Developing Young Distance Swimmers by Bill Sweetenham (2001)


It is always daunting when you’re introduced, you wonder if you can live up to the reputation that is said about you.  I hope this afternoon I can offer you some innovative and interesting thoughts on coaching young distance swimmers as well as coaching swimmers in general.  When you are asked to lecture, and I always appreciate being asked, it is an honor and it makes you feel you have to evaluate your own philosophy and go back and think about where you’ve been and what you’ve done, what really has worked and what hasn’t and like every coach it has been a mixture of those things.  The things that you’ve done, those that you feel like you never want to do again, and the things that feel important to you and always have had to incorporated in my program.  I’m going to start, based on the overhead projections displayed that John Atkinson is going to do for me.  John is the national youth coach in Great Britain.  Right now, he is coaching and living in Australia.  I have recruited him back into Great Britain so John will be the national youth coach with the program in Great Britain.


It seems like some of the coaches that I’ve listened to yesterday as well as this morning, have philosophies that they live by and things that really feel important to them.  The philosophies that I’ve tried to live by and think about is love what you do, do what you love and always give more than expected.  I think for me, that is certainly what I’ve tried to live by in terms of my commitment to coaching and swimming and we all know how difficult that could be with the long hours, the aggravation, the heartache and the bloodshed involved in challenging people to their very limit, sometimes it works; hopefully most and sometimes it doesn’t.

The other thing that I’ve always found important is while I’ve been fairly confrontational and aggressive with my coaching, I’ve always believed that you never try to look good by making someone else look bad, you don’t make your house look better by burning someone else’s or burning your neighbors.  I have tried to just promote the things that I think will help me be a better coach and if they work, great.

Like all lectures, you can take some things and leave some things untouched, but let me go through it.  I think that the coaching complete technical knowledge is expectations of every coach, research, read, understanding, have a really good comprehension and a model if you’re working.  And, in broad terms a system or a model to use and apply to your coaching.  Challenge it frequently, but have a model that includes all the technical knowledge that you can gain as an individual.  Coaching becomes more complex each year as you go on.  I don’t believe that complete technical knowledge is the reason that you separate good and great coaches, or successful and not so successful coaches.  I don’t think technical knowledge is what makes a winning coach.  It’s not what you do as a coach but it’s how you do it and how you have the athletes do it.  We listen to all the best workouts done by every swimmer in the world but they would be delivered differently if we were on decks delivering that same workout to a different group of athletes.  For this reason, I don’t believe that it is what you do; it is how you have your athletes do it that makes the difference.


Many a winning team has been built on the coach having incomplete technical knowledge.  I’ve seen situations where coaches have delivered awful workouts to their athletes but because the athletes really believes in the coach, believes in the program and had great conviction it was a success.  Just as important as having great technical knowledge is the ability of the coach to convict the athlete in what they are doing and how they are doing.  Just tell the athlete the dream and have them believe totally and I mean totally in what your delivering is the best way to go.  You have to read the athlete, see the athlete’s feelings, understand what the athlete is going through and sell the athlete he dream.  Live the dream that never lives in a dream.  It is important that you have the athlete understand the difference between reality and hope.  Hope is what everybody wants and it is usually what everybody believes they are heading for, but sometimes reality gets mixed up with hope.  You do not require a champion athlete to be a champion coach, there are great coaches who perhaps never receive the recognition that they deserve because just unfortunate for them they might be in an outpost or a different situation and great athletes don’t happen to come through their door, but as a coach when you get on in years and you look back and say “well, how good a job did I do with every athlete that trained with me”.  If you are going to judge yourself by looking and say did I get the best out of every athlete that I coached.  Did I coach athletes that came to me to their absolute maximum potential, and unfortunately, surprisingly, not always can you feel good about that.


I think that there are athletes we misjudge and misread and I think you only come to realize that as you get on in your years of coaching.  I have a belief that there are four phases of coaching the first 8 years for any given problem, you probably have one solution that has about a 50% chance of working.  The second 8 years of coaching for any given problem you have somewhere between 6 and 10 solutions all of which will work to different degrees.  Your third 8 years of coaching you don’t have any problems because you see them coming and you can knock them on the head before they get to you.  The fourth 8 years of coaching, which helps to speak my age, is you only create problems to teach people lessons.  I think that you can be a great coach without having a great athlete.  I think if you coach like a great coach it is inevitable that eventually you will find a great athlete and you will be better equipped to handle that athlete.  Coaches are responsible and accountable for every athlete in their care and their ability to maximize that athlete’s potential.  People, as coaches, you can never say “if”.  When you look back and evaluate you can’t say if the athlete had been more dedicated they could have won, if the athlete had come to more workouts they would have swam faster, if is the worst word in coaching, I hate the word if.  If Aunty had balls, she would have been my uncle.  I really don’t want that word if in my coaching category.


