Preparing Age Group Swimmers for Senior Swimming by Todd Tucker, Pleasenton Seahawks (2013)



[introduction by Jennifer Gibson]

Our next speaker, when I saw that I was assigned his introduction before I even read the program book, I was thinking what would I want to say about Todd.  I had the good fortune of being on staff with him at Zone Select Camp in Phoenix back in June, earlier this summer.  It was amazing, because the one big thing that I took-away was how well he connected to the athletes, and then I got the program book and the title of his first talk was connecting with age-group athletes.  And he just has an amazing way; he made me feel comfortable and I was a staff member.  But he included me; I was the manager but he included me in his workouts.  And I think you are going to be in for a real treat.  He coaches with Pleasanton, out in Pleasanton, California.  And if you know their age groupers there, if you have ever observed them, just how they relate to their coaches, just how confident they are when they are on the pool deck, speaks volumes about what they are getting from coaches at home.  So I would like to introduce to you Coach Todd Tucker.


[Tucker begins]

Thank you, Jennifer; certainly appreciated those kind words.  I think that before I get started today, I want to take an opportunity just to share a couple of moments of that camp that Jennifer and I were fortunate to share.  Getting picked-up at the airport, driving to the dorms, little extended road trip had a good time there; but it was instant how Jennifer puts people at ease and is so easy to talk to, and I appreciated that.  I certainly appreciate your sentiments introducing this talk today.  That camp was a tremendous experience for me; I learned a great deal.  I think that I’m always on a quest for continued learning, I really am.  I think that’s critical to our craft.  We talked about that a little bit yesterday.  And no matter how much longevity you have in the sport, no matter what your history is in sport, there is somebody out there that is more creative, more energetic, more passionate, more knowledgeable than I am.  And I want always tap into the wherever possible.  And the staff at that particular camp was incredibly generous; Jennifer specifically was incredibly generous.  So I got a lot of value out of that.


I appreciate the fact that you guys are here today.  Yesterday’s conversation was a little bit more thoughts on how to relate to the athletes; today’s going to be a little more about the structural side in terms of what I think athletes need to be prepared for Senior-level Swimming.  And I think the first thing that we need to understand is that everybody’s program is different.  Can I ask a question before we get started?  How many Age Group coaches are in this room right now?  That is fantastic, and God bless guys for the work you do: you are amazing people.  How many Senior coaches are in the room?  Thank you for being here.


I spent many, many years of my life coaching Age Group; and one of the things that I have had a distinct advantage on is I have been in the same place for a long time.  So the expectations were very clear to me; I knew what my program wanted their Senior athletes to look like.  And I think the first step in developing your Age Group program, and preparing these athletes, is to know what you are preparing them for.


Everybody’s program has a different definition of Senior Swimming, okay.  I’ve known a lot of programs that have kids swimming in their Senior group, 11 years-old, 12 years-old; it’s what they call their Senior program.  I have seen some programs where they do not come in until they are 13 to 14.  But whatever that dynamic is, as Age Group coaches we need to understand what that looks like; that is a critical step.  As Senior coaches, that needs to be educated to your staff.


As an Age Group coach, I want to know specifically what you want your kids to look like.  What skill set do you want them to possess, so that I can prepare them accordingly, okay.  And understanding your role, understanding your dynamic and where you fit within the philosophy of your program, I think is critically important, I cannot stress that enough.  So some of the things that I asked of myself and our head coach Steve is: what are the physical demands, what do they need to be capable of?  And I am going to talk about these points a little bit further as we go.  But I need to know what technical stuff you want me teaching.


Then of course you have to be on board with it, because you cannot fake it, right.  If something doesn’t resonate: why do you want that kid to learn this particular technique?  I do not understand why, what the value is?  Drive that down to a point and get some clarity on it.  So that you know, Hey, I missed an opportunity, that is why we swim that way.  You can learn a great deal by facilitating this conversation.  What is the baseline fitness level that you need to be a Senior athlete within your organization?  So you’ve got to understand the physical side first, what they expect.


The emotional demands of your program, they are going to vary greatly.  Again depending on the philosophy of your organization, depending on the coaching styles that you are going to be dealing with, okay.  You need to understand what they are going to go through.  They are going to be put through the ring emotionally, we know that.  How many are former swimmers? How many are former soccer players?  Thank you, I love you guys.  Whatever your background is athletically, you know if you perform at a high level, emotionally you are going to do a lot of learning.  And you cannot lose sight of that.  As Age Group coaches, you are in the trenches with these guys.  You are the one that is really setting these kids up to be successful later or not, okay; through your day-to-day interactions.  So I think you need to be prepared and understand what those emotional demands are going to be on those athletes.


Socially, some programs are very, very stringent with their Senior side.  These kids need to be prepared to sacrifice whatever the social dynamics are to support their training and to support their goals.  You have to have clarity on those dynamics.  What is the Senior coach going to ask my kid to do?  Morning practices: how does that impact the Friday night football game when I’ve got to get-up for Saturday morning practice.  Time management, you are going to have to teach all those skills, but you have to understand the demands that are going to require socially.


Leadership within your organization.  Are these kids going to be the expected leaders?  I think that is a good thing; I do not think they are the only leaders in your group.  When I was coaching Age Group kids, even at the intermediate, pre-Junior level; you guys are leaders of this program, I told them that.  You lead by your example.  These are 12, 10, 9 year-old kids.  It is a lot of pressure to put on them, but I walked-that-walk with them and I taught them what that means.  Leaders don’t have to be Senior athletes; I think it is important that they are.


In our program, I will not shift a kid into a Senior program if they do not have demonstrated commitment to our philosophy.  I will move a kid into our Senior program sooner if they are skilled in that craft.  If I have a resume that is equal, skill-set wise—this kid can go 46 100 freestyle, whatever, he can do the same thing—I have one spot to move them into.  You know who is going to get the nod?  The kid that has got leadership skills, philosophically-engaged.  Certainly I want to put an environment in-place where they can all move when they are to do that, but that is not always the reality.  Pool space issues anybody?  Yeah.


