Creating Quality Youth and Age Group Programs from Club to National Level by John Atkinson (2006)


I would like to thank ASCA and John and Guy for the opportunity to come over and lecture and share some of my thoughts, ideas and philosophies about what I believe coaches need to do in order to create quality age and youth programs. There is going to be no rocket science today. There are no secrets, as Dennis said in the previous lecture. What I think there are, are prominent traits throughout coaching, coaches and all the great clubs that produce the swimmers around the world. Hopefully today will give you some sort of an insight into my sort of philosophies. Where they came from. How we developed them and how we try and work with the coaches in Great Britain in order to produce those athletes that will make the transition through to the senior team and hopefully go on now to 2012 when Great Britain will host the Olympic Games.

Basically, what we have tried to do in Great Britain is put together a program that will help take swimmers, through some sort of a structure, and coaches so that we deliver to the senior team better prepared coaches and swimmers to the pressures and tasks that they have to try and do when they compete on the senior team. It was once said by Van Barley and also by Bill Sweetenham “that to excel in any sport, ten years and ten thousand hours are what it is going to take. I don’t believe that there is any such thing as an overnight success. An overnight success is the product of many years and many weeks and hours of training that the swimmer and the coach have put into the work.

So, where did I start to formulate my philosophy? Well, it was just interesting listening to Dennis in the talk this morning, next week it will be twenty years since I started coaching. I started coaching quite young. I was 18 years of age when I started to coach. I started to coach firstly, at a school, a private school in Somerset, where I would work with swimmers who were aged between 13 and 18 years old. There were some seniors along in there. It was a different environment in that it was a boarding situation. There were some times when swimmers would struggle with living away from home at 13, 14 and 15 years old and having to fit into a boarding type situation into the dorms and everything that they were doing. I was the assistant coach there for three years, prior to moving on to what was one of the biggest age group program clubs in England and Great Britain in Norwich.

There I just worked with the 10 – 16 year old swimmers. My job was to get out around the city and find the talented young athletes and encourage them to move from the teaching groups and the improved groups into joining the club program. We heard Dennis this morning talking about having to have the basic swimmers that we need to move into your programs in order to develop them into competitive swimmers.

Following that, I kind of moved to the Channel Islands to work in Jersey. That was my first head coaching position. It was quite different in that the island was 9 miles by 5 miles. 80,000 people lived there and it is a summer holiday destination. That was where I started out my first time as a head coach. The influence on all of this is that each situation for me was different. When I worked there, and you heard last night, making the most of the opportunities and the situations that you are presented with when you coach.

So, in having that grounding in three different situations was very, very good for me. Jersey actually changed my life because that is where I met my wife. After two months we got married in Vegas, coming back to America brings back some memories for me. 13 years later I kind of went from Vegas where I then migrated to Australia. Again it was a different sort of situation. I am moving countries this time. I had worked for nine years in Great Britain where I was heavily involved in age group and youth swimming. When I went back over to Australia nobody knew me. I kind of left with a suitcase.

I arrived and I went back to learn-to-swim teaching. I did that for three or four months while I established myself over there. That was teaching for three hours every evening, Saturdays and Sundays. It really took me back to the basics and made me look at some things very, very differently. That had a very big impact on my early days as a coach and the importance of technique. I am trying to bring the swimmers through with a strong basis of the technique, before you add the volume and before you add the quality.

I worked over there and was very fortunate that I eventually worked for a club called Elizabeth Aquatic, which was North of Adelaide. It was built around a whole car factory. I was quite fortunate everybody told me. I ended up with all the palms and paid ten pounds to get out of there. It was a car factory sort of town. I worked there and became involved in the Australian age group program and the state programs and all the very successful things that they did. That again had a great impact on me on creating my philosophies.

I worked as the state coaching director in South Australia. The experience that I then had was having national staff members such as Bill Sweetenham visit the programs that I was then working in, in South Australia. And what that did for me, having people come in and work with me, gave me the opportunity to find new things out from the people that came in. I was able to work on training camps at both the state level and the national level and share ideas with coaches such as yourselves. Because today, I believe if you think you know everything about swimming, is the day that you should resign. You can always take something from the people that you work with so you can become a better coach and develop a quality age group and youth program.

