Individual Medley Training by Siga Rose (2002)


Before we talk about IM training, I want to talk about how important it is to surround yourself with great coaches – motivated coaches and ranging from the very young to the very old.  We are laughing because we are the very old.  I love coaching with the young coaches.  Those are the kind of coaches that I hire because they have so much energy and keep me on my toes and I can learn a lot from them and then they learn lots of words of wisdom from us–the old ones.


We need lots of high energy when we coach.  I am trying to keep my energy high here right now so I feel that is important when you are hiring your coaches.  My job is to recognize talent in a coach because I hire coaches. One thing I look for when hiring a coach is how they relate to children.  I don’t even care if they know much about swimming because we can teach them that, but what you can’t teach them is patience and enjoying children.  Other qualities to keep in mind when you are hiring might include 1) a willingness to learn; 2) a hunger for knowledge; 3) good communication skills; 4) the ability to talk with adults and to the swimmers; 5) an ability to connect with people; and 6) being dynamic with high energy.  I just wanted to share this with you.


This is the third talk I have given and I have been trying to preach a little bit.  I do call it preaching.  My kids call it preaching because I do a lot of preaching when I coach and it is not just swimming but it is preaching about life. I call it “the finished product”.  I think it is very important as coaches that you get your kids involved in the community.  [I promise I will talk about IM in a minute, but I have got to say this].  Our team does the Special Olympics. If there is anything that you can do to get involved in something like that with your children, with your swimmers please do it.  It is an unbelievably great experience for both.  We do the Walk Against Drugs, and we are in our full team uniform. Often there is a swim meet at the same time, so we don’t have all of us there, but we have the majority of us there. It is great and teaches the kids a lot. Plus we are out in our community!  You need to make yourself visible in your community, and that is one great way is to get involved in those causes. We also do canned-food drives.  Now I am sure many of you do that but don’t just do it at Christmas.  You know there are people hungry all the time.


Your swimmers need to know how fortunate they are not just to have a swimming pool but to have what they have and that is part of your job.  That is how we put the whole person together. Sometimes we will have everybody bring one canned good to a Saturday Clinic.  Just something like that.  Make it easy for them to bring it and don’t say, “Did you bring it?” because it is volunteer.  Please make your kids aware of what is going on around them in their life.  We have been for years and I recommend that to everyone.


I love coaching IM.  Our kids do IM everyday.  As far as I am concerned everybody is an IM-er.  Everybody does everything.  We don’t want to have a weak stroke.  We don’t talk about a weak stroke and I think it is the most fun event to coach.  It is mandatory that our kids enter the 100 IM, but again, when they are ready. There are some 5-6 year olds that can swim it but the thing is – like we talked about in butterfly – don’t set them up to have a bad experience.  All I tell them in their first 100 IM (even the 7-8 year olds) is remember perfect streamline.  Just do perfect streamline.  Give them one thing to think about, so that every time they push off they do a good streamline. Then you make a huge deal of it when they come back and say how was my swim (because of course you are talking to them before and after every race). You say, “Oh, my gosh! Those were the best streamlines!” That is their first experience. You make a big deal out of it.  You tell the other coaches that are sitting there with them, “This was their first 100 IM!”, and all the coaches are giving high fives and that swimmer is going, “Whoa! I can’t wait to swim it the next time!” You are selling them the 100 IM.


The next time they swim it you might instruct the swimmer like this. “You have one lap four times – your first 25 yards you just relax and then your second 25 you go fast and you continue that for the four laps”.  Just get them to think a little bit.  Don’t start telling them about all the technique and so on.  We are still just trying to get through the 100 IM.  Again, as they get into the 7-8 age group then you can get a little more specific.


In the butterfly we want them to keep it long and relaxed because of the race horse syndrome.  This occurs when they dive in and blast and then they die. There is nothing more painful to watch than to see them blast-off their best 25 butterfly time and while you are getting splits you are thinking “oh, my gosh, we are in trouble here,” and then it is just not fun. We use the word relaxation and it is very important that they go out and relax, feel good.


In backstroke we say, “Be tall, be tall!” In breaststroke we teach hand-over-hand glide.  Now we do this at the level I am talking about, and if they are not doing it I make them do this.  They are going to have their hands together, okay?  So we emphasize that.  This is when a 7-8 year old has swum it a few times. In the freestyle, I just say, “all legs”.


Once they have swum IM a few times and they are more confident, you start giving them more of a race plan.  Start asking them to be aggressive, but relaxed, in the butterfly.  So they are understanding what relaxation is, but that they need to pick it up a little bit. Then in backstroke I tell them remember to breathe.  Of course they are going to breathe, but sometimes I have seen them just move their arms and they are not even thinking about breathing.  They need to get that good air in there and set themself up for the breaststroke.  “Get yourself ready for the breaststroke,” I tell them and then, “Don’t rest in the breast,” because that is the one that they are just going to want to chill on or just cruise. You want them to attack the breast.  Then bring it home in free with everything you got.


