Aerobic Training and Aerobic Base: Age Groupers

Aerobic Training and Aerobic Base: Age Groupers


May-July 1985

 Training the Club Swimmer- Some Guidelines on how to handle the age-grouper

BY: Don Gambril and Alfred Bay


I believe that all swimmers should establish a sound foundation of correct stroke mechanics and middle-distance training when they are young. It is much easier to learn from the start how to swim correctly that it is to purge bad habits years later. It is important that the swimmer begin building stamina, increase heart and lung capacity, and developing strength while he or she still growing rapidly.

A case can be made that more is better. It is true that the young body has amazing recuperative powers. This has been demonstrated many times. Forbes Carlile of Australia, for example, has swimmers under 10 years of age training 50 miles a week. I believe that it is possible that a 12-year-old be conditioned to swim 20,000 meters a day, six days a week (112 miles a week) without physical harm, but I would not endorse such training. I believe that physiological and social considerations should determine the limits of training mileage, not sheer physical capacity.

The typical young athlete is just not equipped to handle the tedium of long -distance training. If training becomes too demanding-or just too boring- the swimmer will leave the sport. Anymore, few Olympic medals are won by swimmers younger than 17. In fact, the average age of world-class swimmers is increasing; some now are as old as 25. If a swimmer is to succeed in international, or even in national, competition, he or she will have to stay in the sport eight, 12, maybe even 18 years. It is the age group coach’s responsibility to consider the long-range effects on the training course and to allow each swimmer to develop in his or her own time.

I endorse middle-distance; all stroke training for age-group swimmers. Just what that means – how much mileage, in what manner, at what age- I shall discuss next.

However keep in mind that that the actual content of training is not as important as the development of self motivation and a good mental attitude.

Ages 7 and 8

Seven-and 8 year-old need more structured practice. A tremendous amount of teaching needs to be done: stroke technique, body position, starts, timing, rhythm, and turns (turn should be taught on both sides). All strokes should be taught and . practiced, but until sufficient strength is developed through kicking and pulling drills, not much time should/ be spent swimming butterfly. And the drills should be repeated often. A coach should never allow the young swimmer to get away with sloppy technique.

Competition should be part of daily practice, but it should be fun, relaxed, and should have social  thrust; such things are relays: “Alligators versus Crocodiles”. There· should be little criticism; Kindness goes much further with this age than hard discipline.

This is also a good age to introduce dryland work – not weight training yet, but flexibility work and · conditioning exercises. People this young rarely benefit directly from strength or flexibility work, but exercises become part of the routine discipline  that  will  be  necessary when that get older. These exercises improve  coordination  and prove a variety which helps keep workouts interesting.

It is a good idea for swimmers of this age (or little older) to start keeping a logbook with workouts and weekly mileage totals. This gives them a feel for the content and rhythm of the training course and allows them to see documented improvement. It also develops interest in statistics.

The coach, of course, should also keep track of mileage. Seven­ and 8-year-olds should be swimming no more than five miles a week, and spending no more than one and half­ hours, three days a week, in the water.

Ages 9 and 10

We hold five practice sessions a week for this group; totaling no more than 12 hours weekly – meets, team meetings and social events inclusive. Absences should be permitted for involvement in other activities, such as Scouting. Especially at this age, the swimmer should be encouraged to maintain outside interests.

The 9-year-olds work out from 60 to 90 minutes  day and cover maximum weekly distance of 25,000 to 30,000 yards. The 10-year-olds work about two hours a day, with a commensurate increase in yardage.

Intervals generally be kept short so that the swimmer can concentrate on good form and hard effort (though, once in a while a long swim of a mile or more offers a challenging change of pace). At this age, work emphasizing forced oxygen debt is introduced. This work continues through the age of 11 or 12 for girls, and 13 or 14 for boys.

At about this age, great disparities in the maturation levels of age peers develop. Some girls are fully mature at 11 or 12 and are ready for an adult training load.

Some boys aren’t ready physically or emotionally for that kind of work until they are 13 or 14. This should be taken into account, and training groups should be composed by performance, as well as by age, with time standards being instituted for each training lane. Remember that “late bloomers” frequently turn out to be the best swimmers when they get older: these more slowly developing swimmers must be given attention and encouragement. They should work more over-distance and do less sprint or quality effort.

For example, Tim Shaw, one young swimmer who was in my program from the age of 9 until he was almost 15, trained only one session a day. Yet less than two years later, when he was 16 and doing double workouts with Dick Jochums, he broke the world record in the 400-meter freestyle. He was the best in the world for several years.

The 9-or 10-year -old swimmer should have-a sound grasp of style and the mechanics of all four strokes, starts and turns. It is time to start teaching him or her the basics  of training theory and practice: what the different  types of training are,  and the benefits of each; how to time splits, figure pace and monitor one’s pulse.

Ages 11 through 13

By age of 11, most girls are ready for serious competition. They are ready to add stress work to their training regimen, and to train twice a day (10 or 11 sessions a week). The most mature girls can handle 60,000 and 80,000 yards a week at this age. On the other hand, boys tend to mature more slowly: most of them will not be ready for this level of work until they are 13.

We start our 11-years-old (boys and girls) on an effective dryland program. At first most of the work is light-body-weight-against­ gravity work such as pull-ups, sit­ ups, and push-ups; or resistance work with devices such as pull buoys, drag suits, pull tubes, etc. AS the individuals mature, and if facilities are available we start him or her weight lifting.


And Older

By the age of 14 (15 for low maturers) the serious swimmer should be spending 20 to 30 hours training every week, covering (at peak season) 60,000 and 90,000 yards, and handling a full complement of dryland work. The dryland work includes running,

flexibility exercises and the following lifts with free weights on the pool deck: bench press, triceps press,  half squads, and upright  rowing.

The work at this age group is componently the same as the work done by senior swimmers. The differences are: the overall mileage is less (though 14-15-year-olds train like seniors and compete successfully against seniors); the strength work is not as heavy and the long distance group is separated as often.


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February-April 1988

Flying Out of the Distance: Many of Gary Butt’s Pine Crest swimmers begin as distance freestylers and still do much of their training in that area.

Interview by: Mark Muckenfuss


 Butts: Another thing is that most of our flyers train in our distance freestyle workout. We don’t ask them many times to swim a whole lot of butterfly in workout.

ST: Why distance as opposed to middle or short distance?

Butts: We have just found that our 200 flyers tend to be more similar to our distance freestyles than anyone else on the team. Out butterflyers, our 400 Imers and our distance people train together. And the amount of fly that they swim

_would vary by kid. Two of the best flyers we’ve had come out of here in the last seven years would be Vickie Vogt, and Martin Zubero. They swam a lot of Fly in workout.

ST: From what you have said it sounds like you prefer training your flyers for the 200 rather than the 100. Butts: The 200 seems to be more interesting race. There is a considerable bit more strategy you have to go into in swimming a 200 fly than the 100. Lately though some of our 200 flyers have been drifting off into the 800 meter free or the 1500

ST: Do you do any lactate testing your swimmers?

 Butts: We have over the last few years. We started in the fall of ’84 and worked at it until last spring. Right off the bat we had real good results and got a pretty good understanding of what we were doing. We continued to push forward with it for three years. Last spring we looked at the amount of time and money we were putting into it and the size of our program, and we weren’t sure we were getting enough out of the amount of time and money being spent, so we stopped. We won’t start back until this fall. At that time we’ll look at what data’s available and what time, money and effort it will take.

ST: Do you feel you’re missing anything by not testing?

Butts: No. we might have swum better, but we were pleased with our results last summer. I’m not sure we’re missing any- thing at this point other than the data we’d be collecting. I guess I’m kind of lazy and I’m going to wait until someone comes out with a program and says this is what you do, and I’ll follow that. We just don’t have the staff or the money to test 55 kids all the time. It took an enormous amount of time away from training. But we will probably go back into it once we get a little better We learned a lot from it in terms of whether we were training too hard, not hard enough, when we had kids that we were over-training. We certainly got some direction that way.