The coach must constantly, absolutely, and consistently have the athlete raise to the coaches level of expectation at any given point, time and any given workout rather than come down to the level the athlete is prepared to give.  Coaches sit and design their program at the start of the year and everybody that walks through the door tries to convince you to make your program softer, less demanding, less challenging, more compromise, etc. With everything that is going on in the world today, I find that the greatest challenge is on a daily basis.  One way or another we all have different skills in having the athlete live up to your standards of accepting what you feel is acceptable without compromise.  Compromise to me is something where two people agree on what neither of them want so you mine as well keep at least one party happy and I choose that party to be me.


In my experience, a great athlete has always desired success more than I.  The difference between good athletes and really great athletes is, the really great athlete has a greater desire and wanting for success then I, but the enthusiasm of the coach and the athlete must always be in parallel, it is no good if you’ve got a really, really enthusiastic coach and an athlete that is less than enthusiastic or visa versa, it never works.  The enthusiasm of the coach and the athlete must be equal in the partnership or problems will occur.  All great athletic performance; whether it is swimming or anything else, when you look at it, the coaches experience and background is always in advance of the athletes talent.  Whenever you have a talented athlete and the coach with experience down here, the athlete will come back to there.  The experience of the coach must always be ahead of the talent of the athlete to enable them to rise to their potential.  So, the challenge in coaching is you always have more experiences then the athletes of the coaches have challenged.  I think that is a difficult one to live to because you have to pursue opportunities and experience greatly.


I’ve stolen this from a guy in Canada named Istan Bailey, who I based a lot of my philosophies on; a swimming career is about learning the fundamentals, teaching the basis, getting all of the course skills right.  Train the basics and train the basics so they become ingrained, good habits.  Then trying to train, learning how to train for the purpose of training, being efficient.  Training to compete, training so that you can go and compete and the best form of training of course, is competition.  Then, of course training to win and I think you have to train all of those things, I don’t think that they happen naturally in every athlete.  Sometimes athletes happen naturally and by the grace of God, you’re fairly lucky and fortunate.  But, I find that you can’t rely on that as a coach you have to go and train those skills.  The things that you look at in an athlete and the things that I look at in an athlete is speed that is how fast the athlete can swim.  Efficiency, where you want speed with efficiency, speed without it, fitness and you can add fitness at any stage.  That is the work, demand the training demand the technical, you have to have an athlete with great technical skills.  There is nothing worse than to go to a competition and lose an event or a race, to have the athlete underachieve because they had a poor turn, finish, start or technique, so complete technical skills and technical skills being able to pace, being able to pace, have a change of pace and being efficient in doing that and that is physiological and you can say psychological so the psychological approach of the athlete, to be able to do all of the things above; under pressure, so they should say psychological instead of physiological.


In being able to do all of the above things under pressure, and that means that you’ve got to do the good workouts and to learn good teamwork, because that is the fun part of the program, and that is the part of the program that is going to hold the athlete up when they hit the hard times and the tough times and it is going to make the experience enjoyable.

Drills and biomechanics, I threw this one in and as you can see, I did it at the last minute.  Talk about biomechanics and how to evaluate and look for stroke technique and you can read all the laws of motion and you can read all the detailed information that is available today, but to simplify it and talk to athletes about it I have five rules, head down, hips up, minimize resistance, want to swim as often as possible with your head down and your tile up, minimize resistance, as soon as you have your head up, your hips are down, every time your head lifts or moves you have a reduction in position with the hip and the trunk.  So, the first rule how much of the event can you swim with your head down and your hips up.  Hips before head, in other words minimize resistance again, the hips rotate before the arms and the shoulders.  You can rotate shoulders but not necessarily trunk, so it always means that you try to minimize resistance by having the hips rotate before the hands apply pressure in breaststroke or in butterfly or rotate to the side laterally and bring it back.


The third one, pick up what you can’t feel, of course, that is teaching how to feel the water, and there is a million ways to do that.  I think the best way to do it is to go into the pool at night and turn off the pumps and filters and all the lights and have the swimmers, either blindfolded or just practicing sculling where you take away senses such as sight and hearing, leaving only feeling as the only sense that they have.  I think you have to be able to pick out what you cannot feel.  You have to feel and pick out the water; I think that is the hardest thing of all to teach.  I figure it’s teachable, it is always debatable whether that’s teachable or not.  I think it is.  The fourth biomechanical rule is most importantly everything you do being slow to fast, you learn something slow in order to do it fast, when you pull through the water you start out slowly and increase speed, you start off slowly and increase speed, no matter what you do, it is slow into fast.  Every single thing you do in swimming and learning has to be slow into fast and I think that is hard sometimes with young people who want to really go fast before they can go slow efficiently or feel the water before they can move themselves on using pressure on the water, and the other important one I think is fingers first, no matter what you do you all know that in freestyle it is important to have that high elbow forward of the shoulders and you pull back fingers first the fingers try to come back before the wrist or the elbow no matter what stroke it is, I really want the fingers pushing forward or pushing back, which ever it might be, first.


