Process Driven Coaching by Stephan Widmer (2007)


Published


This morning in our conversation with Coach Daland, he made the comment that Australia is the #1 swimming nation in the world, because it is the only nation where swimming is actually the #1 sport. I think until any of us have the opportunity to go to Australia it is really hard to understand. We came to appreciate that (I did personally) when we went to Melbourne this spring for the World Championships and we realized that swimmers are the professional athletes. It’s just like our NBA, NFL, NBA and major college football coaches or players They are also under the microscope, just like our major college football coaches. Something that none of us can really understand is the constant invasion of privacy and exaggeration of private lives that goes with being a coach in the #1 sport in your country. That is something that we can learn from our Australian brethren and maybe envy just a little bit, but sympathize with once more. Because, as I told Stephan Widmer when I first met him, I only knew him from reading all the magazines in Australia. I knew about his coaching and about his girlfriends. He said that that is his message today, “Do not believe everything that you read in the Australian magazines or in physiology textbooks, because he likes to be outside the box.” It is a great privilege for us to have Coach Widmer speaking with us. He himself was a World Class swimmer. He has competed internationally as a member of the Swiss team, and from what I could read in the Australian magazines, he was the only coach to ever find a job by backpacking. I am glad that my son is not here so that he doesn’t think of that as a career path; but obviously, it worked out for Stephen. He was backpacking around Australia and landed on deck with Scott Volkers, and took off from there. He took Scott’s team when Scott stepped off deck and has coached Jade Edmispone and Libby Lenton and Leisel Jones and has produced numerous world records. He is a terrific sprint coach and just a terrific coach in general. I have asked the other Australian coaches here and they all tell me that he is incredibly innovative. Every single one of them have told me that he is a great guy so that I know that they must have something on him if they all agree on that. It is my pleasure to introduce Coach Stephan Widmer who I am as excited as you are to hear from today – Coach.

Well, I think that I should leave now after all these great statements. I can only go downhill from here. Firstly, I would like to add one more thing. Obviously coming from Switzerland and living now in Australia – that ends up with quite an interesting mixture of language – I will call it Swaussie so Swiss and Aussie so I am fortunate enough to have a lot of miles training, coaching, friends here so if you do not understand something – don’t ask them because you will understand them less than you understand me up here. The other thing was – one of my first Olympians – a Swiss Swimmer – Dominique Diezi, she is in here as well in the room. She coaches now at SMU so that is for me a really nice thing as well – going a little bit back to the roots and having her here in the audience as well.

Probably one of the things they mentioned before about being coaches – professional coaches here is that we don’t get paid that much – but that is not why we do it. My talk probably will be more directed towards training the way you like to race, and I have had a lot of great ideas from Scott Volkers, who I worked with for three years – from ’97 through to the Olympics in 2000. Then I guess with my background as a student in physical education and human movement, I tried to create new ways to look at the same thing in a different way, and that is what the talk will be a bit about today. So it is a very quick introduction and this is really not the most important part; but, I think it is important to understand how certain things in my coaching developed and evolved. Therefore, that is very important to me to have that up there as well.

So, how did I become who I am today. I think sometimes the pathway of how we became who we are is as important as anything else. I was born in Switzerland. I started to swim as a 7 year old. Probably one of the most important parts was when I was a human movement student, while I was swimming. The great part about it was I got to try a lot of things. Probably the bad part was that I was my own guinea pig. There was a lot of pain involved in some of the trials. I did strength training for several months. Negative training – so just eccentric training and that made me strong, but it hurt me a lot as well. I couldn’t swim anymore for a while, but I will get back to that. For 3 years in Switzerland I was the head coach at Swim Club Ulster and that is where Dominique was a swimmer of mine and made the 1996 Olympic team. In 1996, because I really had this childhood dream to leave to travel around the country, it was important to me to express that to a lot of people so that there was no way out for me not to do it so I know myself. – I can take a step back so I had to come from it this way and I told everyone about it so I had to go. I had to leave.

I was fortunate enough in 1997 to hook up one day at the pool in Brisbane where I have coached now for probably five or six years as well. As a back packer and on that pool there was Scott Volkers with some great athletes like Samantha Riley and Susie O’Neill in the water. Scott is a great friend of mine and mentor still now days. He comes at least once a week to my pool as well. It is great to have an extra set of eyes to look over my shoulder. So if you have anyone out there you trust and you believe so much in, make sure you keep it up. The mentorship is – to me – one of the most important things. I see my swimmers every day in every session and someone like Scott comes in a week later. Little things can change in the pick up of those little things. That is a great way to do it and to have someone like him in the corner.

