How We Train Developing Young Female Distance Swimmers by Charlie Yourd (2004)


Charlie Yourd:  In 2003 and 2004, Coach Yourd developed five 13-14 girls to US Summer or Spring National cuts in the 1650, with more young milers coming up. As Head Coach of WAVES Bloomington-Normal YMCA, a small team in rural Illinois, Yourd has led an inspiring turnaround. In fall of 1998 he took over a recreational team of swimmers who only entered 50s and considered 100s as distance events. A Level 5 age group coach, Yourd will identify key factors in the program’s success.



I have heard birthdays are good for you.  They say the more you have the longer you live and I want to thank Forbes Carlisle for having so many birthdays and I wish you many more in good health.


As long as we are on the subject of Sport Science I would like to point out something that age group coaches might want to bear in mind and that is that Sport Science Studies have been done on adults and they have never been and thankfully and hopefully will never be done on children.  I doubt that anyone is going to allow his or her children to go through all of this kind of stuff.  Therefore, to learn how to train children you have to learn through what the Sport Scientists disparagingly refer to as anecdotal evidence and anecdotal evidence means you are on deck and you try something and you see whether or not it works for the kids that you have got in the water or you read about something that somebody did – you take home the handouts that Paul gave you and undoubtedly there will be one or two people who are going to try these over the next month and you see how they work on your kids. We do not use energy systems.  We don’t do the traditional kind of yearly plan that is developed for older people that you will hear college coaches describing or coaches of senior athletes describing.


When I was outside I was fortunate to run into Dick Jochums in the lobby as he was getting ready to leave for the airport and if you were at the lunch yesterday you saw Dick get a richly deserved induction into the ASCA Hall of Fame.  I spent nearly a year on deck with Dick at Santa Clara, just on my own, driving down from San Francisco down to Santa Clara just to spend time with him on a deck and talk swimming and that is what we are doing here today – we are talking swimming.  There was a coach that had been a very big influence on him as he was starting out named Pete Cutino and if you have not heard of Pete Cutino, he was a swim coach at Cal before Nort Thornton was there and he was, after Nort arrived, Pete Cutino became the water polo coach.  He was swimming and water polo and then he just coached water polo.  I have been living in San Francisco for 25 years.  I have met a lot of former Cal water polo players and Cal swimmers and I never had the opportunity to meet Pete Cutino, but I met a lot of people who swam or played for him and it was amazing that universally – and I mean every single person spoke incredibly highly of this man.


Now, Dick and I got into talking about this because Dick went to his funeral in Monterey a few weeks ago and gave a talk.  We were talking about most – I was telling him that the coaches here that I have seen talking have focused on – the talks have really been about the psychology of sport.  The psychology of working with athletes and now we come in and we look for sets and we look for the weekly cycle or what are you doing or what is your secret to get them fast and Dick said that most, I would agree with him, nearly all young coaches do not understand is that it is about psychology. And once you get into your 50’s and your 60’s it is easier to see, but there are a few young coaches who figure it out and they are usually pretty successful.  But, when you are talking about the set or you are talking about the weekly cycle, that is the psychology and there are other things that are the psychology.


You talk about one of the most universally respected as probably the best coaching talk of all time is the one that Doc Councilman gave called the “X-Factor.”  It is on the ASCA website and he talks about this and the bottom line.  It is a nice long rambling kind of a talk, you can read it, the bottom line is he says that there are two key essential factors if you want to be successful as a coach. One of them is psychology and the other one is organization or being organized.


I would say that starting with you at a – with me – at a personal level – it is being organized – doing what you say you are going to do when you say you are going to do it – this kind of thing – walking on deck with the workout.  If they are doing a 1650 you are not losing count.  You are figuring out a way to know what the set is so that you don’t lose track.  You are not asking the swimmers, “Gee, how many have you done?”  “Oh, last one coach.”


When I listened to David Salo and Bill Rose yesterday, to me what their talks were about was psychology and specifically the psychology of working with people.  Salo was talking about creating an environment that people want to come to as post-graduates to swim and work toward making the Olympic Team.  And they have created an environment and this is about a lot of – it is not – psychology is not – let’s bring a sport psychologist in and sit down and we will do some visualization exercises.  Yeah, we do that kind of thing and the way we do it is visualize this:  sixteen 400’s on a 4:30, leaving on the top.  That is our sports psychology.


Bill Rose sounds like he was about ready for a break from being the sports psychologist for Larsen Jensen and I think that was apparent in his talk that Larsen would not have gone 14:45 without all the psychological, emotional support that he got from Bill Rose.


Now, both of these talks also talked about the setting out an objective and very soon achieving it.  Whether it was the JO five two in 1996, four in 2000 six in 2004.  I think getting to five is pretty significant, a wonderful achievement.  Larsen Jensen goes 14:45 that is tremendous.


