Developing Swimmers in Their High School Years by Jay Benner (2007)


Introduction by George Block: A few weeks ago, he was one of the best coaching minds in the United States, and now he is one of the best coaching minds in the World. He has recently re-located to the UAE. I think you are going to see some incredible changes in that part of the world. They have always had incredible swimmers, but never had good or constant facilities, nor the ability to educate coaches. I think Jay is going to be able to impact some change in that part of the world which is a good thing. The UAE area has been an untapped reservoir of talent that has been migrating to Europe and other places to do this thing we call swimming. Jay’s history in Tacoma is well known for developing high school age men and women and this is what he is here to talk about today. It is very timely, because that is in reality, what most of us do. Most of us do not get to coach, as we were saying, 220 pound men who can go 18 seconds for a 50 free. Most of us coach 120 pound men who think about shaving at some time in their lives. This is where most of us really live, and where Jay has made his living and made huge impacts on developing the adolescent swimmer. He has produced excellence where most of us only earn our living, so it is going to be a great thrill to hear Jay. Jay, as for all of our speakers, Speedo presents you with a coaching bag. I am sure you don’t have one of your own, so it’s all yours coach.

Thanks, George. I don’t know if it’s a good thing to follow Mike Bottom or not. I am probably at the opposite end philosophy-wise from what Mike has done. As George says, not many club coaches have the opportunity to work with a lot of 220 pound men that can go 18 seconds in a 50. Actually, Mike has the benefit of working with an athlete that you saw on one of the videos, Nathan Adrian, who I coached for 6 years at Tacoma Swim Club. I was fortunate to coach Nathan. He is a great talent. Last year with Mike, he went :42.5 in the 100 and actually should have still been in high school. His parents moved him ahead one year, so he should have really been a senior in high school rather than a freshman in college. The one thing that Mike talked about with Nathan who was one of my two 17 year old boys that I had go a 50.5 100 meter freestyle is that it really happened using an aerobic background. One of the goals in my talk today, and the thing that I really tried to do with my focus in the aerobic development of the kids, was to try not to push the envelope too much with them. What I mean by that is, to develop them aerobically to where when they leave my program, hopefully their best swimming is still ahead of them. So, when they go onto college we end up making the job easier for a lot of college coaches. Mike talked about doing 4 x 400’s being an aerobic set for them, and I hope he is still here, because I actually thought of one of Nathan’s best sets, and one of his favorites was going 15 x 500’s and descending it down to a pretty good effort. As with Nathan, and some of the other swimmers that I had developed through that, they were trained with aerobic background. I truly believe that you can get kids to go fast during their high school years and still keep them aerobic. I want to talk about my 9 years that I spent with Tacoma Swim Club and the type of program that I ran. I am interested, and am going to ask, how many of you, just by a show of hands, would consider yourselves aerobic coaches, that you focus on the aerobic end? How many consider yourselves to be more on the anaerobic end? I see a lot more hands on the aerobic side, and I think that’s good. The one thing I truly believe and I know that it is US Swimming’s policy, to give swimmers a great aerobic base.

I am going to start out talking a little bit about my background. I am going to give you an idea of where I come from. I grew up swimming in the Pacific Northwest Seattle area and was fortunate to have swum for some great coaches during my time. I had truly a great experience with my own swimming. I swam at a fairly high level, though I never reached many of my goals that I had had. I managed to be world ranked in the Top 25 a couple of times in the 400 IM and the 1500. I never did reach the level to where I had set my goals, but I think that was a good thing for me in going on to the coaching end of swimming. I was still fairly hungry, so it taught me a lot of things that I was able to use with the kids I coached along the way. I think the most important thing is to get them to be able to manage to deal with disappointment along the way. As all of you know, this is not usually an easy ride. As you go on and progress, develop and get better, you will find there are always bumps in the road, and my experience with the athletes that I have coached, is that they have to be able to manage this side of swimming. As I said, I grew up in the Seattle area and the first coach that I swam for really, at the senior level, was a guy named Scott Lottman, who coached for Husky Swim Club. Scott was a world class swimmer that just missed making two Olympic Games in the 200 fly. He was 5th in the ’72 trials and 4th in the ’76 trials. Scott was the first one to expose me to what work was. He was someone with a very average talent that proved to me, in this sport, you could go a very far way just if you were willing to do the work. Also, I think strongest trait as a coach was, he exemplified what Doc Counsilman talked about in the X-Factor. He had an ability to engage and relate with his athletes, plain and simple. He made it fun to come to the pool. He was the one that really inspired me to attempt to do great things.