So I was the assistant, and in 2000, after the National short course in October, after the Olympics they asked me if I would like to rebuild a new high performance center. I was naïve enough to believe I could do the job so I just went for it and I had a lot of ideas. I thought they were good so I just had to get into it. In that same process though – probably except Scott and Don at that stage – not a lot of other coaches wanted me in that position because it was a good position. It was an exposed position so there was a lot of talk behind the back. I think that is one thing I learned from the very early days. There are always people out there with other opinions and that is just the way life works. They can hurt us or as I like to call it – the power of rejection. If I don’t believe them they cannot hurt me and that is a great thing for me. That works well.

I remember my very first competition as a Swiss Coach – they told me at the University about creating phosphate energies that can last for six or seven seconds or so. I thought, okay how can I train the distance? The only mark in the pool was the famous 50 meter full stop flag. So I started to do 50 meter sprints with my swimmers and they were not that common in those days. At the very first competition some of the International Swiss Coaches came up to me and asked me whether my swimmers were not fit enough to go 25 meters. Again – that was to me one of the proofs that – I have an understanding what I believed and that is the only thing that mattered to me. I believed it was the right thing to do and the right way to go about it and so I kept on doing the 50 meter sprints and I still do them now today. So I didn’t move back one bit. So I skipped through these ones -they are fairly similar things, but again – just a part of the studies.

I was fortunate enough to go through a great education in Switzerland and at the University as well and anything I selected as a coach was pretty much linked to what I believed was important to know about as a coach. To me it went into physiology and sports physiology, clinical biomechanics into sports biomechanics, I spoke psychology, nutrition – definitely strength and conditioning and I was fortunate enough to have some great mentors there as well. Which still has a big impact on my coaching now days. I know Vern Gambetta knows the same guy as well – Hans Rudy Koonz who we both consider as one of our friends and mentors.

Last, but not least, is the whole side of skill acquisition at motor learning. How can we teach a different behavior from the model learning side. How can we teach neuromuscular patterns and movements in the water. One of the sports that I learned a lot from was gymnastics. No coach obviously can do the skills they have to teach their athletes and so that is a great way to learn as well – from that sport. All the other things are pretty much already talked about. This brings me to this slide and I don’t really want you to read it. But this is a part out of a swimming book about physiological factors of swimming performances and I used to know that stuff. Now I have absolutely no idea anymore and I think it just holds back my thinking. Then, as much as it was important to me to learn it and get it in the earlier stage, I think I moved more and more away from it. One of the reasons is – if I look at a slide like this one about energy systems and for what event in swimming, for how long in minutes and seconds, I think it is just something that creates limits on my mind. I am not saying it is wrong information, but if I take this as a simple fact, then I probably will restrict myself to its future improvement.

So how to tell that the work loads are too heavy? I was fortunate – as I said early on – to work with Scott Volkers. One of the things he taught me was energy systems in a different way. How much can you do of a very specific speed? How much can you handle in one training session of maybe 100 meters specific race speed? How much can you handle of 200 meters specific race speed. And to be truthful, I have an understanding and I believe something or I have a number for it, but I am not saying it is the real one. I don’t want to give you any numbers because I think it is all up to us to find out how much can we do of each one, and then it is training for the first 50 of a hundred meter swim – is it the same speed as training for the second 50 of a hundred meter swim? To me I believe there is quite a big difference. So is there a consequence to the whole thing? If I want to train front end speed, I probably need to be a little bit fresher. Maybe I would put that earlier in the week. If I want to train back end speed, it doesn’t matter how tired they are so I can practice that for the whole week, probably perfectly by the end of the week. I hope that they will be a little bit more tired and fatigued by then.

So this is a bit of a slide which is from Bob Treffene and Scott Volkers. They created it together about energy system which shows a little bit how many minutes in this area. You can do a certain amount of work at what kind of speed. Again, I want to move on from that slide to create the next level of understanding. I talked about speed and speed is my passion I think, as a coach, we have to find what we like to do. I always had a passion for speed. I think my first two swimmers – they were girls on the team were both 1500 meter freestylers. One of them sits here in the audience. I coached open water swimmers as well in those days, – like six European Championships – that sounds a long time ago – in ’95 and I still have a guy that goes 1500 meters in around 50 minutes short course though. But it is not really what gets me excited, and I think we all have to find something that we believe in and that is a real part of fast.

I know Bill Sweetenham used to say always, we have to challenge ourselves in all different areas. I think it is good at the beginning of coaching, but at one stage we would probably – should look at specializing in a specific event. So, that leads me to the first and probably one of the most important parts as a mind-set. So rumor has it, the perfect Australian conditions. From 2005 through to 2006 – I had a Canadian guy, Jason Drew, who coached with me as an assistant coach for one year. He was not paid for it. He said “I commit myself for an entire year to you. My payment will be to learn about coaching.” I thought that was very important and I remember my time with Scott Volkers. During my first four months the only deal for me was to be there, to be able to learn every day – every morning – every afternoon; again to learn from our great coaches and the people who were involved in that great program.

