Elite Athlete and Coach Development in Queensland, Australia by Scott Volkers (2007)


Thank you for being here. It is my pleasure to introduce Scott Volkers. You have already heard from the second half of the Queensland connection when you heard from Stephen Widmer. As Stephen told you, when he was backpacking across Australia, he stopped on Scott’s pool deck. Scott kidnapped him and forced him into indentured servitude as an assistant coach and it became an incredible partnership. Scott was one of the architects of the Australian Team in Sydney and the Dynamo Team. At the time he was producing world record holders as fast or faster than anybody in the world. I do want to give a little plug for something else that he produced at the time, which is a terrific stroke video set. It was on the ASCA website. I don’t know if we still have copies of it or not. You might want to check it out there. If it is not their it is still available on the ASCTA website which is the Australian Swimming Coaches and Teachers Association website. They are a terrific set of stroke videos. I know that we use them in our program. He said they are getting a bit old, but all that means is that they are just classics now. They are just great stroke videos from the ’97 through 2000 time of all of his world record holders back then. Maybe this should have been in order of having Scott go before Stephan. You are going to get to see the whole Queensland connection here. You will see the whole thinking of the modern day of Australian Swimming. You will see everything that they are doing down there that is so exciting and such a great challenge for us. Scott has really raised the bar in world swimming. It is my pleasure to introduce Scott Volkers.

Thank you. It is great to be here once again. It is amazing. I was here 11 years ago and I couldn’t even remember how I even got to San Diego, but it was a great experience and a well worthwhile journey. I think with all these Swimming Coach Clinics we see so many different speakers get up and so many different styles of coaching portrayed around the world. The one mighty important thing is what you are and what you deliver to your athletes each day on the pool deck; What type of person you are – how you think – how you motivate and how you deliver your program. There are a thousand different ways to do it. You just have to choose your way and make it the best you can be. The results will come.

I wanted to start today with basically letting you know, if you are not already there, that anything is possible. You have just got to find the way. In Queensland we have a great structure. Before I go into Queensland I thought I had better start with my background – my school badge – my faith in my learning. Stephen went through his academia and I thought I would go through mine just to, I guess show that you don’t have to be a rocket scientist to be a reasonable swimming coach. You have to have a certain number of ingredients to make up the right cake if you are going to deliver the goods. I do have and I always strived to have a PhD in success. That was all that I was after. Finding the route to that is the most important thing. There is a question that I thought I would put to you because over here in America some people have no idea where Queensland is or where Brisbane is. So, what strange city with a population of one million, has produced fourteen individual long course world record holders since Steven Holland, who was a young 1500 meter guy? The answer is Brisbane. Brisbane is in Queensland. Queensland is the state with the pointy bit on the top of Australia. It is a fairly big state. It is about close to 2,000 miles long and around 1500 miles wide. It comes to a point where there is a lot of crocodile’s bodies and stingers. Everything that can kill you is in Australia. You have to be a bit careful where you go. Brisbane is in Queensland. Someone said “is Brisbane in Sydney”? No, it is not. We have a very, very friendly rivalry between Queensland and New South Whales and Victoria. Maybe sometimes not even friendly. It is all about passion and desire to win. The athletes that make up some of the list off that team from Queensland – just so you have some idea who did come from this place are some of the greats of swimming – Wickham, Holland, Seven, Armstrong, Perkins, Riley, Hackett, O’Neill, Linton, Henry, Jones, Hugel, Edmundston, Shipper and a guy named Glen Houseman. Although he didn’t break a world record, he set the fastest state record in history with a 15:54, way back in about 1988 when he touched the wall and the pad didn’t go off. It was a world record, but he didn’t get it. Some of you may not remember that time. I thought he was worth a mention. So, the swimmers of Queensland and the success out of Queensland is phenomenal. Like I said, it is a fairly large state with an area of England being able to fit into it at least five times. It has a population of around three million. I could be a bit wrong there. It has a very hot, tropical climate. Hence, we have a huge number of backyard swimming pools. State primary schools have swimming pools throughout Brisbane and across the state. There is a great industry of learn-to-swim throughout the whole of the state.

Currently we are in the middle of our worst drought ever for such a tropical climate. It hasn’t rained in so long. I believe we just had about four days of rain, but our dam capacities are at 17%, which is pretty critical at this stage. So, we are a dry country where you cannot fill your swimming pools. I am not sure how our industry is going to go. I thought I would show you a couple of pictures of around our area so you have some picture of what suburbia was like in Queensland. This is my driveway. As I come up towards the house, this is looking out over the back yard from the side window.