From there, my college coach was Earl Ellis. I had the good fortune to start swimming with Earl in the summer when I was 13. Back then, the NCAA rules were a little different. You could do that as a college coach. Earl was a tremendous coach. He was a world class road racer at the 10K distance, in the Master’s division, and was someone who really taught me about work ethic and consistency over time. This was a guy I don’t think ever missed a day of training. Over a 25 year period, he ran everyday. Earl had an ability to lead by example and to inspire. He was a very important person in my swimming as well. Prior to the ’84 Olympic trials, I had a short term, 6 months of swimming with Mark Schubert down in Mission Viejo. Everyone is familiar with Mark’s history. That experience down there really gave me a first hand view to what it was like to swim in a program of excellence. Everything during that time in ’84, the number of world class swimmers who swam at Mission at that time and being exposed to a program like that was something I took with me as I got into coaching.

Bob Miller was the one who actually gave me my first coaching job. I believe Bob was the 1973 ASCA Coach of the Year. As I was finishing up my own swimming career in 1988, bob asked me to come on and do some coaching with the Bellevue Club. During that time, I was also training for the Trials. Bob was instrumental in helping me train. At that point, I was 23 years old and was training for the 1500. I actually coached myself for the most part, but with a lot of help from Bob. This was a time where I was doing a lot of things outside the box with my own training. I was, at that time, for about 8 months, going about 180,000 meters per week. Three days per week I would be at 40,000 meters per day or over. The thing I learned from bob was that it was important to challenge your swimmers constantly. Bob was never too impressed with anything. I learned from him that it was okay to be demanding of your athletes and to continually ask them to do more. I would get out of a 40,000 K-day and Bob would always point out something that I could have done better. He was never too easily impressed, but that was okay. Bob was also a member of the ’56 Olympic team for the Modern Pentathlon. All these guys had a great athletic background and a tremendous work ethic. All of this had a tremendous impact on me.

The last person I will mention is Dick Hannula, who I replaced at the Tacoma Swim Club in 1997. Until that time, Dick had been the only coach at Tacoma Swim Club. He founded the club 53 years ago. He had been there as the coach for 43 years. I had swum a little with him when I was in high school. I would drive an hour to be able to swim with him. They had a 50 meter outdoor pool that I could get into in May, so I would make that drive down there and swim occasionally with them during the months of May and June. For those of you who know Dick, you know that he is an incredible person. He is about as much of a class act as you would ever come across. I spent 9 years in Tacoma with him. I got to be on deck with him and learn from him. I learned a lot and I observed, what I think is one of the most important things, and that is communication in selling your plan to your athletes. I think this is key at whatever level; it is the bigger key to success. You have to have a plan and be able to sell that plan to your athletes. Dick was great at this. His ability to communicate and his level of enthusiasm were beyond anything with him. Dick was a great coach. He is, I think, one of the truly great coaches that have come out of this country. What I know of Dick is that it wasn’t the X’s and O’s, but the training that made him a great coach. I know Dick is somewhere here in this room. I know that he is going to be 79 in a week or so. When you see Dick, know that this is a guy that goes and works out 2 hours every day and has kept himself in tremendous shape. He is so tremendous. He was always willing to fill in for me when I needed it. I certainly used his abilities. He is truly a great stroke technician. I would have him come in and work with the kids from time to time when we wanted to do some stroke work, and the kids really enjoyed having him.

I was coached by coaches with great work ethic and they all had a passion for what they did. They all set the bar very high. This gives you all a small idea of where I came from and kind of how I got started with my coaching. When I came to Tacoma Swim Club, I think, like what Mike talked about a little bit, we all have such a great ability to impact the athletes’ lives that we work with. The main thing, my goal was, was to instill a passion with the kids for chasing their goals. I would always talk about the process with them and about how important not just arriving at the end of the road was, but the journey getting there, too. Hopefully, this is one of the better things that I have done right, and that is trying to instill that passion and getting the kids to love the sport. In the 9 years I was at Tacoma, I always started each season with a plan. You have to identify your goal and define how you are going to arrive at that goal. I think that it is easy, as a coach, at that time of the year, to be excited about starting a new season and going into it with a plan. This is the one thing that I tried to do and to be very specific, because I felt that this was a big part of the success I had. I think it is very important if you are going to ask athletes to put out and to demand a lot from them, for them to know the plan.

