Art Aungst is a teacher and coach at Orchard Park High School in upstate New York. He has been a high school coach for both boys’ and girls’ teams since 1981 and also has 10 years experience as a USS coach. The program at Orchard Park has changed in focus in recent years to an emphasis on technique over conditioning with great success including an unprecedented sweep of all three relays at the girls NYS championship in 1999.
It’s kind of a strange for me to be here, I was a little bit perplexed, I was thinking about this and I was thinking that I’m gonna go and there is going to be some of the best coaches in the world here. People who have coached Olympians and a lot of actual Olympic athletes. It was a little intimidating, I’m a high school coach. I talked it over with my wife and said that this is going to be kind of a humbling experience, she said, well, just keep in mind that you have a lot to be humble about. I said well, thank you very much. Then, I talked to my son and I said you know I have this problem and he said, Dad, this is going to be awesome, this is your opportunity of a lifetime, after you get done talking they are going to know that if you can do it anybody can.
Then I talked to my team, and this is a true story, actually my family is wonderfully supportive, but I said, guys I’m really sorry I’m going to be missing practice, its my girls but, I call them guys anyway, but, they know I take it very seriously, so they knew I wouldn’t be leaving unless it was something really important. I said I got invited to speak at the World Clinic, and they said, Oh cool what are you going to wear, I said, I hadn’t really thought of that and they said you can’t embarrass us and they said wear a pair of Khakis and wear your Orchard Park shirt, the one with your name on it in case you forget so I’m following their directives here.
I think that it is real important to see that there are probably a lot of elements here that might work real well in developing some lead athletes, but, I think that this is really kinda geared toward people who have a fine season. We only have a few months out of the year and it kind of reminds me of the story about three or four years ago at our section meet, which is a state qualifier, we had a kid in our 400 relay and he was sure to qualify for the state meet and all they had to do was basically finish. We said guys be real careful on your starts and we’re gonna do good time next week, but, just get through this one today and everything went well and good until our anchor leg went in on his third turn and kinda disappeared almost, it was in the deep end and he just went down and down and down and then he finally came back up and he got into the wall just in time to touch out second place. I called him over and said “Josh, what happened” and he said “coach, my goggles fell off” and I’m looking at his goggles and their probably like ten years old, he probably had them since he was three. I said “Josh, let me see those goggles” and he hands them to me and their the old Speedo type goggles with the foam gaskets and the gaskets are falling off both of them. I took a look at them, and this is before I became a sensitive new age guy and I accidentally dropped them on the deck and I stepped on them and I handed them back and I said “Josh, I’ll buy you a new pair of goggles” and he said “but coach, those were my lucky goggles” and I think that a lot of us fall into that kind of thing that we have a lot of success doing something and we want to stick with it because we’re comfortable with it.
The first fifteen years we coached, we lost exactly three dual meets in our division. We had nine consecutive championships, so we had done real well in our area. But, I kept thinking that well, maybe there is a better way of doing things. There are a lot of voices out there like Bill Boomer, I used to go to the ASCA Clinics and listen to him and it took about three or four runs through before I really understood his message, if you ever heard Boomer talk, he is a little bit obscure and he is absolutely a brilliant man. I started to take some of his concepts back.
Bud Turmin at the University of Buffalo runs a very technique intensive program. For you younger coaches I think it is a great thing, if you can find somebody who know something and tag along, because it has been my experience has been that people are very willing to share and he spent a lot of time and I always had this thing, O.K. well technique is really great, but, how am I going to get them in shape? I only have the last week in August until the week before Thanksgiving if our kids are going to go to the State meet. Most of my kids will be done in the third week in October. They don’t make the championships. So, I’m thinking all right, well, we’ll do a little technique, I will tell them, O.K., I want you to roll your hips, I want you stretch out, and, go O.K. ready go, ready go, ready go and you know pound out the yards, no you have to use your body a little more, no, stream line a little bit, ready go, and it was, you know we did really well and my really talented kids swam very fast.
Around 1996 I read Terry Laughlin’s book about Total Immersion and a lot of the pieces fell together, and I spent a lot of time e-mailing Terry and talking to Terry and he was gracious enough to spend a lot of time with me. In 1996 we did more technique than we had ever done before, we had a very successful season. In the Winter during our boys season, we had a guy Ryan Orser who graduated this year. He was deathly ill and he was a pretty talented kid. He was going about 1:55 in the 200 and he got terrible mono type illness. It took us a long time to kinda figure out what it was and the doctor said get back in but he can’t do anything hard. We just started doing drills with him and we did more drills, and more drills and more drills and he was going probably 1500 yards a day. He dropped his time from 1:55 to 1:50 at our championships and I was just totally dumb founded by it, I couldn’t possibly come up with any explanation, because all of us know that conditioning is the key to swimming a good 200. You can’t swim a good 200 unless you are in shape and this defied all logic. The following year he went a 1:45 and we did more technique and so in 1997 I made the commitment that we were just going to become technique oriented. That technique was going to be the primary thing and whatever happens yardage wise happens.
