Break the Cord by Matt Kredich (2009)


The title of this talk is rooted in a story that I told to a small group of coaches, including Guy Edson, who afterwards suggested that I base a talk on it. The story was about an interaction I had with one specific swimmer. I’ll tell that story to you today, but the idea is much larger than that, and reaches to the very core of why everyone here coaches. No matter who you coach – masters, learn to swim, elite athletes only, age groupers, we all coach because we are driven to learn and driven to help others learn. And learning means changing. Changing usually means examining some particular assumption and noticing how it is holding you back, or keeping you from moving forward. In order to examine that assumption and really see how it is holding you back, you need to be honest, curious, and CREATIVE.

A great example is of this is kind of a hillbilly story they tell in Tennessee (about some people in Georgia – or maybe Alabama)

A woman went to the judge at a sentencing to ask that her husband be released from jail, where he had been for a month awaiting his trial, only to be found guilty of stealing a ham.
The judge said, “This man stole a ham to feed his family. Although that’s against the law, it doesn’t make him a bad man. Maam, is your husband a good citizen, good worker?
“No, as a matter of fact he’s about as lazy as they come.”
“Oh, well then he must be a good husband and father?”
“No sir, to tell you the complete truth he treats us pretty badly. He’s mean to everyone.”
“Then why in the world would you want a man like that out of prison?”
“Well, your honor, we’re out of ham.”
Here’s a story of a woman who needs to get creative.

So learning, then, means changing your understanding about the way things work. Sometimes, but RARELY, we encounter monumental changes, seismic shifts in our core understanding of the way things work, but the fact is that usually change is incremental. Bit by bit our ideas evolve. We head down one path, sometimes hacking the underbrush of false assumptions away to find we need to go back because this is leading NOWHERE, and other times we burst into a clearing and the sunlight beams through and we have “ahah!” moments, only to realize the path keeps going.

What I value most in teaching is THE CREATIVE PROCESS. The engagement in deep learning, or what Anders Ericsson calls deliberate practice. PLEASE go to the lecture tomorrow, you will be inspired. I came across his work not long ago when reading “The Talent Code” and “Talent is Overrated”, which are books based heavily on his monumental, HERCULEAN studies of the acquisition of expert performance, and I’ve since read several of his books. The message he is sending us is so refreshing and so invigorating because he blows out of the water the standard notions of talent. His message not only supports, but hammers us with the ideas that our level of achievement is completely in our control and that hard work, engaged hard work, or what he calls “deliberate practice” HOURS AND HOURS of DELIBERATE, EXCELLENT PRACTICE is what leads to elite performance. I’ll let the expert tell you all that stuff, but my take on it is that deliberate practice AS A COACH requires moment to moment engagement, and this is the ONLY PLACE that creativity happens.

I’m going to show you two of the leading edges of this creative process. One is the evolution of my own thinking about swimming, thus my own GROWTH, and the other is the act of shaping the practice to stimulate the ENGAGEMENT of the athletes. Put another way, how I attempt to create DELIBERATE PRACTICE,
which fuels their GROWTH as well.

Today I’m going to share with you a couple of cases where my ideas have evolved through being involved in the creative process, and then honoring those ideas with ACTION. If you have great ideas and don’t do anything with them you’re missing all the fun.

Here’s a still frame of Christine Magnuson swimming freestyle. Her arm and hand are creating no significant propulsion, so the function of this position in fast swimming is two, maybe threefold. Depending on how she does it, there MAY be a transfer of momentum forward as the hand enters the water and decelerates. There IS a “lengthening of the vessel”, if you will, which theoretically makes the vessel faster, and finally there is a positioning function.