A year ago I was talking at an age group conference down in Orlando.  It was a lot of fun and one of the things I described we were not really there yet.  I put my #1 item here: provide an environment in which championships can develop and succeed, and coaches are motivated.  All group members are focused, work-oriented, goal-directed, committed, coachable, trainable, friendly, positive and supportive of all other group members and believe in the program and the coach.  All parents are cooperative and pleasant to work with, you know, that’s right we are there.


A year ago we were not there.  I put it out and we are there.  So how do we get from low expectation recreational to Senior National level?  And you guys are all up there saying – gee, I don’t care if he tells us about secret sets, how come he has only got cooperative and pleasant parents to work with?  Yeah, well maybe that is more – I mean, who wants to hear about secret sets and who wants to hear about how to just work with pleasant, cooperative parents?


We went through three phases.  A couple of days have gone by now since I gave my other talk and I am off the World War I.  I am in the trenches and I am waiting for the gas to come firing over.  I can talk about it in terms of a Phase I and Phase II and Phase III.


Phase I we are in a recreational, low expectation team.  People joined the team because they looked at it as a year around version of a summer league and that is what they liked.  So I came in and I could not come in and say we are just going to do this and you have to come to practice.  I couldn’t do this because everybody on a team, just about, would have left.  People told me, my boss primarily, that would happen so that we had to soft-pedal where we were going and take some time to get where we were going.  I was very prepared for that because when I left Santa Clara one of the last things that John Bitter told me was, it takes three years before it becomes your program, so I was very prepared for a longer-term approach.  I was prepared for an even longer-term approach because I had been on deck with Ray Mitchell at the Terrapins.  This was a very exciting thing to do.   To go and watch their operation in the 50-meter pools and they got the short course lanes over here, they got groups going, and it is Natalie Coughlin.  She is 15 and she is in the pool and it is just all sorts of great stuff going on.  And I said, “Ray, how long did it take you to get this so it is like this?”  And he said, “nine years.”  It took until everybody that was on the team when I came went through the program and left and the only people that were left were my swimmers that came in and I developed and so I came in with a very long-term approach.  I always wanted to be the farmer standing out – there is the field – there is my crop – I am just going to sit back and watch it grow and it is not going to grow in one season.  It is going to grow long term.


Now, Phase II.  We had a lot of problems. Mainly whenever I would say anything that was even remotely along the lines of where we were going to go with the program.  I would just get incredible volleys of artillery coming at me from the people who had joined the team because they wanted something different. So we are waiting that out.  In the meantime we are developing age groupers and Phase II is being very successful at an age group level.  We had fast 11 and 12’s, fast 10 and unders, winning the 100 free relay for 8 and under at Y-State, all this kind of stuff.  That was a long period.  What that brought with it was age group parents and I quickly figured out – I figured out in Phase I that if I did not have a training group that I could go to every day and know that they were going to do it the way I wanted it done that I was going to lose interest in coaching.  It was either go and look somewhere else for a job, and I kind of like where I live, so I wasn’t interested in moving again.  Or I was going to quit and go and do something else like many coaches do.  So the second phase I realized (it took me a while), if I am working with these kinds of parents this is not fun and I really don’t want to do this and I don’t think I have to do this.  If you have gone onto our website, there is a link to Cecile Colin’s interview with me on swim news website.


Our web site is and if you go there you will see that I used to drive a taxi.  What I learned as a taxi driver is you can pull over to the side of the road and tell people to get out of your cab and that really makes them shape up or they get out of the cab and they flag down another one.  But I have never had to. Usually people want to get where they are going.  Now, it is very important to attract good people to the program.  You will attract good people to the program and the more that the program has good people in it and has less of not good people in it or different people. We say good, bad, well not bad, they are just people that don’t fit in with where you want to go.  I hope they fit in somewhere else and want them to fit in somewhere else and help them find other places to fit in.  It is very important to get others out of the cab or off the bus ASAP and we do that more and more now and since we have turned a corner in it.  As we go to higher and higher levels as an organization (in terms of quality of the people), it attracts higher quality of people.  And there are other sports that these other people that are making your life miserable can do.


There are plenty of other sports that they can do.  Do you know, and I was amazed to learn, that the sport of trampolining has a National Championship. You can be a 9 year old in the novice division and win a National Championship in trampolining.  And I think that is a great sport for many of our age group parents to go to.  It sounds like you have some that you are going to recommend that to.


Now, one of the things that I  – we had a couple of kids come on the team – I was moving more and more into getting the kids closer to this age group – closer to the Senior Nationals and we were getting kids like we would have a 1650 meet and there is the wall and I would be looking at my watch and here is 16:46 and the kid is right here and that would happen over and over again and they would have a US Open Cut, but they wouldn’t have a Senior National Cut and we would be getting real close – real close to it.  At the same time, I was noticing something with my 7-8 and unders. I would go over to the other pool and I am there for a while and kind of supervising and making sure the other coaches know that I saw them come in on time.  I am also helping them and mentoring them on stuff.  Mostly I am there so the parents will see that I am involved with the program. The parents were coming up to me and they were really ticked off about something and what they were ticked off about over and over again was that the assistant coaches were not making the 6, 7 and 8 year olds pay a price for not listening.  They said, “we didn’t bring them here to have the coach let their ears be under water.”  In other words, they brought them here because we have moved from this low expectation recreational team to sort of a stay at home military academy. And that is what they are bringing their little kids to us so that they can learn discipline and they can learn to pay attention and learn to behave themselves.  This sort of thing and that is what we do with the little kids.