So there are my five basic rules of biomechanics that I look for when I evaluate a swimmer.  Following on from the fingers first one I also measure how little the elbows move.  I think its important to try and have the least amount of movement in the elbow, so if it is freestyle you don’t want the elbow having a wide range of movement, you want the least amount of movement through the elbow so try and keep the elbow as stationary as possible when you swim I think it is a good way of evaluating efficient technique.  I think the core stroke in all swimming is backstroke, I think if I was going to go back to my junior squad days I would be working on all swimmers doing backstroke, I just can’t think of how many swimmers, by looking at the Australian swimmers which I know better than anyone else, backstroke Todd Perkins, started his life as a backstroker, Ian Thorpe, Suzie O’Neil, all of them started out in life as backstrokers.  Teaching backstroke, you teach a straight-arm recovery, no shoulder injury, and no wrist; simple to learn you have breathing underneath situation you have no head movement.  You teach maximum trunk rotation you get your hand in the water in the right position and you teach the early feel of the water, I think backstroke is the key stroke that all young children should be taught first and should be taught to do efficiently and effectively as a background as an aerobic technical background, there is just so much evidence of great swimmers coming from a backstroke base.  I think junior squad and in particularly with distance swimmers, backstroke is the key.  Daniel Kowalski, Bran Hacket, Darren Berkins all came from a backstroke beginning.  There are many others, there are many others that have come from a backstroke base.


A couple of the coaches touched this yesterday, how do you have a swimmer go faster, what makes a swimmer go faster from one year to the next, well of course growth, but after maturation when they stop growing how to perform better.  One came with the same volume, in other words to maintain your volume but I like the distance swimmers to be the same volume of training, week in and week out.  I like them to go whatever the volume that they decide on is going to be necessary then I think you have to do it week in and week out.  If you decide that 60 kilometers is what you can handle and become efficient at and do it, then it is 60 kilometers 50 weeks a year, I don’t think you need to go above that or you should go below that, the less frequent the possible.  You should have, and become efficient in doing whether it is 50, 60, 70, or 80.


Most of our distance guys in Australia don’t do as much mileage as most people would think and they maintain standard volume across a long period of time.  Frequency of exposure to the spiracles is what makes efficiency and forces improvement.  So, you can train the same volume but faster, you can do it with more rest, and I think more rest works for males.  I doubt the value of short rest training and the extension of short rest training for males.  I question the value or the optimum value of short rest training for mile distance swimmers.  I don’t question it for female distance swimmers.   With less rest and what I’m saying is I would have after a basic period of short rest swimming I would look for the males to perform better with more rest and I think that you saw a set that Rick Bell put up yesterday 30 100’s on a basic 1:20, 1:30 or 1:40 and I think that is the sort of training that I would look for twice a week or three times a week for the mile distance swimmers.  With females of course, a higher intensity and less rest, what I’m saying is that I think this is the requirement for the male distance swimmers and female distance swimmers are extremely different.  I can’t explain why but I think that short rest work for females with high intensity could have great recovery skills and more committed to hard work and are more interested in doing the volume and the intensity.  With males, bigger bodies breakdown easier and short rest of varying values.  A certain amount of it is required, but, I think it has a limit to it’s potential.  Of course doing the same volume faster with the same rest, these are the choices that you make as a coach on a daily basis and you have to ask yourself are you making the right choice for that athlete at any given time.  Train more, do more volume with the same rest at the same speed increase the volume, do exactly what you are doing but do more of it, do less, do less volume but make it faster, in other words you get to the point where 60 kilometers a week has reached the spiracles for improvement and it’s going to make a difference, so then you do less, you might go a 50 but you say you got a average 1:06, or 1:05 or 1:04 where we in the past averaged 1:08.


The other one is improved technical skills and how much you can improve technically when you’ve been doing high volume, but I think that once you have been exposed and do the constant volumes in training, for about four years, then the chances of changing technically has great limitations.  I think you can make small limitations, small changes, but under pressure, they may revert back.  Improve the technical skills in the athlete when the athletes turns distance per stroke, stroke rating the girls increased may be less than the guys, and improve pacing skills, being able to swim at any pace.  Improve spiracles, doing something in your program that provides the different spiracles in adding some other activities, providing some incentive, the important thing is that you shouldn’t have to coach junior athletes you should have to provide a huge spiracles to your age group athletes, it means you’ve got nothing to offer your senior athlete, so having a different spiracles and improving the spiracles, don’t have the same thing in your workout, make each year that the athlete comes to your program have something different each year in the program for the different aged athlete, so that there is a new spiracles for them to look forward to, it is not the same old, same old.