In this next picture the arm has begun to move. As soon as it begins to move, the whole arm, not just the hand and forearm, but the whole arm – creates force, and this is true along the path of the entire pull. But we all know there is no propulsion being generated by the arm until the arm gets an angle on the water. Once the arm starts moving, we can imagine FORCE VECTORS for any point on the arm. The SIZE and DIRECTION of the force vectors are slightly DIFFERENT at every point on the arm based on the speed and direction of that parts movement. (animation) Because applying force in one direction creates a reaction in the opposite direction, there are these REACTIVE forces generated on the opposite side and in the opposite direction from each of the vectors you see here. If you could add up the direction and the magnitude at every point, you could find a resultant force that acts on the arm from a specific location. I’ll call this the center of balance, and no matter what your stroke pattern is, it exists somewhere on the arm, acting essentially a fulcrum. If the swimmer “drops their elbow”, then the center moves closer to the hand. If the swimmer had no forearm at all, it would exist above the elbow, but there is that center somewhere on the arm.

Now see if this makes sense. WHERE THE CENTER IS LOCATED will play a part in determining the muscles you are using to move the arm.

In the most ideal stroke, that center, in my mind, is on the forearm through most of the stroke. Somewhere right about HERE.

We’re starting with the same picture for reference, and NOW (click) Christine is a little further into the stroke. REMEMBER, THIS IS ALL HOW I IMAGINE THINGS TO WORK. Its not like I did tests to measure this specifically. So, here are the vectors at this point in the stroke. And here is the resultant force forward, and you can see because of this angle the force is directed even more forward. I think that the center of balance is in the same place.

And here is Christine in the next phase of the stroke, and I imagine that the resultant force is even more forward. So that’s what I imagine when I look at freestyle.

If the best process for learning is hearing, seeing, and doing, then the question becomes HOW do we TEACH each step?

This whole thing is a tough concept to teach through words, right? And its even tough to teach visually, and over the years I’ve found that its difficult to teach even by feel in the water because the ability to feel pressure (both magnitude AND direction) is highly variable among athletes. I’ve struggled to find a way to help them conceptualize this, and we’ve tried many things with some success. I’m going to take you through an evolution of these methods, but first I want to explain the way we fit this into practice.
What you are about to see is an IMPORTANT PART OF PRACTICE, but it is not what we do, and it is NOT entertainment.

I found myself over the years pulling people out of the water and doing various things to help them FEEL the correct movement. IF they CANT FEEL it then they don’t UNDERSTAND IT (no matter how well you THINK you’ve explained it) and the bottom line is they’re doing it WRONG. If they practice doing it wrong, they are getting better at….DOING IT WRONG.

So we’ve developed exercises that fit into our practice as kinesthetic reinforcement.

This is an early stage of this idea that I just explained to you. We used to begin every practice with this drill as a partner stretch. Why we used towels I’m not really sure. Eventually I would just have them grab each other’s forearms – they knew where to grab – and that worked out pretty well. I actually thought about calling this talk “Throw away the towel” but that is not really quite as dramatic as “break the cord”.

Here is kind of a “next stage” in the progression of this balancing sequence. This idea came to me when I first saw the ab dolly. I love that thing – it really helps train them to be stable and connected from the wrists to the knees or even the feet. So its really useful, but I thought that instead of putting all of the pressure on the wrists, I thought we should find some way to put the arm in the same position it will be in when we swim free, breast, or fly, so the idea is to keep great body position through core stability and connection while balancing on that spot on the forearm. The carryover into swimming is – if the center of force is there on the forearm, for it to move you forward you MUST put yourself in a stable body position at every point in the stroke. OK, so here is West Shore YMCA’s finest, Tricia Weaner in stage 1 of this progression. Before I show the video, I want you to kind of rotate this movement in your mind about 60 degrees so you can see that this translates to the athlete being parallel to the surface of the water, you have this EVF angle set, and they are feeling that connection from the forearm to the hip.

Here’s one of North Baltimore’s finest, Michele King doing a double arm version.

Michele’s goal is to balance forward on her forearms at every point in the stroke. Going down this is easy, the most challenging part is to use the pressure on the forearms to come back up without dropping the elbows.

We never want to swim with the lower body in this position, but for this exercise it is a good way to start – we’re rolling out, using the ball for support and looking to PULL through by applying pressure to the forearm.