Within two weeks he said to me, this is not the environment that I thought it would be here, coaching in Australia. We all read about the Australian Institute of Sport and what great facilities they have. At the end of the day we have simply a pool; that is all we have and swimmers and at the very beginning I had nothing else. Last August Dave Marsh was visiting my pool. I do not know whether Dave is here? In the back far corner – do you remember the day? How dark was it? Pitch Black. That is the slide up there in the corner, that is Valley Pool. Saturday morning when the swimmers were stretching. They were sitting in the corner somewhere in darkness; suddenly I hear this voice from the back, “Hello – anyone in there?” It was Dave Marsh. I let him on the pool deck and within the first minute he made already a comment that it was worthwhile to come and see. Because a lot of the swimmers had an impression that everything is perfect and everything is set up perfect for the athlete. So , at the end of the day, we need a few little things and they are important. When I started the new center in 2000 all I needed to start was, obviously, the pool which was given to me. I needed myself as a coach and I needed swimmers. I think I had five or six swimmers in the water at that stage; so I was fortunate enough to be a high performance coach. I had money paid from the Queensland Government to me as a coach and it didn’t matter how many swimmers I coached. That is one great advantage. So I didn’t have to deal with the numbers and to get a coaching fee to a good level.

At the very beginning I found that a lot of the swimmers thought the only way to perform was to have what Susie O’Neill and Samantha Riley had at the end of their careers. That was a support staff, biomechanics, physiologists coming to the sessions, physiotherapy, and doing screening So I took pretty much everything of them and wanted to teach them one of the most important things – earn your right– earn your right for every level of coaching. Earn your right for every level as a swimmer, and whatever you want to achieve. Still now, within my small squad of eight swimmers, I have a tier structure and not everyone gets the same things. In the earlier days it was hard to get it across that way. Now I believe in it and it is easy for me. But the age grouper who joins a program, in my belief, should never ever receive what someone like Libby Lenton gets. Because she has earned her right to get a lot of things. She has proven to me again and again what she stands for, what she is about, and how she keeps on going over time. To teach that is one of the most important parts. Athletes have to learn about their own responsibility and effort levels. That was the part that was really, really important to me at that stage. It was hard and challenging because my job position was created to be a so-called high performance center; but, I didn’t have anyone really of high performance within my swimmers. I had some pretty good swimmers, but none of them had made the Australian team at that stage which then made it challenging from the outside people. There was pressure on me performing and then getting swimmers up to levels.

In 2001 – no – 2002, I had swimmer on the Australian short course team. There was a guy called Bo Mannix, a 50 & 100 backstroker. I struggled a little bit with him in that specific area; earn your right, because he did some great logs, but then he stepped back again – great blocks, but then he stepped back again. He wasn’t consistent enough for my belief and some of the things that I tried to set up – the culture of training – what I expected people to do – acceptance – whatever the coach really says – that is what we should do. He didn’t stand for all these things and I saw myself challenged with one of my biggest decisions. What should I do with a swimmer like that? To me it was always important that the swimmers believe in what I say, it makes you earn your rights. I try to teach and treat all of my athletes pretty much the same way. He destroyed, in my belief, too many cultural aspects of coaching and made my work too hard in areas where I believe you shouldn’t have to work that hard. So I made a decision. My only national representative – I challenged him, if he doesn’t act this way by the next season he will not be one of my swimmers anymore and that, unfortunately, was the end of his career. Looking back though, I think it was the most important decision because everyone in the squad moved on and forwards from there. By 2002 Libby Lenton joined in and I know that you have heard a lot about her and how she moved forward in time and throughout this process, but that was very important to me.

Just another one about “rumor has it.” On the internet two days ago when I was in the room with Scott, I read that I rejected the coaching position in Britain. Which I wasn’t aware of. They just asked me whether I would go to Britain before the Olympics and I said, “No way. I don’t want to go. I have a great setup here.” Then they put it in a way that I don’t want to go for the head coach position. I never wanted to go for that position next year and not this year. It is not what I want to do. I do not want to be a National head coach. I want to coach swimmers. So that is about rumors – do not believe everything you read on the internet.

So, when I started this talk I just listed a few things that I believe have to do with speed. So passion for speed and power – again – that is what I think or what I like to stand for. I believe in speed through skill. There is no other way around it. Pay attention to details. The importance of consistency. How good is your worst repetition? What I try to teach my athletes is not about if you do four 15 meter sprints, or four 50 meter sprints, whatever we do. You know that you are as good as your best repetition and you are as good as your worst. Because at the International meets or World Championships we have to prepare ourselves that our worst swim is still pretty close to the best swim. So we have to close the gap. I believe that starts in training.