Another thing that we found helpful, last year Paul Bergen put out a newsletter every week called Think­ Fast Swimming. We subscribed to that and followed that and did a lot of things he was doing and used a lot of the ideas he gave us. I think it’s one of the most incredible things a coach did and took the time to put out. He was so meticulous with his planning and program. We took a lot . of ideas from that and base lot of our stuff on it. We try to run a cycle­ type program. We hand out a calendar to the kids for each three­ month period, with all the yardage we’ll be going.

Our program is set up so that Monday is quality, Tuesday is recovery. Our yardage on recovery days is about 8,000, and on quality days it’s about .5,000. On quality mornings we go about 4,000 and on a recovery morning about 5,500.

Wednesday we don’t train, we call it · Wonderful Wednesday, followed by Terrible Thursday. We always do a timed 800 or 1000 on Thursdays, which is a quality day. We’ve been doing a timed 800 or 1000 every Thursday for seven years.


ST: You must consider it pretty important. What do you feel it does for the swimmers?

Butts: It gives them some racing experience. They certainly learn how to pace. We talk a lot about pacing and they have to learn that when they’re swimming a 1000. Friday is a recovery day for us and on Saturday we train for four hours straight, from 8-12, all water, and we go from 12,000-18,000 on those days.



Article reproduced only in part.




A Distance Program for Young Swimmers by Peter Banks (1994)