I think Queensland is filled with passionate residents that have this attitude of “never say die”. Australian sayings, and I didn’t make these up are, “it ain’t over till it’s over” – “it ain’t over till the fat lady sings”, “it ain’t over till I see Santa Claus come down the chimney”, “never give a sucker an even break”. If you need translation, just put your hand up and I can probably help with any of those. I am sure you would know these ones. I think, more importantly, some of the other ones are “never underestimate a competitor”, but “never believe they can’t be beaten” is very important in our game. “Never underestimate your competitors” is very important. You want to go into a battle, which I think a lot international meets are, prepared and with respect for your competitors. If not, you will go in and may drop off 2% of effort and come out with a result that is not the one that you are after. Never feel idolized or be intimidated by your opposition. I think back to the early years on the National Team, my first ever team, which was 1992 Olympics in Barcelona. I remember the day we were all on the deck. Australian swimming was not quite at the forefront as what we are now. We were on the deck as a team and the American team came in. Generally speaking, the teams stood in awe of the Americans as they walked in. I think they idolized them. The change I have seen over the years is the difference in the team that now believes that they can equal anybody in the world. I feel that when Australia comes onto the pool deck we have some sort of front as well. You see the changes in different nations by their thinking. We have seen the Japanese change dramatically in their outlook or their attitude around the pool deck from a very quiet nation, reserved, into another front in world swimming. We have seen the Chinese change from 1994 in Rome. I think they have got some great athletes to work with. God help us if they get it all together and realize how good they could be. There are 260 Institute of Sports across the nation with live-in accommodation in sports facilities that pay $6.00 per week. Included is full room and board and training. There facilities are oldish, but they have a pool and that is what they need. They have a gym. If you think that we have seen the best of China, I think they could produce so much more.

What I think about attitude is if you can’t see a way forward, then you need to look harder. You need to find a way. There is a way there. There is no such thing as stagnating in swimming. If you do that, you are going to be left behind. The saying that I really like is “if you always do what you always did, then you will always get what you always got”. You need to keep changing, adopting. If you do this year’s program next year, you will end up at the same time, but the rest will have moved on. Be prepared to change. Be prepared to shift your thinking by up to about 20, 30% and be prepared to come up with some ideas; new ideas and test them out. If you go back to where you started, I don’t think you would probably want to have those results on the board. I know I wouldn’t. I think, accept all challenges, rise to all occasions, admit defeat, but hate it, always question the past, but be prepared to right the future. Probably because of my huge academic background, I didn’t read the books, the ones that you are supposed to read to coach. I thought it was more important to write my own books in my head. I wanted to look at technique, the way I thought it was supposed to be done. By looking at the athlete I wanted to see how they needed to be trained, what percentage of effort they needed to go, whether they could go harder, what their mental state was, their thinking. All that is way more important than what is written in a book.

Get the scientists onboard. The ones who want to read out of a book are not much use to you. They know the knowledge. We need to get practical. Find a new way by the getting the best team around you to put the whole picture together to come up with the end result. There is a way out there. We just need to keep looking for it. Think outside the square. I have heard it in a couple of lectures already here this week and I think it is very important. Just keep on dreaming. Always get out there in your head. Let yourself dream once a day for just 24 seconds. I remember in the old days having two jobs, training to do triathlon and coaching flat out. I was rubbing down calves in the middle of the day and thinking about what I was going to do, to give the athletes in the afternoon, just what was it going to be. You have got to give your best to get the best back. Have belief in yourself, but more importantly, instill belief in others. Excuses are easy to find, but answers may take a little longer.

I think it is extremely important. When you have a bad meet and walk away and your athletes have swum badly it is way too easy to blame an athlete. You have to take on the blame yourself and look to see where you stuffed up. You could simply walk away exclaiming, those damn athletes, they are useless. You have the power to create or destroy a great athlete. I believe the coach is the #1 ingredient in any sport. We can all make mistakes. We just have to be very careful in what we do. So, when we leave that competition, I think it is far healthier to walk away and say, well where could I have done better. What do I need to adjust to see that that doesn’t happen again? Looking at yourself is a very important part.

I thought at this stage, because I have been talking about it, I would read you a poem. I hate reading, but I like the poem. I liked it so much that back in 2000 I added three verses to it myself. It is about a guy on death row who is waiting to be executed. He looks at himself. I think it is a great poem. Lets see if I can read it. It is called “The Man in the Mirror”.