Any of the combination of the above, anything that I have been through just before this or a combination of them are all be specifically stronger, I think strength is an extremely poor substitute for efficiency and I think it has limited value in distance swimming but some people need it.  It is like medicine if you have an athlete that is not strong you have to add that, but the greatest number of, especially female distance swimmers there is a limit of what strength will do and quite often you waste a lot of time in the gym that could be better spent in the water.  For males of course, the gym is vital, but it has to be specific and it has to have the right spiracles just being stronger isn’t the answer it has to have the right reaction and the right spiracles.  The recovery ability of the athlete, in my opinion, is far more important to the fiber type of the athlete.  Somewhat fiber people have the great ability to stay in long training sets in high demand and a lot of people can swim awful fast and it is not my opinion what the fiber type of the athlete is, it’s what the recovery ability of the athlete that determines how well and how hard you can train the athlete.  The only way to find that is to do reasonable high volumes, what did I say; high volumes, solid volumes of training, early and sometimes frequently to test the athlete out, to see how their stroke holds up, see how they recover.


The recovery ability of the athlete determines how hard and how persistently hard you can work the athlete, way more than the fiber type does.  How do you tell the recovery ability of the athlete, well you take 100 meters, 200 meters, 300 meters, 400 meters you can go to 300 if you want but you can only go to the 400, you can take the 100 meter and you can take a pre determined speed which would be the 100 time plus 20 seconds.  If your best time is 60 seconds, you can go 1:15 or you can go 1:20, or 1:10 you can pick a time to suit the athlete and then you have the athlete from 100 at that predetermined speed which might be 1:15 you do the stroke count which would be the same stroke count down and the same stroke count back, they shouldn’t bury their stroke count if you go out for efficient swimming and then you can take a heart.  So for instance if I’m training John over here and his best time is 160 seconds I will know that his individual checking speed is 1:15 at 54 strokes at 160 heart rate, and then we move to double the speed and go to the 200 where it will be 2:30 it will be 60 strokes by 2 and his heart rate should basically be the same if he is decently well trained and at the 300 there might be an increase in heart rate at a constant speed and a constant stroke count and at the 400 you will find a significant differential, if that differential is less than 6, chances are you’ve got a pretty good distance swimmer provided the stroke count doesn’t change and the efficiency of the athlete.  If it is above twelve, you’ve either got a poorly trained athlete or your looking at someone who is pretty slow at the endurance capability.  Imagine the heart rate differential, you probably can’t read that, I’ve questioned the energy systems.


I think the textbooks have lied to us and lied pretty significantly.  If you take a 50 meter effort at 15 beats below max and then 100 meters at 15 beats below max break away through to a 800 and 15 beats below max your using a different energy system, no matter what the book tells you, it isn’t the same, the text book will tell you that they’re all the same, but I think you’ve got to question and understand how the athlete reacts to that and what the demand of the athlete is in terms of, you can use anything here, you don’t have to use 15 below max, you can use 10 or 20 or 30 you will get the same results, you have the same heart rate demand at any given distance, you can change the distance, you can change the core on the energy system, but the text book don’t tell you.  Every training station should be practiced and executed at a pre-determined speed.  Efficiency energy system and evaluated accordingly, so when you go into a workout for each athlete you should say we are going to swim this workout at this speed, rather than wait and see what the athlete can give you, go in with a determined speed that you expect from the athlete, at a predetermined stroke, length of stroke rate, it will force you to coach a lot better, you will have to think about your coaching, I think your predicting what the athlete will do in advance, it doesn’t mean you’ll always be right, but if it means your always wrong they got training something else.  Measure it, control it and record it.  You’ve got to be measurable, controllable and recordable for you to have input.  If not all of those three things then use your influence you have over them.


I always believe that when coaching distance swimmers there are two values that you have to work on, when the athlete gets to about 13 or 14 if they are a female, then you are working 32 second 50’s, the athlete must be able to swim 32 seconds per 50 as often as possible with the least amount of effort, because that 16 minutes for a 1500 and that is 8:32 for an 800 and that is where you are looking for your distance girl to be headed, of course you want them to be better than that, so that is the worst case scenario that is a starting point.  So you might be starting off with the girl, with the female being able to do 6, 10, 12, 20 50’s going 32 seconds feet on the wall on a minute or minute ten, but your going to increase that, you’ve got to decrease the rest, you’ve got to make the decision that we talked about earlier and you’ve got to make the athlete be able to do 32 seconds 50’s as often as possible with the least amount of rest and then you have to extend the pace you’ve got to go 1:04 2:08’s and then you got to do the same with shorter rest for the girls.  For the males of course the value is 30 seconds that is 15 minutes for the 1500 so you want the young male to learn to be efficient at 30 seconds, so when the athlete is ready and that’s the art of coaching and there is no solid recipe for that and that’s what you have to work at, so it is important.  Great point volume for me is a volume of training that I think the athlete should achieve and around 40 years of age and for females I think it is about somewhere between 2200 and 2400 a year and for males it is about 900 hours of training with about 12 competitions a year and at least 60 percent of the volume be done in winter with less competitions and that is the same for males and females.  I think that the breakpoint value has to come about two years before the athlete’s major exams at school.  It doesn’t mean it has be 2400 kilometers of really tough hard work, it means they have to become efficient in swimming on a very frequent basis and a manner of volume of training so that they become, and the parents will all come down to you and say “oh my little Mary really gets tired on Thursday I’d like her to have Thursday and my answer to that is I want you to whip up to your local school and tell the headmaster the same story and ask them for the day off school on Friday whatever his or her answer is mine is exactly the same.  So, it’s important that you have a volume of training that the athlete becomes very efficient and becomes able to do it with a minimum amount of effort.