I then moved to Western Australia for one year where I established a new center that had just been built. We didn’t have any swimmers when I went over there. There was no water in the pool. The roof was just being put on the center and we had to start from scratch. Now I only stayed there for one year, prior to being given the opportunity to go back to Great Britain and do the same sort of job nationally, that I was doing in the state of South Australia. That was developing our young swimmers in Great Britain to bring them through the system. But also working with the coaches of those athletes to try and get the coaches to move and always be one step ahead of the athlete that they were bringing through the system.

I think it is kind of decision time when you switch programs. One of the things that Dennis touched on briefly this morning, in his lecture, was that when you move and you start something from scratch, it gives you an opportunity to do things how you want to set up right from the very, very beginning. The one-year in Perth was very, very good for me. I was able to do that. Looking back over my career, in a lot of ways,

When I went to South Australia. I was the first state coaching director. When I went to Perth I was the first coach at the Arena Swim Center. When I went back to Britain again, I was the first all-time national youth coach that they had employed. That gave me the great insight into establishing new programs and getting things up and running. I think in Great Britain over the last six years, we have certainly done that. Now it is a case of having to take it forward and develop what we have already got set up and in place.

In Great Britain, when I first went back, the program was new and it was starting to develop the athletes, to bring them through to the senior team. Like anything, when you kind of come into a new job sometimes you want to try and establish yourself and make things happen very quickly. In the first year that I went back to Britain, we ran four different training camps at the national level. By year 2 we ran about 16 different camps. By year 3, we were running in the region of about 30 different training camps for age group and new swimmers.

Probably too much. We probably tried to push the boundaries too far. But what we did do was we got a lot of coaches involved with the program and talking to each other about how they could develop their own athletes, within their home coaching program. We mentioned at the beginning, the European Junior Championships. The first year that we went to the European Junior Championships, it was in Malta. I went back, it was 2001. We had a team of 20 something swimmers. We won 3 medals. We had one of six relays and that relay team got disqualified. So that was not very pleasing, but it was a good time to go in, in some sense. You could only move in one direction.

As we built towards 2003, we won 20 medals. The first time that we had won the meet on total medals. This year in 2006, when we went to the European Junior Championships we had our best ever offshore result. In 2003 it was Glasgow, in Scotland, so it was a home meet for us and that was a big high winning the meet. Winning is what it is all about, but you have to then maintain where we are at. That is probably the hardest, to maintain what you are trying to do over a number of years.

I have worked with the youth program in Britain. I have also worked alongside Bill with some of the senior teams and managed the World Championships team last year in Montreal. So I have worked across the full spectrum of what British swimming is. In 2003 we were very fortunate to have Bill Bilza come to work in Great Britain. I have worked with him now for the last three years. Bill is now the national youth coach, as well as running his program in Swansea, and making a difference with the athletes there. So I work very closely with Bill.

Now, I am directing the new development program and working very closely with Bill. I think the success of any national program comes from the clubs and the age group swimmers that make the groups. We cannot underestimate in a situation, in Great Britain, where we have limited facilities. We make the most of the ones that we have, but we have to work with the clubs to bring through the swimmers that they have. That means working very closely with coaches.

I have a strong conviction. I really believe that the background of technique work that the athlete gets, along with the endurance, is all important. In a lot of ways, swimmers can get that later in some countries. But in Britain we have minimal programs where we have the facilities to move swimmers through. I really believe we have that early in our athletes so that when they move forward to the senior programs that we have, we can try to get them to step up to a higher level.

We know that swimmers don’t always progress at the same rate and some will progress later in their career, some will be there. I think that by doing it when they are coming through our program, we are looking at the long term. We are also trying to maximize each swimmer so that they get their opportunity at the right time in their career. There are always exceptions to every rule. What we have to do is try and ensure, and we try to do this in Britain, where no swimmer, we hope, would slip through the net.

What we have is a situation now, where if you find a swimmer, who is coming through later, we can add them and bring them into the fold so that we get to work with them and their coach. We heard this earlier and I touched on it a couple of minutes ago. That we need to have the feeder systems to ensure that the future of the club program exists. Now, this can be very different for the different clubs and different programs. But everybody needs to have this feeder system in place. This may be having access to the learn to swim programs so that the talent arrives at the club program.

It has done very, very well in Australia. A lot of coaches have the business of the learn to swim so that they can identify the talent early and bring it through into the club system. In Britain it is not the same. A lot of local councils and local authorities took the learn to swim systems away from the clubs. Now they run them as the council program and the profit that comes with those learn to swims goes into the council programs. Clubs, some still run their learn-to-swim, but the vast majority does not have them. So we have to work with the clubs in trying to get them the access to the council-run learn-to-swim programs.