When you get what you want in your struggle for self and the world makes you King for a Day – then go to the mirror and look at yourself and see what the man has to say. When you look into the eyes of the man who is king and ask him to show you the way – if you are honest and strong and you have done everything – then the man in the mirror is okay. For isn’t a man’s father, mother or wife, whose judgment upon him must pass? The fellow whose verdict counts most in his life, is the man staring back from the glass. He is the fellow to please – never mind all the rest – for he is with you clear up to the end when you have passed your most dangerous and difficult test – if the man in the glass is your friend. Don’t try to compete with the man with the crown. Don’t say that you couldn’t care less. Don’t go into battle and leave with a frown, as victory only comes from your best. When you gone it alone and you have stood there and fought – where there is no place that you can hide. You have had all life’s lessons and you know all that’s been taught – then it is left up to you and your pride. You can fool the whole world down the pathway of use and get pats on the back as you pass, but your final reward will be heartache and tears if you have cheated the man in the glass.

I think it is a great poem to reflect on. We go back and look at ourselves and keep searching and looking for better ways into the future. Another thing about Queensland is we are always ready. We are alert and ready to go. We live on the edge. We are willing to pay the price. I think it is extremely important to be a coach that is willing to pay the price, to go at it that hard that it is going to cost you.

We had a great strength and conditioning coach come and talk to us in the Queensland Academy of Sport. His statement is fairly true. It may not be true for all of us. We have varying beliefs of this, but it usually comes to the surface. Basically, if your home life is not stuffed you are not coaching hard enough. We had to decide whether that was true or not. In a lot of cases it is not, which is great, but there is a cost. You miss your kid’s birthday. You miss your wife’s birthday, your anniversaries and so forth. It comes at some sort of cost, but what a fantastic career and path that we have in front of us. We get to see the world and to get our athletes to rise to great heights, to feel the passion and the feelings inside your body come to the top. It is just great. I believe Queensland coaches are the main ingredient over the years to why we have been successful. Some great coaches and some great athletes, this is what we are after, the final result being the gold medals, the joy of winning, compared to the agony of defeat. Queensland coaches have coached world record breakers and Olympic champions, back to our first one being Arthur Quezack. He is a great name in swimming in Australia. His nephew I think he is Simon Quezack who now coaches the 15 year old that goes 24.4 for the 50 freestyle. Arthur coached back to back Olympic champions in Dr. David Field in the 100 backstroke. Obviously, everyone would know Bill Sweetenham. He coached Tracy Wickham. I think as well Laury coached world records and world championships. Larry Lawrence, the passionate, the crazy. There are many words that describe Larry, but he had people that would follow him, would go through walls for him, motivating. He would bring athletes to their very best, John Seven, Duncan Armstrong, Johnny Carew, a face you remember. Johnny has just had a stroke. He is recovering in the hospital and hopefully to full recovery. He coached the great Karen Perkins. He coached him from a 20 meter pool in winter time and a 50 meter pool in summer that was not heated in the early day.

Brisbane was our great town. Until about 1990, it had one 50 meter pool in winter and the results still came. The great Joe King coached Lewis to a World Championship and the same bloke had Sam and Suzy. Dennis Cotrill on the Gold Coast with Grant Hackett was fantastic along with Gion Rooney who was also a world champion. Shannon Rollison is now a head coach at the Australian Institute of Sport. She coached Jody Henry. Ken Wood, I’m not sure if we want to look forward to wanting to be like Ken. This guy is so passionate about swimming. He is 78 I believe and still coaching full on and producing world record holders. I don’t know if we want to look forward to that or we say we don’t want to be part of it. This guy, he lives for swimming. You can see the list of great athletes that he has had. Stephen now has come in with Libby and Liesel. We know Stephen and Michael Ball with two world champions in open water swimming as well as now Stephenie Rice.

In Queensland we have our top squad as the target squad. The QAS has a decentralized program where we have 11 high performance coaches that produce swimmers that can make it onto our target squad team. To get in a target squad team we had to come up with a criteria. The criteria is set by the results of the National Championships over an average of the last four years. It is 3rd place finish. This means someone who could make a PAN-PAC team, Commonwealth Games Team. It is 3rd place in all strokes, except for the 100 and 200 freestyle which is 6th place. Then we come up with those times averaged over four years. They vary. They get harder and harder as we come up to Olympic years. You can see there, to make our target squad for a free mile as Stephen spoke about is 24.98. It is fairly tough to get any funding in Queensland. The hundred free is 55:97. That is not too bad. Two minutes point 1, but pretty tough times when you are talking about just only club programs. All of our programs are individual, except for Stephen’s which is an academy program, but that doesn’t mean that the swimmers get very special treatment. They still pay coaching fees and they still have to pay for a lot of their competition and so forth. If any of those swimmers don’t make these times, then they do not get any funding. That is the way it works. We believe in results and reward for competition results. If you do it you are in, if you don’t do it within a year, you are out. You have twelve months to post a second time to make sure you stay in for another twelve months. Some of them are getting softer because we have had Ian Thorpe drop out and so forth. I know that the 200 freestyle is at 1:50.0 for the men and 50.2 for the 100. These times are calculated out each year and we post them on the website, the Queensland Swimming website. We use them as targets for the athletes in front. They do not get a QAS track suit until they make these times. They do not get assistance, like I said, until they make them.