I like the 100 IM so much because you can be creative. If you tell them one thing and it really didn’t work so well for them then you may want to try something a little different. If you say, “What did you think about in breaststroke?” they might answer, “Oh, I was just resting.”  I mean, you get a lot of interaction that way. You can get very creative with how to tell little people how to swim that 100 IM but make sure you know that person and reinforce it.  If they did it right, say “What a great job!” and if they didn’t do what you asked them, bring that to their attention.


I told you that the 100 IM is mandatory, but it is a good, positive mandatory. You get to swim the 100 IM because you are so strong, okay so that is wonderful and we are so excited.  Then I am talking about the 9 year olds that are starting to be ready for the 200 IM and make sure that you have trained them enough to do the 200 IM the first time out.  Don’t make them suffer through it – that’s wrong.  You can emphasize streamlining again because that is a word they hear often. I do push them to streamline past the backstroke flags in backstroke.  I tell them to negative split (or you can say build), but I like that negative split and that their first lap is relaxed and their second lap is strong.  I use the same catch phrases in backstroke and breaststroke and  freestyle.  It is very simple but they are starting to become smarter swimmers because of what we are saying to them.


No swimmer should swim a 200 IM and after the race when you say what were you thinking about they respond, “Oh, I was just thinking about racing”.  Well that’s good, don’t get me wrong, but we want smart swimmers. So yes, they need to be racing, but can they be more specific?  Make sure you are positive, but at the same time, you want to give constructive criticism in a positive way. I never talk to them about their weak stroke.  I don’t feel they have a weak stroke so I am really careful with that in the 8 and under area.


At our Saturday Clinics we really do a lot of IM. After the demonstration is completed we reinforce it and we also work on IM skills during the week preceding the clinic, so it is all planned. It has worked very well and I would like to recommend this approach.  Sometimes kids don’t always want to come on Saturdays, so if it is not a “practice” but rather a “stroke clinic” we improve attendance greatly.  Lots of kids want to stay home and watch cartoons and that is okay, but anytime you say stroke work or stroke clinic they come out of the woodwork. You and I know that and I know that you are doing stroke work everyday, but when you sell it this way in your weekly newsletter – they don’t miss and they really like coming, have a great time and feel good about themselves.


For the AA to AAA 10 and under, you can get a little more creative.  In the 200 IM (and again, you don’t have them swimming a 400 IM at this age) I will have them do a 400 IM at practice as a psych-up and say, “Hey! You just did a 400 IM. Just imagine what your 200 IM split is going to be like!” so I know they are really prepared.  They know they completed a 400 IM, so the 200 IM will be a piece of cake. That is one good way to approach it, so in the fly it is total relaxation in the 50.  Relaxation is the word I use when they are swimming their first 50 of the 200 IM. Please remember that they are not breathing out of their streamlines and even though you get so tired of saying that, coaches are tape recorders. That is what we are about!  We just keep saying it and saying it and saying it and make a huge deal out of the swimmer in their 50 fly who didn’t breathe out of her streamline on the turn.


What a great job you have done when they remember to do that so they don’t breathe out of their streamline on the dive and they don’t breathe out of their streamline on the turn.  Think what you just did for them going into the higher groups.  That has become a habit and they won’t even have to think about it as the time goes on. Again, be cautious in that fly – get them out relaxed.  Don’t put them out there, even if it is – you know it is their strongest stroke at this level.  Keep them relaxed.  Don’t have them go out too hard because it is painful.


In the backstroke – I mentioned already that they need to get a lot of air, relax, open their lungs up.  I would like them to start to pick up their arm speed so they are really – we talked about backstroke acceleration starting to accelerate harder so they can still have the relaxation, but the tempo of the arm speed starts to pick up in backstroke.


In the breaststroke I feel it is legs.  I talk about legs because they are going to be awesome in their first 25 they are going to be great.  Their second 25, there is nothing because they are tired.  So try hand-over-hand talk about finishing the kick – those two things.  The first lap is hand-over-hand (don’t overload them) and the second lap you go just power the kick and finish it.  On the breaststroke pull down, I tell these little ones to count to 5 (only because they will count to 2 at the swim meet). But really get them to focus on their pull down.  Take advantage of that underwater.  That is why we keep saying streamlining.


When they hit the freestyle, I just look at them and go – what do you do?  “Just go all out coach.” I say just go.  Since they are a little tired at that point, do not start telling them too many things like remember to breathe to both sides, remember to have big kicks—no!—just say “Go!” and “Kick!”  That’s it. They are going to give all they have at that point, so I think that works really, really well, but you can be creative too.  With some kids there are different things that work and you find that out as you get to know your swimmer. You will get to know your swimmers in all the meetings that you are going to have on deck, and all the outings that you are going to have with them, and the sleep-overs, and so on.  You are going to have that chance to discover what works for them.