Now, so we move on from there.  Now what happened next is we a(t the same time) had a couple of kids come into the program from Barry Recreational Teams.  One guy came from a team that used to play.  They would spend half the practice playing water basketball and then they moved to town.  Another girl came on the program from a team where they used to swim for an hour and they didn’t get much coaching and it was a competitive swim team that wasn’t competitive because they didn’t go to meets.  So both of these swimmers on four workouts a week of about 4,000 yards at age 12 were good enough to be in the top two or three at the local age group championships.  So what I figured out pretty quick was if these kids could have done enough just staying wet and being happy when they were younger, and come in and they are only doing four times a week and they are going maybe 4000 yards and they are achieving success at age 12, why am I putting up with all these age group parents who were really into it and obsessive about what their kids were doing at 10 and 12 because all it is doing is causing me a lot of grief?  I am also noticing that many of these kids have lost interest by the time they are 12 or 13 and they are either not on our team, they are behavior problems (or attitude problems), or they are in another sport or whatever so we backed off on it.


You can go on our website you will see how we backed off on it.  I still believe that for distance swimming success for a young teenage girl, she needs to have background, but I have also noticed that whenever I have pushed a 12 and under they have quit.  What we do up through that age is we do laps.  They do lap swimming feeling like they are on a team, because they are on a team and I am paying attention to them.  They are swimming laps and they are doing most of their swimming at a comfortable pace and we do a lot of stroke correction and refinement and that sort of thing.  They are getting the yards in and that is not for everybody.  But when we have somebody like Lindsay Genderin who is 11 years old.  At 10 she was I think ranked 5th in the country in the 100 freestyle long course.  Last week she went 18:16 as an 11 year old in the 1650.  She is late maturing and is not one of these big girls; she is a late maturing girl.


She just likes to swim.  I mean, she just loves to swim and in the last three years there hasn’t been a week in the last three years where she hasn’t been at swim practice.  And she has the most easygoing mother in the world.  It reminds me of that story about Steve Clark.  If you don’t know, Steve Clark was the World Record Holder in the 100 freestyle in 1964.  George Haines likes to tell a story about Steve Clark’s mom.  Steve Clark goes to Yale for the indoor nationals, AAU Nationals.  He goes what was then a pretty good time, I don’t know if it was 45 or 46 in the 100 free, wins it, climbs out of the pool, jumps over the railing, runs up to his mom who was sitting there knitting and says, “Mom, I just went 46.1!”  And she says, “Oh, that’s nice Steve, is that a good time?”  Now that to me is an ideal parent and we have some parents like that.  We also have other kinds of parents that understand times.


As I started coaching and was preparing to be a coach I had read “Childhood of Champion” by Tutor.  Many of you probably have looked back at or read a lot of the old ASCA talks by people.   I went back and you know, Janet Evans started swimming at age 2 and this entire sort of thing.  And I am thinking they get an early start and there is this model. And if I could plug them into this model then they would go from recreational to nationals.  You can get a little kid to Nationals just by following a plan, just by following these steps.

But what I have learned is that there isn’t one model to doing that.  And I don’t have a girl going 4:03 right now so I can’t tell you what my model is going to get you to.  What I am seeing is going to get you to 4:03, but I am in a relatively small community where three teenage girls at Senior Nationals and I had two more that moved away who made them at 13-14 and so there are five in the last year getting up to Senior Nationals.  I think that is pretty good and I would like to get them to higher levels.  They would like to be at higher levels, but if that is the level we want to get to.


The three I have now all have three different developmental trajectories for what they did.  And I think Katlin Hamilton, who was 14 last week went 16:40 in the 1650.  She was probably one who started early, definitely started early, and probably went through what I would think would be more the classic: you want to have them do a lot of swimming, a lot of yards and come along; and she did that.  Emily Hanson is 16.  She was 8:54 at our sectional meet in the 800.  She was somebody who quit the sport at age 9 and she left the year before I came.  She quit because it was an undisciplined kind of a program and she didn’t want to be around an undisciplined kind of a program.  She went to soccer and her friends that she played soccer with and also swam in the fall.  When I first started coaching her friends said, there is this really tough coach there and he is really mean.  So she came back and that is the kind of swimmer that you might be losing if you are running a program that stepped down to the lower levels because that seems like what people want.