It happened to be a odd year to do it because our pool was down for maintenance for the Summer, they said it’ll be ready for your first week and we got in the week before sectionals so we ended up working in four different pools and we lost an entire week of practice over the course of that and a very short season. The longest workout I had was an hour and a half. When your used to having your own pool, I go down to the pool everyday and we practice for two hours and all the running around and everything else, really made it very detrimental and a lot of you age group people who move from pool to pool probably don’t have a lot of sympathy with that. For me it was just a very awkward situation. But, the bizarre thing is that we swam better than we ever swam before. Our medley relay won at the states, our 200 free relay came in second by 7/100’s and so what I’m going to tell you know is how we go about doing these things.
Just so you have some frames of reference. Before 1997 for the girls, we had never won a relay at states, this year we won all three. To give you some reference of times, this is the improvement that we saw prior to 1997. We were going the medley relay 1:52.95 they went 1:50, 1:39 for the 200, 1:37, that was the ninth fastest time in the Nation and 400 free we dropped from 3:33.9 to 3:35. For our sprinters, the girl who holds our school record, had one girl in 1986 who went 23.88. This year we had two of our sprinters go under 24:00. One of the biggest things that made the biggest difference in 1999 we got shut out in our conference championships in the breaststroke. I’m the assistant coach for the boys and the head coach and I talked it over, I said we gotta create some breaststrokers. 2000 we had four out of the eight finalists in our conference championships. Among those, we had a kid, that is a lacrosse player who one a minute flat, we had another kid come in as a ninth grader going 1:13 and he went 1:02 and he qualified for a state meet. Some of you people, I think, have kids who are a lot faster than that, to some of you people its going to be, these are going to seem like fast times. But the important thing is that this is the kind of improvement we’ve seen with substantial reduction in the yardage that we’re swimming.
When I was going through this process and I was writing some things down, I read a lot of Alan Goldberg’s stuff and so I e-mailed him to tell him what we’re doing, and this was his response, he was, again, if you ask these people you get really good responses. But, he said first off, teaching swimmers to focus on the stroke and the feeling of it, letting the stroke coach the swimmer is absolutely critical as far as I’m concerned in training a champion. Too many coaches in this Country pound out the yardage at the expense of technique, mechanics and feel and in doing so rip their swimmers off. I’ve been chatting with Olympic swimmers for the past three weeks and so many of them have emphasized how critical the feel is verses just plain dead yardage. Furthermore, when you teach swimmers how to focus on the stroke as a teacher it actually trains them to develop the right focus for racing and therefore inadvertently helps them handle pressure and swim in their own lane mentally.
I think that one of the things as I said before that this kind of translates across the board. I think that this is things that the elite level kids do on their own but, I think that the rest of us have to be taught.
I was at Penn State, I dropped my daughter off, and walking down the hallway, and I saw this on a poster in the hall, it says a woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle. I talked to my wife and my daughter, I said “Geez, I didn’t know that fish think bicycles are pretty cool I guess” they both just sort of gave me that blank look that they always do. I look at things a little bit differently. I sort of see everything in swimming terms, and I was kinda looking at it and said well you know, if a fish had to learn how to ride a bicycle, I mean that would be pretty similar what we’re trying to do with swimming. It would be a very complex motor skill in the absence of air. I see a lot of perils between that and learning to ride a bike. First of all, riding a bike is not an instinctive kind of thing. Most people need some sort of a training aid to learn it, you know, training wheels, somebody holding the back of the bike or whatever. You have a real balance challenge, especially at very, very slow speeds.
I love to watch the track riders in the Olympics. Its really such a cool thing. They just stand there, they balance their bikes, they wait for the other guy to go, and that is very, very hard to do. This is a Bill Bommerisim, and its one of the things that we really need to remember. Consequences of lack of balance are very negative for both. The thing is that in the water, when you are not balanced there is not any real bad things that happen to you other than make you go a little bit slower. Obviously, one of the reasons I’m not wearing shorts is I used to be a bike racer and I didn’t have great balance, and my legs are scarred up all over the place, but, when you crash on your bicycle, you lose your balance, there is some pretty immediate and very nasty kinds of things. The other thing though, it’s a lifetime mastery. Once skills for swimming are learned they can be brought back very quickly, and it is the same thing with riding a bike.
This is a really important thing, cause we talk about stroke limiters and things like that a little bit later on, but, it is very important to bear in mind that rates have to be chosen to suit the individual, there is no one rate for everybody and I found that it really takes a lot of experimentation and ultimately the kids have to chose their own rate.
An example of that, again from the world of cycling, Lance Armstrong, everybody knows his story, but I was reading an article that in addition to his magnificent come back that he really changed his training drastically, and in cycling it is sort of the opposite in swimming that in cycling the higher rpms are a little bit easier to maintain. What he used to do, he used to be a big gear masher, he used to ride really large gears that are relatively low rpm and they said look if you are going to ride in the tour de France, what you need to do is be able to sustain longer. So he did a lot of training at 90 and 96 rpms and it seemed to work out pretty well for him.