“Gee coach, you know I really feel I need to get out fast in fly, okay?”


You answer, “Well, why do you feel that way?”


They respond, “Well I just feel like I need to be out in front. You know that pushes me harder.”


“Okay, lets try,” you say. Unless they are just going to fall flat on their face, you have got to listen to them.  I would let a 9-10 year old try.  I don’t know if I would let them do it at Junior Olympics, maybe the biggest meet of the year but early in the season when they ask to try and go out faster, let them do it. Usually you are right, but don’t say I told you so, tell them to remember all about smart swimming.  Tell them we have to learn to pace ourselves and be smart.  I would much rather see them come from behind. Say things like, “If it is between you and another swimmer at the end, make sure you are the one that is there first.”



Next, I wanted to share some things I do with the training.  When you prepare beginners for the 100 IM I like to do it broken at the 25–using that terminology because they are going to have that all through their swimming career.  What is a “broken swim”, coach?  They might not know how to use the clock, so you tell them to count to five. That just depends on what your facilities are equipped with.


In addition to a broken 100 IM, they can go a broken 50IM. You can also swim a broken 75 IM – I like the 75 a lot. I think that works really, really well because then you give them a little bit of rest and they are used to just blasting home and it is a habit.  Sometimes I will even have them go a 25 IM or I will give them specific instructions, like, “swim four arm strokes of fly, six arm strokes of back, three arm strokes of breast and then whatever you have left just go” and they love that.  They have to think and that might not look so good but they have to really think and switch and it is fun!.


Another thing I have done is 1 x 125 straight with the 7-8 year olds and what I like to do is just tell them they are going to go a 125 – five laps — and they are going to double up on their favorite stroke in the IM.  I always make sure that I say IM because I want them to be thinking, “gee, maybe in the IM I am the best at back but in my individual breaststroke I have my triple”.

Who knows what they are thinking, but I try and word it that way so they keep all their options open and it is fun to see what they choose.  Many times they will choose the free, but still it is fun to see what they choose.  Then I will ask them to do the extra lap with the stroke that makes them the most tired. Alot of them will do breaststroke. They end up going 25 fly, 25 back, 50 breaststroke and then 25 free and so that is really fun.  I mean it is fun to see that.


I like to talk about descending a 100 IM.  I really like the descending idea a lot where the first one is total focus on technique and nothing else – no passing! I don’t know how many of you have the passing thing going on with your teams, but you really have to handle that carefully because they again, are like race horses. If you take that motivation away from them I think that is a crime, but you also have to be fair about it and you have to tell them that they can never pass on drilling.  We never pass on drilling.  That is pointless because you are supposed to be focusing on drilling. Be sure the same person is not always going first.  Be more creative that way because then you don’t get as many “leaders”.  You want all leaders.   Give swimmers something to focus on each time, so they are trying to get faster with their time each time.  Don’t just go 5 x 100 IMs descending 1-5 and the first one is drill.  Be specific on each one and it will be more fun for them and more interesting.


Next start talking about the time standards.  I am not talking about the 5-6 year olds. I am talking about the 8-10 year olds. They need to start looking at the clock and thinking, “Hmmm. I want my “A” time and I was two minutes off.”  Start them thinking about the time standards a little bit when that time comes.


Kicking.  I love doing IM kicking–100 IM kicking and, yes, I have them use the board.  100 IM kicking over and over. I love it!  100 IM finning, okay.  All they do in breaststroke is do breaststroke pull with dolphin kick –that is a blast.  They love it!  No paddles, but in a 100 IM drill – the whole think is drill – you might give them a butterfly 2 right, 2 left, 4 both arms,  backstroke eye level switch, breaststroke pull once kick twice and freestyle your choice drill.


Let the kids have some say. They love that and plus they are thinking all the time.  Be creative. Change it around so it isn’t boring for them.  You can do the same thing when they are ready for those 200 IMs.  I don’t see any problem with the upper level 9-10s doing 5 or 8  x 200 IMs at a time, but you have to call it because you are the expert and you have to sell it to them. Don’t make the base so hard that all you are going to get is garbage.  Make sure that they are able to maintain their stroke. They do need the endurance, so that they can maintain the stroke, so you have to find a good balance there. I think it is great when they are getting ready for their bigger meets that you get some mental steps in there for them.


“Oh my gosh, you know we are going to go 10 x 200 IMs today!” and they are going to go “ohhh!”, so you say, “and we are going to be so proud when we finish this!” and they are just kind of really shocked. Then I will make a deal with them, “well if everybody streamlines, if everybody streamlines, you know, past the flags every time we will take one away” and then I turn around and their faces are all happy.