We don’t want every swimmer. We want to make sure that the talented swimmers come through. This is an ongoing thing that the coaches have to work with in trying to develop it in Britain. The feeder systems are all important and it just doesn’t happen. We have said to coaches, you have to make it happen. You have to forge those links with the local authorities to try and get the swimmers to come through to the club programs that we know are the talented young athletes. So, the feeder systems are very, very important.

I think, as a club coach, the job that you do can never be underestimated. When I worked in Australia as a swim coach on deck, we once received a letter from Bill Sweetenham. We have kind of reused this over the last year or so in Britain. I think it is very important that the club that you work for as an age group coach has an understanding of what the role of that coach should be. It is an ongoing issue from club to club. The coach should offer to the club board or committee, professional advice regarding the overall direction of the club program and especially in terms of the club goals and the training objectives.

Simple point, but how many times do we hear of coaches in clubs where they are at odds with what the goals and training objectives should be? You should also, as the club coach, provide a positive progressive goal oriented teaching and development in training program to meet the needs of the club’s competition schedule. I know that every country is very different. In Britain, one of the biggest obstacles that we had to try and overcome, was that on many weekends, clubs couldn’t train because there was only one pool in town. If they want to rent it for a competition that takes up the entire club’s training space. So we have to try and work very hard at clubs having the training space available to them in order to match the goals that the coach had set for the club.

It is not good having the coach having one set of goals for the athletes that they work with and then the club wanting to take them off on a different tangent with what they want to do. They should provide coaching advice and challenge talented individuals within the club to encourage increased participation and involvement and commitment. That is the job of the coach. You heard from Dennis how things have changed in some areas that parents don’t necessarily see the coach challenging the young swimmer as a good thing. Challenge sometimes comes across as being too hard on them these days.

I still think it is the job of a coach to do that. We have to get the clubs to understand and the club boards and the committees to understand that that is the job of a coach. If we are not challenging them we are failing them as a coach. To teach, coach and train the club’s more advanced senior dedicated and committed athletes. To provide quality coaching and quality time with quality athletes.

I remember once. If anybody can tell me who wrote it (John Leonard), that would be great. I once went to visit a club program, this was in Australia, and there was an article on the board and it was called, “I do have favorites.” I read it and when nobody was looking, I ripped it off the notice board. I went down to the local corner store, photocopied it, took it back and put it back on the notice board. I have kept that ever since.

It doesn’t say who wrote it. It was saying, “I do have favorites because I get to know the swimmers that come to train with me.” I get to know them well. I expect more of them, so through that I do have favorites. That to me is what that second point in that slide is about. It is about working with those athletes and offering them more. How many times as a coach, do you walk onto the deck and end up being distracted by the swimmer who only comes two or three times a week. You are leaving your guys who come ten times a week over here and you are coaching away with ones who are being a pain in the backside. You say to them, you have to finish this and you have to do it properly. You should be saying look, you look really good, hop out a bit early. Then you can focus on the ones that really want to be there. Maybe that would work with club committees as well, I don’t know.

We should educate, advise and direct the coaching staff in identification, education, motivation, participation and evaluation of the club’s athletes and parents. Provide clearly identifiable teaching, coaching and training to suit, stimulate and challenge the athlete’s needs. I come back to that word again, challenge. I am learning a few new tricks with my own young family and yes, my daughter actually wraps me around her little finger. I try to challenge my son in different ways than I do with my daughter and it is quite interesting.

This has nothing to do with my lecture. I have just been back in Adelaide visiting family. It is my wife’s family, so it is different. We went around to my wife’s Aunt Jennie’s. My wife’s aunt Jennie had not seen my children. My daughter is 3 and my son is 6. She said, “I have a present for you” to Stephanie. “Come and pick your present.” So, she took Stephanie along to the bedroom and said, “ there are two gifts, which one do you want?” And my daughter could not choose so she said, “well, you don’t get any then.” Nice Aunt Jennie.

What then happened was she came back in and said to my son “I would like a hug before you leave today” and Alex looked at her and said, “I don’t do hugs”. So he said, “you can have a high 5” and she said, “I don’t do high 5’s.” He said, “well, you don’t get anything.” So, the point that I am trying to make here is that you have to challenge them in different ways. Already a six year old is challenging some of my coaching philosophies as to how I should challenge a male athlete as opposed to a female athlete.