Here in the foreground is one of Empire Swimming’s finest, Aleksa Akerfelds, doing kind of a modified rollout to protect an injury, but in the background you have Sam Gelb from Retriever Aquatic Club, attempting the more advanced version of the 1 arm rollout. This is a tough exercise for them to get and it can require some hands-on teaching and adjustment but that kind of teaching can be really powerful.

OK now I have one of the most creative coaches I’ve ever known on my staff –Jen Arndt. So she took this idea and made a little contraption that helps emphasize the concept in the water. It looks a little strange but the athletes love it, especially for fly and breaststroke pullouts.

Here’s Jenny Connolly moving slowly through a fly pulling stroke. Since they have these straps pulling their legs back in the water, there is always some pull forward from this PVC pipe, and the trick is to maintain an angle on the forearm that helps move you forward and balance at the same time. Atlantis is trying to do a 1 arm freestyle pull on it, and you can see that when she pushes down on the pipe, her body comes up. So she’s not doing this particularly well but she is balancing through a few positions and that’s really good progress for her. The next step is for her to translate some of that upward force to forward force. Finally here is Alex Barsanti from Hershey Aquatic Club doing an exercise that is again applying some upward force on the forearm so there is a balancing component to this as well. This is one of those thick foam rollers and many of our swimmers had a hard time sinking it and getting over the top. Alex is really strong and shows some skills here.

OK, so here is the next step.

This idea came to me because one of the forces that is VERY hard to account for in swimming are those of gravity and buoyancy. I don’t know how much energy is wasted in a stroke if the resultant forces direct the swimmer UP or DOWN, only to be counterbalanced by the forces of gravity or buoyancy. So my thought was that if we could simulate this movement vertically, then we would have to do some really important body positioning in order to overcome flaws that may be hidden, but significant, when we swim (or get on a swim bench, or a vasa trainer) horizontally. I’ve found that when we have our athletes go through this movement (forearms in the straps) slowly, they find the strongest position at each point in the “stroke”, and there is immediate carryover into their swimming – lots of “WOW’s”.

Having the apparatus in the water is a way to provide progressive resistance through the exercise, whichever exercise we’re doing. The lower you are, the less you weigh. So its a way for women to be able to do a lot of pullups.

Here is the actual apparatus. There will be more versions but we’ve had this in the water for a week and I’ll show you some of our athletes on it.

Here you see us doing some planks, right? I guess I watched this young woman, Michele king, do a particularly phenomenal breakout one day – different from what she normally did. It was like she levitated. She felt it too, but had trouble articulating what it was other than that she really engaged her lower abs. And then I had this vision. Do a plank, turn the toes downward. Now do it in the water. We tried a kickboard, but it doesn’t float enough, we tried rollers, and they are good, but the MAT was better. But we can’t have 25 MATs, so we got an inflatable boogie board and I really like it – Michele feels the carryover and if nothing else it’s a great hip flexor strengthener.

Okay – the last thing that I want to go over is the story of Ashley Quinn. Ashley Quinn was a senior on my team last year and she would do anything. She would do absolutely anything to get faster – as long as it was legal, but the story actually starts back in the Winter of 2007. I had a chance to meet a great Sport Scientist and swim coach from Russia named Tatiana Fomenchenko and we were talking about power. I don’t have this written down, but feel free to stop me if you do not understand this next set that she described. So, she told me through this interpreter about this really powerful type of training and it was sprint training, but t was completely stationary and we actually have incorporated it into our training and the basic set is this. You are going to swim stationary for 10 seconds, but it is as fast as you can go. It is race tempo and it is stationary so what you are doing is you are trying to move water without you moving and so the forces are pretty incredible and the challenge is to swim well – to swim really well in those ten seconds because if you don’t then you are again – just reinforcing bad habits on a really powerful level so you will do 10-15 seconds of this swimming and then you will rest a minute and they you will do it again – 10-15 seconds of that set – stationary – all out sprinting and we use a tempo trainer to make sure that they are on race tempo and then you will do it one more time and that is really stressful so after we do that we actually go into two more 25’s.