Originally I was going to say 5 x 200, so you have this little game and then you say,
”Now if everybody in butterfly and in freestyle holds their breath out of the streamline you can take one more away.”  Then they are thinking they only have eight to do, so let’s go and they are all excited. It’s just things like that that you can do and it is mental.  It is mental–don’t do it everyday. Mental sets are good, but at the same time, watch out for the stroke technique.


I think that’s all I have – do you have any questions?  I moved along quickly.  I know I am not talking about breaststroke you know as far as stroke technique but I would like to mention again about finishing the kick in the breaststroke. For these young kids it is huge. And then the hand-over-hand.  I know there are all kinds of breaststrokes going on and I have moved on with the times.  The only thing that hasn’t moved on with the times for me is my hairstyle and I have a few past swimmers from 25 years ago that came right up and said, “boy – your hairstyle has been the same for 25 years.” True, I haven’t changed that way but I know that swimming has come a long way and it is important to move with the times, but breaststroke is so very basic when you are teaching it. In fact, I think there are two things that have stood out in my mind. One is to make sure your Swim America programs are teaching the snap kick.  The kids like that and then that hand over hand technique.  Some of our age group coaches have swimmers look down – that has worked really, really well for us.  They may have a tendency to rest in the breast and I have told them the breaststroke is the hardest stroke to do.  It is harder than any other stroke and I’ve got them convinced of that so they have to work that stroke because it is the hardest stroke and the most challenging stroke to learn to do right.  Anybody can do it and rest in it, but to really do it right it takes a really smart swimmer and they go “Oh, I’m smart, then I am going to be really good at this.” All of us have a person that is born with one foot turned in!  Please don’t give up! Don’t give up because I have a few times.  I mean – don’t give up (believe me)! Eventually, unless they need surgery it will come with a little more focus as they get older.


Is your program  year-round?

It is definitely year-round. We take a break – a two and a half to three week break – especially the faster kids will take a three week break in August – at the very end of our season.  They need that break, but we offer a little bit of maintenance mainly for the novice kids who if you lose touch with them then they might not come back. They just try another sport, which is fine, but that has worked well. We just don’t totally have them stop for three weeks – it is a little bit long for a novice type swimmer. For our little beginners we don’t take as long of a break – at least two weeks, but our higher level 9 and ups that are into their AA and AAA, we tell them to go away and have fun.  Go play. Their parents desperately need a break. Also some of the thinner kids that are just freezing for two months are told not to come.  Tell them not to come because you will hold onto them more but don’t lose touch with them.  In December (a tough month in Southern California even for us with the Jacuzzi) for the little boys that have no fat and can barely swim 20 minutes and are miserable, I recommend having them break for the month or two but call them every couple of weeks. Find out how is it going? How is soccer? How are your other sports? Then you don’t lose touch.


How do you retain the disenchanted swimmer?

Have you tried to do a one on one – just you and the swimmer?  I think that if a child is struggling because they don’t like swimming, or the mom or dad says they really don’t want to come too much right now, or if you can just see that they are not into it, if you can do some one on ones with those kids you can save them many times. If there is a way you can get in the water with them hands on (and I know we can’t all do that), but if you want to save your swimmer because you see that they are wandering off spend 20 minutes with them – even if it is just out of the water – just talking to them.


What percent of time do I spend doing butterfly and then back, breast, free and then kicking and so on?

I really like what we do. We will kick every day, pull every day, drill every day and race every day, but we might kick backstroke on Monday, okay? And then pull backstroke on Tuesday so every day we are doing four different strokes and you think – boy, that’s a lot to give the kids! No, it has worked out well for us because they are always doing something new and it is fun for them.  You know at first they get a kickboard and then they have to get paddles. It does take time, but they are getting good at putting everything on top of their kickboard and having it all ready. That is an organizational skill and they have to have that for the next group, so we do every stroke everyday in the 5-6 age group. We cover kicking, but like I said, we might kick backstroke and then we will might pull breaststroke, drill freestyle, and race butterfly and then we rotate it through.  We rotate it so the next day we kick another stroke and then Wednesday we kick another stroke and Thursday we kick another stroke and we do IM.  I like introducing fly.  I like to go from free to back to fly to breast, but that doesn’t mean that is the only way.  That is how we introduce the strokes.  I wait for the breaststroke because then they are learning all the time.  To me, breaststroke is the one you have so many things to think about and now they are learning to think in backstroke, to think in butterfly, to think in freestyle and then they are used to thinking and then we bring in the breaststroke. I think it works well.




Did I answer your question?  Kick every single practice.  It’s very, very important.


Notify of
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments

Sponsorship & Partnerships

Official Sponsors and Partners of the American Swimming Coaches Association

Join Our Mailing List

Subscribe and get the latest Swimming Coach news