The head coach will oversee and supervise the program without interference and compromise from the club board or parents. This is a trick you want in England. The coaches have to deal with a part of a situation where the board feels that they have the right to say, “this is what we want from the training situation for our young athletes.” But, it has to be the coach and you guys that drive the fords. If you have a situation where you might not necessarily think you have the support from your club board or your parents. You have to find a way to say this is what I am about and this is what I stand for and have the courage to see that through. As difficult as it might be in some situations, you have to see it through. You have to stick to what you believe in.

If you compromise your approach to what you are doing as an age group coach or any coach, in my mind it is the slippery slope to end up somewhere that you don’t really want to go. To insure the club has adequate pool space: gym equipment, training equipment and get the club board to arrange what you need in order to do your job. Again, one of the finer aspects of where I work at the moment is the cost of pool space is prohibitive. With few facilities, comes greater demand. With greater demand, there becomes a higher charge, but that is still something that the club has to work with trying to get, along with the coach. The coach has to make sure of the health and well-being of the swimmer participating in the program including injury prevention skills and good education skills.

The swimmers have to start understanding that, in my opinion, when they are young. It is no good trying to get them to do it when they are 16 or 17 years old. We have to bring that education into the club program when they are age group swimmers. What was the thing that we heard? I think it was last night or this morning. Dennis here said about the discipline that they are going to have to see them through the rest of their life. That starts when they are an age group swimmer. The same as the education process in drugs in school. In injury prevention, because the one place you want to have your swimmer is in the water. If they are injured they wont be in the water.

The club should work with the head coach in building that fully integrated, multi-dimensional teaching and training program. The club should also understand that they have the head coach’s program. One of the things that I see a lot of is that there is always an expectation at the age group level that the head coach should coach every single swimmer in the club. A lot of the time, even though that might be desirable, it’s not always practical. What the coach gives to the club is their program, is their philosophy. So the club gets the head coach’s program and philosophy, which should then come all the way through.

We heard Dennis say this morning about having, one of the things about advice that he was given from Forbes’ senior coaches, was get your committee or loyal trusted assistant coaches. That is to me what that is all about. If you have the right people as head coach, yes you can get around all of the squads and know where all the swimmers are. Work with all of the swimmers in developing their technique, but it is not practical to coach every single child in a big club situation or else it is like a multi-vitamin, everybody gets a little bit, but it really doesn’t do anybody any good. They feel good until they race and they don’t get the results that they want.

When establishing a new club program, it is your opportunity to build something new. As mentioned a little bit earlier, the opportunity is there to think outside the box. You have the opportunity to build fresh, rather than going with the old established ways. I am British and I am proud to be British. I am excited by the Olympics coming to Great Britain in 2012. I moved away for 7 years and worked outside of Great Britain. When I came back, things that never even bothered me now irritate me. And Britain in a lot of ways, it’s quite quaint. There is a lot of established ways of things that have been done for hundreds of years.

It is like when you go to a new club and we heard it last night, things have always been that way. Well, it is time to change some things now. That is what you have. Those of you, who have got the opportunity now or have had the opportunity, will know what I mean about building something fresh. The question that I would ask you, should you go with any swimmers that want to join your new program? Or, should you put a limit on who can join? I think it’s a hard call. Why do they want to be with you when you are establishing a new program?

When I went to Perth I had a lot of swimmers want to join my program. I had to think, was that because of me and my reputation. I would have liked to think that it was, but probably 99% of the swimmers that wanted to join me at that level it wasn’t. It wasn’t my reputation. It was probably more convenient training times. It was probably a better facility. It was probably more training space, convenience for mom and dad. It is great when you have a swimmer come and want to join your program. I decided at that point that I wasn’t going to take everybody that wanted to come into the program. I felt at that time I was only going to be bringing in people who already had issues within their current program. Perhaps the grass wasn’t so much greener with me and in a long period of time, we were going to have the same issues that they were facing in the current program.

When I was coaching with Bill, he gave me some advice and equally, the four questions. Any swimmer who wanted to join my program, when they came in, this is all I asked them with mom and dad. What are your goals? What do you want to achieve? I needed to know what their expectation was. I needed to know what that swimmer was prepared to do in order to achieve their goals. The next question was, what are you prepared to do in order to achieve your goals? If the goal was “I wanted to win a national gold medal”, but they wanted to do it on five sessions a week. I could recommend another program for them to go to. It had to be inline with what their goals were.