We are very fortunate where I am at, we have got a 50-meter facility.  I use four lanes of a 25-meter pool next to us.  But we cram our 400 kids into a 50-meter pool.  For the budget, it makes sense: we don’t have to lease extra water.  But we have groups right on top of the other.  So sometimes you have those space limitations, and we have to be respectful of that.  Understand socially what those kids are up against.


Technically.  We talked about this a little bit already guys: understand what you are expected to teach.  Do they have the baseline technique to support the demands that they are going to be faced with?  I am a firm believer that an athlete needs to be able hold their form when they are tired, they need to hold their form under stress, and they need to hold their form during recovery.  There is no excuse in my world to swim mindlessly.  I really encourage my athletes to try and stay focused-on technique constantly; it is constant.


And I learn a lot from the other coaches in the area.  Again I mentioned Brian Bolster yesterday; I am going to mention him again today.  I study with Brian, this sport; we talk a lot.  And why he does what he does, how he teaches certain skills, what the value of those skills.  I talk to a lot coaches in that area.  But technical advancements, at the end of the day, in terms of understanding demands, you need to know what your Senior coaches want from you and your athletes.


Once you get clarity on these four areas, it is going to be a lot easier to put the wheels in motion, get the rubber to the road and design you Age Group program.  Without clarity on those issues, you are going to run into some issue at some point.  You will have an athlete that is ill prepared for the demands that face them, and it makes the Senior coaches job that much more difficult.  But more importantly, it put your kids at a disadvantage.  I don’t want to put a kid in an environment where they are forced to fail in that respect.  I want my kids equipped.  I do not mind failure, but in this respect, these are absolutely controllable issues.  I think we learn a lot through failure, but not in this particular instance.  Prepare your athletes. And you guys are here learning, I am here learning; and it is great that you are here.  I know that you guys are grooved-in, and your commitment level to your athletes is where it needs to be.  Understand these demands; very, very important.


Okay, so I am going to go into a couple general areas of focus, and then I will kind of break this down a little bit further.  But generally speaking, the areas of focus that I try and key-into when I am preparing these kids, is again: a heavy emphasis on the technical advancements—I will break this down a little bit further in a few minutes.  But I believe from the time kids enter our program, they need to be learning how to eliminate resistance.  More important than creating power and creating propulsion, they need to get clean in water, they need to be balanced.  I do not know what the science behind it; I am not an engineer, I am a swim coach.  I just know that when my kids are efficient, they are better.  I will let the quantitative guys figure out why; I just know it works.  Right?


I know my limitations.  Guys, I am not one of those people who is… I will be honest with you, I… for a lot of years, I was intimidated by the terminology and the concepts, because I was saturated with it.  And I studied it and I learned it and I broke it down, and I am very comfortable with it know.  But when I was first starting, hell, I don’t know how many measurements of resistance equal force—I do not care about that.  I just know when my kids do this, they are better.  So I really was limited in the rationale as to why everything worked; I just knew it worked.  And I have since studied it and become a little bit more of a student of the game, but elimination of resistance, I think, is a critical, critical area of focus.


Good stroke mechanics to prevent injury.  Certainly you give your kids a competitive advantage, but injury prevention is a really, really important step.  Touch wood, I have been very, very blessed with very few issues.  We have actually had some kids come into our program that have been previously injured or hurt, and we have been able to salvage them and repair them and kind of get them back on track.  I think a lot of the injuries that we see in our sport are preventable, so that is a big are for me.


Another area is obviously the training concepts, right?  What is right for your program?  Where I am at, we are an aerobically based program.  We are an endurance-based program.  I believe there is a lot of value in this—we will talk about this a little bit more in a few minutes.  But I want my kids to have a solid endurance base as they exit our Age Group program and into our Senior program.  It is important that we set these kids up for future success.


Now this is an interesting talk because I have been blessed to have some very, very fast Age Group kids come into our program.  And it is easy as a coach, especially when they are doing some pretty impressive things, to kind of lose your composure a little bit; and say Hey, woah, this kid is the next-best-thing right there. This kid is tremendous.  And then abandon your principles because you want them to be a national Age Group record holder, or whatever it is.  And I think that is a huge, huge mistake.  Age Group coaches check your ego at the door, and do what is right for the kids.  Critical.


Again, I have been blessed that I have had some fast kids.  I think that they probably could have been faster earlier had I done something differently, but that is not what we are set up to do.  I want these kids, on the other end, enjoying success.  Look at their careers that we have now, the postgraduate career; our sport has changed over the last ten years.  The shelf life of our elite-level athletes is tremendous.  If I specialize this kid at 10 years-old, 11 years-old, 12 years-old; they are limited on the other end.


I think aerobic base work is going to provide options for your kids; I believe it is a good opportunity to teach stroke during aerobic training.  I think you get opportunities when you are in that type of environment to pay attention to the mechanics a little bit more, watch what is going on.  I think that they have a little bit more time to feel things and learn things.  So for me, as an Age Group coach, staying aerobic had a lot of benefit.


I believe in IM; I want our program to be an IM-based program.  If I can put together a 400 IM as a 12-year-old swimmer, that is… you know maybe they’re negative splitting each 100 gently and they are in-control, technically they are maintaining form and they are smiling while they are doing it; I have done a pretty good job.  I think that is kind of a snap-shot of what I want.  I want my kids to have a great time working hard, but I want to work hard.  Aerobically-based, IM focus.


We do dryland with our kids.  And the focus there is a little bit of strength training, little bit of endurance, little bit of flexibility.  I do not do a whole lot of stretching and flexibility work with our kids, especially younger; they are pretty supple and flexible anyway.  We probably do enough just to keep them in that way, so that they do not lose a whole lot as they grow.  I think that sometimes kids can be overstretched.  I think that things need to be fairly tight; a little bit of looseness is okay, but I just kind of judge the kids.  So we do not have a flexibility program at the younger ages; they are pretty supple anyway.  As we grow through the program, we might put a little bit more of that in there.  Most of our dryland training is based on strength training and a little bit of endurance training, okay.  It is very, very simple in nature I will talk about that as we get to that point.