So, we brought her back because she wanted to be around a tough program.  Now, she was a breaststroker (50 breaststroker) and man I tell you, these people who have breaststrokers, I admire you.  I do so because it takes a lot of patience.  I am not a patient person and it takes a lot of patience to deal with breaststrokers.  I know and I am glad she became a distance freestyler instead.  But at age 12 she was not, she was only averaging maybe 4 – 4 ½ practices a week.  And the group that she was in then didn’t have people who would be as committed and involved in it and care as much as we have now with the group.  She wasn’t able to step up by herself without the support around her of a group to move up to the higher level, so she didn’t start doing distance training until she was 13.


Monica Drake I mentioned in the other talk.  She is 13 for another week or so went 16:32 (in the 1650) at our short course sectional meet last spring and she was 8:55 (in the 800 Free) in long course sectionals.  She did that 16:32 at 11 months after coming out of this four time a week 4,000-yard program so they don’t necessarily need this long kind of a thing.  Now, it will be interesting to see what somebody like Lindsay does who just loves to swim.  You get a certain personality type and a certain outlook.  I know Rose was mentioning that when he was telling about the descended 300’s yesterday.


When Lindsay was an 8 and under she was with another coach swimming with the 8 and unders.  The coach said to me you know, I gave them a set of 200’s the other day and I had them do ten 200’s and I said I want you to do the last 25 stroke and you can pick the stroke that you want to do.  And Lindsay picked butterfly, but I think she misunderstood the set because she did ten 200’s butterfly!  I just let her go because I thought it was kind of interesting to see if she was going to do it and she did.  So these are the kind of people (we have) they just love to swim and they get to be 13 and at 13 I start teaching them more about being tougher directly with them and start working on the psychology.  And a lot of the psychology is about being tougher.


Now last Tuesday we had a workout where they were doing a lot of short sets and we do that from time to time.  We mostly do longer stuff, but we had the last set of the practice was eight 125’s on a 1:20.  These 13-14 girls were swimming through the set and they were not really attacking it and going after it.  So we got to the end of the set and I said okay, swim six 50’s on 50 easy and then we are going to do the set over again.  And this time you are going to care about it and you are going to work.  So this time they actually did a good job on it and they stepped up.  But they were really ticked off and they were really angry.  And the reason why we redid the set was to create a situation for them to have an opportunity to learn how to control and focus their emotions.


This is a very important thing to teach young athletes.  We do that in the earlier phase of the team.  When I first started saying that I would have swimmers say, but expressing your emotions is a good thing to do.  And I would say well okay, we are going to put you in Group O, the Oprah Winfrey group.  And we don’t have that part of our team.  How we do things like what kind of suit we wear and wear a team cap and show up on time, part of that long list, is that we don’t cry at a meet.  We don’t throw our goggles.  We don’t slap the water.  All of that kind of stuff that just really is calling attention to us.  What we do is we either verbally congratulate or acknowledge our competitor and shake hands with him/her and this kind of thing.  I can’t see any parent not being on board with this sort of thing.


It is interesting because when I go to meets I get complimented by other parents on other teams or by the meet referee for the behavior of our kids.  And the sportsmanship and how our kids comfort themselves at the meet.  When I share it (the compliments) with our team parents they go, you get credit for that?  Like it is their job and it is their job and that is why I am sharing it with them so they can have the satisfaction of it.


Like anybody, when I came into the program I thought I will get the teenagers.  I will get some teenager and I will come in and in a couple of years I will have a good teenager that will turn things around that way.  Or we are going to come in and I will have a 9-year or 10 year old and I will focus on the 10 and unders.  Well, I had to go all the way back to the 7 and unders to be able to bring them through.  We did this to get the swimmers that I wanted to have and the kind of training group that I wanted to have.


We have one of the 10 and unders (from when I arrived) is now in our top distance group and doing the kind of training that we wanted.  So this is a long-term approach we talked about.  I am looking over what we are covering here because I tend to ramble and get interested in talking to the coaches.  I know on the description here it said I was going to talk about the essentials of attitude, behavior and group morale and I think I have touched on that pretty well.


The other thing is the meet schedule.  We don’t do a lot of meets and we don’t do meets for a couple of reasons.  One reason is I think the kids need to train and they need to focus on the training process.  I found that sometimes going to meets the kids get so excited and their head gets into the meet that we are losing a week of training.  Additionally, we are also losing their heads for the progression of the training cycle.  So I don’t want them going to these two and a half day meets in the middle of the season.


Fortunately, we are not located in an area where there are a lot of meets going on.  Soybean fields surround us so we have to drive and usually stay over night for meets and we do that infrequently.  More often, we are running very short meets.  They are usually a dual meet that might last 3 ½ hours and it is over.  Or we are running a 1650 meet and it might be over with warm-up in 2 ½ or 3 hours.  Finally, we are running something we started this year, a rising star’s mini meet, which takes 90 minutes (warm-up to end of meet).  90 minutes they are in and I am really proud of myself for we finally have something that is competitive with a soccer game or with a basketball game and it is real simple.


As far as I am concerned the kids in the skill development level groups, that is all they need.  To simply come in and do that, they are excited.  They get up on the block and hear this horn go off, it’s very simple.  They spend time at home.  They spend time playing with their friends.  They spend time doing things together with their family.   When new families come in and this is the simplest sport in the world for them and they love it.