I also believe that it is important to be flexible with that plan. You have to work within the framework of what your situation is because everyone has different situations. I think it is okay to come and listen to someone get up and talk here, but you have to be able to take what you have heard and learned and apply it to your situation. In Tacoma, we didn’t have a great facility set up. We worked out of high school pools. We did have an outdoor 50 meter pool that we would get into in the beginning of May, which was, I felt, the strongest asset of our program. Within the rest of the year, we operated around high school programs and we really had to play second fiddle to those programs. I think that it is so important that you have to work around that and even though you have a plan, you have to make it fit to what your situation is and that was something that I tried to be aware of, and to work within that framework.

The bigger part of this is just communicating the plan to the swimmers and the parents. I think, as coaches, as much as we sometimes want to minimize the involvement of the parents, it is important, if you are going to develop a program you want, to include the parents in that plan. A lot of these kids are dependent on the parents to drive them to practice and to pick them up. You need to spend some time talking about your plan because it is important that they all buy into it. You have to sell it to them. I don’t think it comes just with a one-time shot at the beginning of the season. You need to talk about the plan and you need to repeatedly go back to it. Communication is key.

The other thing, I really tried to set the program up around was, getting the swimmers to dream big and to create an environment that pursued greatness. Getting the kids to dream big, to continually raise the bar, and to not be content with where they swam. I think it is important that they were acknowledged and that they got pats on the back for successes. As I told you, in the case of Bob Miller, there was nothing that was ever good enough. We had to keep raising the bar and to think bigger and bigger all the time. I started talking to kids about making the Junior Nationals Team before they had actually made a National cut. I wanted them to think beyond going to Nationals, and to continually show them what was out there. One thing I always tried to do in Tacoma, was show them what the world rankings looked like and to keep them somewhat humble. I think being humble is important, and to help them dream big, too. I worked with Dana Kirk, and I constantly talked to her about what it was going to take to get her to make the Olympic team in 2004. This all started back in 2000 and I know there probably wasn’t a day that went by that that was not her main thought. Every time kids come to the pool, their goal should be their main thought.

The other thing I really feel is important is for kids to take pride in the process. I wanted kids to no matter what level they were at, they didn’t even have to be world class swimmers, but to take pride in their work. The one thing I was always proud of was after they were done with their career, or only swam to a sectional level, that they could feel pretty good about their work ethic, their commitment and that they always challenged themselves to do things that they did not think possible. I tried to create that for all kids, regardless of whether they were going to be world class swimmers, but to get them to take pride in the process. So they knew that this was about pursuing their goals and not just whether they had success or not, that it was about the pursuit of it. I think, as all coaches, we are trying to get them to go outside of their comfort zone and I think that is a little harder in this day and age and maybe even more than twenty years ago, just because there are so many choices for kids today.

If you want to swim fast, you have got to get kids to be willing to go outside of their comfort zone. To me, it was always about building confidence through the training, and that they should have the confidence when they get on the blocks. This is something I would come back to again and again, trying to get them to expand what their comfort zone was. A big part of that was I wanted them to have ownership of their swimming. I wanted them to increase their awareness. I felt like the best swimmers I had had ownership of their swimming and I didn’t need to kick their butts. You are going to need to constantly kick every kid in the butt from time to time, but once they understand that they are responsible for their results and that there are no excuses, I think when they understand that, it takes their swimming to another level.

We all have kids that have trouble reading the pace clock, or that they come at the end of a repeat, and you ask them what their time was. Well, some of them have no clue, while others are very good about it. I wanted them to know what they were doing and why they were doing it. I think that it is important to know why, and I always encouraged them to know. One time I required it. I no longer do, but I always wanted the kids to keep a log book. I kept one as a swimmer. I felt you were a much better swimmer if you were recording what you did. It should be a confidence builder to go back and look at the training. I also felt like it was something that gave them a little more ownership if they knew what they were doing. The one thing that I add here is the kids that did do what I asked of them would turn in their log books to me once per week. I would go through them and it helped me as a coach. I think it can help any of you tremendously. I would ask them twice per week to take their resting heart rate before they got out of bed. I would ask them to write comments daily, after the practice in the log book. And I would go through and read it. It helped me understand kind of how they were thinking and it helped me understand their level of motivation. I think it is a great way to be able to monitor what your athletes are doing. I think it is a little more difficult to get kids to keep one if you are not requiring it. I found a very strong correlation between those that did it and the level of success that they had. I didn’t require it later on, but the other thing I feel and is a key part and what we don’t seem to talk about a lot is dealing with temporary non-successes and disappointments in this sport.