I focus a lot on nutrition and hydration with our athletes, at the very earliest ages.  If you do not connect with your parents, this is a good way to connect with your parents.  Bring them on board: they are the one who is going to the grocery store.  It’s another way… we have talked about connectivity yesterday.  Connect with your parents, bring them into this conversation.  I do PowerPoint presentations with our team and with our parents regarding peer pressure and nutrition/hydration and practice preparation, all these different things; it is like a quarterly meetings that I run with our membership-base where I just educate.  If you just want to do it for your specific group, do it.


But if you can get your kids grooved-in to the very basics of nutrition and hydration from the time they enter your program, I think it is important.  I remove kids from the water if they do not have a water bottle.  They can be 8 years-old, I do not care.  If you do not have a water bottle, go get one.  I will go the vending machine and buy them a water bottle, I do not care; three bucks is not going to kill me.  I know: three bucks in my area right for a water bottle—that’s living in the Bay Area for you right there.  Anyway, I think it is important that you teach that early.  We will talk a little bit more about nutrition and hydration, but your kid needs to be educated on that.


This is basically what I talked about yesterday, if you were here yesterday: mental preparation and character development.  That is a critical aspect in terms of preparing your kids for Senior-level Swimming, okay.  Senior-level Swimming has demands above and beyond what they are experiencing already, and I think that they need to be in a mental state to handle that.  What are they going to contribute back to your program?  Put them in a position to be a contributor.  I want generous athletes in our pool.  Just like I like generous coaches, I like generous athletes.  I believe that when your competition is better, you are going to be better.


I think it was Dr. Alan Goldberg that was talking one time, and he had a win-win scenario versus a win-lose scenario.  You guys are familiar with this concept?  A win-win scenario, there is enough pie for everybody, right—there really is.  I don’t have to get my piece before somebody else gets theirs.  There is an infinite amount of positive stuff out there—there is an infinite amount.  It is out there.  You don’t have to have a situation, what he called a win-lose scenario, where if I do not get that pie now, I am not getting it.  I do not believe in that.  I think your athletes need to be in a position to give back.  Live within the umbrella that you have created: very, very important.  Social habits, academics; they need to have all those qualities.


They need to have an understanding of season structure.  And little kids get faster because their technique improves; little kids get faster because they get a little stronger, they grow a little bit.  At some point, we know that that is a little bit more difficult to come by.  Right?  If we got faster every time we got bigger, it would be an easy sport, wouldn’t it?  But that is not how it works when you get to certain levels.  We know that; as coaches we have experienced it all the time.  Little kids don’t understand.  I am getting faster every day, and all of a sudden that stops.  what I am doing wrong?  A lot of times it is called puberty, and we will talk about that—all the dramatic changes that take place during that phase of their life.


But they have to be equipped to understand that when they become a Senior athlete, there is probably going to be times of the year where they are expected to be fast and times of the year when they are expected to be broken down.  And you cannot have them hit the panic button because they are not swimming fast.  On the contrary, I tell kids, hey you are supposed to be tired; I would be more concerned if you are swimming fast right now, it means you are not working hard enough.  As Senior coaches you experience that.  As Age Group coaches, probably depending on the level that you are working with, you probably experience that to a certain degree.


But you have to equip your kids with the knowledge to understand that is coming.  It is a great way to retain your athletes as they get older, it avoids a lot of the frustration that comes and I think you need to educate your parents on that concept.  They are not going to hit the panic button when little Johnny isn’t swimming best time in November.  It just does not work that way at certain levels.  You will do yourself a big favor if you educate your parents early and often, you really will.


I had a conversation with somebody the other day; I cannot remember who it was.  I am sorry, if you are in here—and you are going to smack me after this talk and say why didn’t you remember.  But we were talking about that very thing, and I know I was talking to a couple of the Palo Alto coaches about a similar track.  But it was about how often are you educating your parents and what do your meetings look like.  And again, I think mentioned earlier I try to get to them quarterly and it will be just be a couple of pieces here and there.  I do not try to have a marathon session and spend six hours with my parents.  Quite honestly, nobody wants to hear me for more than twenty minutes, but, at the end of the day, certainly the parents don’t.  So I will break it into bite-size pieces, and I will just do seminars.  Maybe quarterly, three or four different predominant thoughts and just educate.  Q&A sessions, put out what I want out.


And really the time that I spend doing that is time well-served.  Because if I don’t do that, on the other end of it, when I am responding to 18 billion e-mails from 400 members, I have to explain it 400 different times.  So if you are in a position to have contact with your athlete’s parents on a more regular basis, I think that is good.


I have always had a pretty easy relationship with our parents, and everybody has tough parents.  But I think that one of things that I have been very lucky with is that I go out of my way to be inclusive with them early.  And if I can educate the philosophy, it saves a lot of those heartache moments later on.  Does that kind of make sense?  I think I even mentioned that yesterday: you get them when everything is unemotional, it is a whole lot easier to teach.


And oftentimes when I have those conversations with parents, it’s: I want you to remember this in six monthsI want you to remember this conversation that we are having right now because you are going to have a different perspective when this is happening to your son or your daughterRemember what we are talking about.  And then when it happens, say, “Hey, we talked about this.  This is all part of the plan; it is all part of the process.”  I’ve been here a whole lot more times than you have.  If you can try and remove the emotion from a lot of those conversations, I think you are going to get a lot more clarity and a lot more support from your parents.


I know this talk isn’t about how you get parents on your side, but I just thought I throw that out there because I think it is a… listen your parents are the ones that are in the car with those kids on the way home.  They are the ones that are in their ear when they don’t have a great swim.  You know it; they are doing it.  If I could put the kids on a bus and shuttle them home, so that they didn’t have to have a two-hour post-meet debrief from mom and dad who don’t know anything about our sport, I would.  But that is not my budget.  But if you can get those parents and be clear about their roles and responsibilities, in terms of how it affects your program, I think that is a good thing.