Now, we have some other parents who have left.  They say we are not doing enough meets and I think that travel soccer would probably be a good sport for them, but there are other swimming teams who go off and have more meets scheduled.  And if they want to be busy on the weekend there are other places they can do it. We get swimmers.


I talked about long-term progression.  There was a coach named Harry Wilson and he was a very successful coach in Great Britain. This is a track coach and Harry Wilson coached a guy named Steve Ovet.  Now Steve Ovet was one of three runners who were at the top, the very top of the peak of men’s middle distance running in the early 80’s.  Harry Wilson at that time was coaching six men under 3:45 in a 1500 meter, which is pretty respectable.  One of the things that I found significant is he says – he wants to devise a training program.  A program of training that will gradually narrow the gap between the requirements of an event and what an athlete has to offer.  He says I use the work gradually as the full development of an endurance athlete takes a long time.  It may take as long as 12-14 years before full potential is achieved and I think you are seeing some of that now with the commercialization and professionalization of the sport.  People are staying in for longer years and you are seeing people in their late 20’s being very, very successful.


Go back and look at that great ASCA talk on Sippy Woodhead.  You see what she was doing and as coming into the sport year around at age 11.  She was doing incredibly huge amounts of volume at age 12 and then at 13 and going times that are still very, very fast and the times really not improving very much from there.  Now you are saying, what is the model to work with here with these girls?


Now, as long as we are on that topic of fast 13-14’s from the past.  A guy I used to swim for as a coach, his name is Bill Farley.  Bill Farley got 4th in the Olympics in the 1500 in Tokyo.  Bill got back into coaching in Hawaii a few years ago.  Now he is at Fairfield College on the East coast and if any of you are looking for a really great place on the East coast to send your kids I would recommend having them swim for Bill because he is a tremendous guy.  Bill had been out of coaching for about 25 years.


When he came back we were corresponding back and forth a lot because he was coaching some age groupers in Hawaii.  He said, you know, the biggest change in competitive swimming since I got out of it in the 1970’s is nobody is talking about what it is going to take to get a girl under 4 minutes.  Now most of the people out in the swimming world must be thinking, how could they go under 4 minutes?  Janet Evans went 4:03.  Well, that wasn’t the mindset when people like Craig Breedlove were taking rocket engines and putting them on wheels, sitting down on them on the Bonneville salt flats and taking off to see if they could go 800 miles an hour on them.  That was a different kind of mindset that was going on then and I think that there are still some of us that think that way. Whether we get there or not we are wondering what is going to happen.


Now in ’88 a 17-year-old Janet Evans went 4:03. In ’78 15-year-old Tracey Wickham went 4:06 beating a 14 year old, Sippy Woodhead who went 4:07 and another 15-year-old Kim Linehan who was 4:07.  We haven’t seen a 400 freestyle like that until this Athens Olympics a couple of months ago with a 4:05 – 4:05 – 4:06 – 4:06 which was pretty good.  But do you notice that it was a 17 year old who won it; beating some 20 something’s who were trailing behind.  Now, Woodhead’s and Linehan’s 400 times from ’78 at age 14 and 15 would have put them on the 2004 Olympic team, if they had done that at the 2004 Olympic trials.


So I don’t know if any of you have gone into the record book and looked at the 13-14 National age group records lately, but 1978 Sippy Woodhead 1:58.53 (200 Free).  I mean it is 26 years later.  We haven’t gotten any faster folks.  1978:  400 freestyle 4:07.15 age 14 Sippy Woodhead.  Short course Stephanie Elkins 1:45.91.  We can ask Randy Reese what is happening with that because he was coaching her.  Sippy Woodhead:  1:39.94, these were 13-14 National age group records and they haven’t been broken in 26 years.


Now, let’s talk about strength to weight ratio.  I know that this is something that we don’t want to do.  I think we want to be careful when we talk about that with our swimmers and I have noticed that Swimming World magazine no longer reports on female swimmer’s weights.  But guess what?  You can learn some interesting things if you look at what Sippy Woodhead was doing in 1978.  You are trying to figure out (I don’t know) if it worked because in ’79 she wasn’t as fast and never went as fast in her 400 again.


In ’79 Sippy Woodhead weighed 10 pounds more (than ’78).  She may have been stronger, but in 1978 she was 5’ 2” and weighed 105.  If you hang around with college coaches that are telling you they are only recruiting girls that are 6 foot and taller.  That is because they want points in the relays, in the short relays.  You don’t have to be big to do well in the short races.  You have got to have the strength to weight ratio.  Kim Linehan – age 15 goes 4:07.  She is 5’ 3”, 107.  Now these are not anorexic weights.