Good question – is stationary with a surgical tubing that we have got really tight, okay? And one of the ways that we progressed this was we didn’t keep them completely stationary for the entire 10 seconds so that we left a little bit of play in the surgical tubing so that they could move forward a little bit. Then we would do two 25’s as fast as they could go – again – really stressful and if it doesn’t sound stressful – then you may not be doing it right because if they are doing it with the highest amount of energy output that they can create – then it is. It will create a change in them so they will do one set – so three stationary swims – two fast 25’s – everything on about a minute and then about 200 easy to recover and then do it again. As much time as they needed to recover we gave them that. Our team would build up to doing that three times and then four times for the ones I felt like were doing it really well because again – it is hard to do well and we are not going to do it unless they can do it with a great stroke at race tempo – without significant failure. So, that is what she told me and then she said – because actually at the time it didn’t sound that hard and she said – believe me – it is hard she said, but it is so powerful that one workout can get somebody in shape – just doing one of these can get somebody in shape and we are speaking through an interpreter and I thought – what are you going to sell me here because I am sure the workout comes with a cost and she said NO – there is a true story.

She said – there was a mature male that was a Russian swimmer who – I don’t know the circumstances, but basically came to Tatiana about three weeks before a major competition – horribly out of shape and said – I want to swim again and she said okay – well you don’t really have time to get in shape, but I have an idea so she had him do that set for 2 ½ hours – 2 ½ hours which buried him so she is speaking to me through an interpreter and she drew a sketch somewhat like this – so the happy man at the very top is this young man walking into her office thinking that he is going to get in shape in three weeks and then after 2 ½ hours with the Russian coach the guy can’t move and he is toast – not just in the water – he is toast – for days afterwards so she drew this curve – which is an adaptation curve with these funny stick figures all along the way – I cant believe I threw it away, but the guy could not move for several days and then he is in this profound flunk – this profound depression and really not doing anything in the water. Now I don’t know whether that is true, but that was the story – didn’t do anything in the water and then he starts coming out of it and when he starts coming out of it – she has him get back in the water and just swim back and forth and get more of a feel for it and at the end of two weeks the guy was as fast as he has ever been and at that meet he swam right on best times and she is promising me that it is that one practice. It is just mind boggling and I haven’t had our athletes do that and I didn’t have Ashley Quinn do it, but that is the genesis of what I was having her do. I almost had her do it so her set was a version of the stationary spring that we were doing, but when she did this she would spin her arms and not swim well so I felt like we needed her a place to get to so instead of swimming stationary – if you think you are swimming stationary you know you are not going any where so we made a goal of her getting to a certain place so I would just say – swim as far as you can and she swam and it might have been to 15 meters – lets say it was 12 meters, okay?

Then, I had her take the belt off and had her swim as fast as she possibly could to 12 meters with as few strokes as possible, okay? And we counted the strokes and she took 7 strokes to 12 meters. I said okay – now put that belt back on and get to 12 meters in 8 strokes. I want to be nice. I am going to give you one more stroke – you have this belt on – it doesn’t mean that you can’t swim fast or swim well and she was only allowed 8 strokes – as far as you can get on 8 strokes and the first time she went 8 meters – the second time maybe 9 – the 3rd time maybe 10, but she wasn’t getting anywhere near where she had gone before so then she tried going under water more and of course that slows – she went slower and didn’t go as far and again – this is a kid who will anything, she gets stuck. She gets really stuck really easily so I walked away and I said – you figure it out, but you are going to get to 12 meters in 8 strokes. There is a way. So I came back about 10 minutes later and of course I am peeking and watching her do the same thing over and over again and just not getting anywhere so I turned to her and I said to her – what is keeping you from getting to 12 meters and she said I don’t believe – don’t give me a cliché – what is keeping you from getting to 12 meters. I am dropping my elbow – that is not it – it is not that you are dropping your elbow – it is not that you don’t believe – you are not getting to 12 meters – take a look – take a look behind you and she looked behind and she is like what? I said – you have a cord attached to you – you are not getting to 12 meters because you have a cord attached to you – break the cord – BREAK THAT CORD and you will get to 12 meters.