Every meet having a purpose.  Right?  We talked about that.  Kids need to know when they are supposed to be going fast.  Little kids, they go fast all the time, man, it is great.  That is why I love coaching Age Group; it’s like: these kids are always going fast.  But they need understand what’s coming around the corner.  Okay, does that kind of make sense?


Any thought on that?  Any ideas?  Or anybody wants to throw anything out there?  Yeah.


[audience member]:  Do you make parent meetings required?


[Tucker]:  No.  But I will be honest with you… okay, in our area, anybody coach in Northern California area?  You guys know that parental involvement is sometimes difficult.  We have a lot of people that work a lot of hours.  There are some fathers in my team that I have never met.  I think that is sad.  But what I have found is: I don’t make them mandatory; I have them often enough where people don’t feel pressured to be there.  And because they don’t feel like this is a mandatory discussion, they are a little bit more willing to engage when they are there.  And what you find is, if you have got something credible to say, they are going to show up—they really are.  And it becomes almost a cultural: Oh, Coach has got a meeting coming up next week, y’all going to be there.  It takes on a life of its own, but I think they are important.




[audience member]:  Do you offer more than one talk on the same topic?


[Tucker]:  If I feel it is important, yeah I will.  I have done that in the past.  Sometimes, I am just reading the vibe of the team and where things are going, and that kind of dictates what I am going to talk about.  So I try and head things off.  I try and be pretty attuned to what’s going on, within the entire Age Group program; I think you need to do that.  So I will sometimes, but not all the time.  Again, if I run them quarterly, sometimes one will have a similar topic that I had three months ago.


[inaudible audience comment]


[Tucker]:  That is great stuff.  Just to try to encapsulates it:  they do a trip once a year with their program, where the parents aren’t allowed.  It is a day-trip meet.


And it is a good opportunity for the kids to bond, without the pressures of mom and dad in their ear.  And I am not here to bash parents; I think that parents are an incredible support unit for you and they can provide you a wealth of goodwill.  I just think it takes a lot of a lot of work to educate, that is all.  And when they are educated, I think they are going to be more willing to help facilitate successes within your program.




[audience member]:  I know you guys have had a lot of success in things like national age group records and so forth.  The more I have gotten to know you and your program, it seems to me like those meetings in a sense set the tone.  Because when I go to a meet and I see Pleasanton, I do not see a lot of straggling, I do not see a lot of people not understanding things, I do not see a lot of problems with parents.  I see a general group buy-in, I see a lot of discipline and happiness and enjoyment.  Would you say that those meetings are integral to critical to the embodiment?


[Tucker]:  Well, first of all thank you for those words: that means a lot to me.  So the question was do I think the parental meetings that I facilitate lend themselves to some of the harmony that we have within our organization?  I think they are vital—I think they are vital.  And you know, it is just like everything: I think parents want to support you, I think parents want to support your program.  Oftentimes, they just don’t know how, or what your expectations look like for them.  And if those are clearly defined, it is a lot easier for everybody to sort of understand their roles.


We all have roles, right?  My job is to train your child, prepare your child, deal with the ugly side, motivate your child.  That’s my job, I am their coach.  Give them technical correction, design their training.  The swimmers have their role, right?  And we all know that role is; it is to be there and apply themselves and contribute within the philosophy of your program and be the best that they can be.  And then the parents have a role.  And that role is a supportive role.  You have to find a way to support your child: financially, you need to get them to meets, you need to pay the bills.  I don’t believe that you need to lie to your kid and praise them when they swam poorly.  I mean: why do kids drop off out of our sport?  They dropout because they stop having fun.  Okay?  And parents need to understand that.  We need to remember that, and certainly the swimmers need to remember that.


So to answer your question quickly, Brian, I think that: absolutely, I think they are vital to the success of our Age Group program.  And in-turn our Senior program.  And I appreciate that question.


Again preparing athletes for Senior-level swimming.  Stroke mechanics.  Again we already talked about this: the elimination of resistance.  I think that is a critical, critical step in their development.  I believe they need to streamlined and balanced well.  I think if your kids are not streamlined and balanced, they are going to compensate in other areas of the stroke to make up for that.  We are going to talk a little bit more about that in a few minutes; but I think they have to be streamlined well, they have to have proper body balance.  I believe in a leg-dominant stroke, primarily.  I want everything starting from the core, I want legs to drive, and then I work on the extremities.  If they are balanced well, power coming from the core and they have good legs, I think that you are in pretty good position to work the rest of the stroke into play.


And guys this takes on a whole different… depending on the level that you’re dealing with, obviously it takes on a whole different dynamic.  This is all just kind of progressive thoughts; this is not specific to 12-year-olds.  this is a generic thought.  I am going to breakdown our thought process a little bit in a minute.


Again maintaining your stroke mechanics under stress, maintaining stroke mechanics when you recovering: I think that they have to have the ability to do that as they are preparing to transition into a Senior program.  If they can’t maintain their form, they are going to struggle.


And underwaters, oh my goodness: the most underutilized portion of our sports still—underwaters.  I think that when they are young in your program—those 8&Unders, those 9+10s—just put them underwater, let them play.  I just do a circus with my kids: I put hula-hoops on the bottom of the deck, and cones and stupid stuff like that, and I’d throw 100 pennies out there.  I didn’t care what they did, I just want them to be underwater.  They learn how to move, they learn how to balance, they learn how to change direction.  I am telling you, just put them underwater.  Throw them on fins, do some dolphins over the tops, whatever: just put them underwater.  Create games where they have to go underwater.


I believe deep water is fast water and I really prioritize what goes on underneath the water.  I think that we are missing a huge opportunity in USA Swimming… I think we have gotten a lot better, I really do.  I think there are some great minds that have been tapping into this for a long time.  But I think just generally speaking, I think we are still very soft with our underwaters in our kids.  So we spend a lot of time… I want my kids to be very, very good underwater.  And if the Senior coach chooses to do something with that, great; they choose to ignore it, I guess that is their fault.  I wouldn’t, but I want my kids to have that weapon.  And it is a weapon: I don’t care what anybody says.