I think we all, as coaches, every year have athletes that do not perform up to the level that we would like them to. It is hard to deal with those athletes who have done everything that you have asked, end up struggling, and are extremely disappointed. I feel that this can be used as a stepping stone to take them to the next level. Having the ability to persevere when things are not going so well is a quality that really is helpful down the road. I can tell you, in my own experience, that I had a lot of disappointments along the way. I feel like it was an integral part of, eventually, the success that I did have. The ability to deal with disappointment, which I think is one of the best qualities that a kid could take out of the sport, to prepare them for any tough situation that they are going to face, and dealing with temporary non-success was something that many of the swimmers in my program had to deal with. I think that they came out of it pretty good, and most of them went on to have some great success. I think this is part of the importance of challenging them to do things that they do not believe they can do. I also, think it is important, from time to time, to give them sets that they cannot make. I think it is important, too, to ask them to do the impossible. I think we are trying to build their confidence through the training, and I think it is a great thing when you can challenge them to do something that is, maybe, a little impossible. Maybe you can come back to it at a time, whether it is six months or a year down the road, and they find that once was impossible, is no longer such. This was something I threw at them from time to time. They would think, at the time, that it was something that was extremely unrealistic, but I think they realized over time that it wasn’t, and it definitely helped the level they were able to train at and in their approach, or mental toughness.

Goal oriented: I think you need to talk to then constantly about what their goals are and make sure they understand what they need to do in order to reach those goals. Because of my own experience as an athlete, and being somewhat self-motivated, I expected other athletes that I coached to have the same level of motivation and expected that they knew what their goals were, and that they knew what they needed to do. I found out after a short time, that that was not the case. Maybe, more today, with all the distractions out there, that a lot of kids didn’t spend as much time as I thought they needed to thinking about their goals and really figuring out what was necessary to meet those goals. I am talking about some of the very good swimmers I had who spent no time thinking about their goals! It was one thing to set a goal and to think that it’s going to happen, but another thing for those swimmers to actually reach those goals.

Accountability: This goes back to, and is tied in with, ownership. I believe in holding kids accountable for their actions and always try to be very honest with them. A lot of times they did not appreciate it, but I think that it is important. I think it is easy to not want to discipline kids, but I think it is a key part if you are striving for excellence in your program to have accountability. The kids need to know that they are responsible for their actions.

The next component of this that I felt was very important was the importance of the hidden training. What I mean by the hidden training is very simple; it is what they do when they are away from the pool. It is really the harder part, because it is out of our control. It is their sleep habits and their nutrition habits and the decisions that they make as far as what they are willing to sacrifice. When you are dealing with high school aged kids, obviously there are a lot of choices, a lot of temptations that they come across. They need to understand that if they are staying out late, like you have a 5 AM Saturday morning workout and they stay out until 2 AM, that that will compromise the end of the season result. They need to know they are accountable and they need to be responsible for those choices. The thing that I always talked to them about was that we look for opportunities, rather than excuses, and when you have accountability on them and they have ownership, then they understand. Every high school aged kid is going to look for excuses. There are excuses not to do the work, excuses to occasionally take a day off here and there. I always told them excuses are easy to come by. The champions are the ones that will look for opportunities to become better. Another thing I really came to believe in, and it is something that I think is more common in coaching women, and that is I really wanted them to become assertive. It is all tied in again with the ownership thing. A few years back, I had a girl that was swimming at Oregon State University for Larry Liebowitz, and she came home for Christmas or spring break. She had a shirt that said, “Timidity is the Enemy of Success.” I thought it was a great shirt, because I truly believe that we all have athletes that tend to shy away, or stay in the back and never step out and become risk takers. That was something that I would talk to them about, the importance of needing to be assertive. The need to be willing to take a risk, and when I talk about risk, I mean good risks. There is the willingness to attempt to do great things, and not being afraid to fail. We all have athletes that are very assertive. We know the ones that kind of seek out and are willing to take on that role of risk taker. I think they are a step above, not like the kind who shies away from the role. They are the ones I would talk to about the need to be assertive.

I believe you want to create an environment that makes them enjoy coming to the pool. I think, for me, it was something that I really appreciated, long after I was done, as I swam for a club coach during my high school years that I couldn’t wait to get to the pool in the afternoon. I loved going to workout, and I loved being with my teammates. A lot of it, the bigger part of it was, again, my coach created this environment where we wanted to be there. He understood human nature. We worked hard, but he created an environment where kids were excited to come to the pool. I think today, sometimes we forget that there certainly are programs out there that miss the point. To me, you want to try and provide a great environment, and that is not to say that you are straying away from giving them hard work, but it is important to get the kids to want to come. I think it is important that your athletes know that you care about them outside of the pool. I think this is something to work on. I know it is necessary to get after your athletes, you can be rather stern with them, and they need to know it is not a personal thing, and that even though they are getting reproached, you still care.