Now I see a lot of differences for high school, between USS and college and anything else. First of all, generally have about forty or forty-five practices a year and when I was a young coach, I used to come to the ASCA Clinics and I would hear things like, we like to spend the first twelve to sixteen weeks building aerobic base. I’m thinking O.K. well, most of my kids are done after 8, we’ll get that base about half-way there. Its not a developmental program, you know we’re not trying to get anybody ready for the next level. I think that we have to approach our job the same way that high school basketball and high school football coaches do.
I happen to be the real proud parent of 155 pound offensive lineman. He did a marvelous job, he often played against people who weighed 230 to 240 pounds and he made honorable mention in his division. The reason he did that is that he had coaches who said look, this is how you do it, they taught him skills, they taught him extremely well, he was not a fast kid, he was not a real aggressive kid, but he was a good student and they taught him extremely well. They gave him all kinds of confidence, and when I see what that did for my son, it makes me that much more committed to find those, 1:05 100 freestylers and bring them down to a minute or the 1:20 butterflyer and lets go 1:15, let’s find another way. In our school, they don’t call swimming, sports anything like that extracurricular, they call it co-curricular, to me that said its as vital to their education, or at least that’s our philosophy to our district that its as vital part as their education as their classroom stuff is so we are absolutely obligated to teach and it’s not just about swimming, we’re teaching them swimming skills, but, we’re teaching them a lot of other things along the way.
Now some of the things that we teach here, came out inadvertently, this is fortunately a friend of mine at the State meet video taped a preliminary heat, the 400 free style relay, I think that what is really significant about this is, is what these girls had learned over the course of ten or twelve weeks, first of all your going to see that obviously with the start, counts are very low, but that number one the rates are chosen to suit the individual, we have a range of 62 to 71. The girl who is going 71 at the start of the year, we could not get her under 20 strokes in length, no matter how slow she was going. She absolutely refused to drop her count and as the season progressed, we worked it out. These aren’t rates we ever talked to them about, by that time it was just get up and swim. The rates rose in a measured fashion to compensate for dropping stroke length. As they are getting a little bit more tired. What’s happening is they are all adding a stroke, cause they gotta maintain their velocity somehow. I think that casual observation, nothing verified, but that most of the other kids who are swimming in that heat that appeared on the tape were taking approximately 20 strokes per length.
So, these girls went faster than anybody else, but they also took the lower rates. The other thing is that they have very low rates, due to heavy emphasis on DPS, distance per stroke, but also on great walls. We spend a tremendous amount of time on our program working walls. Working push offs, working break outs, working turns, working starts and those kinds of things really cut into your yardage significantly.
Some of the other kind of side things is that we’ve attracted a lot of really good between sport athletes, people who don’t necessarily identify themselves as being a swimmer. A lot of my kids have had age group experience and we happen to live in a affluent suburban district with a lot of pools so I don’t want anyone getting the impression that I have to teach kids how to swim from scratch, I don’t. I have a lot of kids with some experience. I don’t have the kind of kids that I had ten years ago who are really committed age groupers. I used to coach USS for about a decade, and I was used to our senior kids who would be there six and seven days a week. They would make seven or eight practices and lately the interest in it has dropped off and my kids who do swim USS only do it for part of the year, but, by switching to a more technique base, I’m convinced that we’re starting to get some real good athletes here.
This kid Josh Quinn, he was all western New York in the Volleyball, he came to us late in the season his senior year, because of volleyball championships, but in State meet, in the finals in 100 free he went a 47:01 for us which I thought was incredibly impressive, but what I thought was even more impressive with what this guy had learned, he went out in 23:00 and came back in 24:00 and in my mind with a start it is pretty much a negative split and this is a guy who only swam from November to March. These are the kind of things I think that the greats know for themselves that can really be taught effectively. We had six girls on the relays at the State meet and out of the six, three lacrosse players, one was a shotputter and one was a catcher on a softball team so these are very athletic people and I’m finding that they are responding very well to something other than pounding out the yardage.
[Response to Question] I don’t think it’s really the aerobic capacity, I don’t think that there is a lot of, you know my personal opinion, I don’t think there is a lot of transfer in the aerobic kind of thing, but I do think that athleticism really carries over into a technique based program that the athletes respond very, very well to it. This is really a seemingly small thing, but it was a tremendous philosophical hurdle to make and it took me a long time to get over this. We have workout manager and writing workouts and I looked around in the school and we have a phenomenal athletic program there. We have the winningest baseball team, the baseball coach just retired, but he had won more games than anybody in the Country, our tennis team had gone undefeated for ten years. When I watched all of these guys, they all went to practice and we worked out and I started to think about and I said wait a minute. How come they are practicing and we’re just pounding on them, maybe there is a better way. We put technique as priority one and had to throw a lot of other things out of the door. Intervals disappeared, we don’t use them an awful lot, especially at the start of the season, that everything revolves around getting people comfortable in the water, perfecting the technique and then we start to add the load on as they can handle it.