Maintaining quality with minimal effort is it over a short distance or a long distance is the key to improving athletic performance, because if you can’t do that you can’t take the next step.  I think and I believe in my heart that negative swim training is the only way to train young athletes.  Ask the negative the chances are you will get even splits.  But an even split training it has to be even split stroke down; you can’t have deteriorating strokes.  So I really support negative split training and those who have read my paper on distance swimming I’m a really strong supporter of double up.  There is 10 double ups or in other words when you say to the athlete I want you to get 32 seconds for 15 and I want you to hold that 500 where you go 100 or 200 whatever and I think double up are important provided you maintain efficiency in stroking.  While I’m saying doing the basic skills exceptionally well, always is preference in doing the exceptional skills basically well.  Don’t try and do the exceptional things until you can do the basic things.  To many of us try and jump ahead and do the exceptional things before we learn to do the basic things.  The same situation, the same statement really, skill acquisition never comes before skill perfection, don’t go on to learning the new skill until you’ve perfected the old one.  Don’t try to learn something in advance if you haven’t done the basic before it.  Don’t move in learning the new skill until you’ve perfected the old skill.  Certainly, I think that everybody lives with the fact that we have a lot of senior athletes who can’t do basic things.  Go to your senior athlete and stand them on the side of the pool and say to them I want you to swim a 50 meters freestyle and turn the pace and I want you to go 28 seconds in 28 strokes and see how many of your senior athletes can do it, go exactly 28 seconds in 28 strokes you would be lucky if you’ve got one or two that can do it.  They can’t do the basic things.  Then after they add breathing in make it complex, tell them identification, a lot to talk about identification.  Tell them identification is about putting a lot of young children together.  Ask them to do a real specific but only showing the one and seeing which athlete can learn that drill to perfection the quickest that’s how I identify talent.  Put a group of swimmers together, either show them a video of a drill or let them see another swimmer do the drill and O.K. we are going to try and learn that and see who is going to learn it the quickest and do it to 100 percent, remember 100 percent right is a 100 percent right, 99 percent right is 100 percent wrong, it has to be done to perfection, so talent identification and then the five by five teaching method which I strongly believe in, which is, you learn one skill that one skill you have to have five different ways to teach that skill, you have to have whatever skill you want whether it is exploding, you have to have five ways to teach the swimmer how to float.  You give them five tips to learn that method and you only spend five minutes on, after five by five by five.


I have a swimmer that plays basketball and I convinced a young coach in Australia that is way my inferior in basketball coaching and I asked him to do a clinic for me and he did and at the end of it he said what did you think bill, he was a sort of young guy, he was the captain of the basketball team, I said I thought it was lousy and I could see the look of disappointment on his face, I said you never spend enough time on any one drill to get it right and he sat down with me and he said well Bill, I want to talk to you and tell you the truth, something that you might like to consider.  He said today’s spiracles with young people whether they are over stimulated by computers, I want you to think about the fact that when you see someone any more than 5 times and after 2 or 3 times if they can’t do it they’ve given up and if they can do it after 2 or 3 times they are bored with it.


That is true, today’s spiracles with young people are over stimulated, instant gratification from computers, and you have to have many, many more ways in moving on and teaching.  So I think you have to have no matter what field you want to learn you have to have five different cut ways to teach it, no more then five intensity in each method and no more than five minutes on it, otherwise your athletes bore with it you’ve got to keep them moving.  Say you move to the next way, one athlete might learn it and two will take it this way and the next athlete might learn it five intense the other way.  Speed and effort, it comes back to talent again, every single training session and every single workout must be about identifying 90 percent effort is 100 percent speed.  Every single training session, when coaches ask an athlete for maximum effort I believe they lie to the athlete, when you ask for maximum effort I think that your asking for maximum speed and minimum effort, you want speed without effort and that requires distance swimmers as well, you want them to be able to swim fast without effort.  If it takes a lot of effort you can’t have it.  Every training session for me that I work with athletes, or if I look for athletes, I look for the athlete that can swim fast with little or no effort.  It is easy to add fitness, you can train fitness, and it is hard to train efficiency.  Anyone in the back can’t read that.