Finally, I think the most important thing, as a coach, is to believe in the program that you run, and I think belief is everything. You are the rock for your swimmers. You are the one that guides them and inspires them, and I think that is extremely important. You are asking them to buy into and believe in what you are doing. I think this is key, even if what you are doing isn’t the right thing, that you believe in what you are doing then you are a step up. I think that that goes without saying that the mental side of this sport is a key component. If you are uncertain or are unsure that you believe in it, I think your athletes will pick up on your uncertainty, especially come the end of the season. The thing we want for our athletes is to get to the championship season and get up on the blocks with as much confidence as possible. If you have not conveyed confidence yourself to them throughout the season, you will find the end of the season results are not quite where they should have been.

I am going to talk about what my program looked like from the training standpoint. I don’t care how good you are at writing workouts. I am not a physiologist, I have a pretty good feel for what I do with the training, I think you need all the other components that I just talked about in your programs. So, my training emphasis is based on that I come from a very aerobic background. I believe in the aerobic way of doing things. I think it should be a progressive development. I think the best thing you can do is to set your athletes up for success down the road, and that is not to say that you cannot set them up to swim fast during those high school years. I think you can do both, and again, I always tried not to push the envelope too much by doing too much aerobic work. Do I do some anaerobic work? Absolutely, I mean, nothing is exclusive. There is a need to touch all bases. One thing I tried to make sure I did with two 17 year old boys that went :50.5 100 meter free, was to have them do the exact same work as the milers and the 400 IM’ers that I trained. One of those boys is at Texas and the other is at CAL. They may tell you that they couldn’t wait to get away from doing the workouts, but I wouldn’t believe that. They were tough kids and were maybe not your typical sprinter makeup. These two guys could train! I think they took pride in what they did. I had Nathan Adrian for six years, and the other boy, Ryan Verlotti, I had for three years. Ryan is soon to be a junior at Texas. These guys did the aerobic program, and they did it with a smile. It wasn’t always, I am sure, what they wished. They could have been getting up and doing dive 50’s or dive 25’s, but instead they took pride in what they did. It was tough training, but they actually did it quite well.

I set things up as early season, mid season, and championship season. For me, early season, which is this time of year right now, was a 28 or 30 week season. This was where I certainly did the building blocks of the aerobic base. I put a lot of focus on getting the legs in shape. More and more, I came to believe in the importance of kicking and to turn ones that were very average kickers into great kickers and would then try to raise their level. We spent a lot of time getting the legs in shape. A standard set I did the first 12 weeks of the season was to try, at least once per week, a set of 20 x 100 kick as fast as they could hold with 20 seconds rest. This was something that we would do the first week through the 12th week, trying to get them to hold at the best pace they could. We would also do a lot of IM training. I believe, no matter what their events are, that it is important to do a lot of IM training throughout the season, especially the early season. I think it is a great way to get them in shape. We would try to do at least two main IM sets every week during the first 12 weeks of the season. One of my favorite sets that I liked to do with them is nothing special, but we would go a 400 free, 300 IM, 200 back, 100 breast, 4 x 50’s fly and do that four times trying to progress the effort as we went through and mixed it up a little bit. It challenged them to go a pretty good effort. In the middle of the season, I would ask them to really get after it on the third and fourth sets.

I did a lot of moderate swimming. I do what I call a lot of cruise effort, cruise upward swimming. Many coaches refer to it as doing a lot of garbage yardage. Some refer to it as recovery based training. It is really something that I learned through my own experiences as a swimmer. In ’88, when I was in and swimming some 40,000 meter days, I did a lot of cruise effort swimming. Obviously, it is hard to put in 40 K, and do it all fast. When I was coming up in the high school years, I tended to race everything in workout. I would race one way, but I think if you are not recovering it, it will really beat you up. From the time I was 13, as I said before, I swam for a coach who was a great swimmer in his day, and I started doing triples in the summer time. It was my option to do that. I wanted to swim and through college I would come in and get an hour and a half before the actual workout started. I would go a straight 5,000 set of 5 x 300’s on three minutes. This is something that I learned over time and progresses so that when I was doing the long stuff, the best thing I found was that it allowed me to recover and it was kind of like de-toxing the body in a sense. I did a 3,000 swim straight everyday, and sometimes even a 10,000 swim, but it was at a real low heart rate, kept at around the 130-140 range. Once you have done that over time, and maybe say your threshold is 57 for a 100, you can get to where you can do it and you can hold 1:00, or 1:01 and feel like you are putting no effort into it whatsoever. This was a big part of my program in the early season, the cruise effort swimming.