I see that teaching is kind of an alternative to what we call the antibiotic model. It came out of an article that was not related to swimming but, I was reading about how by man trying to control all of the pests and varmints in a biological sense that what they’ve actually done is bred these super resistance sort of things, these penicillin resistant kind of germs that they have coyotes, coyotes used to live out west, now their all over the place because we’ve tried to kill them off and I think that a lot of what we’ve done in swimming and I was a big part of that, was that we throw a lot of yardage at kids and kids really struggle with we don’t give them a lot of instruction. The really good kids continue with it but, the rest of them say hey, this is not for me.
I think that we have mentioned this before, skills development is permanent and training is temporary. This idea of building partnerships, my rule as coach has changed significantly, it’s not, I’m still the boss, there is no question about that, I still maintain the order in practice. But, I have much more of a, almost a mentor relationship with my swimmers, I ask them a lot of questions, and they get comfortable enough where they give me answers. I ask them, how does that feel? Were you more tired when you did that? Did that feel a little bit smoother? I get a lot of feedback from them, from something like, do you want us to work on breathing on this butterfly set, I think that it would be easier for us to focus on our breathing if we put the fins on. Those kinds of things, if we had ten more seconds I think that we could do this a little bit better, which was different from the kinds of things that I had before, you know like, we’re too tired, give us more time, those kinds of things. But it really has been a significant change. This is kind of a big thing with me, building genuine self esteem.
As an educator, I find that this self esteem movement has really had a lot of negative consequences, I think that the idea that the kids have to have a trophy for everything and the idea if we just tell the kids how good they are that they are going to believe. I don’t think that it is really going to work very well for them. I think that kids are too smart to fall for that. I think that they know when they really achieve something. So when we’ve gone to more technique based, we’ve provided an awful lot of opportunities for people to achieve, we do a lot of what we call peer modeling and when we do drills, when somebody’s doing it right, and it’s a real vital part of the process, we stop everybody, sometimes we’ll get everybody out of the pool, a lot of times we say look, O.K. put your goggles on and watch under water what’s going on and, the drills that we do, I can find the worst swimmer on my team and have them swim and show some aspect of greatness in that drill. If we’re looking for maybe an arm position or body position or head position or whatever else. They are out in front of their peers and their doing something good, their peers are appreciating their skill and they’ve learned something. All of them have what we call world class moments, even my very worst swimmers, when we film them, we catch three or four cycles where everything is just perfect. They look like somebody who might be a world class person if you didn’t know any better.
We have multiple parameters for measuring success and the idea is if you just set time as the measurement for everything, that we have a lot of kids, their just not very good swimmers and their not very good athletes and they never will be very good and their always going to be pretty slow. If time is the only measure, it is really going to be a pretty frustrating thing. Also, the really good kids, they are really tired, they are really beat up and they are not hitting their times, it’s pretty frustrating for them, not that they should never fail, I think that sometimes it’s really important that they do sets that they fail on. I think by and large we need to have success experiences, so the thing is you know, O.K. will you hold your break out longer, you did that in fewer strokes, you were breathing a lot better. Those kinds of things we can give back to them. It’s specific objective kinds of feedback that we can say, you know look, last week you did that in seventeen strokes O.K. today you did the same time with fifteen. That’s not a value judgment that’s strictly measurable, that kind of thing.
Again, you know, more likely to track in sport athletes as we said, we have a lot of team pride, once kids look like good swimmers, even our JV kinds of kids, kids will sit on deck and say, “oh wow” “look how smooth she looks” “look at what great turns she’s doing” that kind of thing. We provide a little bit different kind of thing than of the old style of make the interval.
There are multi dimensional problems and by large my swimmers are real bright motivated kids. They are there only because they want to be there and so I think that I really squandered a lot of opportunities along the way by not taking advantage of how bright and how motivated they are and so we set up problems all the time. Do ten 50’s and hold the minus two count and see what the fastest time you can do on those ten 50’s and there is going to be some trial and error in there. Their gonna have to try and do different things along the way, but, their going to figure it out eventually and it’s not me just telling them how to do it. Providing a real specific focus for every set, you know, maybe stroke length, maybe some drill, maybe some tempo things, but, I think that its really critical if your not going to do a lot of yards that every yard has to count and so gotta tell them what it is we’re after on these things.
Now, I used to think that this was a real negative of the high school season, generally three weeks after we start, we’re doing meets already, and, one of the things that I’m starting to realize, if we do a lot of slow, precise good swimming during the week, that we have a lot of opportunities to learn racing skills. I have ten meets outside of our championships and that is between next week and the third week in October, so that’s two or three meets a week. It used to drive me crazy, like oh no, I’m losing all that practice time, I’m starting to realize, wait a minute, this is the ultimate practice, I understand that Alexander Popoff, I think he does a lot of volume of training at very, very slow speeds, but he also races a lot, I saw a thing by Ganotti Teretski, that said that Alexander races about 100 times a year, so it’s great opportunity.