Go onto the body mass index and you look at the chart, they are at the bottom range of normal.  Janet Evans at age 12 is 16:56 in the 1500.  If all you are doing is following the current national age group records – people have been faster.  Brooke Bennett was faster than the current national age group record when she was 12.  1982:  4’ 10” 62 pounds so a lot of times we get these young swimmers and they say I need to grow.  Well, I am not sure they need to grow.  I mean it is nice if they grow, Kaitlin (Sandeno) is 5’ 11” and that is fine, she is doing well, but if somebody is only 4’ 10” that is not a big deal.  Evans began swimming at age 2 and we are starting a new team group and it is the lower level.  It’s an entry-level group called the Prenatal Water Birthing Group and we are going to have it in a hot tub, 98.6 degrees with USAS memberships for these kids before they come out of the womb.


Woodhead, as I mentioned, didn’t start year around swimming until age 11.  Now, what I take away from this is it doesn’t look to me as though energy system training programs, age group championship meets or $200 high tech swim suits have done anything to improve the freestyle middle distance and distance performance of our teenage girls.  As proof, 26 years later the 13-14’s are no faster, in fact they are slower.


Now a lot of these fads that are going on in coach leadership are necessary to keep team families away from a lot of these swimming distractions. Defining the sport for my families is something that I do and some people might call it propaganda, but I consider it more “showing them the light.”  What I do with handouts, put on our bulletin boards, and send out in emails all has a flavor of stuff this is going to (I think) help them be successful.  But also help them have the mindset of what the sport is because remember most people are coming into swimming (our team anyway) thinking well, I know what swimming is all about because we did summer league.


You know it is going to be like that so I have to shift their thinking gradually and there are different ways to do that.  Now, one thing that I have done through the internet and applying a little computer graphic design and created some posters to put around the pool.  We have a couple of pictures from the 1960’s of Debbie Meyer.  I made a little poster format and took an excerpt from Sherm Shavoor’s “50 Meter Jungle” book that is talking about her first experience, her first week at practice.  First day at practice when she moves to the team at age 12 and he gives her, swim 20 lengths to warm-up. She swims part of it and comes back out and walks over to him and says coach, how long is workout going to last?  This is pretty tough and he says well, we are going to go; we have another ways to go.  He says how long were your workouts on the team you were on before and she said well I think we swam about 4,000 yards a week.  And he says well, we swim 14,000 a day and she trudges back over and gets in and is just sort of struggling along at the back of the lane.  Debbie Meyer was tough, had toughness in her character that was brought out by the situation that she was in and I think that we have a lot of kids that are that way.  I think that it is wonderful to offer these kids an opportunity to discover that in themselves and that is what we do through our program.  But having a poster like that and at the bottom there is a little banner that says, “12,000 a day, two practices, age 12” and up at the top it says “ the 1960 (whatever year it was) 1968 Sullivan Award winner and I have it on the bulletin board.  I have laminated it and put it on the bulletin board at the Y where the little kids swim and parents come up and they look at meet results and they notice this thing and some of them read it and it just gradually sinks in.  We have another one with John Naber at the other pool.


I went on to the E-Bay auction site and found somebody was auctioning off a 1975 cover of Sports Illustrated with Tim Shaw on it, Swimming’s new Superstar, great picture of Tim Shaw.  Well, that is at the top of the poster and at the bottom of the poster is Tim Shaw’s quote about not being afraid of Mr. Pain and going after it and I put that up and the little kids and the older kids they love that.  They thought wow, Tim Shaw; he is my kind of guy.  I am like Tim Shaw, that’s what I want to do.  This is how we work along that way so teenage years, rhythmic endurance is better than it is at the older age so the teenagers have an advantage over the 20 something people in these longer events because there aren’t longer events in any other strokes.  So don’t take that away from them by saying I want them to still be interested when they are in college.  That might be one reason why it hasn’t moved forward.  They need a huge aerobic base.  They need fast tempo and they have to have an advantageous strength to weight ratio.  Our objective is creating an environment for them for high morale for endurance training and the morale of psychology and motivation, very important.


Now, when we get kids into starting to train distance one of the things we are looking for getting their heads into it is they need to be able to do arithmetic on the clock.  Some kids figure this out and others have a hard time figuring it out.  I am a math teacher with little kids for a certain point of the time; maybe you are too.  Teaching them how to do arithmetic in their heads with the clock because they need to figure out how to.  Understanding they can’t do the arithmetic with time. At first I was ticked off that schools wouldn’t schools teach it. And it is just my job to do and I said, well the parents need to do it.  I need to send them an email and my sister is a teacher and she said no, no, that is just going to make the parents defensive because the parents don’t know how to do it.  So I spend the time. We have a white board at the end of the pool and I spend time teaching them how to do arithmetic in their head.  If they can do arithmetic in their head then they can get motivated and they can get into distance training.  They can get into things like understanding what the basis is.  In other words, we are doing 100’s on a 1:30; that is the same basis as four 100’s on 6 minutes and helping them know and understand this, I think is a concept that is very helpful to them.


Being able to look at the clock and know they went under 25 and they came in on the 42 and so that was a 17, a 1:17 or a 4:17, but it was something 17.  They need to be able to figure that out and thinking and remembering when they left and that is why smart kids tend to be the ones who succeed in distance swimming, to generalize.  We work on improving the average pace.  We work on improving the send-off interval.  We work on improving the fastest time if it is a descended set and so these are ways that we are going to do it.