Efficiency always wins ahead of fitness.  Efficient swimmers always win ahead of fitness.  If you’ve got someone who’s efficient, they will win.  If you’ve got someone that is inefficient they will get beaten.  I’d like to say the very last thing.  So efficiency always wins ahead of fitness.  In any one training session, this goes back to what we spoke about before.  I like to use heart rates to determine and heart rates to record and measure speed, in other words I would say to an athlete, I want you to go 30 times or 40 times, 100 meters on 1:30 and I want you to do 15 beats below maximum and I would record the speed that they swim.  So in other words 40 100’s leaving everyone 40 calling 15 beats below maximum and I’m going to record the speed which I want 1:06 to 100 for an athlete.  33 down, 33 back, anytime they go 32 down, 34 back doesn’t count, 33 down, 33 back, it must be an even pace, if they don’t do it, it doesn’t count, if they change their stroke it doesn’t count, it has got to be 33 down, 33 back, 40 strokes down 40 strokes back, any time all the strokes isn’t the same of the speed isn’t the same, it doesn’t count.  Your recording of it and your acceptance of it and you average that out, so you have an athlete now that has gone 30 100’s or 40 100’s on 1:40 calling 1:06 with 40 strokes at 160 heart rate.  The next time we do the workout we change the spiracles for the athlete and for you as a coach, you say O.K. we are going 40 100’s and I want you to hold 1:06 going 33, 33 and we are going to record the heart rate we are going to see what the heart rate is and average that out, hopefully you’ll have gotten an improvement in the heart rate, instead of being 160 heart rate it might be 158 or 154, that is the spiracles of difference.  The third time you do it, you take your best average in terms of your time and your best average in terms of your heart rate and you say to the athlete I want you to improve either one.  So you’ve got an athlete now that has gone 40 100’s on 40 going 1:06 going 33,33 at a heart rate of 158.  So I tell the athlete I want you to hold that but improve it as you go through the step, you become more efficient in doing that set, so step three is the important one.


Step four for them to do an over distance performance based on that, whatever you recorded in those 2 sets of 40 100’s and measure improvement.  So it might be a T 2000 or a 2 3000 or a 1600 whatever you want to use, but you do it over distance swim to stimulate and measure improvement.  Step five is a specific test set, that is where you return to a 7 200 step test or a 10 200 step test and you see how the athlete can do a BRA a speed heart rate drop in the athlete, your fastest time you have it on deck and at any time the athlete swims, you know that at this speed the athlete should be doing this many strokes at this stroke rate and at this heart rate.  So I’ll have a graph on deck that tells me the swimmers max heart rate and it will have identified 10 speed or 7 or 8 speed and at anytime I can pick that up and fastest times and I can see that 34 second 50’s the athlete should be going within 10 beats maximum calling 34 strokes for a 50 that is on that graph.  That should be on deck constantly with the athlete and I certainly know that the teams I’ve been involved with that happens, you will certainly see the entire Australian team with that and the entire British team with that.  I think that is a really important tool for the coach to have, it’s a history of the swimmer, knowing their speed or their heart rate or even lactate and the stroke count and stroke rate identified on that speed.  Then of course, step, and return to step one and repeat the process sure again on about a fourth night and a three week invasive time to be better, but the spiracles must be different the first one is heart rate and before speed the second one is before speed determine heart rate before speed determine speed before heart rate than a combination of both in an over distance swim.  Improve only one skill at a time, too many times you see coaches trying to increase volume and intensity at the same time, if you want to get lost as a coach you’ll loose your athlete that is a good way of doing it, only work on one skill at a time, improve fitness, improve efficiency only work don’t ask the swimmer to go to faster with less grace from the previous work, you ask them to go faster and hold the rest the same next time you say O.K. you hold the speed you had before, only work on one spiracles at a time in order to get continuity of improvement, you can get maximum improvement very short but its how you sustain improvement over a long period of time, good is not enough, you got to make sure the swimmers understand that good is good but where you can go better is not good you have to demand the best of the athlete all the time, never ever compromise speed integrity of the workout never ever compromise the speed and integrity of the workout, change the spiracles of the workout to maintain the speed, if your going 40 100’s and you want 1:06’s and the athletes just can’t do it don’t say it’s O.K. to go 1:08 say well just go broken just do the last 10 100’s broken and still hold 33 don’t every in distance swimming compromise the integrity of the speed in the workout, maintain the speed, break it up go 4 25’s or 2 50’s or 75 and 25, but don’t lose the speed or the integrity of the speed in the workout (already begun on second side) because he tried to make it interesting with distance swimming so what he ended up with instead of a distance program his efforts to make interesting for the athletes he ended up with a medley program.  So I figure to try and do a different warm out at every single workout so 365 days a year two times a day you have to have a wide range of warm-ups because the variety for the athlete is in the warm-up not in the main set.