I think that as an age group youth coach you have to have your athletes knowing what they want to do. What they are prepared to do in order to achieve the goals. If they do not fit with each other, it is your job as a coach to let them know. The third question: what do you expect from me as your coach? If they were only prepared to do four sessions a week, wanted to win a national medal and wanted one on one attention from me, they were not going to get that. The final question, “What can you bring to the program”? If they were not bringing anything to the table or bringing anything to the program, why would you want them to join? So, for me, these were four very, and very simple questions that Bill advised me to talk to my athletes about or prospective athletes, when they wanted to join the program. Simple, but get the answers that you need.

Today, when we are looking at our selections to our development program, they are the four questions that I am going ask at the national level as well. I don’t want to know anything else because I think those four have all got to be in line. They have all got to fit together. There is no point having a jigsaw where one of the pieces doesn’t fit and the person who is putting the jigsaw together isn’t willing to try and find the piece that does fit into that final part of the jigsaw puzzle.

The question was “do all coaches go through the same process?” My answer was, probably no, but that would be something that I would be encouraging people to work with within their programs. You need to have a structural program that runs through the whole program. In my opinion, I think that the structure needs to be there. What squads do you have? What entry criteria do you have into the squads? Do people know what it is? What hours available do you have for training? Do you have criteria based on attendance? Do you have criteria based on skill? Do you have criteria based on just performance or is it a combination of the three or four things that you look for within your club program for developing your age group swimmers? It might be that you have a certain training set that they have to achieve before they move forward.

There are no right or wrong answers here. It really is what works for you. What fits your program with the athletes that you are working with? If you move into a new program, should you avoid making too many changes all at once? Or should you make all the changes all at once? There is a balance that you have to find that you are comfortable with. Some people will decide to change more things at the beginning of moving into that new program. Fast change tends to have a situation where, when you the coach go away, it is like a rubber band. You stretch the rubber band. You get them to where you want them to be. You go away for two weeks or three weeks with a group of swimmers on a camp or on a national team and come back and the rubber band is moving back. You have to then bring them all back down again. That is one of the things that you might find with fast change.

Doing things more gradually may give you a situation where it’s a change for good. It is permanent. It doesn’t go back. You have got to remember this in your job. In the first 12 months, whatever your job might be, people come to you for advice. They have employed you. They want you there. They want you doing your thing, whatever your thing might be, and they come to you for advice. In the second 12 months they let you get on with the job following the changes that you have made. By the third year, they are the experts. They start then telling you that you should be doing things. I have had that at the national level. In my third position. We have had that in club programs and state programs.

That it is something that I wanted to put across. If you want to implement some sort of changes with your club structures, for your age group swimmers. If you are wanting to implement some changes in the type of training that they are doing. You have to think that there is a time frame around this. Beyond a certain date you may not get all the changes through that you want to get. You should have, with your age group swimmers, a rolling four-year plan that you add a year to every year. You have to try, and we know that things do not always go to plan, but you have to look at the athletes or the age group swimmers that you have got now and think, where will they be in 12 months time. Where will they be in two year’s time? At the moment they are doing six or seven training sessions a week for an hour and a half to two hours.

If we get the progression that we can expect from the young age group or youth swimmers at that age, what will they need to do in 12 month’s time? Can I, as an age group coach, get them there? Do I have to look for more pool space so that in 12 months time I can give them what they need? Do I have to link in with another club and another coach in order for them to have a smooth transition through? So, I think that that is very important. Work out where you are going. Work out how you are going to get there. Know what it is that you want to achieve when you get there and have that plan. I think each squad needs its own goals and objectives. This is where your trusted assistant coaches will come in. All of you guys here who are coaching your own squad know what it is that you want that squad to be achieving. I think they need their own seasonal plan based on the needs of the athletes and not on the desires of the coach, club committee or board of parents.

Go back to the four questions – 1. What are your goals? 2. What are you prepared to do in order to achieve the goals? 3. What do you expect from me as a club coach? 4. What will you bring to the program? Those four questions fit in with each squad’s plans and goals. Those four questions are where a lot of my philosophy comes from in getting the age group and youth swimmers to move forward in the programs. I have focused a fair bit here on how I think the club should be set up. What the role of the coach is in developing a successful age group and youth training program. It is not just Britain. It is not just Australia and America. It is a worldwide thing that we need to do with age group and youth swimmers as coaches.