But, you have to start that up ahead of time, because in the first meet the kids are not gonna do best times or some of them may, but that shouldn’t be the expectation, the expectation is O.K. you know, let’s go out and let’s try and be smooth, let’s try and take the first half out a little bit easier, let’s focus on the third length, let’s do something like that. A huge reduction of shoulder problems since we switched over to a technique base, it used to be that ice bags were, they were a staple of our program, and that was kind of the deciding factor when we were training, O.K. what can we put on them, before their shoulders are really going to be sore, how soon can we get them up to 6,000 before their shoulders really hurt. I think between the reduction and the yardage has something to do with it, but I also think that better technique, because we are using the poor body a lot more and we are really taking a lot of the strain out of the shoulder.
When we focus on technique and body movement, this is something I never thought would happen, that everybody is somewhat competent as an IM’er, used to be that I would look at the start of the year, and I would say “geez, these kids really don’t have to much ability” O.K. you fifteen kids you are 50 freestylers and now we’re teaching them a lot of IM skills, I kind of gotten away from specificity, even my best kids we still do a lot of IM stuff with periods of focus on their best strokes. What I found also, it used to be that I only had a couple of clubs of kids who could handle 100 fly, with a six lane pool, I always had to find a victim of the week, some sort of a sacrifice, “all right, you!”
The problem I’ve had in recent years, is that I have too many kids who want to swim the 100 fly, and what’s really gratifying to me is that we’re not talking kids who go a minute flat, we’re talking girls who are you know maybe like a 1:15 or a 1:12, and they are saying hey coach, can I try that again, you know that was good. So that has been a great part of it.
One of the things we found too, we are not as dependent on peak conditioning, it used to be that we were worried about taper, we tried to get away from that, as much as we could, and we found that we seem to perform better in those kind of crummy meets, qualifying meets that are maybe late at night or whatever. They seem to hold things together, and the other thing we found is that if we have kids that missed prolonged periods for illness or injury they still perform pretty well, they are able to hold on to their technique a lot better than they can conditioning. This one too, sprinters work just like everybody else, I am a confirmed slow twitcher and I think that I had that grudge and resentment against all you fast people I would have liked to have been a sprinter, but, it wasn’t in the cards and so, I was always much more fond of the distance people because they had to really work. But, what we found is that our sprinters have responded extremely well, and they practiced for the entire two hours and they have a tremendous work ethic and it’s not the same as the distance people, but it’s a work ethic nonetheless that their working on refining their craft and they take a great deal of pride.
The other benefit has been we have found that physically mature females continue to get faster, it used to be that if I had a team with senior guys that we knew if we were going to be really good, but the team of senior girls, is kind of a crap shoot, because most often they would not go as fast as they had before. Our experience has been the last few years that all of our seniors have done lifetime bests. The focus of what we’re working on are a lot of the same kinds of things that Terry Laughlin and Glenn Mills talked about and their presentation and just to give you an idea of how important this is the first two weeks we did mostly widths.
The kind of kids I have this year, the first week we couldn’t get into our pool, we only had limited practice time, but the second week I said would you like to go two a days, they said yes we would, I said all right I will do this, but, it has to be your choice, so we had one workout in the morning and one workout in the afternoon.
But, we spent hours and hours just kind of perfecting balance and it is real important to really de-emphasize kicking initially. I used to do a lot of kicking in the early season but I find that, especially with our inexperienced swimmers, that they use their kick a lot to compensate for balance, and so we want them to get balanced first and then teach them to kick, so that they are going to be going straight ahead, using that energy a little more wisely. So we do head lead, hand lead, balance challenges, we do a lot of things that will purposely put them out of balance then they have to come back and we’ll have them, we use pretty much the same progression that’s on the Total Immersion tapes, but they do a lot of head lead balance, they lift up and hip sink then they come back in and they have to re-find their balance and I think that’s very valuable.
We really stress core body movement, it’s absolutely essential. One of the really hard things to teach, is to teach is that they have to roll for air, we spend a tremendous amount of time drilling with this idea that they come through and we really exaggerate and they end up on their back when they are doing freestyle but, the idea is that they are moving the whole body at once and learning to breathe really well. We used to do a lot more hypoxic stuff, now I find that, I demand that they breathe every cycle, pretty much everything they do in the early season because I want them to breathe absolutely effortlessly. They may kind of limit it a little bit more when their swimming. I think it is really important that you emphasize that they have to breathe on both sides, spend some time breathing on their off side.
Short axis, we spent a lot of time teaching them body dolphin and that is a body movement and we usually start by doing some stuff under water with them. I think they get a little better feel for it. If you coach girls, girls pick up on this really quick, guys just don’t get it. My guys, we’ve been doing it for two years and when they are doing dolphining, they look awful and ugly and disjointed and everything else. We put fins on them, it smooths everything out. It is important that when you put the fins on that you instruct them not to kick with it, it just sort of makes it easier to get that whip like motion.