Then the famous three R’s from Ganatti: so we need rhythm, range and relaxation. If you do not have a good rhythm it will cost energy. If you do not have the range you will have to use muscle to stretch out to create a better catch that will be a problem as well, and relaxation – the same. We do not want to waste any extra energy. One of the other things. If you want to create speed from straight away – we have to execute it at a very high level. It is not like that is against distance swimming at all, but in distance swimming we probably have a bit more time to build into a rhythm and to get in there and with speed The concentration – if the athlete does not want it badly enough – if the concentration level is not up there we will not generate speed. So if you want to swim as fast as the athlete can perform, 99% – 98% in a top end speed training session is necessary. If the athlete does not want it badly enough that day, if the coach does not sell it to the athlete, if the athlete does not dream enough, if they don’t do everything right in the process, we won’t train speed, not top end speed anyway. So, how much do we let them get away with. What is good enough or what is not good enough?

The constant flow of energy of body parts, momentum – I believe as Mike Bottom said this morning – we have to find a way to perform at a fairly similar speed so we can’t have too much ups and downs – fluctuation with the speed. The stroke that probably shows the most variation is breaststroke. Constant flow is normally not as much between kick and pull and we have very high peak speed, but a very low minimum velocity. That is, in my opinion, the only reason why breaststroke is the slowest stroke, because it is not as constant as some of the other strokes. So it is important to teach a model of breaststroke that will maybe deliver a more consistent flow. I think that is when Leisel was at her best, definitely in 2006. There was one part, even at the end of the race, it still looked like she was flowing. There was no stopping and she had very even speed throughout the whole race.

Specific training and race modeling for sprint events – Again, that leads me back to how close to race speed is close enough? How much fatigue do we accept? How do we do sprint training? For example, I believe early in the season the athletes are the freshest so it is a perfect time to work at speed. I start with fresh athletes early season using shorter volume, less amount of main sets and less volume of those main sets. That means that the athletes are fairly fresh throughout those first few weeks. I think it is an ideal situation to teach them about speed and utilizing that speed for the next phases throughout the season, throughout the preparation. So, how can we utilize race modeling? What information do we have from the past from the athletes about stroke rates, specific splits, about distance per stroke, stroke counts, breath counts, and whatever there is. How can we utilize that for our training, for our race model, and then for the race specific training? I believe that by swimming at the absolute fastest speeds a swimmer can produce for a very short distance, we can learn a lot about the pace for our shorter events like the 100 meter or 50 meter swims. I don’t believe that a swimmer can yet swim a full 50 meters at top end speed. Libby Lenton won two 50 meter freestyle titles at the World Championships and in both races, at the 25 meter mark and 30 meter mark, she was in third position. She was never leading at that mark and yet she touched the wall first. I do not believe that she got faster, but I just believe that she dropped less pace than all her other competitors, and that is not an accident. It is race modeling specific training to maintain speed at that very specific pace.

So how can you learn from the absolute top end speed for lower speed? The technique changes. It has to be a different technique if I swim faster. So, how can we learn from that for future training sessions or for future races? I hear a lot of – so the front-end speed and back-end speed of training, what we call it in Australia, is that the first 50 training for a 100 meter event or the first 100 training for a 200 meter event should be very different. The speed zone again is a different one than the back-end speed. And then I hear a lot of talk about that my efforts can maintain a really good back-end speed, but that is when they are fresh. On the internet the other day I read about a swimmer who went out pretty slow because they wanted to practice the back-end speed. To me that does not make sense, because you will not go out that slow so the state your body is in at the 50 meter turn is not the same as you go out at the exact pace you want to go out in.

So that is what we have to train in training, and the only way to me to train back-end speed is we have to first train front-end speed. We have to make them hurt. We have to give them some beautiful pain in this whole process. Then probably the one that we could all talk about for several years is the difference between the genders. I think if anyone has the secret to this you will be a very rich man or woman. I still believe that in coaching we just need to start to develop better skills to address especially the girls differently. I think a lot of the culture in the past has been set up for male coaching. The way our male brain works. I hope Terry agreed with me on this one. So we have to learn about coaching girls. It works different and no side is right or wrong. It is just the way the world works. Whatever is going on in the head of a swimmer – whether female or male swimmer – that is real. That is reality and that is what we have to deal with and we cannot simply talk over the top of that.