A Distance Program for Young Swimmers by Peter Banks (1994)
Peter Banks is Certified ASCA Elite International and came to the United States 5 years ago. Previous to coming to the U.S. he lived and worked in Ireland. He has been involved in coaching swimming for nearly 20 years, having coached in Ireland, first at Club Level, then at State Level, followed by National and International Level.
In 1989, after being part of a very successful program that sent two swimmers to the 1988 Seoul Olympics, he wanted the opportunity to expand his coaching and he felt the U.S. was the place to do this.
He has been working with the Brandon Blue Wave Team since 1989. Coach Banks has been very fortunate to have the opportunity to be able to build a pro­ gram at Brandon Blue Wave that leads itself to ideals and believes in swimming. Presently he has 4 swimmers at Senior National Level with 8 swimmers at Junior National Level. His Age-Group program is always ranked in the Top Six at the Junior Olympics Championships. The Blue Wave program has 95 year round swimmers with 75 swimmers in the summer program.
Good Morning. I had about 60 to 70 of these handouts in the back of the room, and now I see they’re all gone at this stage. I under estimated the popularity of the talk, so hopefully we should be able to get these. It’s very hard to sit down and go through what I wanted to talk about for 45 minutes 45 minutes feels like an awfully short time. What I’ve tried to do in the last 4 or 5 y ears in Brandon, as Paul mentioned; I came to this country 5 years ago, basically to pursue a professional coaching career. In Israel and, I’d been coaching as a part-time coach, and also working in the recreation management field. I wanted to try to get a feel for if I could get in to full-time coaching, and I felt the best place to do that was the United States. Brandon gave me the opportunity to do that. It’s about a 30 year old facility. It’s got a fifty meter pool, and that’s what really attracted me to the facility. The program itself was basically nonexistent as far as a year round program. It had a summer program, but the year round program wasn’t in existence when I came. We got a pool heater, and basically decided we’d try to get the program going on a 52 week of the year basis. We have done that, and basically the result is what l feel is a very successful program, based on my beliefs and what I feel over the last I 8-19 years of coaching are very important criteria to develop young athletes.
This talk is basically about distance free-style or distance swimming, but I think it’s the whole basis of this talk and the whole basis of my philosophy is based on how I feel swimmers should be developed from an early age. I don’t think you can just categorize it into distance freestyle or distance swimming. I think the whole purpose of what I try to do is to try to develop young athletes from an early age into what hopefully will be out­standing athletes at an older age and continue in our sport so that we are not losing swimmers because of drop outs or because of not achieving a level of improvement throughout their swimming career. I think one of the things that I try to do is make sure that the progressive development of the athlete is always there, that we’re always looking to try and improve the athlete, to try and improve the swimmer into a better individual, physically and mentally.
The first overhead I have up there is something I just put together, and I share this with you because this was part of the plan when I came into Brandon five years ago. One of the things I felt I needed to do as a coach was to give myself a goal. Because as a coach I think as coaches we sometimes or all the time are thinking of goals of swimmers and what we want the swimmers to do. To me it was very important to sit down and know why I’m in Brandon; why I am there, why I want to be there, what I’m going to do while I’m there in the number of years I’m going to be at Brandon. One of the goals that I set for myself was the goal of trying to start with our team and see from 1990, where in 6 years’ time-a 6 year plan where we could be in 1996. And when I presented this to the swimmers and their parents, basically a lot of parents laughed and said, yes, sure, we’re never going to reach that goal; we’re never going to have swimmers at the Olympic level. I still believe we will have swimmers at the Olympic level. This year has been a tremendous year for me as far as getting swimmers to the next level and having Brooke Bennett at the World Championships this week. This has been a tremendous goal as far as our team is concerned, and certainly it looks as though our goal at the top of the pyramid there is certainly going to be reached. But I just share that with you because I think that’s very important as part of the plan of what I wanted to do and my own personal goal of making sure that I knew where I wanted to go, and I think that’s very important. It doesn’t matter if you’re distance or sprint or whatever you want to do as a coach; I think you have to have that plan.
I’m just going to talk about developing fundamentals at an early age, and I think when I started the program we basically had one level of swimmer and that was the developmental level of swimmer. What I try to do is look at the best way of trying to get those athletes to swim the best possible way technically and then what I want them also to be able to do is be able to swim and be fitter athletes. I think that is the one thing that was in the back of my mind to try and make sure that as athletes they were fitter, better individuals. We start at a very early age with introducing them to try and get them into swimming longer. We have our age group swimmers swimming a lot of distance sets with fins, aids, anything like that, just to get them involved and use to getting into 200’s, 400’s, 800’s, 1500’s. We have 8 year olds, 9 year olds, just starting out in our developmental, or junior competitive program as we call it, and they would do up to 3000 meters to start off with, as they are developing into those programs. I think that’s real important to learn that it’s not all about doing 25’s and 50’s, but it’s about being able to develop them more physiologically, that they are better and fitter athletes. As they come in and develop through the program, they are not going to be shocked from transition from one level of our team to another level of our team. It’s been part of the program, as they go through, that they are used to doing longer distances. They know that they are going to have to be able to do those longer distances, and it’s not just on freestyle, but a lot of the other strokes. As we get through that we try and look to the swimmers and ask them to think of themselves as not swimming all the time just to improve a 50 or I 00 times but try think of improving their overall ability as they swim through so even at 8, 9 and 10, we try to enter them in 400’s or 500’s depending on the season. Early Season try to get them use to those events. We don’t push them into those events. We encourage them and we try encouraging the swimmers to get involved in those events.
We have had a lot of success with the swimmers  enjoying those events and I think they try and get into those particular swims and feel they can improve. Start off with a 10 minute 500 or whatever, they can show improvement on bigger scale and it is easier for these swimmers to see that improvement.
One of the things we try to do is not to look at distance swimming as an exception in your program. Unfortunately, sometimes if you are a distance based program with a lot of skepticism, rather than looking at what we can or are trying to achieve, both short term and long term we as coaches have a responsibility to develop a sound basis for where we can develop these swimmers into outstanding athletes and by developing an aerobic base, it will help to establish a strong base to work from. One of the problems I encounter in our program is when swimmers come from other programs, they do not have the background in aerobic work and it takes longer for that swimmer to fit into our program both physically and mentally. I think US Swimming and age group program development has developed swimming in the shorter distances. I think US Swimming needs to look at trying to establish some kind of criteria to develop longer distance programs for age group swimming. I think if you look at European swimming, they do have a distance base program within their system. I have had some contact obviously having lived there for a number of years. They encourage younger swimmers to swim 200’s/400’s free-style and some 800’s and 1500’s in strokes at an early age. I think US Swimming needs to look at what some of the European countries are doing in that sense and expand our age group program to know that we can encourage our swimmers to go into that field.
Educate the parents in what you believe; this is a big part of what I do. Try and talk to the parents and know that what we are doing is right for the athlete. I think it is so easy to be drawn into the other club syndrome, what the club down the road is doing , what we are not doing and why someone is swimming faster than Johnny or Mary. I think you have to talk the parents into letting them know that maybe Johnny or Mary has not developed just right at this time, physically or mentally, to be able to swim as fast as some other swimmers at this point. But we are trying to develop the athletes on a long term basis, and really that’s what we try to portray in what we are doing on a daily basis within the team.
I think a lot of what I am going to talk about today is a brief outline of what my and the team’s philosophy is. With the success we’ve have had with some of our swimmer the last number of years, I am going to follow my plan of the last year of so. I am going to show you what I have done with Brooke Bennett and John Ryke and show you the type of work they’ve done and hope­fully get some discussion after that. For our season planning we divide the year into 50 weeks. We have two weeks off every year and one week at the end of the summer (or 10 days after the summer) and 3 days after the spring. I don’t believe that swimmers need to get out of shape. I try not to have the swimmers at any point in their career get out of shape and I think that they need to stay in shape as much as possible. Even if they are out of the water for those two weeks I encourage them to walk, bike or run, whatever they need to do to keep themselves feeling that they are still in shape. We go from a yearly plan to a seasonal plan to a cyclical plan. The seasonal plan is September to March, March to August. The cyclical plan is 6 week segments and then the weekly plan which is six day segments. This is how I divide the year up. This is something that I sit down at the start of each year and this is how I physically look at what the year holds for us. This is the 93-94 season plan.
This is what I did last August. Basically how I came up with a plan. I distribute a copy to my swimmers and meet with them to discuss and show them this. I think a visual copy of this which is far easier for them to under­stand, rather than something you just talk about. I give them a copy of this and show them where our highs, lows and competitions are going to be and I think this is real important. I think a lot of time we will only talk to our swimmers and team meetings. Swimmers, I feel, are visual people and like any young person they need to have something in their hand to see and I found over the last number of years that they take this and place this on their bedroom wall and they come back to me and say we are supposed to be a little bit lower this time of year or a little bit higher here at this point, they keep a check on me. It’s good because it reaffirms to me what I should be doing. It also helps them and their parents know when the work becomes more demanding and where our competitions are and where they relate to what we are to do with our practices .
We have basically at the top the months and the dates of our competitions, our club meets, age-group meets in September, October High School meets, and again we have high school meets in Florida September to November. You’ll notice for someone like John Ryke, who is a junior in high school last year we didn’t rest, our train­ing stayed basically the same. The weight training was kept very heavy on the first part of September, October, and November. Our meters started off 45,000 to 50,000 per week and we built up to 70,000 -80,000 meters with­in 4 or 5 weeks. We don’t take very much time to get into yardage. Very quickly with doubles, 5 mornings, 5 afternoons a total of 10 sessions a week. We work basically 80,000. The only thing that changes is the intensity. I believe in the Distance program the intensity is the factor. It’s not the amount of yardage you do, it’s the more the intensity you do. It is important to note that when you are doing 70,000/80,000 and you are doing it as a constant, the intensity needs to change at certain times of the year and at certain times of the week.