We don’t use a lot of equipment in our program, we use the fins and we use the fist gloves and the fist gloves I think are just the greatest invention, in swimming. They are real cheap. What the kids explain to me, they have always done fist swimming, the kids tell me that it’s vastly different, they said first of all, like you can’t cheat, like you can’t open your hands up. Secondly, that it cuts off all of the sensation, we have a tremendous amount of feedback. You watch little kids, their pawing everything and grabbing everything, because they get a lot of feedback about their world from there, and we kind of forget that. We do a lot of sets with the fist gloves on, we take them off, and all of the sudden they have incredibly sensitivity in their hands that they just say, oh this is incredible, it feels like I got a pizza plate on my hand or something like that, so they really tune in on the catch.
The other thing that we kind of have gotten away from is that we a talk in tempo kinds of terms, we used to say well this is, we want you to go really hard. We have moderate, we want you to accelerate, we want to go max speed, O.K. which is way different, again it is a subtle philosophical thing. But we want to get them away from hard. We used to say O.K. we want you to go as hard as you can. Now it’s, your going to go maximum speed. In order to go maximum speed you can’t be going hard. You have to be relaxed, you have to be smooth, you have to be supple.
We use a lot of what we call combo swims and this is something Terry did a lot of when he was coaching at Army and I was fortunate enough to get up to watch some of his practices. It was just incredible precision that his kids were using. What these combos are, its combinations of free and back stroke and breaststroke and butterfly and I think that one of the reasons that our flyers and breaststrokers have gotten significantly better is that we have linked the two of them together. It is same body motion, we just changed the pulls. But, we’ll have them do three or four strokes of fly, three breast, wonderful drill that they are getting really good at is going one and one, one fly, one breast, all different kinds of combinations.
We spend a lot of time on walls. We do active stream lines and we have spent a tremendous amount of time these past couple of weeks, just learning to push off the wall, learning how to break out, for us what we want, we want them to push off, we want them stretching from the middle, because a lot of times kids will stretch from their hands and they get kind of bowed out like that. We try to teach them how to squeeze from the middle, and extend the hands up by contracting the body, and when their coming up what we look for is the back of the head, the back of the shoulders and the back of the suit, all kinda breaking the surface at once. We do a lot of push offs with no kick to a break out.
For turns we’ve found, we’ve had a tremendous amount of success by taking the walls out of the turns at least initially. We do a lot of no wall turns. When we’re doing widths we’ll have them push off, what we have to do, you always have to be real careful when your doing drills saying O.K. four of this drill, we want you to do this… a lot of times even my very best kids will do this before a meet where they’ll just float, they’ll extend themselves as far as they possibly can and then they’ll just tuck up into the smallest possible thing. This is kind of a fun activity early season, you know partner kids up and they give each other a lot of feedback, one watches under water and you can see kids maybe who don’t have their chins tucked or have their feet pointed or things like that.
We do 50’s or 25’s or whatever, we have them do a turn before they get to the first set of flags so their coming off the wall really fast and they’ve got a lot velocity and they just carry it over. They are not worried about where their feet are going to be on the wall, all they are worried about is coming over. We do five cycles, five strokes, it shouldn’t be cycles, excuse me for that, it should be five strokes, but they take five strokes and on the fifth stroke they just come in and they do a somersault. Once they learn how to do that we have them switch to four strokes of freestyle and five strokes of backstroke and when they make that transition they just go into a somersault and then they’ll come out on, they’ll take four strokes of freestyle do a somersault, come out on their back, take three strokes of backstroke and it’s a really nice transition cause all they are doing is just kinda rolling over and going into a freestyle turn again.
At our pool we have slope and so a lot of times, and it was an idea I got from the kids, cause over the years a lot of them, you know you wouldn’t be looking and they kinda put their feet down there and get a real good push off and so I kinda of use that as part of practice and I say all right, you gotta stop in the middle, push of that and do a somersault, but the idea is to kinda carry the velocity.
For short axis stuff these are some seemingly small things, but, I was fortunate enough to have Glenn Mills come to our practice, so he told us that he likes to start with both hands on the gutter, and that teaches kids to bring the knees up real quick and fall back into the water so we do all of our starts like that. We do double pull down breast stroke and one of the things that we found with most of our breaststrokers is that they tend to hold on and decelerate a little bit. Most of them are not good enough and so we have been working a lot with them, by and large as soon as the hands come down, we start them recovering right away.
For starts we do this pretty much every day. They just do some hip ups, which is, they just stand at the block and they do three jumps and get their hips up over their head and then initially we have them just dive for height. We want them to get nice and high and drop through the hole in the water. Then we work on breakouts, we start doing relay starts on day one and we work on the touches but we also are conditioning the kids, we have them jump initially, the people on the blocks, but we’re just trying to get that timing, we have them stand on the block, do a step up and jump and then we eventually work into the pool start.
For backstrokers and flyers, everyday we do some degree of practice underwater. We get fifteen yards under water and we really should take advantage of it.
Season planning is just really pretty much by feel. We go very low level aerobic and we really don’t do much in the way of fast swimming for quite some time, we are interested in perfecting mechanics and as I said before, intervals are not real helpful on this, so what we do is we say O.K. go when the third person touches or the fourth person or whatever, but, we kinda work it that way.