So, some basic requirements for speed. What is speed? – I do not like training for 50 meter events. When Liesel Jones joined me, she was a 31.1 swimmer in the 50 breaststroke and she dropped it by .6 to 30.5 in the breaststroke long course. She was a 1:06.3 swimmer and dropped it down to 1:05.09 which, let’s say 1:05.1 – that is a drop of 1.2 seconds – so twice .6 of a second. In a 200 from 2:22.9 – she dropped down to 2:20.5, which is 2.4 seconds. So whatever my training did to her made her a faster 50 meter swimmer, a faster 100 meter swimmer, and a faster 200 meter swimmer, but in the same ratio. That is where I take confidence from in my program and try to explore more things for the future – to create even faster swimming.

So, what is it to have an ability to swim fast? It is not, in my opinion anyway – the ability to swim only 50 meter events. I think the real stuff is 100 meters and 200. The only 50 meter Olympic event is freestyle; that is the only way that you can win a medal there. I have talked about different speed zones already, but it goes further. It goes into distance, whatever distance I like to swim, and whatever volume I like to swim.

That is the other chart I just flicked up quickly. So, the question – and I don’t want to give you an answer, but how far off front-end speeds in 100 meter training do you think you can do? Well again, if you go 4 or 500 meters as a volume of a main set where you really push it. Four hundred meters is probably more on the safe side, but again – you go out there and you find out and you explore it. Back-end speed can maybe be 500 to 600 meters – the way we do it anyway. It depends how intense the rest of your program is. How hard is the gym session? How much near muscular fatigue do they have through short sprints? Through hard kick sets? Hard pull sets? And whatever else they do throughout the week. I think I will talk a bit more about that tomorrow.

So, the energy system readiness has to go somewhere into the weekly plan to make sure that the swimmer gets to the end of the week, but just only gets to the end of the week. So how much can we do, how often can we train front-end speed throughout the week? How often can we train back-end speed? Or both as a combination? How often can we train top end speed or do gym sessions, heart, strength development which is probably harder than the power development part? So how much of the whole volume can I put in in one week? I do not think that there are any answers out there yet, but that is probably one of the big things we have to find out as coaches. I always believe that it is not about finding an answer to a great question, it is about finding a great question and then finding an answer to that one. That is much easier.

Energy systems readiness probably has to be probably weekly or can be fortnightly, or a monthly plan where we go recovery weeks after three hard weeks. We have to find out what works and we have to find ways to test things. I don’t know if I will talk about tests later on, but my only test I do with my swimmers is a 50 meter sprint. If an athlete cannot sprint 50 meters fast there is a sign that after this is probably fatigue, unless the athlete is not motivated enough as well. I have to find out when they walk on the pool deck; that is when the game starts. I have to find out how are the eyes of the athletes, how do they respond, did they have a hard day, are they fatigued from the sessions before, how did they respond the day before and all these things. So the weekly plan must consider training speed into an athlete versus training speed out of an athlete. I think that is where definitely I have done a lot of crimes to make an athlete so fatigued that they couldn’t do anything anymore, and I kept them pushing it too much, for too long, and suddenly they started to go down and just got slower and slower.

I remember in the first three months that I coached Liesel I think I almost killed her. My perception of her was that she was a great 200 meter breaststroker and that she would handle good 200 meter training, especially stuff like Samantha Riley used to do. So that is the work I gave her. I know I had a lot of talks with Scotty in those days where I just saw her getting slower and slower and slower in training. And she was the only swimmer of mine in Australia anyway, that I tapered for four weeks. I saw too many alarm bells ringing and I just said okay – I have to stop working that girl, and just start to pray, and there was a very long religious phase leading into the Nationals.

Training speed to an athlete – so how do we ensure that they get from week to week or at least from fortnight to fortnight or if we have recovery weeks that they bounce back throughout that phase? What is the relationship between the 50 meter, 100 meter and 200 meter best time. I believe if we have a 50 meter best time for a freestyle event for example, if you double the 50 meter base time (like Libby Lenton is a 24.5 swimmer – you double the time and it is a 49.0). Her best time is 52:99, so 49.0 to 52.9 or roughly 3.99 seconds. Because Libby has a great start, it probably makes it a bit harder to be closer. Someone like Jody Hendry who has a slower start and is a little bit faster at the backend of her race than Libby, would end up much closer to the other time. So, about 4 seconds for a great starter and that is the way it should be.