You look for a lot out of the individual swimmer where you’re looking for heart rate differences and that’s a big part in what we try and do. I’ll go through that a little bit later on but as we start in that we go through the fall and we went to December where we had the US Open meet and we dropped off the weights, but we basically didn’t drop off the mileage and we had a real good meet there. Brooke had a real good meet, but John had a terrible meet at the US Open, so that didn’t work very well for John but he had quite a good High School Meet. That was more an emotional type of swim about a week before at the State High School Meet winning two events. He didn’t rest for those events and swam a very good 200 and 500 freestyle. It was more of an emotional event and he went to the US Open tired from that High School Meet and from the amount of work we were still doing. Dropping off the weights didn’t give him enough rest from what we were doing. We went back into work straight after that. We didn’t really actually stop, we went back into the weight room or the land conditioning program and over Christmas time we went up to about 90,000 meters when they were on a break. We followed on to basically to February/March. You can see at the end of February and March we dropped basically the weights program totally (our land conditioning program) and we drop it totally doesn’t mean we don’t do any­ thing. We basically do sit-ups and things like that. We just don’t do a lot of hard work in that period of time. For those 4 or 5 weeks we continue with sit-ups and things like that and then we drop the mileage. When we were down to Junior Nationals and Senior Nationals week and we didn’t go any lower with Juniors this year and Brooke went on to Juniors in March and John didn’t, he went on to just went to Seniors. Brooke went and swam some events at Juniors, but she was still swimming 50,000 meters while she was swimming through that meet. We went onto Seniors and we continued the mileage same for both of them; but they didn’t drop an awful lot. They worked out twice a day at the meet. They kept going. I just feel that at that age, as I said talking about the intensity, they still need to work within the volume of work that they are used to doing the volume of the work. The volume of work they are used to doing is obviously  higher  than 40-50,000. Therefore they’re not losing that feel of the water when they are swimming that distance. We just change the intensity when it comes to what we do within those times. We gave them a week off after that.
As you see, after that week we went straight back because I was concerned that was a short season we had after the Spring Nationals. We had a shot at the World Championship trials. John had finished second in the 400 free at the Spring Nationals and Brooke had finished very reasonable places in the 400/800 and 1500. I felt it was a possibility and it was certainly a possibility to be able to get into the whole scene of swimming for a World Championship spot. So, I came home after Spring and I sat down with the swimmers and decided to see how close we were to having a shot at a World Championship spot, knowing that it wasn’t part of our overall 6 year plan but why not take it while it was part of what we were doing. So, we got back into the water and basically I had to sit down again and reinvent the wheel for that season. I changed the plan half at mid­ season thinking that we need to look at what we where we are going to try and do for the World Championship Trials. I decided that we wouldn’t change the first half very much. We had a break, we got back into our pro­ gram and I thought of a little more yardage. We were coming to summer and got more time in June and we got back in April after Seniors and then getting back up to 85,000/86,000 meters again developing the intensity as we went along so that as the lines go through those months the intensity might start at a lower level but got higher as we went through we went at that point they got selected to go to the distance training camp in Colorado, I knew that at that point they would go a higher mileage so I didn’t have a 100,000 on our chart but they obviously went 220,000 in that two week period in Colorado. They got a big jump in the mileage that they were doing up in Colorado with all the altitude so I didn’t know how that was going to effect it, but I knew we were conditioned well enough going in with the 85,000 to 90,000 that to jump up into 100,000/110,000 meters wasn’t going be a big jump for them as far as physiology wise because I felt that they were fit enough to handle that, and, also that ! JO ,000 was going to be done over a 7 day period rather than our normal 6 day period. I felt that they shouldn’t have a problem with any kind of change in the yardage. When we came back obviously they dropped down to about a 90,000 85,000 and from there we went right down to a where we went to Senior Nationals and where we were about 40 weeks out John, I gave a little bit longer taper this year. It was about 2 week 2 I/2 week taper. While, Brooke I still went on about a 10 day taper for her into the Trials and we basically went from there down to where we were doing about 30,000 a week at the Trials. The week of the Trials we were doing 3,000 in the morning and after­noon at the Trials so we were doing about 6,000 a day and then hopefully the plan was that they would make the World Championship Team.
Brooke made the World Championship Team and John didn’t. Physically wise John was as ready as Brooke was to make the World Championship Team. I think mentally he didn’t handle the pressure of the meet as well as Brooke did. I think she was more determined and was affected by much of the atmosphere of it and I think John as a 17 year old boy had ended up swimming against 21 year old men and I think that is a big difference between 17 to 21. I don’t think the difference from I 4 to the girls is such a huge difference at 14 I think she is able to handle it a little bit better. So, I added on a little tail at the end here where we went a little bit more and we went back to I 5 days of work for the World Championship. She swims tomorrow in Rome and we went 15 days divided into 3 segments of 5 days where we went 50,000 for each of those 5 days I 0,000 a day over 5 days so she was back up to 150,000 for the 3 week period leading into the World Championships and as far as I can gather she is doing well on that and we will see tomorrow. That’s basically the way we have divided the season and as I say, again, I pick those two because they are the successful ones within the program. When you’re talking for 45 minute you try and look at individuals or a particular part of your program that people can relate to and hopefully this will relate to most of what you wanted to know about and what we are doing.
I talked a little bit about our heart rate work and what we have done and how we gear what we do as far as intensity there. We work an awful lot and we go back to the age group and development part of the program. We teach our athletes to monitor their heart rate so that we get to the point that they know exactly if they are swimming at I:20 pace what their heart rate should be. If they are swimming at 23 heart rate we do a 10 second count on the heart rate, what their time should be so they relate a lot to what we do. A lot of our workouts, are basically everything is that we ask them to do is basically done with the heart rates. We ask them to do 10 x 100’s on 1:30 holding a 24 heart rate or 10 x 100’s on 2 minutes holding a 28 heart rate so they know by the heart rate (the intensity) that they are supposed to swim. I think that is a real important part of what we try and teach the athletes as part of all this as part of the development as to what they are doing because, I think if they don’t realize what they are doing as far as their body is doing, I think they don’t realize what they are aiming for. I think that if they don’t know that their body is working  at certain levels because, many times you will get athletes in the water and they will swim and they are trying their hardest and you say give me your heart rate and they will say its 23 heart rate. It’s just then they know that some days we explain to them that some days you might feel your trying your hardest and you’re not. That your body is not able to adjust on that particular day to do the work and that’s fine some days. They cannot do the work at the level you want them to but if they are working hard and their heart rate is real high then you know it is also a problem so it’s a good tool for the coach and it’s also a great tool for the athlete. I also think, that educating them at their age to that level of swimming is very, very important and I think that’s what we try to do to make sure they understand what they are doing in the water every day. That it has a purpose and the intensity must differ on various days. They know in the morning times we will do a Jot of aerobic work. In the afternoon we will do a lot more specific work though they do a lot more heart rate oriented work in the afternoons. We will be looking for a lot more different types of intensity than possibly what we’re looking for in the morning time.
One thing I did was I took some athletes and I put them on a treadmill. We do a fair bit of running, so I put them on a treadmill and I tried to explain the fact (this was earlier on in when we started the program of what we were doing with our heart rate work) there was just different levels. We did it because it’s easier to do on a treadmill and it was easier to explain to them what hap­ pens to the heart when they do different levels of work. What we tried to do was, to set them at a certain speed on the treadmill and with an incline. We had a treadmill that was able to move up and down and we had a 2% incline. We said you are going to stay at this pace and we set the treadmill at 7 miles per hour. Then we said we want you to run at this pace for as long as you can. We were able to show them where that heart rate just went off the scale. We showed them how far they went I or 2 minutes into the work or 2 1/2 minutes into the work on the top scale where their heart rate went up, we got the same speed and put it at zero incline and we showed them where they were able to maintain the heart rate. We found that the 7 miles per hour was just some­thing we tried through trial and error. That was the speed that they were able to handle and we worked on starting them out at 160. They started off and how Jong they were able to stay at that heart rate and a steady state heart rate we were trying to teach them where there is a point within their training that if they maintain just the right level, they can train at that pace virtually all day without really going in aerobically. Building up too much lactate or just dropping down and not getting any benefit, we were trying to find a threshold and teach them about threshold. It is so important to work at that threshold pace. It was just a vehicle we were able to use (the treadmill). We weren’t able to do it in the water, so we wanted some way of showing them a graph of how this was possible. Just by maintaining a steady state heart rate they could maintain that heart rate and work at that level and improve their overall fitness. We did it at a slower speed and their graph was too flat and there wasn’t really any benefit out of it. We then, were able basically to find somewhere between 170 and 180 that they were able to maintain a heart rate. Basically we judged that on our swimming.
How we do that in swimming, is at the start of the sea­son, I don’t usually give them a 3,000 meter swim. I find with age groupers that that’s very hard to judge and that T-30 test. They end up swimming 3,000 meters or a 30 minute swim or whatever you want them to swim, and they don’t either split it right, or they don’t even pace it. They don’t do a lot of the things that you are looking for so what we do is we swim 6 x 400’s. We go no more than 10 second rest at the 400. It’s a Jot easier for them to go 4 x 100’s at a same pace rather than trying to set them off in a 30 minute swim and ask them to go an all-out 30 minute swim at the same pace. I don’t think that 10 seconds is going to put our reading off at the end of the swim. I think that the 10 seconds really gives them a mind set and you can check on them as you go through those 6 x 400’s and say, “Are you still holding the 1:20 pace or the 1:30 pace? That gives us a better idea and we can check the heart rates. Also, we are able to know exactly where our swimmers need to be. Then we get a better feel for the anaerobic threshold and we know what we need to be training. We do that about 3 weeks into the start of our program and then after that we do it every 4-5 weeks. It depends when I feel it needs to done as far as the program is concerned. We try and do that as a test on how to monitor those heart rates as we go through the program. At the start of the season, there will be a test about September 11-18. Around that week we will test because they are back into the water, back into certain amount of mileage and hopefully fit enough to handle those 6 x 400’s. We then go through that and about October middle to end we will test again. It just gives us a better feel for what we are doing. Then as we go through that we can then work with our workouts. The bottom and top workout actually are just sample workouts we brought along.