The next part are some of my kind of beliefs and the type of work that we should be doing. I am not going to go into too much detail because there are many, many ways to get to the same end result. These are some of my philosophies and principles for bringing through age group swimmers and ensuring that they have all of the package to progress to becoming a senior athlete. There is a learning to train phase that swimmers go through. They have to learn to train and how to train before they can take it any further. This would generally follow where they have mastered the basic skills of the strokes and training becomes more to the center stage now. It is about trying to maximize all of the physical changes that happen as the swimmers go through their maturation. I would think around 10-11 years old in girls and 12-13 years old in boys and would go through maturation for those swimmers.

Through this period, the beginnings of extending the training volume would appear. In my eyes it has to be with technique. We come back to that again, endurance, building the base. But with strong strokes and strong technique. Training volume becomes critical in influencing long-term improvement. Progressively larger loads would be put on the athlete. As you increase the volume of work that they are doing, again coming back to the technique, it needs to be maintained through that period. To me, the debate with speed training, this is training volume, shouldn’t be an issue. It is not all speed. It is not all endurance. It is about giving them what they need at the right time. I think, as coaches, with age group swimmers we do hear the debate a lot. Do we give them a good endurance base and nothing else or I want to give them speed. To me it is about building volume with technique, speed with efficiency, where technique is maintained and can be built into a successful age group and youth program where technique focus on increasing volumes appears.

The next one is once they have gone through that process, extending their distances and maintaining their technique. A phase where the swimmer learns to achieve one’s potential. It represents the latest stages of the age group competition. Where they are beginning to transfer through to the open program. There are two common mistakes in that learn to train phase, where coaches impose on developing athletes, programs for seniors. I am a strong believer in the base of training with technique and not putting senior programs on to your age group and youth athletes. It is as the come through there maturation phase where you have developed their endurance, developed their technique, given them speed. As they come through maturation and develop into senior athletes where you specify what type of training and events they should be looking to focusing on. Then more senior programs can be adapted to fit the athletes.

I would be encouraging all of the coaches that I have worked with, that it is all about getting them a base of training. From which as seniors they would then diversify off into the events that they need to do as senior athletes. One of the terms that we have used in Australia and in Great Britain is break point volume. Finding the point and the level of training that each athlete can sustain and maintain through their age group and youth to development youth. I think it would be more for some athletes. It is about optimum volume and optimal skill at controlled intensities in my opinion. I think that if we find the level that each athlete can work with we have minimal risk of injury. We keep them in the water, which is where we want them to be. It is about finding what fits your program. What fits the athlete that you are working with? During this period there is a point of building the athlete up to the level of volume that they could probably sustain as they transfer through to senior swimming.

In my experiences of what I have seen over the last ten years of working with age group and youth athletes, in both Australia and Great Britain. There comes a point where the athlete has to get used to the rigors of what it takes to maintain a lifestyle where they are training ten times a week. If they go through the age and youth period where they are not doing it. They are not used to that. A lifestyle of what it means to do all the training that is necessary when they are 18-19, particularly in Britain. We have fewer programs for them to go on to seniors. It is difficult to get them to make that jump, to doing what is needed as a senior athlete, because it is a lifestyle. It is not always about getting the hard yards in all the time. It is about a lifestyle and getting them used to doing what is needed when they come through that. So, these are the important training relationships that I think count. Up to and through the maturation years, quantity counts more than quality. I think that the quantity of training, putting in the base with the technique as they are coming through, counts more.

I am not saying that you neglect the other side of the training at all. That needs to be there to develop all the systems. But that would be my first pick of what they need to be doing. Recovery counts because we are beginning to learn as the athlete matures what their recovery profile is. How much recovery that athlete needs between different types of training. Quality technique and application of skill, such as turns, streamlining, starts, relay takeovers, all this counts. Frequency of exposure to the stimuli also counts and that comes back to what I was saying before. The lifestyle of doing the number of sessions a week that they need and that frequent exposure in the water, to me, is very important. Whether you do five two-hour sessions a week or ten one hour sessions a week. Having them in the water more frequently with better technique rather than five two hour sessions may have some merits.