Now the second squad down is the Gold Squad. It is based on what used to be on 850 international point score. I think it might be 850 FINA points, but it used to be 900 international point score. It is done on the 850 point score. That is a time that Australian Swimming sets for international travel. Once that is set down these people can travel for development. They don’t get a real lot except for a bit of sports science testing in with their program or selected and development tours. We have 28 people in Brisbane basically, Brisbane and the coast area, that have made these target times. That is taking into account that we just lost Karen Perkins – sorry – Grant Hackett and Liesel Jones to Victoria. A few years back we lost about four of our target club swimmers. They went down to the IAS. We just keep producing over and over again. The only way that happens is through the coaching in Queensland. High performance incentives are then set up with our 12 coaches. I am hoping you can read those down there: Stephen Widmer, Ken Wood, Dennis Cottril, Michael Ball, Simon Cusiack, Matt Brown, who is with us here. Matt coaches Emily Seabon. She was 14 year old, maybe 15 now, backstroker who swam 60.5. She is coming after Natalie and the others, and doing a great job. Brian Steer, Glen Baker, Rick Van der Zant, Peter Cottril, John Rodgers and Don Watson Brown who is here in the open water program. The list of swimmers for each coach is put up there.

A couple of coaching philosophies is to make sure you are passionate every day you step on the deck. Expect and demand excellence. Set goals. Set your goal and post for your squadron and ensure that they remain in place. It is incredible. I get to travel around all of the programs, all of the high performance programs. When going to do a lot of clinics for the junior programs in Queensland you see the different coaching methods when you walk into each pool. What is important to one coach is not important to the next and back again for the third one, but there are certain things that the great coaches do. They command the team. They command respect. They expect a lot and they usually get it. There is nothing better than walking into a program and seeing a squad of juniors all like kicking really well or stroking well with a great kick, with the coach not having to bellow at them. They know what the rules are and they stick by them. I think that is one of the most important things to have on your team, creating a competitive culture. I think Stephen touched on that one, creating self-belief in your athletes and exuding self-belief. I call up and tell the coaches; what are the swimmers going to think if you walk into a meet and you look like you don’t really know how they are going to go today? If you look like I am not sure if you can do this but we will try hard? It is not going to instill the greatest of confidence in the athlete. So keep yourself up, keep yourself together under pressure. It is very important to be able to handle that.

Work on technical development. In my opinion, that is the worst area we have in swimming across the world. Don’t make any apologies for that. I don’t think everybody knows how to swim and that includes me. I think that the more we know, the more we need to know, the more we need to keep striving to find different ways. That is what I do. I try to develop more and more on the technical side of swimming. Don Talbott used to say that you don’t know enough about this. I am not sure he knew that much about it, but he kept telling me that he didn’t know so he had to keep studying or learning or striving to achieve more knowledge. I have put it to a lot of people, a lot of coaches, that if you can stand up and spend two to three hours in front of an audience and tell them about one stroke, then you might be going okay. If you can do it in two minutes or five minutes or ten minutes or half an hour, then we need to know more. A lot goes on in swimming and we need to keep on trying to find out how it works and what makes it better.

We have heard a lot of things on different strokes. I might even say a couple of things about my thinking at the end of the lecture and show you some other stuff. You might have 4 freestyles instead of 3 freestyles. That would be interesting. We can get up to half a dozen and we can totally confuse them all. Train like you race. If someone was to ask me what happens in Queensland compared to a lot of places, why do we go well? Across the board I think we train like we race. I have been pushing that for about 16 years in Queensland, about speed. Speed is important. Speed is the most important thing now. If you do not have speed you are in the wrong event. Look at Grant Hackett. He goes 49 for a hundred freestyle and he is going to swim 1500. If your best is 53, you are a little bit behind on the first lap. Then he can’t hang with any one of the toughest guys around. Grant goes up and down with his health. That doesn’t mean he can’t be beaten. Obviously he can from the last World Championships. If you go to the great 100 meter people, they are very fast now. I don’t think there is any room for someone who is not quick. Develop speed and make sure your athlete has got plenty of it and then you can work on the back end or the pacing. I think that is what we do.