This year I was able to use Hy-Tek, which I find a great advantage but I’m not promoting. I bought Workout Manager and I find it to be an invaluable tool for me to keep a record on a daily or weekly basis because it gives you a great breakdown of what you do as far as the volume, intensity of work and type of work you do as far as stroke. What we do on the very right hand side column, you can see where it has stroke, and I put in different heart rates as we do the work. We post these on the lanes as the swimmers are doing the work, they get a copy in front of the lane. We just photocopy enough copies for 8 lanes or whatever across the pool. We also write it on a chalkboard. We ask them to do various levels of work. Warm-up is 20 heart rate, and right through down to the main set of work. We are looking for 26 basically all through the main set. On the last one your heart rate is going to be a little bit higher, 28 heart rate and then back down to 20. Even the warm-downs and warm-ups we try to get them to look at a heart rate and the type of work. So, they know all the time they should be warming down with the right heart rate and warming up with the right heart rate. I think that is real important! I will try to do kick sets with heart rates. We try to get some of the swimmers to see how high they can get the heart rate up on the kicking set. Traditionally, kicking sets I always find in my program have ended up for being a time for rest. Nothing drives me more crazy than having kids lying on a board, kicking up and down a pool and feel­ing we are not getting what we need out of it. This year we have had a lot of improvement on our kicking by just by putting the heart rates in there and getting them to work. I’ve had my fastest kicker this year, a long course 100 freestyle kick, was a 1:13. This was the fastest I’ve ever been to have anybody kick a I 00 freestyle kick. So, hopefully that will keep going and I’ll get somebody to kick faster and faster because I think that is a real important part of any kind of freestyler or any kind of stroke work. If you are doing that, you are able to kick and maintain that kick over a distance, whatever distance you are swimming. I think we don ‘t look at it enough. As coaches sometimes we forget about the legs and we forget the legs are back there and they are some of the biggest muscles in our body and we are not conditioning them well enough to know how to keep that muscle working all the way through a race. A lot of times we get swimmers hopping out of the pool and saying, “My legs are killing me I’m just dying at the end of a swim.” You know you are killing them by not conditioning those legs enough. I’ll stop here a little bit and take some questions.
  1. Something about the dry land program?
  1. Our dry land program is very much calisthenics orientated. We do an awful lot of calisthenics and very little heavy weights. We do an awful lot of sit ups, medicine ball work, circuit type of work. At least in the summer time, we do it every single day.
In the winter time we do it 4 days a week where they do basically the same program every day and we try to vary it over the number of weeks. So, we try and change the program every 3 to 4 weeks. But, we do the same pro­gram day in day out because I think we are trying to condition the athletes. I believe that we can make the athletes fitter and stronger on the land as well as in the water but I think that we need to make them stronger and fitter athletes on the land. We need to be able to run and sit up and do a lot of the things they need to do as part of getting fitter on the land. So, we spend about 35 to 40 minutes doing the general circuit type of work where they will do step ups, jumps, sit ups and dips. We put some weights in there as part of the resistance exercise but nothing really heavy. We haven’t done an awful lot of weights. We have some of our senior boys that have gone into weight room but really we don’t do an awful lot of that type of stuff. I don’t have the staff and basically I don’t like sending them into the weight room unless they are really supervised because I don’t think they will do the work anyway and I think they just go in and goof off. I don’t like them to do that so I think they need to be in there supervised and I prefer to have them all out doing circuits rather than that. We just change the circuit type of work.
  1. Every 3 or 4 weeks you adjust it somehow ?
  1. A lot of the stuff, when we are starting off, we change the rest intervals. What we do first of all, maybe start on a slightly slower rest of interval. We will do 3 x 400’s on 5. We might start at the beginning of the sea­ son leaving on 5:30 and go right down to where we are swimming better, maybe the last set is on 4:50 or some­ thing like that. As we go through the season, we try and change that.
  1. In the weight room?
  1. We increase the volume of work in the sense of the time they are doing it. We try and put in some more reps and basically we are trying to increase the number of reps or just change them in some way. If we are doing a resistance exercise where they have weight exercise, a dumb bell, or something like that, we increase the weight of that or increase the weight of the medicine ball or whatever we do so a lot of the times we just play around with it like that.
  1. Do you monitor the heart rate?
  1. We started doing that a little bit this year, not an awful lot, it’s a bit of fun. It was to break up the monotony of what we were doing earlier on in the season just to see what heart rate they are getting. They got a kick out of that just seeing how high they could get their heart rate comparing what they do in the land work to what they do in the water.
Q. Normal yardage per year compared from year to year?
  1. We haven’t consistently gone above 85,000 meters in this time of the year and our heaviest time of the year. One of the reasons I did that was because I felt there is going to be a time, if Brooke and John develop into the level of swimmers I felt they could develop into, they might need to develop into a I 00,000 meter week swim­ mer. We may need to do it a certain time of the year which we develop into 95,000 to 100,000 meters. I’ve been real conscious of not trying to go too much yardage, just for the sake that we have another fall back. Brooke is 14 years of age and if she was doing 110,000 meters, where do I go from there? How many more hours can I put in the pool? How much more intensity can I put in there? So, by increasing the intensity of what we are doing and holding back on the mileage we can then develop more mileage and then go on. So, over a year as you saw in the yearly plan we’re real consistent and basically holding about a 65,000 meters week. So we’re right over about 50 times 65 whatever that works out to be
  1. What percent of your senior team is doing that?
  1. Basically, we have about 14 athletes that are swimming at that level. At the moment, we have about 14 athletes that are swimming twice a day and swimming that yardage somewhere around 85. Our middle distance swimmers are going about 65 to 85, so we have a range of work that we work with middle distance. When it comes to the main part of the season, what we do is
break down this work into some middle distance work and some distance work so we are not trying to kill everybody and make them all distance swimmers. We don’t work from the lowest level in the sense of mileage wise, and having our middle distance leading the way. We have our distance swimmers lead the way and then we will work down the different team members. The sprint swimmers in a 85,000 week might only do 55 or 60,000 that week. We don’t start work from the sprint people and work up we start from the distance and work down and they are expected to be able to do a lot of yardage. I think that is real important!
Q. Is there any special thing to be aware of in heart rate measuring of work?
  1. I think the biggest problem I have is monitoring it correctly. I worked for a number of years with lactate testing. I had my own lactate machine when I worked in Ireland. I spent time testing lactate results and so on and I found that one thing that was constant was the heart rate. The lactates varied an awful lot of time but the constant to me was the heart rate. The only problem I’ve had in monitoring it is teaching the athlete to properly take their own heart rate and I’ve tried different kinds of equipment (i.e. polar watches) and different kinds of things. I haven’t really come up with a sure fire way of actually testing the heart rate and there is going to be a little bit of error but you’re going to have to play with that as well. You have to use your own judgment as a coach and your own judgment as an individual to know if they are telling you something which is true. Get to know your athletes. I’m not trying to take the coaching out of swimming. That is one thing that I really learned with the lactate testing; it took the coaching out of the swimming. A lot of times we were standing back waiting for a machine to tell us what to do. One decision I made was that I was a coach and I believed in my own coaching ability.
  1. Mileage?
  1. I can safely say I’ve coached for five years and out of my top group I have not had one shoulder injury in 5 years. They’ve never stopped training and I put that down to the fact that they are conditioned well enough at an early age. We don’t ask them to come from 30,000 to 80,000 we condition them at an early age through the program so that they are developing that conditioning as early as we can. The body adjusts to it, the growth adjusts to it, and therefore as they go through the pro­ gram, it’s not a shock. They are not going to all of the sudden decide that you are a distance swimmer or you have a potential to swim more mileage and throw you into that program. We try and develop that through the whole program. There are concerns with parents when they come in and I try to alleviate those concerns. I talk to them and say this is our goal. We try to. It doesn’t work with some parents. Some parents want to go to another program and that is fine with me. You know I don’t try and sell something I don’t do. I try and sell what I believe in and what I do and I think that is real important.
  1. How do you educate the parents?
  1. I try and do it at the start of the season with the plan that I showed you and show the parents what we are doing and then we get to our senior teams I have a gold team & silver team. I have individual parent meetings with those teams and explain to them what we are trying to do with those swimmers. Then I encourage the parents to set up meetings with me. I can spend 2 hours after each session and 2 hours before each session at night doing parent meetings and individual parent meetings and explaining what their child or their Johnny or Mary is going to do over the next year.
It’s a real treat to get up to the higher color hand paddle because they know they can swim faster with these paddles. I find target sets at certain levels or the age they can accomplish these sets. We often use 400 and 800 swims to show them where they should be. We use 6 x 400 @ 6 minutes to determine whether you should be in that group. We also use 5 x 200 backstroke on this interval for this same reason. Not all our target sets are related to freestyle. We use Breast, Back, Butterfly distance work. We often build up the volume with our young swimmers using 5 x 400 back or fly with fins. This helps increase their stroke feel and builds confidence in what they are doing.
  1. At what age do you swimmers enter the distance group? What is the weekly yardage they do?
  1. I do not think there is any certain age where this should occur. It is the swimmer’s decision whether to enter the program and work hard. It is determined on an individual basis-those who are dedicated and want it more than any other swimmer. They must be willing to train harder than the average swimmer. They must want to develop and train harder than anyone else. I don’t think there is any particular age for a swimmer to enter the distance program. We have ten year olds and thirteen year olds deciding to do crazy things. We have 11 and 12 year olds going around 75,000 to 80,000 yards. It takes a special swimmer to handle this kind of volume at this age. I based this on what Brooke had done at that age. We have two distance lanes that they are invited to swim in, and it is their choice whether to attend. They know what they have to do. I don’t tell them to go to the distance lanes.
One of the things we’ve done this season is to encourage better nutrition among the swimmers. Because of the increasing total yardage, nutrition is a key ingredient to success. We have our swimmers use many of the nutritional products on the market. They are used so that they will never be totally fatigued. Sleep is also important, and when combined with good nutrition will help over­ come those periods of extreme intensity during training. The question is how much work can be accomplished before it becomes non-returnable. You need to be aware of the point of training where you start getting diminish­ ing returns. When the heart rates do not drop as rapidly or when appetites start changing is an indication of this point. I begin a real focus and I begin monitoring at this point. I’d like to take this opportunity to thank ASCA for giving me this forum to talk. It has been a goal and a dream of mine to speak to coaches at a clinic like this one. One of the first people to inspire me was Peter Daland. Peter came to Ireland twenty years ago. Derek Snelling was also a great inspiration. I hope that I too can inspire other coaches.
Thank you for coming!