This is one way, and then there is what Mike was talking about earlier, doing a lot of aerobic swimming that you can become sloppy with the technique. I do not necessarily agree with that. I know that this is something that Alexander Popov did a lot of, what they call this type of swimming at a real low heart rate. He was going from 8-10,000 meters of workout and doing aerobic swimming, and I really believe you can do a lot of this type of training and really focus on good technique. It allows you to work on things. Sure, you have to really focus on it, but we did a lot of these sets. I would have my kids do sets that lasted an hour in length at this energy system and I think it served the purpose in a lot of ways because when we went at high intensity, I would ask them to go hard and to follow this up with the next day, or within 48 hours, this type of easy cruise effort swimming. I felt it was another key part to giving them the aerobic swimming they needed, and then allowing them to recover as well. That was something I used, not just in the early season, but throughout. We would usually go a timed 3,000 about every three weeks in the first twelve weeks of the season. Is it something you need to do? I don’t know. It is something I enjoyed doing and I’ll tell you that I know a lot of athletes do not give an honest effort when you tell them that we are going to go a 3,000 for time. I felt like the athletes that I had tried to make it something that they took pride in and something that I challenged them with a little bit. I think, for the most part, they gave a very honest effort. Again, the two boys that went :50.7, even though I never had them where they completely focused on going, they were both right on 30 minutes for a time. Nathan may tell you differently now because I know he is not doing any timed 3,000’s with Mike at CAL, but he gave an honest effort. He wasn’t afraid of swimming it, and I think he was all that much tougher from some of the things that we did.

In the mid-season, the focus switched to fast swimming in training. Obviously, you have got to do some fast swimming at race pace. We spent a fair amount of time doing a lot of fast swimming. The other thing that I really worked on was trying to build their strength in the water. Because of my situation, I did not have much of a dryland program. I will talk a little bit more about that in my talk tomorrow, but I really tried to build their strength in the water. We would pull with an inner tube. We did use a power rack quite a bit. I also like to do a lot of training with a parachute on. In the early days, it was pulling a bucket behind you. I really think that you can make a swimmer strong in the water without developing a lot of bulk, or losing the range of motion that sometimes a lot of swimmers do when they get in the weight room. We did spend a fair amount of time doing core exercises. Since we worked out of high school pools, and they did not want us in there on deck any earlier than we had to, our situation was a little more limited, but again, I believe that you can get swimmers strong in the water, and the proof is in the two boys who swim so fast.

A main set that I liked to do during this point in the season was the 30 x 100’s at max effort on a 1:30 every two weeks. I think this was something that paid dividends over the long run. That summer, when we were doing this was not a very successful summer, I really felt that this was one of the sets that beat the kids up too much, and after a while, I learned to change it. We no longer did it all in max effort. Maybe, we would go 10 with the heart rate 10 beats below, another where it was 20 beats below, and then 10 at max effort or something, but you have to be careful with a set like that.

We would workout on Saturdays at a college pool that was a six lane, indoor 25 meter pool. We were able to use that pool on the weekends, so I would run a double on Saturdays. We would come in, in the afternoon and I would warm them up. I tried to make it a short workout, maybe an hour and a half in length. But, we would come in and we would go 8 x 400’s at max effort. It was maybe an EN 3 set. It would be on 6 minutes, short course meters. I had Dana Kirk doing that set early on. I had her do butterfly and over the course of 4 months, between doing sets where she started out and where she was able to do it 4 months later, before she won her first National title in 2001, she was able to improve over that course of 4 months by about 15 seconds in that set of 400’s doing them all butterfly. Nathan Adrian was another one that could do that set and do a very good job on it. I think the best I looked at for him was to be able to hold that set right around 4:13. Not great for someone that went distance, but an honest effort and pretty good for a kid like Nathan. He is a very developed kid who doesn’t even turn 19 until the middle of April, so he is very young to be a sophomore in college.

One of my favorite sets that I liked to do during that part of the season was four rounds where we would go 3 x200’s at threshold and they had to come off of that. Maybe my better boys would go 3 x 200’s free on a 2:05. We would go into 2 x 200’s recovery and then 5 x 50’s max effort, and EN 3 major stroke. I wanted them at or preferably a second under their goal 200 race-pace, so for some kids, that meant having to hold 23 seconds for their 50’s like Nathan did on that. We would go through that 4 times, sometimes 3 times, depending on what point it is in the season. I really felt that this was a great set to get a little bit of threshold work in and then ask them to perform on the set of 5 x 50’s EN 3. This was something that I would do, maybe once per week, and maybe every ten days, but we would continue to work the legs, go a set of 20 x 50’s kicking at max effort.