Some may have them do ten two hour sessions and I don’t really have any problem with that either. But they are the things that I am saying are not right or wrong. You have to think, the more frequently we have the age group swimmer in the water swimming with great technique, is putting in place all the stroke patterns that the athletes need to have to be successful as senior international athletes. These are some of the things that we talk to our coaches about and these are just minimal figures. Long-term development between the ages of 13 and 15. We try to get our athletes to look to do between 2000 and 2500 kilometers per year. Between 47 and 53 kilometers per week. Some swimmers would do more than that. If you are training for 48 weeks a year, doing 60 kilometers a week that is just short of 2,900 kilometers per year of training that we are looking for our athletes to do.

I can, and this is fact. The first training camp when I went back to Britain in February 2001. We had our age group camp. We had one in Manchester and we had one in Bath. We had the females in Manchester. The males were down in Bath. These guys ranged between 13 and 16. I had been over there for about a week and a half. The camps were set up, so I go along. I collected everybody’s log books and looked at what they were doing. On average, they were going somewhere between 16 and 20 kilometers per week. It was at that point that we looked and knew that we had a big job to do in changing how people did things. That is literally where we are at now. People are getting to those sorts of volumes who were involved in the programs. Obviously our distance swimmers will be doing more, but that is where we are trying to work with our age group and youth coaches. Now that is very simplistic. I know it. It doesn’t tell you the percentage of this type of training, the percentage of that type of training, etc, etc. But in general terms that is our rule of thumb that we try to get and look at what they are doing.

When we know that they are in that sort of area, we would then want to look at what specific type of training that they would be doing, within the volume of work. After 17, before I go on to that, one of the interesting things which, it is not an excuse, but it is something that we have to get our swimmers to get around and plan for. At 16 we have the national school examinations that all the children do in the education system in the UK and they are called GCSE’s. I have no idea what that stands for, but basically they would do upwards of ten subjects where they do their school examination at 16. When they have done those, they would do what they call A levels for two years. Within A levels they would maybe do between three or four courses. Then those A levels get them the grades to go on to the University when they finish school at 18.

For three years in a row, that is 16, 17 and 18 they have national examinations at school. A lot of emphasis is placed on them and that does have an impact. That is why I am saying that they have to get the base before that. They have to get the lifestyle, not so much the lifestyle, but used to doing 10 times a week and get used to the lifestyle. Saying, well, this is what I have to do, my homework, my prep and get used to doing that at 14, 15, and 16 years old. So that by the time that they get to 16, 17 and 18, where they have academic pressures within the British education system, they are used to what it takes to have to keep that going through their final three years at school, before they go to University. Then, when they are at that age, if you have got them to those volumes, it is maintaining them through that period where they are under the heavy academic pressures of that final three years of school.

This is something that again, I have kind of pushed a lot in Britain. I kind of, I am a believer that the buildup of the compromised training effect is something that I push a lot with the coaches. We talked earlier, a little bit, about the situation where we had a lot of weekends where the pools are used. Because it is a one-pool town and it is used for competition so teams cannot train. That happens over and over again. Or they are away a lot and they are not doing the amount of work. There is this buildup effect. So say you have 20-25 compromised training weeks a year. Over a four year cycle that is 80-100 compromised training weeks that that athlete would have as an age group swimmer. Really want them to be building up the volumes. Where we want them to be getting the correct technique.

Where we want them to be putting together the lifestyle. So that they learn how to cope with doing ten training sessions a week when they are 16, 17, 18 and can take that on with their senior swimming careers. This is something that I keep pushing with the coaches. We don’t want these compromised training weeks because of all of the other outside influences. We want them in the routine of doing the ten sessions. We get them used to doing that to get ready for when they are 16, 17 and 18, in their final years of school.

Then they can take that forward with them when they go off to University and they are seniors. I believe that a lot of what we have talked about there with what is needed at the club. What technique the swimmers need to have. The strong technique background with volume, with speed work accompanying that work all needs to be in place to develop a core with the age group and youth program for the swimmers to give them the skills that they need in order to move forward in senior competitive swimming. There are a lot of other things that I could have gone through here, but I hope what I have managed to do is put across to you guys what my philosophies are. What we have tried to instill into the age group and youth swimmers in Great Britain. In my next talk we will move it on from here, getting those athletes and swimmers through from this level to the international stage. So, thanks very much.

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