Panel on Age Group Swimming Moderated by Tom Avischious (1995)

Panel on Age Group Swimming Moderated by Tom Avischious (1995)

Tom Avischious:  The members of the panel will discuss some philosophical questions that had been sent to all age group chairmen across the country.  Each panelist will give a brief introduction about themselves.


Tony Helfrich:  I’m the head age group coach with the Stingray Swimming Team in Marietta, Georgia.  We have 300 plus swimmers in our age group program.  I coach the 14 and younger swimmers in our program.  My main group is 11-14.


Patty Huey:  I’m with the Mecklenburg Swim Club. I am entering my twelfth season with the team.  We have a club of approximately 400 swimmers.  The kids I specifically deal with are 12-15 years old and I direct the pre-senior group, which has about 74 kids.


Tom Himes:  I’m head age group coach of the North Baltimore Aquatic Club.  We have about 120 kids on the team.  I generally coach kids 10-16 years old.


Amy Parratto:  I coach 10-year olds and younger.  We have about 200 plus swimmers in two different facilities at Seacoast Swimming in New Hampshire.


Tom Avischious:  I’m the head age group coach at Carmel Swim Club just north of Indianapolis.  I directly coach the wonderful junior high age kids.  I work with the 11-14 year olds, specifically.


Question: What is your definition of age group swimming?


Patty:  I really believe that an age group swimmer is somebody, regardless of age, that competes within their certain age group. I believe that a 12 year old who competes consistently in senior type meets would be considered a senior swimmer whereas an 18 year old who is still competing within their age group on a consistent basis would be considered an age group swimmer, so age group swimming spans all ages.


Tony:  Performance is basically what I think of.  Age group swimming includes all ages until they reach beyond Junior Nationals because I believe that is still the developmental level.

Amy:  I pretty much view age group swimming as 14 and under.


Tom H.:  I agree with Patty and Tony.  Age Group swimming is through the Jr. National level.


Question:  Do you think that USS has a policy or any type of philosophy regarding age group swimming?  If so, what is it?  If no, what do you think it should be?


Tom H.:  There’s a great gap between what they expect from the age group swimmer and what they expect from a senior type swimmer.  It seems to me that USS wants us to pamper the age group swimmer and then suddenly have international level swimmers in the senior level.  Hard work, a good amount of yardage or a great deal of yardage, to me, is something that should be done in age group swimming with the right kids.  It doesn’t have to be “doing less, trying to get more”, handing caps out, creating camps.  There’s too great a gap between the age group philosophy of USS and the senior swimming philosophy of USS.


Tony:  Development, retention, motivation is their basic philosophy.  I’ve gone to meets in Canada.  Their age group swimmers swim the 200’s and their senior swimmers swim the 100s and the 50s and their power events.  We seem to be lagging behind in the U.S..  We’re taught as coaches to develop an aerobic base and yet, our kids are competing in 50s and 100s. I don’t think we’re putting across the right message to our athletes.  We are babying our kids to keep them in the sport and then we try to get them in the senior level and have to pound them because we’re not working them hard enough to get there.


Amy:  I see a very progressional philosophy from USS, but I don’t think we have to baby our swimmers at the age group level.  We have to be sensitive to how we bring them through the sport so that they’re swimming at an older age.  I think that USS is trying to address that, from what I’ve read.


Patty:  I don’t really think that USS is trying to have a philosophical policy regarding age group swimming.  They  take a more scientific view of it and try to measure it quantitatively.  But I would agree with Tom, not in the sense that you have to baby your kids, because where people baby them, that’s program specific. I don’t believe that USS has a specific philosophical view of age group swimming.  However, senior philosophy is clearly defined.  They’re working their way backwards in trying to develop it and define it.  They see the importance of developing the young talents.


Tom A.:  One of the things we discussed at an Age Group Planning meeting in January was that there was no official definition of what age group swimming is by USS standards. We received forty different answers to this question from the questionnaire sent to age group chairmen, so for the Age Group Planning Committee purpose, our definition includes social and emotional development of all swimmers up until the age of 18 or 19 years old; for competition purposes it’s basically anyone below a Jr. National level in terms of what the Committee is to look at.  It seems as if Tom is of the opinion that there seems to be too much emphasis on, for lack of a better term, “fun and games,” as opposed to what you would consider quality.  Please talk about that a little bit more.


Tom H.:  You don’t read too much about how to effectively keep the fun in and also hammer away at a lot of yardage for age groupers.  We hear about the great amount of yards that the senior swimmers need to do or are doing and you look at Tom Dolan’s plan to do 120,000 yards a week, but he didn’t progress right into that. I think there are too many coaches who are scared to have an 8 year old swim a 500 free or to train an 8 or 9 or 10 year old to swim a 500 free even though that’s what they’re going to be doing down the line.  We don’t worry about a 50; I certainly don’t.  The program doesn’t worry about 50’s.  There’s nothing wrong with giving younger kids, such as 9 or 10 year olds, who are willing to do a decent amount of yardage, that kind of work.  Coaches seem to be scared to work them a little harder than they think they can do.  It’s amazing how much yardage some of these little kids can do and still love it!


Tom A.:  Give us an example of the yardage, so we know what you are talking about.


Tom H.:  Whitney Phelps, at 9 and 10  years old, was probably in the area of 6K to 7K yards a day and as she was getting a little better, she was probably going 6 and 7 days a week.  Whitney is 15 years old now and there’s no inkling of not wanting to do it and she was willing to do it back then.  She did the work and has to keep working hard, but she’s in good position right now.  She’s had a pretty smooth transition all the way along.  Beth Botsford is a little bit different in that she didn’t really start swimming until she was nine.  She has an enormous amount of talent and built up the amount of yards she was doing and progressed right into the senior level program because she had a lot of base beneath it.  There are a lot of age group programs that treat their 12 and unders as if they were 5 and 6 years old and suddenly at 13, it ‘s time to give them a lot of yardage; it just doesn’t happen that way.


Tom A.:  Amy, since you and Mike (Parratto) work closely together in developing the team, my guess would be that if Mike saw a workout of 6K for your 10 year olds, he probably wouldn’t be real happy.  Would that be correct?


Amy :  That would be correct, but he wouldn’t be coaching that 10 year old, either.  We have a little bit different philosophy.  We are a little more concerned about the long term development of the average swimmer.  If we have exceptional swimmers, we might give them the opportunity to do more yardage.  We’re not going to hold anyone back if they’re exceptional, but the average 10 or 11 year old is not really ready physically or physiologically to train.  We definitely have a different view of age group swimming, but our results still yield the kind of successful results as you’ve had, so it’s just a different way of doing it.


Patty:  I think that’s a great point.  You have to work within your team’s philosophy.  It’s a matter of the attitude and expectations the coaches have for their club.  Mecklenburg Aquatic Club, like Seacoast, takes the long view.  When the child enters our program, we expect them to be there for the rest of their career unless they move.  That is our goal and our staff at the age group level is committed to teaching skills, making it fun and working it in so they do appreciate hard work.  It’s not all “fun and games”, but it’s not slave labor.  You’ve got to get them to buy into what you’re doing, you have to present the plan and you have to have your parents behind you.  It has to be fun, but hard work is fun and you just have to sell that philosophy.  What you have to do is make sure that skills wise they’re ready for that advanced yardage.  Work with the coaches above and below you to make sure that the child will have a smooth progression toward their development.  Hopefully, they’ll stay in your program their entire career.


