend with our athletes in really trying to get to know the child and trying to keep it individual.  Like I said, we do everything on transitions.  They would never move from my group to a senior group. It is all done on a transition.  They would start out one day a week to spring and summer where we have them go two days a week and then we would move them in the fall all the way to the senior group.  We just really think it helps them understanding the work load.  They are so excited to move.  You know, suddenly it is kind of like, they are moving from being with their mom who I am from the kid stuff into the big stuff and it is just real interesting to watch how well they handle the work load because they want to move.  They want to be with the older kids and it is just how open they are to the move.



Notify of
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments

Sponsorship & Partnerships

Official Sponsors and Partners of the American Swimming Coaches Association

Join Our Mailing List

Subscribe and get the latest Swimming Coach news