The assumption she was making was that that cord was fixed. That cord is just there – it is just a fact – I have got to deal with it so she got fired up and man – she just tore into that next swim and she got a little bit farther than she had gotten before – not much, but she cried a little bit and she was like I understand now and she was swimming better – she wasn’t dropping her elbow and she was swimming strong and she was swimming with more confidence and you could tell she was trying to drive through her hips – wherever the cord was attached she was trying to drive through those hips and actually break the cord and I said – I think you have learned your lesson and she said no – I am going to do this so she had been at it for probably a half an hour at that point and I said okay – I am not going to tell you – you can’t and so I went into my office – practice was over by the way and I went into my office and did whatever I do in there – I don’t know what and a half hour later I came back and Ashley Quinn is still on that dam cord and I said, Quinn – what are you doing and she said – I am going to get to 12 meters and by this time – I think she was maybe getting to 6 meters – she was pretty tired so I say – you know what? We have a big meet in about 6 weeks so why don’t we just stop for now and then you can come back and do it again and true to this diagram – it didn’t take two weeks, but it definitely took about 5 days for her to recover from that and she did come out and swim pretty well about a week and a half later, but I took that idea into the way we do a lot of our resistance swimming.

Power rack – towers and this stationary swimming so we don’t really do stationary swimming any more. I always want them to try and move forward or break the cord and I thought that was a great idea until I had a male swimmer start training with me this summer and I thought I was getting him fired up. This was Davis Tarwater who is one of the funniest people you will ever meet. He is a product of Pilot Aquatic Club and then Jon Urbanchek did some great things with him in Michigan as did Bob Bowman. He came back and trained with us for a year and added a lot of levity and a lot of testosterone to our workouts and when he started taking this idea into Power-X and Towers – things that have a fixed point where they stop and I stopped talking to him about breaking the cord because he cost us about $25.00 – maybe 8 or 9 times and when he broke a cord – it was – you heard it across the pool. He would hop up – hold the cord up – parade around the pool deck with the trophy and come out of the locker room afterwards with the cord in his back pocket – hey – remember when I broke the cord? Yeah – that was an hour ago Davis – yeah – that was awesome, huh? I get a phone call that night – hey Matt – remember when I broke that cord? So that is it. Those are some ideas and I thought it might be fun fur you to hear kind of the evolution of some things that we have done – only because I want to encourage everybody to act on these creative impulses that you have – these creative moments that we look for in coaching and that we create for others when we coach. When you see them – recognize them and do something with them because that is how things change.

So – thanks for your attention. The last thing I want to tell you is – it is an honor for me to be here. I have been really excited to speak for a while and I am reminded by my children and my wife to stay humble, but it is not just them – it seems like whenever I think I have got things figured out and then someone comes along to remind me that I am only a swim coach or I am only Matt Kredich OR at Olympic trials – the first athlete that I have ever coached made the US Olympic Team – Christine Magnunson – gets paraded out and her coach is introduced as Mark Kredich AND THEN – and of course that is in front of 16,000 people so they are all thinking Mark Kredich is one lucky guy. Then – when I did an article online for Splash Magazine and gave them some drill that we do and they called it Mike Kredich’s Backstroke Drill – so now I am famous there. When I got confirmation that I was going to speak here and I sent my Bio late I got an email back saying – Thanks a lot Mike – this looks great – and then – ready for this Steve? First USA National Team this summer – I am pumped. I mean – here I am – coaching the United States at the World University Games and I get this big box of stuff with USA on it and I am so proud and it is pretty hot over there so the one thing that I haven’t put on is my warm-up jacket and I put on my warm-up jacket – the last morning because we are going to have a team picture and I get up pretty early and I tried to not wake up Greg Wilson – he was my roommate and I just hear him giggling all of a sudden – he goes – he – he – he Kredich – you need to look at your jacket – turn around – I am like what? Did I get paint on it – what? He goes no – you gotta see this and he is giggling and I am annoyed because I don’t want to take my jacket off, but this is me and this is my jacket – so I am continually reminded to get creative and stay humble – Thanks. I don’t know, but boy – we had a lot of foreign athletes racing around behind me to take pictures of this stupid American that cannot spell.

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