We all kind of know oxygen consumption.  The ability to generate energy within the body is limited by the nervous system.  We kind of all know all this stuff, so I am not going to get too much of the scientific side of this.  Except to say again we have an aerobically-based program; I want my kids fit—I’ve talked about that already.  I think it is key to their future success.  I think it provides options for your kids, your age-group kids.  I think if kids have an endurance based, they are going to be easier to coach because they have time to feel the changes a little bit more than if they are always going a 1,000 miles an hour.  I think that you are going to have options to teach them how to race; they are going to be able to put together some decent 200s, some decent 500s, learning about racing strategies.


And they can always race down, provided you are still doing some speed work in practice.  Don’t get me wrong: I’m not one of those guys that just mindlessly goes; we go fast every day.  We do.  I think that is really important.  But at the end of the day the primary focus is going to be getting that aerobic base work in them.


I think the challenge that we have, and one of the reasons why this has been debated for so many years globally, is because it takes a lot of energy and creative coaching to design structure that is engaging with this in mind.  You have to be creative with your workouts; it is engagement.  Before this lecture, I was taking pictures of the sets that you guys are putting up on the board over here, in the hallway—I think it is actually on the second floor, right.  Go by there, whip out your cell phone, take some pictures.  There are creative coaches out there, I love that.  But you have to be creative in your set design.  I really, really try and get creative with what we were doing.


I’m not going to throw up a bunch of workouts on the screen for you.  I will share anything I have with you, so if you shoot me an email.  I log everything, from the time I started coaching.  At the end of my practice, I have got notes on everything from the time I started.  And I will send you anything I have.  If there is some value there, let me know.  It will be a big pdf, but I will send it.


We are aerobic in nature.  I think that kids that just train short are going to struggle putting together some of those longer races, and they are going to miss an opportunity to learn how to balance races and build and accelerate in different spots.  And again, like I said, it enables better opportunities to develop the stroke mechanics.  Yes.


[audience member]:  So you are aerobic based.  So once you get into the pre-season—I’m just curious—like you get past the first month or so, how often do you have your kids go off the blocks?


[Tucker]:  Okay, the question was: once we get past our pre-season or build-up phase, how often are my kids going on the blocks?  To do speed work, I am assuming.  Everyday.  And it may be the form of just 12×25 with every third, or fourth, from a dive, fast.  I never want them to lose that sensation.  Kids like going fast, I like watching fast stuff; so my kids will go off the blocks daily but it won’t be the primary focus of that particular day.


But I believe the kids like going fast.  Yesterday, I actually mentioned creating competitive environment.  Creating that environment doesn’t mean that you have to stand two people up on the block and race.  Right?  Competitive environment is: was I able to descend my set the way a coach asked me to.  I am a huge believer in descending sets and a huge believer in negative splitting.  And often times when I challenge kids… okay, we are going to go some 300s or whatever, and I want… intervals may get a little bit tighter as they go or their goal times need to be a bit tighter as they go.  Challenge them.  Have them compare with each other: did you descend that oneCome on, we got this.  Engage them on that level when they are older and ready for that next step.  Little 8&Unders, I hope you are not doing that kind of stuff, but you have to build them to that point.


But I do think that a lot of the competitive stuff that we do isn’t just who hit the wall first.  Did I do the set the way it was designed?  Did I get the value out of that set, the way it was designed?  And I will foster questions that facilitate that.  I log stuff.  I got a dry-erase board, I am putting stuff up on there.  Not to pit kids against each other, but when it is track-able… first of all, they love seeing their names anywhere.  Kids love seeing their name anywhere.  So you put it up, and all of a sudden they start paying attention to that.


And then when you tell your kids to descend, they are going to descend.  And I think as Senior coaches, you will probably appreciate having kids that have that kind of skill.  I certainly know it is vital in our organization.  If I send a swimmer to our National program and they can’t descend… the chances are that they wouldn’t be at the National level, if they can’t descend or negative split.  I mean they wouldn’t survive: it just wouldn’t be feasible.  So that is a skill that you really have to work on.


I shouldn’t say you have to work on, you don’t have to do anything, I work on it.  I don’t mean to sound like I’m preachy, because I am really not.  These are just ideas and thoughts that worked for me in our program.  So if I am coming-off as you need to do this, you need to do that, that’s not what I am trying to say.  I think these are important and sometimes I get passionate about what I am teaching, and I hope that is coming off in that context.


I think this is huge for Age Group kids; huge for everybody: prioritizing your stroke corrections.  And I think the more experience you have teaching athletes, the better you are going to be at this.  But understanding when you look at a stroke—what’s happening is very, very important, but—what’s causing whatever the flaw is that you see.  Okay?


Yesterday I told you that Steve Haufler is masterful at this.  If he sees a dropped elbow, he is going to make the correction, but before he does, he is going to find what’s causing it.  He is going to get down to the root-cause of the problem.  Am I dropping my elbow because I am not rotating enough?  Am I not finishing through the back?  Am I turning my hand out the wrong way?


What you are seeing is maybe a dropped elbow on the recovery.  What the correction is might be something entirely different.  So I think it is important when I build stroke that I try and build it from the inside out.  I try to find what the root-cause is, of whatever the flaw is, and then work to solve that.  Does that kind of make sense?


And that is a craft.  If you have technicians in your area, stroke gurus in your area, call them, talk to him.  Bring one of your athletes.  Bring them in to your environment.  What are you seeing? and just stand-back and listen.  Well I’m seeing dropped elbow, but what’s really happening is this, this, this and this, and that is what is causing that, right.  So I think it is really, really important that you develop that craft.