I’m going to write up, some of you are probably aware of this, when working with the speed for an athlete, and I think you have to work, even with distance swimmers speed how do you determine speed and the formula that we use for speed training is for 100 meter training, it is the BP 100 time minus 5 seconds divided by 4 for 25 or 5 20 meters, so if your best time for instance is 60 seconds minus 5 is 55 seconds over 4 means that you got to be working at 11 seconds 25s and any time that you ask an athlete to swim for speed training and they go slower than they are not doing speed training in my opinion.  They are doing aerobic endurance type training.  So that is the formula for 200’s its PB 200 time minus 10 seconds over 8 or 10 depending on whether you want to be 25 time or 20 meter time, so if the athlete was up to two minutes a 200 meter swimmer, you have the same time, so it is important to work on speed and I think that even with young distance athletes they have to do somewhere between 80 and 120 that repeats each week in their program at that speed or quicker but not slower.  Anything that is done slower shouldn’t be counted and if the athlete can’t do it you don’t count it as being done you stop workout and say well you’ll just come back and do it tomorrow at the end of the session, but the important thing is to be efficient and to be efficient at that speed and you don’t need to improve that speed until you do a PB but you probably need to do less strokes until you become more efficient at it.


For speed training for young distance athletes I think they need to do between 80 and 120 high velocity overload that is where they swim 20 or 25 meters at that formula speed if they swim slower than that it shouldn’t count it means you into the, even though it is 25 and it is done slower than that it is not speed training and what you are trying to train is speed and efficiency so you don’t want the swimmer to go much faster than 11 seconds what you want them to do is 11 seconds but with less effort, less strokes, easier, better tempo, better rhythm, better kick, so you always try and improve efficiency more than you are speed, speed will come as a result of efficiency, efficiency never comes as a result of speed, you can race as fast and as hard as you will become efficient, if you become efficient you will get speed.  I think that is the message that I probably try portray there, I don’t know how long I’ve been going but I’m going to open up for questions.  What sort of an interval? It would depend on an athlete, if it was a real young athlete you’ll probably only go 20/20 meter sprints on a meter, but you will get a feel for where they can, it is important to finish the repeat when they are doing not when they are not doing it, never train to failure.


Never train to failure, try and pick a point when they are going really well and then stop it, so they hop out or they finish then they’re feeling really good for a time.  Just by drills, but remember there is a million drills, but remember drills can be negative just as easy as they can be positive, unless a drill is linked to a pool stroke or it has constant supervision it can’t be a negative so make sure that you have drills and you can do any drill you like.  Just do a sculling out in front for freestyle so that is a freestyle sculling drill, high elbow, and want to do backstroke, you want to do butterfly, just remember if your doing butterfly the drill to change typically to a more butterfly action from an outwards and the hands go wider than the elbow coming narrow to the elbows and the elbows don’t move, or for breaststroke you do it this way, so your sculling specifically each stroke, butterfly, breaststroke, backstroke, in the back sorry I missed it, what for the 50, always go foot touch, I can tell you quite clearly that I was talking to a couple of coaches talking about that this morning, if you go back to the early part of my lecture you go right back to the early ones, women short rest, men long rest, there is a limit to short rest training for males, big people can’t hold up short rest, lose the spiracles and go through the motions, I believe quite emphatically that when we go back to the greatest female distance swimmers in the world, and I’m sure short rest sets for females the greater recovery, quicker recovery and I get closer and closer to the right speed, the Shelia’s can go much closer to race speed frequently then the males can.  Males can, but if they are going to swim distance probably lactate the movements afterwards, I could have put another one in their that you might find interesting, when you talk about the lactate removal sets, and the 30 100’s or the 40 100’s or the 10 2’s or the 21 50 whatever you want to do, the best time to lactate removal sets, you want to experiment, is to do them at the last effort of a swim meet, a mid season meet the athlete might stand up and go 1:55 200 free, immediately put them into the swim down pool and as quickly as possible and do a lactate removal set based off of that fast 200.


Using the last race in a mid season in the last event in a good season meet where you get a really hard swim on the 100 the rest of the training and you use that but for the Shelia’s definitely short race.  Is Peter back there?  Brooke is? It would be interesting to ask them how much short rest even though I know the answer.  I think that with the Sheila’s the short rest is very appropriate training for the guys I think it has limited value.  The question is do you come down or go up I think for the lactate removal set I think you have to start off 50 100’s on 1:20 for the males and when they get used to doing that and get efficient at it you move down to 45 100’s on 1:30’s and you expect them to hold a little faster and you come down to 40 100’s on 1:30, 1:40 and expect them to hold a hell of a lot faster.  You come down again.  I think if you go short intervals and move down to the lesser PB that is much higher.  I think you got to train males and females very differently, all of the girls are getting success at a much younger age than the male.  But I think that is just the condition of being older, it beats the hell out of them earlier, but I think that will change.  I think you need to train them differently I don’t think they can train the same.  I said it earlier in my lecture, the men respond and have a limited response to short rest training, especially the bigger more powerful guys.  The speed integrity of the workout over a long short rest set, with the added rest they can kick faster.  Girls come to maturation.  Yes, I would but a lot of researches say no, but I would personally, I would like to provided they don’t lose efficiency as soon as you start to lose technique or efficiency you got to come back to the basics here, the moment you lose efficiency of the athlete you got to come back to basics.  Anymore? There you go.



PowerPoint Presentation


Complete technical knowledge is an expectation of every coach. But that’s not what makes a winning Coach.