All coaches do not coach the same by the way. We have got endurance programs and we have got mid-distance programs. Johnny Rodgers who coaches Leif Brody and Brawny Burke, went 4:05 for the 400 the other day. He has got an endurance program, but he still works on speed. Michael Bowl with his 25 10K swimmers, he still works on speed. He has got Stephen in the 200 IM and 400 IM and Nicholas Springer who is coming back in the 200 and 400 freestyle. Down to Stephen’s swims, the intensities are incredible. It is amazing what an athlete can take. Make them smile. It is very important. It was my #1 criteria to come into my squad. If you couldn’t wear a smile, I didn’t want to train you. I didn’t want to be dragged down by anybody. I didn’t expect myself or my personality to drag anyone else down. I thought it was a fair enough thing to ask that people smile. If they weren’t smiling when they walked in at 5 in the morning, I would make them smile. I remember one Christmas, probably the only present I ever got, I got a present from Suzy O’Neill. It was a glass, a mug. I opened it up and it had Mr. Smiley on it. I thought that was a pretty good compliment. She stopped giving presents after that. I might have changed.

Show no fear. This is the development program of Queensland Swimming. Work on recognition, education and development. Start at the bottom and work up. They just introduced a junior excellence program from 9-13 year olds. We have 3,000 children in that program where they receive a cap that has printed on it which level they have achieved. They are trying to get out to as many and target as many swimmers as possible. The difference we have in Australia is very limited numbers. I think we have, I am not sure if it is 25,000 or 45,000 swimmers in the whole of the state. We can’t afford to let any slip through the net so we have got to make sure that we develop and hold onto as many swimmers as possible. We don’t have numbers to burn.

Here we go to a junior development squad where we target 300 people. Now here is the bronze squad, which would be national age group finalists. There are 60 of those. Silver squad consist of national age group medallists or national age group and the Gold squad would be the National age group champions. Then we go into dolphins and target squad swimmer. The dolphins is the National program and target squad is our program of 28 swimmers. So, we try and cover a large number of kids for what we have got.

Reward them and reward the coaches. Bring the coaches in on clinics and have the kids as well so that they are rewarded. We have worked on a system where we are trying to push coach recognition. If Australia could learn something from America, it is definitely in the area of how you as coaches are treated. You are treated so far above the average coach in Australia. It is not funny and is great to see. We come over here to a meet and you say, what do you coaches want. We go what? What did they just ask? What do you coaches want? We don’t get a look-in over there. We just did the new Queensland Academy of Sport video which told you all about the new gym and the new center and the great sport science department. It went through that new hydrotherapy recovery center that they are building. It showed all of this and went through the whole thing and did not mention the coaches. That is except for the last sentence where they had all the staff members in it and then they said that it is athlete centered and coach driven and that was it. I had a few words to say just after that. I let them know that they should not forget the coaches the next time. I think we have got to be pressing forward with that so we are not forgotten.

I don’t know if you can see the picture there. For those who haven’t been there or seen anything of it, that mess in the background, that is where you will be. The opening ceremony is in Beijing in that building. That is how it looks. That is the birds nest. We went there on a QAS tour of development kids to try and get them ready for Beijing Olympics and took coaches who had done two tours into China as Queensland. My job, head coach, is to provide leadership, design and coordinate the program, gather funding from different sources, Australia Swimming, Queensland Swimming. The government in Queensland pools together and distribute funds to the high performance coaches so that they can work out where they need to put their funding; whether it be into camps, accommodations, competitions and so forth. I have to get the funds, which is great. I work with a National Sporting Organization whose goal is to provide education and guidance to coaches. It is for those who want it. We install and coordinate support staff and keep them thinking. I think that is an important thing, to make sure as coaches that you lead your team. Don’t just think that they are doing their job.

If you have a support staff team, keep questioning them. Just because they are the ones that have got the letters behind their name does not mean that they are thinking the same way as a coach. Coaches are different. We are thinking all the time about what can we do better? They are just doing their job, a lot of the others. Find people that think like a coach. You are going to get a lot better results. Keep throwing it at them, what about this? What can we do better? Never think that they are doing their job. Make sure they are doing their job. Generate a winning attitude between your coaches and support staff. Investigate and initiate leading edge technology. Encourage resource sharing and try to keep Queensland #1.

I think one of the most important things in Queensland we have is coach information sharing. I have tried to foster this for the last ten years by getting coaches to room together at Nationals, work together and come in for workshops and give ideas to each other. Do not be scared to give whatever you have got. It is no secret. It is just different to what someone else is doing. No one can deliver your program like you. As Stephen found out when as soon as he walked on the pool deck and I gave him my log book. I didn’t know him from a bar of soap. It is open the whole time and that went for my whole career. I figured if someone was interested they should have any information that they can get a hold of. I think if everyone works like that the sport will be the one that is successful.