Sometimes creating a new extreme for a kid.  We’ve had kids that you give them a stroke correction and you give them a repeat, and there has been no correction.  They think moving from here to here, or here to here, they think they are doing it but they really are not.  Often times, I have to create a new extreme.  I will over-correct something just to make it different.  Kids need to feel the correction, and it is going to feel more dramatic than what’s actually happening.  And I consciously tell my kids all the time: if it feels the same, you haven’t changed it.  If it feels slightly different, you probably had a very minimal correction.  So I call it—again like one of those memory tags I talked about yesterday—creating a new extreme.


If I want my kids driving their fingertips down to get to that early vertical fore-arm, I may get them down to here, initially.  Just get down.  I don’t care… it is going to come back easily.  It is easier to bring it back if it goes to go too far.  But at least then they are willing to make the correction.


How many of you guys have experienced it, as a coach: you tell a kid to do something, and you ask them, Is that different?. “Oh! Yeah, it’s different; feels great.  Thanks for that coach, you are the best.”  And there really has been a minimal change.  And you can’t get frustrated with that; that is very natural, right.  But you’ve got to recognize that.


If I want somebody to change something, I am not going to back down until I get it corrected.  I am not going to badger them and belittle them.  Sometimes it has to sit on the shelf for a day: we work on it, it is not happening, okay, but we are coming back to it.  Next day, try again.  Try different language, try different visuals.  Maybe it is what we are saying; how we are saying it.  Maybe they need to see it—I think that is important.


Following through and feedback.  Like I said, I just will continue and continue and continue.  And that is the scary thing about our sports, guys, is: no matter what level our athletes are at, there is more to do.  They are never where they should be.  Alright, maybe a few athletes in this world are, but I would venture to guess that if you talk to those athletes, they are working on something.


Again we talked about aerobic training.  Just in case you don’t understand the terminology: aerobic, with oxygen, and tends to improve the oxygen system.  Refers to the use of oxygen in the body’s metabolic or energy-generating process.  Moderate-level of intensity for extended periods of time.


Okay, quick explanation of anaerobic.  I am… there is a big debate: do 12&Unders benefit from anaerobic stuff?  I’m not a big anaerobic monster with our Age Group program.  I believe there is some value in learning about it, I believe there is some value in understanding it; and when they get to our Senior program, that’s where it is going to be applied.  So in theories, I think kids—especially 11+12, 13+14-year-old kids—are able to understand the concept, and I don’t think there is anything wrong with explaining it to them.


But it’s intense-enough exercise to show your anaerobic metabolism.  Obviously used by athletes to promote strength, speed, power.  The muscles trained here develop differently compared to aerobic.  They integrate performance in short-duration, high-intensity activities, which last mere seconds up-to about two minutes.  I am not proposing that you throw anaerobic work at your Age Group program.  What I am proposing is you understand it, and you understand what that science is.  I teach my kids about it, but they don’t do a whole lot of it.  I’m more aerobic.


VO2 Max is basically reflecting the physical fitness of the individual.  I don’t think that is too relevant in terms of dealing with your Age Group kids.  I think that if they are aerobic, they are going to be in good shape.  When they are in good shape, they are going to be able to do things that they might not otherwise do.



Okay, very quickly, I am bomb through this.  This is just a general overview of kind of our structure.  We have… I have got four sections up here I am going to put up.  Within each of these sections we have actually got off-shoots.  Like, for example, our Novice program, we also have a Pre-Novice program.  Right?  So we will have groups that there a couple of nights a week, half-an-hour a night.  I will talk about each of these sections individually and kind of how they apply to the preparation for Senior stuff.

  • But within our program, we have basically got a Novice structure. Those are entry-level athletes, primarily 8&Uunders, but not always.
  • And then we go into our Intermediate/Pre-Junior-level programs. Basically 9-10 years-old.  Basic technical background:  They need to have a foundation, coming out of our Novice program, of the four fundamental strokes.  And this is where they start building a little bit more established, technically.  They need to understand basic set structure.  We will talk more about these in just a minute.
  • And then we go into our Junior Again primarily 10-11 years-old.  More advanced technically.  Starting with the aerobic set structure.  Technique still needs to be the primary focus here.
  • Pre-Senior 11-13, may be 11-14, years-old.  It is a critical group.  And that is an amazing… how many of you are working specifically with 11-14 year-old athletes?  You guys are challenged, man; they are so many dynamics taking place, right.  Am I right?  It is amazing.  Solid technical foundation.  Aerobic set structure.


So I wanted to do very quickly was just talk a little bit more in detail about each of those setups.


Our primary focus at the introductory, Novice, level is: fostering a love of the sport.  At the end of the day, guys, that is going to sustain them.  They usually come to you because they love Swimming.  Please, please, don’t ever lose sight of that; that is why we are here.  We love this sport, we love everything about this sport.  I try hard to send our kids home with smile every day: I want them laughing, I want them joking and I want them carrying on, and I want them having a good time.  But I want them learning.  I want them to learn what it is like to be part of a team; part of our team and how that’s special.  I think those are important things.


You are laying a foundation for all four strokes.  You are learning new skills, body balance, learning how to control themselves in the water.  At this level they need to master the basic four legal strokes, starts and turns.  That is the goal.  A lot of motor-learning taking place here.  And the work that the 8&Under coaches do within USA Swimming is spectacular.  And it’s incredibly important: you are the ones that are laying the foundation for what they do in the future.


So that’s kind that how we set up our Novice program.  These kids generally will be in the water 3 times a week, maybe; half-an-hour to 45 minutes a night.  We don’t have attendance requirements for our Age Group program.  It’s not until they get into our Senior program, or start transitioning into our Senior program, where we really start talking about attendance.  I want these kids playing tennis and soccer, in church groups, and academics, and everything else.  I think that if they are well-rounded athletes, they are better for your program.  I don’t think they need to specialize early.  I think they need to be athletic; I think they need to have fun; I think they need to support their brothers and sisters in their other activities.  So if little Johnny says, “Coach, I am going to miss practice on Wednesday because my brother has got a tennis tournament.  And I don’t really want to go but I got to.”  Well, you should want to go, have a great time, go support your brother, no problem.  I’m not in a hurry at this level.  Very important.  Again 3 sessions per week; maybe 30 minutes to 45 minutes depending on where they are at.