I just started to coach Joanna Fargus a little bit less than a year ago or probably 8 months ago. She trained in the US for a while and her 50 meter backstroke best time was 29.8 or something and she was a 1:02.2 100 backstroke, so double 29.8 is 59.6, so she was 2.6 seconds off. Double that again for the 200 meter time 1:02.2, that is 2:04.4 and she is a 2:10.3 200 backstroker. So that is 5.9 seconds and my belief is that that is way too much drop-off. Some of the things I try to do with these young athletes is to give them more speed, to have more easy speed, to go out faster, and then to end up in the races as a better athlete. So, she has to improve I believe the 50 and the 100 meter speed and especially the 100 meter speed to be able to go out faster, but easier, and then to come home fast as well. So, to improve the speed of her 200 meter event I believe we can shave the speed off the front end or the 100 meter speed. And then we create a platform for the athlete to perform better in the 200 events as well.

So with those formulas you can always play around a bit and find out if I should put more emphasis on the 50 meter or should I put more emphasis on the second half of her 200 meter in training. I think if we always played around with one season we would probably go a bit more towards one direction. I think in the last two years or so I have worked more at the backend speed than at the front end speed. I am excited too – we got a new 15 year old girl in Australia who went 24.48 for the 50 freestyle. And there is very hard competition if you come from Brisbane. Her name is Kate Kanlel – 24:48. You have Libby Lenton 24:53. Alice Mills 24:49, as well from Brisbane – same town and Jody Henry with 24.69 or something. So, there are four girls all coming from Brisbane – from the same city and especially this young girl – she threw out a challenge at the older ones and they can winch about it or they just take it on the chin. Hopefully they come back better next time. I know it will make my job much easier – not easy, but easier for the next six months leading into the Olympic Trials because I do not have to remind her of that young girl going that fast. Just by her living in the same city, every competition we go to Libby will have to face her again and again, so I think that is a great thing.

So, in this phase we want to improve the front-end speed a bit again, but maintaining back-end speed as well. So, she will be training for speed throughout the entire season. I think one of the things I truly believe in as well is neuromuscular training to develop speed. I think if you dropped it off and you don’t train it – you are going to have to later on pick it up and work a bit harder to get the body used to performing at that level again. I think those energy systems we can always work at top-end speed and we can always maintain a certain ratio of training in that area.

High skill level at fast execution: I believe in starting with slow swimming and great skill and in moving it through any/every energy system and get faster and faster, but maintain the skill. Obviously, to maintain the same skill level in real sprint events will be the big challenge, but if you don’t practice at the lower speed I don’t thing we will ever get there.

The standards – I call my two stopwatches the lie detectors so they do not lie. They give the athletes the honest truth. If they go slow, that is what they get. If they go fast – that is what they get and I try to really extend that to everything I do in training. They have personal bests for whatever we do; whether it is a 50 meter sprint – 50 meter kick, but it is a 50 meter sprint, 50 meter kick, if it is 50 meter pool sets or 35 meter backend speed sets. If it is in the gym – how many chin-ups can a girl do with 30 kilo sacs on her body? All these things – they are standards and they have their own personal bests and by timing everything and then knowing about it – what are their standards – it makes my job a bit easier to keep them honest with two lie detectors. So, that is one of the very important parts to me and my coaching.

Neuromuscular Fatigue: Obviously hammering a bit more the nervous system through fast execution – through heavy lifting in the gym as well – even things like Swiss-ball – they are great inventions, but being on them – what does it do to their nervous system? Again, it is an extra stress – how will they adapt to their level? Generally speaking, the will power – I guess it is one of the biggest, most important things. They will not produce the speed they can if they do not dream big enough. If they do not want it badly enough so they have to chase their own dream and I talked about the level of concentration before. So, if you can create learning opportunities for speed on the following principles: whatever happens in dry land training my target and only goal is that we can create more speed. Race specific speed – I am not just saying that top end speed – that we can create more race specific speed. One way we improved Libby Lenton’s back-end speed was actually making her stronger in the gym. So instead of having to swim at the high speeds at 99/98% of her max strength – she probably can race it now at 95% so she gets to the first 50 meter mark a little bit fresher and more likely can finish the race a little bit better again.

Body Shaping: I believe there is one thing someone like Libby was fortunate enough to have is a great body shape. – She has a flat back it’s just how she is built. With all my other athletes we keep them working at whatever we believe is an aquatic or swimming specific position and that happens in dry land. They will all be linked to floating drills that are linked to any other body position drills to speed drill and at the end to fast swimming in the pool. So body shaping is like the position you believe the athlete should be able to maintain? If they cannot maintain it outside the water, good luck that they can do it in the water. We have to ensure that we create the opportunity for them to grow in these specific areas.

Speed kick and pull sets: I do not do a lot of slow kicking. I don’t think it teaches good technique. Kick hard. I think they do it correctly most of the time, and the slower we teach them to kick I think more and more they lose their shape. They have dropped the hips a bit more. They kick more from the knees and the power does not come from the hips and from the glutes. So how can we create opportunities for them not only to carry on with the speed, but to stabilize the whole body to create a platform for the technical abilities. If you believe that is important, we have to create opportunities for the athletes in the water during kicking and pull sets. Our pull sets I believe have to be linked to something we would like to be able to do later on under stress, fatigued, under pressure at the big moments when it matters.