Now, in terms of the big question I think in a training program is allocation of adaptation energy.  The kids have a certain amount of adaptation energy and how you are going to allocate that throughout the weeks and months; the answer really is your training program.


There are different distance coaches who answer this differently and they have all had success in different ways with doing this.  And I know this is also an issue for sprint coaches because Shannon Rollason who is Jodie Henry’s coach.  I am not giving away any secrets am I Forbes?  Okay? Raise your hand if you want me to stop.  If he wants Jodie Henry training at race pace and we are talking pretty fast swimming here because she is the World Record holder in the 100 meter freestyle. He wants her coming in and getting as much 100 meter race pace training in as possible.  He does not want her too tired to do that so in that example he is allocating the adaptation energy and designing the other items in the training throughout the week or throughout the month so that she can come in and get as much race pace stuff in.  He is not doing race pace (my understanding of it) and just driving her down into a trough and then waiting for a taper and just crossing his fingers and hoping it comes back up.  That is not what is happening.


Now, what we are doing with the kids is I am looking at them and say as they walk in the door or if they are standing there if they are having conversations before practice.   I am looking at them and I am looking to get a sense of, are their eyes glazed over, are they joking and telling stories about school.  Maybe it is adaptation energy is low or maybe it is cumulative stresses and they had a bad day at school and dealing with 13-14 year olds, you know, some social things happen at school and they can be pretty important to them and they can really knock a lot of emotional energy out of them.  Those are things to take into consideration in terms of what I am going to do with them that day and whether we are going to do the set (we had planned).  We might change the workout or we might do the set.  I might ask for something or I might not ask for something.  If it were a day where I felt that they were down somewhat I would not have asked them to redo that set of eight 125’s under 1:20.  But because I felt they were all in a pretty good place then I thought well, this is something I can ask them for.


Now we work on technique, skills, behavior, and training habits.  We do this by starting them out lap swimming longer distances at a comfortable pace, strengthening the kick, improving pulling strength, and a few dive walk backs for neuromuscular coordination when they are younger and developing.  Then we add a morning.  Start out with one, then two and then 3 and we have three weekday mornings a week in the summer.


In our normal academic year schedule our Saturday practice is 2-5 in the afternoon.  We do this so that they can have a day where they can just sleep 13 hours if that is what they need to do and get caught up.  I think that that works out well, except that then after a while they start feeling like, well I am giving up an awful lot.   I can never go out and do things with my friends on Saturday afternoon and they are always calling me up and saying they want to do things.  So this fall we have had a number of Saturday morning practices when the high school teams have been off away at a meet and we come in for a Saturday morning practice.  Just having that variety in there I think is good for keeping them basis.


Now, first step we are looking at keeping a log of our practices.  I like to get them up to averaging 60,000 a week for a 52-week year and we keep a log.  So I am counting any time that they are off.  August we don’t really take breaks so we are looking at 60,000 and that is kind of a minimal level that can get them up to Nationals.  But that is a first step and I feel like we have crossed the threshold and we are talking yards so it is not long course meters.


The next step we are working is getting them up to 70,000 a week for a 52 week year and I think we are going to get one or more people there this year and we will see how that goes.  Now, I really believe that at this age that they need to be going 75,000 a week for a 52-week year.  You see why we don’t spend a lot of time going to meets because there aren’t too many meets where they have a training pool we can go to in between races.  But it is something that I think is necessary to get to the higher levels in the way that I am training them.  That is something that we need to do and I don’t know how we are going to get there.  I don’t know how we are going to get that kind of yards in given the school day and given the limitations and stuff.  But you know, that the kids gradually over time (year to year) adapt to doing this kind of training.  At the same time they get stronger and better at it.


Pretty soon the parents start helping figuring out ways for them to make their life a little easier with the school schedule or something.  I found that 10 and unders can be an age group champion, but it is probably better if they are not.  It is only if they are an exceptionally well-balanced, head on the shoulders family that it works.  As an 11&12 year old they say they can be an age group champion training 4 times a week, 4 k per practice.  More is okay if they really like to swim laps because I am really only having them do lap swimming at that age.  But at 13-14 they must step up and they must step up across the program.  Whether they are a distance swimmer and going in our distance group or whether they are just somebody who is going to be on the high school team and they are going to be happy if they are more of a B level swimmer, I still ask them to step up at 13-14.


It is really big, you would be surprised, I feel like I am in there with the scissors cutting the umbilical cord.  And it is not the kid it’s the parents.  The parents still want to think of them as age groupers and it is really (I think) a big step in parent education at that age to help the parents see that the kids need to grow up and tell the parents that the kids like to come to practice and have it be their club house at that age.  They don’t want mom and dad sitting around watching them at every practice and doing this sort of thing.  They want to come in and have their place where they go so this last year we stopped allowing 10 and unders to go to the age group championships or to go to selected travel meets and it worked out.  I mean, it worked out real well and kids need to have things where they look forward to getting older.  They can step up and they can do that and that is how we keep them interested in the program.