Certainly, I was always a little more worried as we got closer to the championship season about having their legs too tired, but I tried to be a little more protective with that as we got closer to the National or sectional meet, or whatever. One thing that I did, and this probably shocks a lot of people because they think I run purely a yardage aerobic-based program,, but I learned to utilize a 15 yard diving well. I learned to utilize that a lot when I started with Tacoma and from talking with Dick and what he had done. It really became a staple in my program, and I felt like this was a great way to work on some power and speed without being too anaerobic, because it was quick burst and to be able to develop that power. I would take the kids over there three or four times per week in this 15 yard dive well, and we would do sets, no breath power sets with the paddles on. I would use the power rack. We would do a lot of fast bursts with the parachutes and I mixed that up quite a bit. I tried to be creative. I felt that if you are going to ask the kids, especially if you have a very aerobic program and you are very demanding of them, that it was a bit of a mental break to give them this opportunity. I never claimed, or wanted to be an entertainer with them, but it was something that I felt was a great way to develop their power and good speed work. I never felt like it was aerobic work because it was 6-7 bursts and the kids liked doing that, whether we did underwater kicking, torpedo kicking, or just a lot of quick, full race pace, and to work on the speed going into and off of the walls. This was something that later on I learned to utilize a little bit more, and I felt was a big part of my program.

As far as the championship season goes, I think it is really something that you have to design, and assess what you have done because what you do during that championship is reflective of the work load that you have done. I think the worst thing for a coach is that you can get to your championship meet and your athletes are not rested enough. My athletes usually swam really well off a second shave, and they went fast in many cases, even a third shave, if they ever had the opportunity. A lot of it, I felt, was due to the background that they had through the training which had allowed them to do that. I don’t believe that you should just have one shave. We focused on, basically Nationals in the spring and then Nationals in the summer. It was not that we rested for many meets, but I think that if you have done it right and you have put the work in, there is no reason that you shouldn’t be able to come back maybe two weeks after you shave and go that much better. I know with my athletes, that is something that we had a lot of success at doing. I think the mental side if it, during the championship season, is the part that becomes more of a key to talking to your athletes about what they need to do to get them comfortable with the situation. I felt like my greatest success with these kids usually came after their second year. I don’t believe that you can ask a kid to do a lot of work in this day and age because there are not too many you can tell that they are going to work hard for two years and you are not going to see the payoff until then. Not too many kids will be that patient. I think that it is important that they have some success along the way. For me, in the program it took 2 years before they really started to see the payoff happen, and they began to make great strides. I think it is a progressive way to train. I think as long as you are constantly trying to work on the aerobic end of things and develop and improve their threshold that hopefully, and that it’s not just a quick fix, you are setting them up for their best swimming down the road. I wanted to have the success for the kids. I am not saying that I was only concerned about them swimming fast once they got to college or beyond because that is not true. We tried to swim fast without doing too much anaerobic work. I am not saying that we didn’t do any, but I think it is important that they know that their best swimming is ahead of them if they do things right. To conclude with this; I always tried to individualize.

Tacoma Swim Club was anywhere between 85- 105 kids in my time there and those were the numbers that we worked with and I felt pretty good. In 2004, we had 8 kids at the Olympic trials. That was a pretty good percentage of the kids in the program. I always felt that it was very important to individualize the training because, as Mike was saying earlier when he was up here, not all kids are the same. They are not built the same, nor is what they can handle. Some kids have very hard time handling the aerobic training. I never wanted to run a kid out of the sport because I felt like I couldn’t be flexible enough. I had to hold everyone to the same standards. I think it is very important to keep good athletes going. It was important to hold everyone to the same standard, but be flexible with them at the same time. I think that is very important because you come across a lot of different kids with different issues. You come across just a lot of different physical make-ups and the need to be flexible and to individualize was also an important part of the program. I never felt that the program I ran was anything special. I tried to be very consistent with what my plan was; I was consistent with the training over the long haul and was patient with the kids, which was not always easy to do. I just didn’t think that there was a magic bullet of sorts. I think trying to instill the passion in these kids was my goal. When you have kids that are passionate about chasing their goals, I think good things happen, and I was fortunate over the years to work with some great athletes. When you have great swimmers, talented kids, they can make you look awfully good as a coach. I have certainly had my share of them, but I also felt very good about the kids that I had who never made it to a National championship. They bought into what the program was. They did an outstanding job and they loved the chase and that, for me, was the bigger part of my experience as an athlete. I loved the chase and constantly wanted to pass that along to the swimmers. Hopefully, that gives you a little bit of an idea. It is the opposite end of Mike Bottom, but I don’t think it is a bad thing. I try to learn as much as I can and I am open-minded. I am actually more interested in people, like coaches that do things different from what I do. I think it is the best way to learn. Again, I was very fortunate that I had some great coaches along the way that I learned from. I feel like I still know very little, and I am always looking to learn more.