Tom A.:  You may get the impression that Tom has everyone in their entire program that’s 8, 9, 10 years old going 6 to 7 thousand  yards.  It’s not the case, but you need to understand that for the last 5 or 6 years, North Baltimore Swim Club, according to the ASCA Motivational Times ranking, has been the “most successful” in terms of times that their age group has produced in the entire country.  You may not always agree, but their club also has produced some pretty significant results and has placed a number of swimmers at the elite level, so I want him to respond.


Tom H.:  My opinion is that coaches should not be afraid to take those athletes at a young age who are ready to do something like that to longer distances.  To clump them all as a 12 & U swimmer and not work the elite — is there is such a thing and an elite 12 & U swimmer or 10 & U swimmer — a little bit more than your average, normal,  day-to-day swimmer doesn’t make sense.  We do not have all of our 10 & U swimmers going 6000 yards.  Don’t be afraid to take those one or two kids who are ready to do something and have them do yardage.


Tony:  You have to treat them individually.  Girls, generally, tend to improve more quickly than the boys.  You’ll see the 10 to 13 year old girls who are hitting the Jr. National level and getting ready to go on to the senior. level swimming and you have to treat them separately and individually by moving them and challenging them.  We shouldn’t be afraid to challenge even our 8 & unders.  It’s fun to watch them swim back and forth, they enjoy it.  They don’t like to hear us talk all the time.  You’ve got to sell the families on your philosophy and they’ve got to buy into it.  You’ve got to have the fortitude to let people go if they don’t buy in to the philosophy.  Our philosophy is “Training For Life” and if they can’t buy into that, who needs them?


Amy:  I agree that you definitely have to educate your parents as to what your goals are as a team.  At Seacoast, we’ve had quite a few “prima donnas” and we felt it very important to be a team member and not for them to get too much attention even through the papers, and not to focus on getting medals, but to focus on improving, wherever that peak performance lay, whether it’s at 12 or 18 or 22.  We are shooting for 22 or beyond.


Comment from Murray Stephens:  If you have one or more good swimmers and you have an 800 practice, why not put the best swimmers in one lane and they go 200’s while the 7 year olds go 100’s?  That way, they go 200’s on 5:00 instead of 2:30 and to keep moving and progressing at the top of the group, the same as you progress the ones at the bottom.  It so happens that the person at the top of the group is not only good for 9 years old, but almost good for an 11 year old.  They’re doing an 11 year old workout even though they’re not in the 11-12 year old group.  When you progress them like that, by the time they’re 10, they are sometimes as good or better than the 11 and 12.  At some point you have to make a choice; either training them in that 10 year old group and have them do workouts that are harder than the 12 & unders or move them into 12 & unders.  Make that choice depending on their maturity or their ability to go the whole workout.  Tom used two good examples of Whitney doing anything you threw at her whereas, Beth wasn’t physically capable of that kind of training, so she was the top person in the next lane.


Organize as you would organize a class in physical education, according to how they can do certain skills.  If they happen to have  high level capabilities, you give them a high level of application commensurate with their abilities.  It’s not right to make the whole group do 8 thousand yards or hold them all back and do 4 thousand.  You have to treat them as individuals.


Patty:  The problem I have is that you get mixed messages.  When I went to the National Age Group Conference, we had all these lectures on bringing the kids along slowly and having the 10 & unders do 1500 yards and then the distance panel talked about how we need to develop distance swimmers.  At 1500 yards, you’re not going to get a distance swimmer.  I think it’s the responsibility of USS to develop a policy and guidelines.


Tom A.:  I’m going to address that as Chairman of the Age Group Planning Committee.  We will do exactly that.  I don’t believe USS has the scientific research to back up either method.  What we need to do is try to do a good job of disseminating information.  One of the things we are going to do is come up with five or six different models and let you pick and choose what you would like to do, to pick what best fits in your situation.  Of all the people in the world, Dr. Orjan Madsen probably has the best scientific background for what he thinks is correct, but it’s definitely not at all what you’re hearing Tom say they do, so I think there’s more evidence that USS has to have a role.


Comment from Rose Snyder:  It would be wrong on USS’s part to say there’s one way and only one way to train age group swimmers.  We need to find out what everyone is doing and then apply science to this.  Coaches should keep track of what they are doing because you may have a Tom Dolan ten years from now and if we don’t have any record of what that swimmer has done, it’s not going to help us.  We are very lucky to have a Russian woman who was in charge of the development of Russian swimmers.  They were looking at nine biological levels from swimmers who were just starting out to the elite mastery level.  We can not make any determination without any education.  Hopefully, we’ll get to the point where  we are going to get more information based on scientific foundation to help you, but we need your input.


Comment (Audience):  There is one more word I want to lead us off on — burnout.  That’s an escape word.  Don’t be afraid to train your swimmers when they are ready.  They’re going to let you know when they are ready.


Comment (Audience):  I’ve got a group of 10 year old kids, so I’m concerned about the physiological aspects.  John Leonard wrote an interesting article entitled “What If.”  What if you could train younger kids on long sets?  We have 9 & 10 year old kids doing 10K IMs, 12K IMs.  They have no problem with it; they love it!  Some of these kids are not natural top 16 swimmers; they’re your regular kids, but they like to do that so don’t back away from it, have fun with it and experiment.


Tom A.:  Let’s move on to the next two questions: (1) How will the Sr. Committee’s proposal to move Sr. Nationals to December and open up Jr. Nationals to any age effect Age Group Swimming?  (2) Is there a difference today with the commitment level of swimmers coming into the sport?


Tom H.:  As far as the Senior Committee plan to change the date, they had a coaches’ meeting after the general meeting and it seemed like the discussion was all about how, if the schedule is changed, swimming is going to get faster.  I, quite frankly, don’t understand that.  I guess their changing things around for whatever reason is good sometimes, but I think everybody is kidding themselves thinking that that alone is going to make USS faster.  The ramifications of doing that are it will give all the college coaches a break by having them swim their kids at Nationals in December.  It will give a lot of coaches time off over Christmas.  I’m not so sure that that’s not part of the thought behind the whole thing, but it won’t do a thing for age group swimming and the development of the kids who are one day going to be at that level, unless you just rearrange everything and have your age group championships in December, which doesn’t leave a whole lot of time to teach these kids, especially the new kids, how to do things.  I think that’s USS again not thinking of the overall picture and looking at one little spot which allows college kids to swim.  I don’t see where college swimming should have any play in what USS decides to do.


As far as age group swimming, most coaches coach “age group” kids.  There aren’t too many teams that have just Senior National kids and most coaches are going to be coaching all levels of kids.  You’re going to have a championship meet in December for one group of kids, another one in March for another group of kids and the training cycles of what you’re doing, even in the same workout, are now going to have to be all different.  I am not for it, Murray is not particularly for it, and I just don’t see of what benefit it really is.  Certainly, it’s going to be a real pain in the age group scenario trying to work things out.


Patty:  From what I was hearing in the discussion, it seemed as if the leaders in the sport were concerned with the fact that everybody’s catching up and in some cases, surpassing us at the very elite levels.  Certainly, that’s where this change is coming from and I can agree with Tom that maybe they weren’t looking at what it does all the way down the line.  Yet there again, most of us train the opposite of the whole entire world.  Even though I coach age groupers, it makes sense to me to change the schedule because I think about how hard you train and all the things you accomplish during the summer, and then you have this huge break.  It would be a better training plan and help prepare us better to perform at the very highest levels.  Being an age group coach, the schedule is already determined by what happens at the Sr.National level.  What’s new about that?  I don’t see where it’s that big of a change in that sense.  Concerning the commitment level of athletes, I think most of us in this room are from the “leave it to Beaver generation”.  It’s done, it’s gone, it’s a dead issue.  Most of us had to ask our parents if we could have the keys to the car and go somewhere.  These kids are now getting cars, they’re more mobile, and that has a lot to do with the level of commitment.  It’s made them more social, but the way you turn that around is by having a strong team philosophy.  You get those kids and  those parents to buy into that philosophy and the tradition of your program.  If they don’t buy into it, let them go.