We work on stroke length because most kids will work on rate instinctively and we really over emphasize the length part of it so that they can figure out, you know, O.K. what’s my optimum, I’m not always going to be like that but, if I start here and kinda work my way back, at least that is going to be part of the arsenal when they go to swim. It is real important when you do drills, they only give them one or two focal points and when your correcting them, try and correct only one or two things at a time, and this is really hard for me, because I say O.K. you know, you need to get your head down and then roll and then work your and it’s very hard to fall back on that and just say look, just pick one or two things.
No splash starts and turns, obviously in the early season that is what we’re looking for. We’re looking for quiet in everything that they do. We work on perfecting breathing as we said before, force breathing every side, neutral head. All swims, up here sensory swims, sometimes we don’t tell them anything about count or whatever, but it’s just try and swim and just focus on anchoring the hints. Try and swim and have continuous flow, it’s very challenging, one of the things we did the other day, we did a bunch of 25’s at a minus 5 count and it is very, very difficult for kids to do that, because most of them just want to kinda leave their hand back there and then go for a little while and it’s very difficult to maintain that continuous motion.
What we do on a short axis that is a little bit different, we do some burst when we’re kinda picking up the rhythm for the long axis stuff and we just go burst for like three, four, five cycles you know mix it, match it, whatever we want to do. The idea is O.K. do six fast strokes right now and then maybe eight fast strokes and then maybe a whole length at some point, but, only if you can maintain it. The short axis stuff we kinda stumbled on but, we do a lot of what we call seven, six, five, four and we do seven strokes, stretching it out as much as you can. Six a little faster, five pretty fast and then four as fast as you can go, or we’ll go the opposite O.K. take four strokes and see how far you can go and then five, six then seven.
We do a lot of 25’s and what we do that is probably different then most places. When we’re swimming fly we never do more than 25’s of actual fly and by and large what we do is wait until everybody in the lane is finished and then we go, because I don’t want them doing the short arm kinds of stuff. Also with our kids who aren’t real good flyers I always leave it up to them, how many strokes are gonna take, O.K. if you wanna take only three strokes, make it three good ones, swim easy freestyle in your lane but, that’s all right with us, but, our flyers and breaststrokers have gotten much, much better.
We do also a lot of what we call swim golf and that’s just adding stroke counts and time and I think that this really gives kids a pretty good indicator of where they are in terms of efficiency and I was very encouraged at the start of this year that my better kids are doing lower totals then they have ever done before. I think the best we’ve had this round like a 51, the girl won with a 30 at 21 strokes, the best I’ve ever witnessed personally.
We’ve got this old guy who lives around us, he’s like 38 and my boys hate swimming against him cause he swims in the open and he’s still going 21 in 46 I think he’s going, way faster then he did when he was on scholarship, but, I saw him do this once, he went 25 seconds on 6 strokes down and 7 back. It’s a great indicator of combination of speed and rate. In terms of race training, we do race pace at short distance and we have to like we said, we found that optimal range, the swimmers have to pick what their rates have to be, we can’t really impose that on them we can say O.K. well it looks a little choppy, try picking it up, but ultimately it’s up to them to decide.
We want to start with a low number of high quality repeats, so we might do four 25’s, ten 25’s easy and gradually build race pace kinds of swims that we do as we go. Again, we talked about the burst we want to get faster and faster rhythms, its really important that they generate it from the body. Many, many rehearsals, race economy, the way we teach 100’s and 200’s and 200’s by 50 in 100’s but most of them are going to be really pumped up, especially the guys, you know they respond real well, the adrenaline so we try to teach them that they can’t go all out on their first length, they gotta make sure that they go a little bit slower than they think that they should, you know stretch themselves out, build that second 25 and then let it all hang out on the last two. Just try and keep your strokes together.
In terms of taper, I think that it is really important that you emphasize to kids that your taper starts on the first day of practice, resting is not going to help you if you haven’t done the necessary work. We spent a lot of time perfecting starts and turns. I’ve really kind of kept my stop watch in my pocket the last couple of years, it has worked pretty well for us. Any timing I’ve done, have been for sort of unknown distances, you know O.K. how fast can you make it to the flags, how fast to mid pool, because what I used to do is time and lie, but, I found out as I’ve gotten older I don’t remember as well and so I say you know yeah, you went 10.2 and then they would come up on the next one and I’d say hey, you went 10.7 and they would say oh no. So it works a lot better.
So I guess the last thing that I would kind of like to leave you with here. This is the warm up that we do every day, we just kind of vary the components in it. But, it just seems to work real well for us. We do a four 100 IM’s with some sort of combination swimming and these are just some examples, and we can either use drills in it, we can use stroke lenders, O.K. all on both free and back you gotta take a minus 4 count and for your short axis you get only seven strokes. For our really good breaststrokers we might limit them to five. You gotta try and make it all the way down the pool in only five strokes. Or we might do a kick set. Then we do some combination of eight 50’s and generally when we do this we alternate with the backstrokers and the flyers. My assistant coach is really great with starts and so she’ll work starts with one group or the other. The other group will do ten 25’s under water with fins, because we want them to learn that underwater. Then we always do some form of four 25’s descending two sets of them. Again some ways we can do it, start at a minus 4 and add a stroke, get faster each time, do the fastest you can at a minus 2 count or minus 3 count or whatever, hold an easy time and see how few strokes, you can do those kinds of things but that seems to get us ready to go.