I will open it up for questions, if anyone has any. The question is how I cycle the week. I have changed my program around quite a bit over the years, but say mid-season, for most of the time, we would go three mornings per week, Monday, Wednesday and Friday mornings. I always tried to keep the mornings long aerobic. We would do a lot of pulling with an inner-tube and work the legs. Afternoon sessions was usually a good threshold set for Monday and then Tuesday afternoon I would have them do cruise effort swimming, a chance to recover off that was some quick bursts in the pool. Wednesday morning was aerobic. A lot of pulling with the tube, the parachute and maybe some kicking. Wednesday afternoon I would do a set like I talked about here of 3 x 200’s threshold, maybe EN 3 focus and again, following it up the next day with the cruise effort, recovery swimming. Friday afternoons I usually tried to get the kids out early and we would do a little more speed work. I usually had them getting up and going a timed 300 major stroke. I would use that as a measuring stick. Saturday morning would be a good, solid, threshold set. Depending on whether we came back, we went 8 x 400’s in the afternoon. Sometimes, it would be a solid IM set, but I would usually try not to have them too wiped out for the Saturday afternoon session if it was 8 x 400’s.

Good question. He asks what criteria I use to move kids up, or out of my training groups. I think the training group is kind of dictated by the situation you have. In Tacoma, I was fortunate, I had anywhere from 15-30 kids in my training group and as Dick Hannula liked to remind me, in his day he had 50-60 kids he was working with. The criteria, or the biggest thing I used, and I think this is a lot of times a struggle for a lot of coaches in a program, because parents want to know what the criteria was. For me, it was if you were willing to commit to do the work, and if you could handle the training. If you were willing to do it all, I would give you a shot, but with the understanding as well, that if you did not hold up to what the expectations were, that you would quickly find yourself removed from that top group. I wanted it to be an honor to be in that top training group. I wanted kids to strive to be there. It was really flexible, because then no one could come back and pin me down and say, well this is what you said.

Yeah. I think if you have a core group of athletes to work with and maybe that group starts with two kids, maybe three, but then you are really on to developing something. When I first started with Tacoma Swim Club, don’t get me wrong, I know Dick is sitting in the back there and I am not taking a shot at him, but the club itself was at a point where there was some real talent there but there wasn’t a lot of leadership in the pool. I really struggled my first year and a half or so trying to get the kids to understand and buy into my plan, not Dick’s anymore. I think it was when I had a boy, who had swum his freshman year at the University of Arizona, come into my program. He was a great swimmer, but had left school and had been out of the sport for 3 ½ years. He came to me and said he wanted to swim again. He was 21-22 at the time and he was really at a turning point. He was a kid that was very focused and was a great example for the younger kids. He led by example. When he left the sport, he was a 2:04 200 meter backstroker. In nine months with us, he went 2:00, and was 3rd at the long course Nationals that summer. He was a great example and he brought others up with him. I think the best situation as a coach is when you have kids that police the other kids. That way, you don’t constantly have to get after them. When I had Dana Kirk, it was great. She was not afraid to get in the face of other kids and call them out when they were not doing a good job. It is nice when you have one or two kids who have the vision and the dream. To be able to acknowledge those kids that are making that effort so that the other kids see it is great. All kids seek attention and they want acknowledgements that they are doing right.

How much rest typically for my threshold sets? It depended on the set, but I think it would usually be, depending on the length of the repeat, 10-20 seconds rest. I would challenge them from time to time, and again, I think you have to be careful with the threshold, especially for kids that are not so inclined for distance training. In the summer of 2003, the year prior to the Trials, we got into our long course pool in the spring. We were going three hours long course meters and on Saturdays, it was four hours long course meters. We did a lot of threshold training that spring and summer and the kids were very flat at Nationals that summer. Actually, I will blame it on Dick Hannula. He had the kids. I was at the Pan-Am Games, and he had them at the National meet that summer. We swam terrible that summer and we came back that next fall and in December the US Open was in Federal Way, our backyard. We came back and we swam very low-end aerobic training September, October and November, all leading up to the US Open meet and the kids swam out of their minds that December at the US Open meet. It caused me to sit back and re-evaluate the threshold a little bit. Were we doing too much threshold work? Were we recovering coming off of it? I felt like we had worked very hard that spring and the results certainly did not indicate it.

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