We go into our Immediate and Pre-Junior program.  Intermediate/Pre-Junior, this is kind of the ages 9, 10, maybe 11 years-old, where some of the girls may start tracking ahead of the boys.  Maturity-wise, they might be a little bit better; the way their bodies develop, they might be a little bit better.  So what I’ve found in our program is that our Pre-Junior level, the kids usually hit that Pre-Junior level, the girls hit a little bit sooner than the guys do.  It is what it is.


Intermediate is a set-based practice.  The emphasis is skill—skill, skill, skill.  Again, increasing the motor skills, we play a lot of games, teaching skill, get them underwater.  At the Novice level, get them underwater—we talked about that already.  I want a foundation of kicking; I want these kids to learn how to kick at this level.  Kick well.  I challenge my kids: we kick a lot, we kick often.  And I think that leg-dominant swimming at the younger ages is really, really important.  And this is where they start beginning aerobic development.  So even our 9+10-year-old kids are going to be stretching-it-out a little bit aerobically, learning some of the value that’s there for them.  It’s not the focus at this level—it is technical—but they start the concept of aerobic training.  Recommended attendance for this group: 4-5 sessions per week, an hour at night maybe.


You notice I don’t, on these groups, have yardage defined.  On the Pre-Junior, Junior, Pre-Senior program, you’re going to see my recommendations, within our program, up-to a certain yardage.  I’m not hung upon yardage at this level.  It’s not about yardage, it’s about how they are doing the yardage.  I don’t care if my Intermediate-level kids are going 3,000, 2,000 yards at night, as long as they getting the benchmarks that they need to get, technically, and they are starting to be introduced to those aerobic concepts, that’s a good thing.  Up to 3,000; that would be very ambitious for our Intermediate-level kids.


I don’t want my kids swimming garbage yardage.  It’s not about how many times they go back-and-forth; it’s about how many times they go back-and-forth the way I want them to go back-and-forth.  So again, I almost… I really debated whether I should even put that up there, but I just want to do the kind understand where our boundaries lie.  That’s not a benchmark that you should strive to hit, necessarily.


[audience member]:  Do you change your practices as far as if they are accomplishing what you want them to do?  Since you don’t care about yardage.


[Tucker]:  Great question.  So the question was: will I change practice if they are accomplishing what I want them to accomplish?  Absolutely.  Yeah.  You know, I will go into my workout prepared for what I want to get done.  But I will go into workout, and if my kids are doing something great and we are ready to move on, I am going to shift gears and move on.  If they are reinforcing… if the set was set or if the workout was designed to reinforce something, I am going to stay with it.  If I’m just trying to get that skill accomplished and I am anxious to move on, I’m going to move on.  I think that as Age Group coaches, you need to have the flexibility to coach in the moment, you know; and sometimes you just have to shift gears, come at it at a different approach.  So yeah, I try and get creative in that respect, but I’m not afraid to change it up if I have to or if I feel it’s beneficial.  Again that’s just one of those thing you read in the moment.


Yeah?  (In the back.)


[inaudible question from audience]


[Tucker]:  Great question: do we do dryland with these younger groups?  Our Intermediate-level and Novice-level groups, no.  They are getting hopefully enough dryland exercises with their outside activities.  Some of them might be riding their bike to school, different things.  I am not opposed to it, but based on our pool situation.  And, you know, I try to be mindful of how much time these kids are spending at the pool at this age; I don’t have it set-up into the design of the program.  When they get into our Pre-Junior program, you will see we do start dryland.  I think dryland is really, really good.



So our Pre-Junior level.  Similar, just maybe some of those more advanced kids.  The added elements for our Pre-Junior level: increased aerobic work.  Still very technically based, but there is some aerobic value here.  Basic dryland work—just answering your question that just came up.  The dryland work that we do at this level is just learning; it’s learning movement—we are going to talk about dryland in just a minute.  So it’s very basic in nature here.  Increased motor learning.  More advanced technical skills.  These kids recommended attendance: they are going to be probably 5 times a week, upwards of 90 minutes a night, okay.  So it’s a big jump from our Intermediate program into our Pre-Junior program


And as your kids advance from level to level, I think it’s important that they earn the right to do that, through demonstrated performance, practice performance.  I don’t move my kids from group-to-group based on time.  If they are technically sound and they are demonstrating the abilities to go, we are going to let them go.  Now I do have age guidelines on the groups: I don’t like to move kids in a certain groups until they hit certain ages.  I don’t want a 10-year-old Senior athlete, I don’t think.  So I have guidelines on them.




[audience member]:  How do you handle the transitioning?  Say you have a 12-year-old who is really exceptional, but not quite ready for Senior?


[Tucker]:  Okay, so the question came up: how do you handle the transition, when you have maybe a fast-tracking 11 or 12 and then your group is full of not-fast-tracking 9+10s, or 11+12s?  And to a certain degree, I have some built-in limitations with that.  I believe that you have got to coach your club’s philosophy.  My philosophy is: there is a reason why I don’t want that kid at the next-level group at 12; I just don’t make a standard, there is a reason behind it and there is probably some value behind it.  That’s where as a coach, I have done this in the past, I have to get creative.  I have to design sets that are for this level, and then I kind of tailor everything off of that.


I do believe you should coach to the highest level within your group, to certain degree.  If I have a kid that is capable of doing this, I need to challenge that athlete; and then I will kind of break off from that.  So you are going to get pulled in a couple of different directions.  And I think everybody experiences that to a certain degree; levels within your group.  And I will have conversations with those athletes to keep them motivated, so that they don’t drop-out out of the sport.  Hey listen, your time is coming, here is the reasons why I do what I do.  Hopefully, you have had that conversation with mom and dad, and stuff that we have already talked about.


There are reasons behind the things that we do, and sometimes the kids are going to cook in my group for an extra 2-3 months before they move on.  And if that’s a deal-breaker for one of my parents, we are going to have a bigger issue later—we really are.  But early education really, really helps to solve that.  But sometimes you are just going to pull in a couple of directions.