[Responses to Questions (questions, unless otherwise indicated, are inaudible)]
[Answer] We basically don’t, we do like a little bit of tae bo in the early season or some medicine balls, but it’s not just a priority for me, being a teacher I’m real sensitive to the kids academic needs, I’m really kinda limited to two hours, because I think that’s enough to accomplish what we need to accomplish. If I was running a full year program I would give it a lot more thought. But, I want them focused on what their doing, and I also don’t want them too sore to be swimming in the kind of precise way that we’re looking for, so no we don’t do much.
[Answer] No, no actually I don’t think it’s really a function of strength, it’s much more efficiency that their actually using less power to get through the water. You know, hopefully that’s what we’re doing. Also, just so you guys know, we’re talking like that swim golf, you know I don’t want you to think that this shambled out or anything else, I mean we do swim dolphin sets and I have kids they can’t tell me their time or their count and so there are just are some kids who are just not going to necessarily buy into it. So you know, you go back and you try this don’t be real discouraged if not everybody can tell of what they are doing. Even my better swimmers I’ll catch them from time to time how many strokes did you take on that length and they’ll say I don’t know. Don’t let that happen. You’ve gotta always know that.
[Answer] Yeah, it really is kind of tough and I’m wrestling it at the moment because we have 36 kids and it goes a girl who won the 50 at junior’s last summer to kids who are probably 38 or 40 for a 50 you know we’re trying to balance that out, I generally once the season gets going we run like two or three workouts or sometimes four, so each lane has or maybe a couple lanes, but I usually have at least three workouts, in the early season what I do, I kind of, when the fastest kids finish, then everybody stops, because in my mind it’s more important that the duration of the exercise is what really kind of determines it not on how far they go.
[Answer] It really depends on who the coach is you know I have a real good relationship with some, I have others who really downgrade what we do, I think that, that really creates a negative situation, you know it’s kind of hit or miss. I do have more kids that are swimming club now than probably I’ve ever had since last year.
[Question] You mentioned that you have three workouts, is that including morning workout?
[Answer] No we don’t do morning workouts.
[Question] Is each workout is an hour and a half?
[Answer] No, I’m sorry we have like three or four groups going in that two hour session, and probably what I’ll do, because we’ve had a lot of kids on vacation and that kind of stuff, school just started for us so I don’t have my full team together, but it would be, I think, I’ll probably will have some kids who will only practice for like an hour and fifteen minutes or an hour and a half and then we’ll let them go because I think that, that is all they really can handle.
[Answer] I really don’t know and I’m really not being evasive, but I just never kind of figure that into the mix I think, I had some kids last year who were some counter, I think generally you know about 3500 to 4000 yards, I think that the most we did last year was about five.
[Answer] It was kind of rough it was a harder sell with the boys than it was with the girls, girls are great you know because if you can explain why you do something and they are interested in technique, you know, guys are much more interested in posting a number, so we had to do different kind of contest. One of the real fortunate things was the first year that we did it. You know Bill Boomer talks about it like cats and if you guys have not experienced these kids in your practice, you know you will at some point, but they are just kids who know way more than we do and they know what they need to do to go really fast, so you are screaming and hollering and they are adjusting their suits and doing their goggles and doing that and every once in a while get in and do a little bit and then they get up on the blocks and just go crazy and just do wonderful things. So our fastest kid happened to be one of those and we said, look, you know, we can spend more time in the water, you know you are not going to kill yourself, but we’re gonna refine your technique, but he won States in the butterfly, he won at 50 flat, and the rest of the team said hey, if that is what he’s doing that’s what I’ll do to. And, so I think ultimately they really start to take a lot of pride in it. But, it really is a tough philosophically, it was really hard for me in I used to get kind of angry with the kids once in a while when they would question it, but, I was doing the same thing, so it was a very scary kind of thing, because I have such wonderful kids and they do exactly what I said, and you know, my first year, it was a frightening thing to me because they had put their trust in me and if it failed, you know, there was only one person who was responsible.
[Answer] It really is, it’s a very difficult thing you know and having been a club coach myself, you know I was fortunate enough to, you know most of my kids swam the club that I was working with, so I knew the coach and I knew what they were doing with workouts and we kind of compared notes back and forth, but, I really having spent the last three years, having kids only swimming high school, I’m really starting to think it really might be best for all involved if they did one or the other, because I think, you know I’m seeing the difference now that they tend to be much more team oriented and you know I would say you know if your goal is to be in the elite level Olympian and you think your club is going to be the way to go then I think that is what you should do. I had this discussion with a very, very talented eighth grader, she was thinking about coming out, and I said look you gotta do what you think is going to be best for your situation, she said can I do both, I said I really don’t think at your point you can and she chose to swim with her club, and I’m good with that.