Now we keep things real simple.  We do not use jargon.  You know jargon was invented in various professions so that people would respect an ordinary guy (that lives next to them) as a professional and pay him more money.  Well we don’t do that.  We have very simple language about things that the kids can understand.  There is a rating perceived effort chart that has I think twenty levels on it.  That is too complex for us.  We have five: easy, comfortable pace, fast to comfortable pace, hard and sprint.  There is a big variety in the spectrum from comfortable pace and fastest comfortable pace and it kind of goes into hard sometimes, depending on how they are feeling.   But we are not making it real difficult for these people.


So I wanted to tell one little story before I wind up and I know that in a lot of talks you hear coaches talk about their influences and people they have been exposed to and this sort of thing.  I know I spent a year on deck with Dick Jochums just because I love the way he talks and he spent a lot of time mentoring me.  Telling me things at the time that I didn’t know I needed to know, but years down the road as a coach I am discovering oh, this why Dick told me this.  But as we coach the early influences that we have are very, very big contributions to our success and I see Dave Salo out in the audience.  I will mention the last name, I am not going to get into this thing other people do and mentioned working with Jon Urbanchek and obviously Dave has a lot of respect for Jon.  I have worked with Jon a long time and a number of coaches and friends and people that I could refer to.  What I am looking for with my kids is I want them to come and I want them to care.  And I think I do a pretty good job of role modeling for them.  Caring about what they do and one of the reasons they like swimming for me is because they like that there is somebody who cares about what they are caring about and somebody that thinks what they do is important.


When I was 14 we had no coach.  Bill Farley had left and he had gotten out of college and I think he went back for the summer to Southern California and the Michigan mile was coming up and this was a meet that hardly anybody did. But we did it and we didn’t have a coach because the coach had left and this was in May and so one of the team parents came in and the team parent was named Jack Daly.


Jack Daly was probably a pretty good guy to have come in to volunteer to take the keys to the high school and come in and show up and work us out for a few weeks to get us ready for the Michigan mile.  Jack Daly had been NCAA finalist in the 40’s in the 1650, but the significant thing about Jack Daly is that he took time off from his job to come in.  Jack Daly’s job led him in a few years to be Chairman of the Board and CEO of a major Fortune 500 Corporation and this is the kind of experience from this kind of a person, coming in on deck as a coach.  He would come in his black wing-tip shoes and his button down broadcloth shirt and tie and he would have his custom tailored glen-plaid suit on. He would come on deck and you wanted as a swimmer (the 14 year old). You want to think what you are doing is important to know that a guy that’s making that kind of money that has that kind of responsibility and at 14 I had no clue what kind of responsibility, but I knew that we were important because he was there and he was doing the workout and this was the first time I had ever had a coach who cared that we did a really, really good swim.


We found that out pretty quickly because we warmed up and then we had a set of ten 200’s and they were on an interval I had never done them on an interval before.  We were going along and all of a sudden we are stopped and he is yelling at us and we are supposed to start it over and why are we starting it over?  Well, because you didn’t do it right.  You need to put more effort into it.  Why are you here?  Are you wasting your time, do you care?  Well being coached by Jack Daly I think is the most wonderful experience that I had as a coach.  Now a couple of years later we were again without a coach and Jack hired Bill Farley who was back in town.  He was going to be assistant coach in Eastern Michigan for a while before he went to Princeton to coach. Bill was managing a tennis club and Jack hired Bill to coach his son Peter and me in the summer and there were a couple of college guys that life guarded at the tennis club and I would drive over.  I was 16 and I would drive over and pick up Peter and we would drive 30 minutes out to this pond that they had found out in the country in somebody’s front yard.


This pond was 220 yards long conveniently and that is where we worked out six mornings a week for about two and one half hours. Then in the afternoon we would go back to the tennis club and we would swim Monday, Wednesday and Friday afternoon and do some shorter stuff, short course yards so try to imagine (I don’t have a nice hand-out like Paul did) but what can you do in a 220-yard pond? You can do 440’s, you can do 880’s, you can do miles, you can do sets of 440’s, sets of 880’s, sets of miles, you can do ladders that include 440’s, 880’s and a mile and that is about all that you do every single practice.


Day after day throughout the summer and that is the most fun that I ever had swimming was that summer going out into that pond with that small group of people doing 440’s, 880’s and a mile so when people say well, you know, kids have to be interested.  You have got to give them a lot of variety and all this kind of stuff.  I know that that is not true and I know that there are other factors that provide satisfaction for kids that don’t necessarily have to do with giving them an MTV.  Change the channels, oh no I am going to go and play games kind of a thing and I know that we will probably have kick boards with little game screens on them pretty soon.  And I am sure there will be teams that want to use them and buy them, but good luck to you, but we will still be going 6,000’s and that kind of stuff.


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