It’s not what you do but it’s how you have the Athlete do it.


Many a winning team has been built on the Coach having incomplete technical knowledge…


Having instead or as well as great communication skills and the ability to sell dreams.


Live the dream but never live in a dream


You do not require a champion Athlete to be a champion Coach.


The Coach is responsible and accountable for each and every Athlete in their care to maximise their individual and team potential.


The Coach must have the Athlete consistently rise to his or her level of expectation but never come down to what the Athlete is prepared to deliver at any given time.


In my experience the great Athlete has always desired success more than the Coach but the enthusiasm of the Athlete and the Coach to get the job done must be an equal partnership.


In all great athletic performance the experience of the Coach is always in advance of the Athlete’s talent.


Learn the fundamentals

Train the basics

Train to train

Train to compete

Train to win










Why? – How? To perform better

Train the same volume but faster

  1. With more rest
  2. With less rest
  3. With the same rest


Train more with the same rest and at the same speed

Do less but faster

Improve technical skills

Improve pacing skills

Improve stimulus

Do it better in smaller amounts but more frequently

Any combination of the above

Be specifically stronger


Energy Systems?????????

50m      at          15 BBM

100m    at          15 BBM

200m    at          15 BBM

400m    at          15 BBM

800m    at          15 BBM

1500     at          15 BBM

How does the textbook describe this?


Every practise should be executed at a pre determined speed, efficiency and energy system and evaluated accordingly.


Measure it!

Control it!

Record it!


Do the basic skills exceptionally well always in preference to doing the exceptional things basically well.


Skill acquisition never comes before skill perfection.


Talent identification


5 x 5 x 5 method


1 skill

5 different teaching methods

5 attempts at each method

5 minutes on each


Speed and effort

Identify 90% effort with a 100% speed and efficiency


In any one training session

Step 1.  Utilise heart rate to record and measure speed (average)


Step 2.  Utilise speed to record and measure heart rate/lactate (average)


Step 3.  Utilising both averages above and varying the volume or recovery seek improvement.


Step 4.  An over distance performance to stimulate and measure improvement    (or longer repeats in same type set)


Step 5.  A specific “test set”


Step 6.  Return to step 1 and work through again with improved performance    (efficiency and fitness)


Improve only one skill at a time


Good is not enough where and when better is possible.


Compromise is the cancer of achievement.



Bill Sweetenham’s Test Sets

For Age and Youth Level Swimmers



  1. Maximum Heart Rate Test


Test Set 3 Maximum Heart Rate devised by Dr Ralph Richards.


Warm Up

200m F/S build Thorn easy to moderate pace on 3:00

200m Rev IM on 3:30

8 x 50m Choice as 25K, 25sw RI 10

200m Main Stroke build to race pace on 3:30

l0 x 50m alt odds 15 explode then DPS, evens choice drill, all on 60


Test Set

200m increasing pace on each 50 to 200 pace.  Rest is and swimmers take HR’

2 x l00m Race pace RI 10 seconds. Target PB pills 5 or faster for each l00m.

(3 x 50m BR & FLY RJ 10 seconds)

400m recovery


* Coaches to extend the 2 x 100m further if BK & F/S swimmers not at maximum HR.

* BR & Fly to do 1 x 100 then follow this with the 3 x 50m.

9 HR will increase rapidly at the start if the exercise is of high intensity.

* It may take some swimmers 2-3 minutes to reach their maximum HR.

* HR will drop fast especially in well-trained swimmers if the intensity is reduced or they do broken effort swims.

* Achieving maximum speed is not the same as achieving maximum HW


Some notes on Maximum Heart Rate:

* Maximum Heart Rate is influenced by factors such as, the age, sex and genetic profiles of the athletes. (Boys tend to have maximum heart rates 5-10 beats lower than girls.)

* Resting Heart Rate levels can be influenced by adaptations to endurance training, health status and the state of fatigue of the swimmers.

* The difference between the resting and maximum heart rate is the range that the exercise is prescribed. If two swimmers are working at a rate of 160 beats per minute they can be working at different stress levels.


Example Only


Swimmer “A” Maximum Heart Rate =205

At 160 beats per minute they are working at 45 beats below their maximum heart rate.


Swimmer “B” Maximum Heart Rate = l?5

At 160 beats per minute they are working at 15 beats below their maximum heart rate.


These two swimmers probably have completely different resting heart rates and will also be working at very different values above their resting heart rates.


From the results of the maximum heart rate test the coach prescribe training sets at heart rate levels below the swimmers maximum.


Example Only


Swimmer “A” Maximum Heart Rate 205

At 30 beats below maximum heart rate they are working at 175 beats per minute.

Swimmer “B” Maximum Heart Rate 175

At 30 beats below maximum heart rate they are working at 145 beats per minute

Both swimmers are working at 30 beats below their maximum heart rate but have to hold very different levels.


– Administer this test every 2-3 months during the season and record the results.


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