Speed and sprint drills: So most of the drills – whether it is a one-arm drill – we do those as speed drills. One way to find out whether the athletes are the same on both sides– whether they have efficiency on both sides – whether they have some little twist in the hip or whether they are tight in one aspect and that shows again in stroke rates. If you are doing 15 or 20 minute of sprints with 1 arm with no kick using a pull buoy and band, normally the effort is with one arm faster than with the other arm. So what does that tell me? One swimmer, a male, 100 freestyler I had could barely swim with one arm on the other side at the beginning. So what I started to do was give him a weight on the hip, only on one hip. I let him swim one arm drill freestyle with kicking. On one side he had no problem at all. Then we put the weight to the other side and within one stroke he rolled on the back. He could not stabilize his body and that just showed me so clearly there was a deficit. He had a handicap and we could develop a more stable stroke His performance took off as well. He probably dropped from 51.7 that year to 50.2. The combination of body shaping with him was important when combined with learning about the balance within his body.

Any combination you can think of – I like to do power development as well, whether that is fins and paddles or even fins, paddles and drag suit or kicking sets with drag suit and fins, especially early season with less specificity. Just hurt them any way you can, but make it fast. Make it fast for them and I truly believe that fast swimming and fast kicking is normally a pretty exciting thing for them as well.

Readiness for speed at any time: I like those standup time trials at the end of even the hardest quality set; they still have to be able to line up and do a fast swim. In the middle of an aerobic set or session – when it is a recovery session they still have to line up and give me at least one fast time trial. I believe this creates the ability of an athlete – the self-belief from within – from deep within – we can talk them into things. It has to grow from within – belief by doing things better, they grow in self-belief. This is one other way I like to do it as well. So that is more a bit of mechanics creating ability to maximize propulsion – that is one aspect of training where I can focus on ability.

Minimize resistance: I think the biggest improvement in the last few years has come more from that side than actually from maximizing propulsion. It is minimizing resistance. We learned more about stroke efficiency, the ability to maximize propulsion, minimize resistance at a minimum in a physiological and economical way. So, I talked about most of these things already. I think we have to set high standards. If you set the bar high, people will jump over the top. I remember in Queensland one year we set new targets for times. The targets for this Queensland State team, and we had something like 36 athletes on the team, and after the new standards we had 17. We were not sure whether we should go ahead with it, but at the end, all the top coaches decided yes, let’s do it. Within probably six or eight months we again had 26 swimmers on the team and they are top For example, freestyle for a girl will be something like 25.0 nowadays – to make the target. The 100 fly will be 58.2 or 3 or something – around there. So, they are really tough times to make and we have right now twenty six or something like that swimmers on the Queensland team.

Ongoing enhancement of the technique to the next speed zone: Again, I believe if you like to swim much faster in the future, we have to create little steps to it. I believe swimming at the highest speed demands a different technique. so then we have to create opportunities for the athletes in the training process to get better at their particular part. Probably sometimes shorter and then getting longer and longer and longer or more sets or more volume or more repetitions throughout the training session. Another thing is, is there a difference in sprint training between the genders or young and mature athletes? After the 2000 Olympics there was a big rumor going around in Australia that male sprinters can’t work as hard. I believe the only reason why male swimming went downhill from thereon was because people just believed in it. It took us years and years to create the next culture. My male athletes train exactly the same hard sessions and they are back up the same way as the girls. So, I have not yet seen a difference between those guys and what the girls do. Sometimes I have to be more on the careful side than with some of the boys. So, it is never believing in these things if you hear them. Is there a difference between a young or mature athlete or between girls and boys? I believe there is, but it is up to us I guess to find out.

Timing will be a crucial part how to pace real race speed – we always time to the head. If it is a speed set, feet touch the wall and you have contact time. Then you push off from a rotation – not just from a balanced and strong position. So we make it more challenging and take at least .4 second from the goal time to make it real challenging.

We have a few forms in there. So at the Queensland Academy of Sport, we developed some speed charts where we can pretty much work towards. So this is 100 meter breaststroke. So if you would like to have a guy swim a :58.0 — we get the gold times around here – how fast they would have to swim and these results. They come from real racing so there is a formula used by scientists to give us this information. Breaststroke obviously a turn as well, hand touch so I think it is 1.3 or 1.4 seconds taking off so if a guy would like to swim 60.7 in the 100 breaststroke. Obviously, the next goal is down to 60 seconds, so in speed sets we have to be 30.8 feet off the wall. If you look at the way a typical 60.0 swimmer swims it – it is 28.0 and 32.0, but the speed part was 30.8 because of the hand touch, turning and pushing off again. So we have to be definitely much faster in the butterfly and breaststroke. So again, this is one way that we did it at Queensland Academy of Sport.