Our support staff consisted of two physiotherapists, two physiologists, one full time and one part time, two biomechanics, both part-time, two doctors whom are only used for trips. We took them into China for obvious reasons. Two go to Nationals to make sure that the health of their team is put first. We probably led the way in taking doctors there and staff to different National Championships. I personally don’t take them, but actually pay them. I use a lot of our budget towards things that can make a difference to the outcome, rather than just saying, well lets go and do it on a camp or a trip. I guide that. A dietician. I just want the dieticians to keep to one track. I remember back in my day, we used to take Glucodin tablets before you raced or you had a big steak before you raced. I always challenge them – hang on a minute – are you telling me this is right now? Because you used to tell me that it was steak and you used to tell me this. So just make sure you are right. Always put them on notice. Five physiotherapists. I think Australia leads the way in the world in physiotherapists. I could be wrong, but I know that change with us about 10-12 years ago. They were pretty ordinary. They used to use machines. I tell my kids if you walk into a physiotherapist and they put a machine on you, walk back out again and don’t bother going back. You have got to be using the hands and go through a lot of pain. Three massage therapists and one strength and conditioning guy is our support staff.

Coach education and fast tracking like we do, we have a mentor program through Swimming Queensland and ASCA Queensland where we put coaches in with our leading coaches to try and fast track them as much as possible on a short term basis. Developing Coach Program: I will run workshops and invite 25 coaches that can drive to Brisbane within a two hour time zone to come in. We just talk coaching and share and give information to each other. Overseas tours and development: we work there trying to put things in place. We did the US West Coast tour last year putting programs in place that were here for education so when we get to a National Team our coaches and athletes are ready. They are not wondering what they are going to have to do. They know what the have to do. It is a learning curve. There is nothing worse than being caught out and not ready for the situation you are being thrown into. It is all about learning what happens there. Interstate is the same thing. We took a group of coaches to the World Championships just so we could sit and watch together. Once again they can learn what it will be like when they are there, what to expect, what goes on. Assistant Coach Program: we put the QAS money into assistant coaches not only to develop the assistant coach but to help out the head coach. It is not a lot of money, but we do it. Poolside assistance and coach information and sharing. Now here we have target scored entitlements, physio-pool deck screening, physio-massage treatment during competition, medical screening, site screening, sports medicine program visits for the sports medicine guys to come. Strength and conditioning, competition expenses, international travel, athlete career education. I am sure they have that in all the universities or probably everyone has a lot of this stuff, but this is what we get, head coach contact, training camp allocations, equipment. The coach can decide if he needs a new video, a screen, a replay system, training aides, so they can decide on what they use their funding for.

Technology, we try to push the boundaries and try and find out different things. I know that you may have all seen this type of technology. I know Jaunty Skinner is working with this or very similar to this anyway. This is what we call our REX machine. REX, you wont get it, but REX is simple. It is a fishing line device with a fishing reel on top with a line coming out that measures every centimeter that it travels in velocity. We overlay it with video. The reason it is called a REX machine is because he is the big fishing guy on TV, Rex Hunt. We call it a REX machine instead of a speed probe 2000 or something like that. It just doesn’t sound as exciting. What you see, what comes up on the screen, is the velocity graph on the bottom. You can zoom in velocity on the right hand side of the top there and an under water video or above water, depending on what you want to do with it. When I said before about pushing your staff, I keep saying, well what about the videos now? I want front on and side on at the same time. I want front on and side on and above at the same time. We want to cover dives…oh you can’t do dives? Just don’t accept things just because it is difficult.

I remember way back in 1994 we were working on race data. I put a graph of this, fixed it, and the only answer I got was “oh, maybe the dot is wrong”. Maybe it could have been entered wrong. These are the answers you can get, instead of lets look into it, lets find out the why. Why is that so? So I said stop. I will go and do it myself and that is what I did. So keep questioning, keep making sure. From these videos we can learn. See that white dot in the middle? That is the velocity at that part of the stroke. We can go through that frame by frame and check out to see. After a while of looking at it you can see every kick, what is propulsive, where the main drag is compared to the velocity increase and so forth or decrease. You can see that the very bottom, the lowest point of the white squiggly lines is a breath. So straight away you can see that when this athlete breathes it is obviously the lowest point. It is the most velocity drop. So straight away, lets try and make that better. Lets try because that is one breath to there. It is the lowest so what happens in an event where you are going to take 20 breaths? 30 breaths? If you are dropping off that quickly on every one of them, then you are going to have a much slower time than possible. Obviously, if we could get this line to be very straight and high, it has got to be pretty damn good, but it doesn’t quite work like that.