[audience member]:  Is dryland… [fades to inaudible]?


[Tucker]:  Yeah.  That’s worked in at this point.  And at this point, we are talking maybe 15 minutes of dryland.  A lot of it is just introduction and conceptual stuff.



Moving into the Pre-Senior program.  This is where I think a lot of the magic takes place in terms of the transition into Senior.  Focus is aerobic work.  With that said, 5,000-6,000 yards, they can do a lot of aerobic work in that, in that amount of yardage.  That’s up to: I don’t care about the yardage—we talked about that.  I don’t have a benchmark, coach, you have to hit this yardage.  Okay?  I want to get certain things done.  But generally speaking, early season they will be, you know, 5,000, 4,500, whatever; mid-season they will be up [to] 6,000+, give or take.  It’s not about the yardage; it’s about the way we are doing the yardage.


Continue technical advancements; obviously that’s something that you continue to work on.  A strong dryland training program—which we are going to get into in a few minutes.  Establishing racing strategies: kids need to know what your expectations are in terms of racing.  They have to manage their time.  These are skills that all these kids have to learn.


They have to know a strong foundation of nutrition and hydration.  Not just in terms of what to eat, but when to eat.  When do your athletes eat to facilitate recovery?  At this level they need to know that.  When they are walking off the pool deck, I want them snacking on something to jumpstart that recovery.  So you’ve got talk to your athletes about not just what they are eating, but also when they are eating.


Recommended attendance: these kids are committed.  They are there 5 sessions per week.  When they are getting ready to transition into our early-Senior group, they will go maybe a Saturday morning with the Senior group, to kind of get introduced.  Usually a couple of hours’ worth of work here: two hours in-session.



I think this some of the challenges that you have specifically at this age—and I am going to get through this pretty-quickly because I don’t want to take up a whole lot more of your time.


Puberty is a huge issue.  Boys and girls go through this differently.  They all go through it, but they go through it differently and you need to respect that.  What happens?  Boys are generally going to become bigger and stronger; they are going to lose fat, they are going to gain muscle.  Girls are going to gain some height and some strength, but not necessarily at the same rate as the boys will.  And they also add some fat deposits: that’s just science—things happen.  I think with a good training program and good sound structure, you can help, with some aerobic work as well, them to navigate that pretty well.


They are going to grow at different rates; their limbs are going to get different.  It’s critical that they understand that that’s natural.  So work with those athletes to get through those moments when they are getting gangly and their strokes are falling apart.  And your kid that couldn’t put-together a 100 breaststroke all of a sudden can swim breaststroke a little bit.  But then their fly stinks.  Things change—things change—and you got to have your kids prepared for that at the younger levels, so it’s not a shock value what it happens.


This is the critical step in their development.  I think some kids leave our sport because of this; they get frustrated.  Those early-maturing kids, the early ones—the really good ones when they were 10—they may not be great on the other end.  They might, they might not.  The late bloomers, they may be coming into their own.  So I don’t think it is right to predetermine an outcome based on when they are 10.


I think I read a U.S. Swimposium slide at some point, a couple years back: your 10&Unders that were—at the time they were doing National Top-16 rankings.  10&Unders, Top-16 rankings when they were 10, the percentage that were still ranked at 17+18 was like 10-11%.  The 11+12s that were ranked Top-16 when they were 17+18, it was like 28%.  36% for the 13+14s.  And it was over 45% for those 15+16 year-old athletes, still being nationally ranked Top-16 when they are 17+18.  Okay, the takeaway for me is obvious: that 10&Under superstar needs to live within the realm of our program, because I want them successful on the other end of it.  Now that was a USA Swimming data-piece; I don’t remember the year, but the trending has not changed.  I think you need to be very mindful of those 10&Under sensations.


Some other challenges.  Obviously the differences between boys and girls—we talked about that.  Starting late is not necessarily a bad thing.  If you have an athlete that comes in your program at a later age, find what their history was.  They may have gotten some of that aerobic value in a difference sport.  Find out their history, and work that in to your program. I think that’s important.  Conflict with other activities—we talked about that.



Very quickly and I am going to finish up here:  dryland training.  Okay, you strength training for our Age Group program.  We train the movements before we train the muscles.  It’s all body-weight work: stretch cords, body-weight exercises, pull-up, push-ups, sit-ups, things of that nature.  I believe in core strength before anything external.  Hips, abs and backs, those are the important things to hit at the Age Group level.  It’s very progressive and the key word is range of motion with control; control with range of motion.  We do some circuit training, a little bit more for strength endurance.  Improving the motor skills.  We can increase the work capacity.  You can do it in large groups.  You don’t need a whole lot of you know equipment or a big budget for your dryland program, but I do think it’s important.


We target specific areas or qualities, but I do avoid Swimming-specific stuff.  I don’t believe I have to do a bunch of internal rotations with my kids on a stretch cord; they are getting enough that in the water, we will go external, right.  I don’t believe in Swimming-specific movements.  Sometimes, if I maybe grab a stretch code to teach a stroke change, it’s one thing, but I typically don’t emulate Swimming stuff on the land.  And then the construction guidelines I think are very similar.  If we are doing complex stuff, it’s going to be the earlier in the circuit, that way they can maintain integrity of their movements as they get tired.  It’s got to be strenuous, it’s got to be progressive, and we standardize it and measured, so I know they are making progress.


Again this is the goal of the nutrition program for our Age Group.  And that’s just to learn about the basic nutrients in the body; the six basic nutrients and which ones are energy-yielding.  As a swimmer, we have some specific demands nutritionally that we have to get.  It’s an endurance-based sport, I believe nutrition has a huge impact on our recovery.  And they have to have a demonstrated commitment to proper nutrition and hydration.


We’ve talked about this at length—I don’t want to go through this anymore.  I expect these athletes to behave and model themselves a certain way—this has already been covered.


At this point, I know there is a lot of information out there.  I really, really appreciate your time and energy.  Guys, thank you so much, I appreciate it.



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