I wrote my own program for 50, 100 and 200 meter swimming for Libby. I know that the goal time was 53.0, actually it was :52.99, but that was before that happened in 2006 when we planned this. Her starting time, I know that from biomechanical analysis how far she should go through and the way she swims her races. If she wants to swim 53.0 – 11.6 – the first lap at 25.5 and backend speed 27.5. Her typical drop off is two seconds. Someone with a good start has more drop-off than someone with not as good a start.

In the younger days I had a bit more time so I wrote a program which then calculated for me front-end speeds. The one here is obviously off a dive – 6.4, 9.0 would be hand touch 25.1, so the 25.0 from over here and then the same was calculated for the backend speed so 25, 30, 35 and whatever we have there and this is pretty much the same. That is what this speed chart does, but more individualized. Someone with a good start – for Libby – probably – she has a pretty good start, these speed charts are not as precise as the one from the program that I wrote. Then, this goes into her own speed – a training sheet – which she has on pool deck. This would be the training sheet and then you will find her front end speed, some of them from a dive, 6.4 are from a push, 6.7 that is stroke count and stroke rate. Down further the back-end speed for the 100 meter pace and over here the 200 meter. Same for the 200 meter events – front end and back-end speed.

I am not saying that this is the way to go, but that was one way that definitely worked really well for me. The way I think and the way I try to look at swimming and what I try to do with my coaching. I think I have to stop here.

This would have been a typical back-end speed set that starts throughout the season – early season or early in the development of the 200 free and then a 50 main stroke at backend speed 100 on a certain cycle. I found pretty soon that it was too easy, so I believe it wasn’t real backend speed training so I made it more challenging. I gave them a 50 main stroke at the end – and nowadays it is much faster. I go probably past 5, where they have to swim efficient, after being fatigued, swim efficient again. Then the next block was instead of swimming the 200 meter of day 2 – in the first set I swim it at threshold and then a 50 main stroke back-end speed, a 50 stroke count or efficient swimming, then a 200 at 8.2. So that is again more challenging. And then the last set is exactly the same, but at the end of the set when they are fatigued and hurt pretty nice at the end of a set like this. The two 50 meter turn sprints where they use the keywords for the races the way I like them to do the turns, and then what I would like them to think of in the whole process.

So I guess the countdown is running for this one, the big one in Beijing. They have this massive clock with the countdown for the Olympics starting ‘080808 so what roads are you on towards the Olympics?

Australian Coaches and Teacher Association just created 5 brand new DVD’s. They are the butterfly with Ken Wood and Jessicah Schipper – the world record holder. Coach Greg Salter with his two great backstrokers, Vince Riley and Brendon Richerts who came second at the World Championships and then a freestyle coach there with Libby Lenton and Melanie Schlanger – she is one of my swimmers as well and was part of the 4X100 freestyle relay that won gold at the Worlds. And one is with Michael Boll with Stephanie Rice who came third at the World Championships. I hear they are really great DVD’s and I reckon everyone should have one of them – especially the freestyle one – make sure you get one of them.

Alright? Are there any questions? Vern – yes?
Question: I would be interested in your comments about the cool-down, etc.
Answer: I guess that is a development stage as an athlete who goes to the World Championships, wins medals, has interviews, has drug tests and all these things. They will not be able to swim down quite often so again, it is up to me in training to create the opportunity for them to get better at reducing lactates in different ways. That can happen away from the pool, walk-downs or just keeping the body moving and so that is something they have to practice in training. But it depends on what level I guess the athletes are, but there is always the next level and we have to adapt to the game.

I like to do quite a bit of hypoxic training, but it is now days more sprint oriented so I do some of them – I call them the bubble sprints. They do 25 meter sprints, but in front of the wall they let all of the air out of the lungs so they bubble down to the bottom of the pool, and from there they have to push off and sprint 25 meters through to the end. What I believe, what the teachers use, at the end of – especially 100 meter and 50 meter races, the lack of oxygen probably ends up in a bit of shorter body position which ends a different backend of the stroke. So we use this to learn about that feeling. That is one way we created the opportunity again for them.

Question:
Answer: Generally speaking yes, early season I do a bit more with fins on and they can be unspecific – so development of big muscles and sprint. But from after a third of the season there will be their stroke specific – so for Libby she would do the butterfly and the freestyle, but breaststrokers will keep on doing breaststroke.

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