This is the breaststroke one. You can see it there. I think one of the coaches talked about decrease in velocity and minimizing decrease in velocity. You can see the low point there. It is obviously in that position. That is where the most drag is created. Creating the least amount of drag is most important. In some athletes you will see that the velocity drops way down to .2 and .3 of a meter per second when they are in this position. Their body position, recovery and getting ready for the power phase is very important. This one shows the arm velocity that may increase the main power phase of the arms. We see that through a lot of the work. I believe that around 45 degree angles, don’t take that as exact, but around 45 degree angles are our power angles and are most important for creating the most propulsion forward at any time. You can see what happens from that point on, which is interesting to see a huge decrease in velocity straight away. So in breaststroke from here to here, that is it as far as propulsion goes. It is finished here. The rest is on the slide so obviously we want to make sure that we are ready to propel from the very front point of the stroke, from here. Once we get into that position, from there to there, it is a short period before we start to go slower. So every hand angle, every position in the starting catch position is extremely important.

This is a backstroke one showing the body position being very flat. This is different to a lot of people you will see. Just this one video does not mean that everyone swims like this. Great power position in my opinion comes from the hips and not from the arms. If the hips are flat, you don’t get any power. Here you can see the backstroke under water kicks. You can see that the angle is created by the feet. You can measure those. They seem to be also when you are getting your major propulsion and you get your 45 degree angles. So here you have video analysis. I try and look through the video. I take a little camera along and try to find certain things. I see that all the best athletes around the world are still doing so many things wrong.

When you look under water it is incredible. This girl swims 4:05 for a 400 and pushes off and her arm goes straight to the side on her takeoff. Her eyes are looking forward. You cannot get much more basic than that. When you add up her 400 meter freestyle turn, she loses three seconds on turns. As a coach, what are we doing? What do we do about it? That is not that simple by the way. It is difficult, very difficult. To make it a little bit better, obviously, this sort of thing all adds up over a long period of time. Every little thing very is important. Here is a girl that swam 8:13 for the short course meters 800 on 8/13 the other day. You could not get a much worse position than that. You see there by the hip rotation, going off the line and the legs dragging out the side and the arm having to balance it like an outrigger canoe creates the lowest form of propulsion in that part of the stroke. It is not easy to change. What is more important is to not let it happen in the first place. There is no way she can create a lot of power in that position. This left arm should be ready to work, but it is nowhere near in a strong body position to work. This one shows a lot more, a lot straighter and a lot stronger position. It shows good power position, ready to produce power right from the onset after the catch of the arm stroke. In the catch position you see a flat body position and the power is engaged. I believe it is very important that in the bottom picture to be ready and be in a power position when your hand has reached position which in all strokes is here. We learned this is non-propulsive from here to here. From thereon is where you need to be ready. You need to be engaged. It doesn’t matter what stroke you are talking about. It is the same thing. If your body is not connected to that point, you won’t transfer forward. It is very important. Just keep looking through videos looking for little things. The bottom picture is showing a nice flat body position with a very strong catch and early connection in the stroke.

The top one I found is a girl that is a Commonwealth Champion. She is traveling in backstroke with her hand through the water this way. It is incredible to see it. I nearly couldn’t believe it myself. I got so excited I started to ring people to tell them – look – I have found this – lets have a look at this and implemented it that afternoon in training. We made a change and of course three laps later she was exhausted by it. That is because any change an athlete makes comes at a cost. There is so much more muscle recruitment needed to hold that position that they become tired. You notice an athlete does anything other than swim up and down. They become tired very easily because it is a different sport. It is a different angle. Anything different will hurt them so just be careful of that. Anyway, that was one of the most exciting days I have had for a while – see – I don’t live a very exciting life.

I just try and give a report. I will give a report like this. This is what we are developing at the moment. I try to give something back to the coaches as quickly as possible because not everyone can have this machine running at once. If you look on the graph there you will see after the first lot of squiggly lines there is a straight line. That shows the backstroke kicking phase after the butterfly kick. You see it decelerating for a long period of time, then accelerating when she starts to swim. Well obviously, there is too much deceleration there. The coach wanted to look at that. We changed that after another couple of trials to get that better by changing the amount of backstroke kicks after the fly kicks. So you can have the best athletes in the world and make adjustments. You just don’t want to hear, as a coach, ah they do it this way and they are good already so we better leave it that way.

I remember one of the greatest moments I think I had in my coaching career was when I came home from the World Championships with Suzy. She had won the World Championships and I said, I think we will change your stroke to do this and this and this. There was not one utterance of any objection. Hey, I am the World Champion. I don’t need to change it. When I looked back at that a long time later, I think that was incredible for an athlete that has that much trust to be able to change their stroke after winning a World Championship.

This is where I am pushing the envelope. I told them for two years that I wanted dives. Finally he started to get some. I go; well maybe you can see something in these. All he wanted to tell me was about are the angle of the string, the mathematical equations with the drop and the. I said oh look, I don’t want to hear that. I might be able to see something. I just want you to do it for me. When we got some of the footage they stared to say; oh well maybe you were right. I hate being right all the time. So this is just a few things they are working on.

This guy swims 48.9. This other guy has no momentum. He can’t dive and he can’t travel under water. The bottom picture there I think shows the body alignment that creates that. This is what I work with, with juniors, and this is what creates the problem. Anyone who is like the guy on the right can’t travel underwater, can’t dive. It is simple. You need to be like the guy on the left. We have our race analysis videos. We would study people from around the world. This kid is just an example. We just pull up out of the database to see what he has done his last five races. We have the analysis. I am not sure if America has all this stuff. We have that for every race, every stroke rate, split time and so forth. This is a the national program now, Queensland developed it and now it is a nationwide program with turn times and so forth so that we can compare things.

If what we want to do is compare Lisel Jones against Jessica Hardy we pull that up and compare the two athletes to see what the comparison is between the way they swim their races. It is a great tool for educating young people on how to swim races and so forth. We use the breakdown, their data to see where the differences are. Comparisons 4 and 5 are Jessica’s and the others. That is just one example I thought I would put up for you. That is the comparison race reports.

A new thing, well its not that new, but its what we are trying to work on is across the world side. This is just an analysis of the 100 meter freestyle race of Libby Linton’s, Stephen and Coughlin with their race results, their race data and how they compare with who has strengths in which area and so forth. One of the interesting things I think I saw was when I was looking at this data of Libby Linton’s 52.99 versus her 53.40. When you look at the split times you see 11.65 in the so-called drag race and the 11.68 very close together, 25.26 compared to 25.38, 38.8 against 38.8, 52.99 against 53.99. I would have thought that if you were getting drag you would get it in the first and not in the last 25. That was an interesting thing. Stroke counts; there is a much higher stroke count in that race. Here we see different stroke counts from different people and their distances per stroke. That is the stuff we are trying to work on now to get that across the board. We want to find out how the world does it, put it together and give it to our coaches. We have started that. We have speed charts, but Stephen spoke about those. It is a great thing developed by Tim Kerrason. Stephen has done some more on that. It is a really great training aide on getting coaches to have a goal time and then how to achieve that goal time, very important.

This is just a nothing put together as a tool for the coaches to use on Olympic Gold and Silver and Bronze, what it took compared to our target times. How if you swim a target time what sort of level swimmer you are. It shows some of our athletes where they compare against Olympic Gold, Silver and Bronze medallists.

Finally, this is an interesting one, skin fold versus weight. It is an old one. That is the one I used. What it showed is the red line being the skin fold and the blue line being the weights or the other way around. Yeah, sorry, it is the other way around. When the blue line went below the red line it showed that an athlete’s skin fold was a lower number than their weight. In other words, if someone was 60 kilos and their skin fold was 60, they had a power to weight ratio in the simplified version of 1 – 1:1. If you think that is safe for a female, this is Suzy O’Neill. When the skin fold becomes lower than the weight it just so happens that from 99 onwards it stayed that way. It is when she went to PAN-PAC’s and did great swims and broke the world record at the trials and Olympic Games. So through that whole period she swam at her best and through the other stages she was up and down. When the blue line came back in line that is when she also swam. That I think was interesting.

If you look at a male who is 90 kilos and his skin fold is 45, he has a 1:2 ratio. The strength is obviously high. That is just a simplified version. It is no big scientific thing. It is just something I found out and tried to get the scientists to put in place. We have a psychology program that works with everybody. I am going to flick through this. I will just go to this graph. It affects the pre-race variables on race performance. This is the latest graph we are working on. If you read it like a clock, the switch off and the things are there on the side and so forth. It is interesting to see where people’s heads are compared to the end result. It is just another tool we are trying to maximize performance across every one of our swimmers so that we get as many good ones as possible. It is just another interesting thing that we are doing.

Now regarding international tours, taking people away into the English National short course, the Japan Open and the Chinese National Championships. We were the first team to compete in China. It was when Jessica Shipper won her first international Gold medal. What I want you to realize is that anything is possible. That is what is important, what we are chasing.

I will finish off just because I have run out of time. I will show you if you are interested the under water footage and so forth. What I normally do is play it always in slow motion because I am not really interested in fast motion. I look for any problems. You see different parts like the connection of the body compared to the power. It is very important where they are, how much rotation, how much catch, body head position, maybe a little high and any differences. If you go to this part further up you will see there is a breath coming up at the lowest part of the graph just here. That is when the body is at its slowest position, whilst in the middle of a breath. So, maintaining good body position is very important. I will wrap it up there. I want to thank you very much for listening. I hope you got something out of it.

Notify of
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments

Sponsorship & Partnerships

Official Sponsors and Partners of the American Swimming Coaches Association

Join Our Mailing List

Subscribe and get the latest Swimming Coach news