Amy:  I think it’s harder for parents to do all the different activities for their kids.  It’s harder for them to be committed as parents, so it’s harder for the kids to be committed.  Once we get them hooked on the sport, I find very little problem on commitment.


Tom A.:  I want to echo that. It seems to me that back when I was growing up, if you went down to the park, and back then there was a park near you, instead of a sub-division, you could play a pick up basketball, baseball or football game.  Now there is no such thing.  You have to have a uniform to be on the soccer team, you have to be in organized T-ball leagues, there no such thing as kids just playing anymore.  Now it’s organized sports.  So it seems as though for a lot of people who come for the swim team these days, it’s another activity for their kid to participate in as opposed to it’s really a sport that the parent wants their kid to be involved in.  Most of them have no clue about what swimming is or the commitment that it will entail down the road.


Tom H.:  I think a lot of this “commitment level” has to be taught to the kids.  It’s got to come from the coaches who have to teach the kids as well as the parents.  There are coaches who think it’s a job, it’s a dollar, they don’t care whether their kid shows up for practice, they don’t tell their kids they should be there 3 out of 7 days of practice.  If you’re there, you’re there; if you’re not, you’re not.  If a 7 or 8 year old has a bad experience and they think what year ’round swimming is all about, a lot of them just go, disappear.  They don’t try another club.  A lot of it has to fall on us, the coaches, to teach everybody that showing up for practice, being at every practice, and being at meets when your kids are swimming.  I can’t understand how kids go to swim meets and have no coaches there.  What kind of commitment is that?


Amy:  It’s important that when a swimmer first starts swimming, that you gradually introduce levels of commitment.  That’s what we do at Seacoast.  You have to be really careful about exposing them to parent obligations and be really careful when you are thinking about what meets they are going to go to when they first start because you want to set them up with a positive experience, so they get hooked.  Then you gradually introduce the commitment slowly.  That’s the way we do it and we found it really works.


Tony:  I agree with that.  We offer a lot of flexibility in our program at the very young ages in the developmental groups.  In our situation, we are not able to offer that flexibility as they get into the groups where they need to have more commitment, so we are forced to take the commitment and force that commitment on them, but it’s how we present that to them and how you out there present that commitment to your swimmers.  We need to make them feel like they belong and are going to have a positive experience. I encourage our young athletes to try other sports because I think it’s important for coordination development and for learning what they really like. That’s why we offer flexibility at the very young ages.


Comment (Audience):  My perspective is that technique is the foundation of about any age group program.  We talked about a program that takes a kid from age 9 to 12 who swims 3 to 5 thousand yards in practice and going into a senior program where they’re doing double or triple that.  Isn’t there room for a transition?  At 13, don’t they go 8 to 10 thousand. Should we push?  I don’t know if that’s the right thing.  If you are 11 or 12 and setting records because you are bigger and stronger, and then at 14, all of a sudden, you are not setting those records, what is the emotional effect?  We look at it from an emotional standpoint.  A lot of times when we talk about age group swimming, we should put ourselves in a kid’s shoes.  We should use a goal incentive rather than a record incentive.


Patty:  All of us take pride in being teachers first and coaches second.  I’m the transition to the senior team and feel a grave responsibility because I’m the last window of opportunity.  They have to have the skills first to train.  It doesn’t matter how much you do.  We emphasize it’s how you do what you do.


Amy:  When I first started coaching,  I worried about yardage.  Then we were at a wonderful age group talk at an ASCA clinic where a coach said not to worry about yardage, don’t keep track of yardage, just think about content and technique.  From then on I did not keep track of yardage for the 10 & unders.  Technique is absolutely crucial at the young ages.  If they don’t have the technique, they’re not going to be able to train without injury.


Tom H.:  I agree with what you’re saying too, but what I’m saying is this transition period doesn’t necessarily have to be at 13.  Yes, there is a transition period, but it could be at 11.  I’m thinking about a comment from a coach, “How do you know when you get this kid at 11 or 12 that it might be their last chance to win a gold medal?”  I totally disagree with that.  Our philosophy at NBAC is not to get so much out of the kid as early as possible or as much as you can because we’re also looking down the road.  Our philosophy is they need to have a good base to be successful.  We have two examples:  Whitney and Beth were in my age group practice until 12.  Beth did a senior cut out of the age group or lower level practice.  Whitney had already placed at Jr. Nationals the first year after she was up.  You take each individual when they seem ready to do it.  Beth Botsford broke a NAG record four months after she was swimming.  She started swimming year round just before she turned ten.  We didn’t immediately push her up into the senior group and she was going 5 days a week because she wasn’t emotionally or physically ready.


Tom A.:  I guess it also depends on your pool availability, the time, and how you structure your practices.  In my particular club I basically coach all of the 14 and unders.  We have, in our particular group, one or two 14 year olds who have Jr. National cuts and who are swimming with our senior team, which is basically high school age.  We have broken it more by age, but I also have a 13 year old who has a senior national cut and who stayed with me because I didn’t think she was mature enough to handle the senior practices.  It had nothing to do with her ability level.


Comment (Murray Stephens):  What is age group swimming about?  Age group swimming was born because there wasn’t enough of a base for senior swimming.  USS talks about having to be a team at the senior level, but they don’t talk about the swimmers at the age group level as being part of the team.  We’re all part of the team here and we need to find swimmers who ultimately will be good enough to represent the US at the international level.  We are part of the team and we have to plan our season and our quadrenium with that in mind.  We are part of the team for the total development at the top of the pyramid.  That’s the whole concept, the pyramid concept in age group swimming.  It has been from the beginning.


Comment (Audience):  A large segment of our swimmers feel that USS is ignoring the 15-18 BB swimmer.  They’ve been swimming since 8 years old and now there is nothing for them.


Patty:  During school, there’s the high school championship to shoot for, going for best times, and dual meets.  If you have a senior championship and they’re not fast enough to make that, seek out another meet for that level to go to and say that that’s their meet to peak at and that they should do a good job.  Treat each swimmer as an individual.  Tell them to think about their individual goals and to not compare themselves to the best swimmer on the team who might be an Olympic Trial Qualifier.  Not everyone can be an Olympic Trial Qualifier.


Comment (Audience):  Where I think the perfect mix comes from is from the very successful programs, the ones which know how to exactly train the swimmer, but are set up with a philosophy, and are going to graduate doctors and lawyers and teachers.  Your training gets you to the Olympics; your philosophy is what’s going to produce everybody.


Tom A.:  Age group swimming is about trying to give everybody the opportunity to be as good as they can be.


Coaching for the Long Term Development of Age Groupers by Amy Parratto (1995)

Coaching for the Long Term Development of Age Groupers by Amy Parratto (1995)

Coach Amy Ayres Parratto has been the head age group coach at the Seacoast Swimming Association since she and her husband Mike came to Seacoast in the fall of 1984. She oversees both the pre‑team and competitive age group programs at Seacoast. Coach Parrato is a former coaches’ representative and current USS LSC Camp Director for New England Swimming. She is a 1983 graduate of Wellesley College where she majored in Psychology and Art. Coach Parratto also runs her own US diving team, is a semi‑active masters swimmer and very active mother of Jessica and Melissa.



I am a full time age group coach and am very proud of it.  That’s what I want to be until something else strikes my fancy.  It is something that I have been doing for eleven years.  I don’t really have any interest in being a Senior coach. I enjoy coaching the young swimmer for the future and preparing them with good skills to be able to train and to do 10,000 to 16,000 yards a day in the future in a healthy way, not getting injured, and being successful at Seacoast — that’s what I do, I help to prepare them for the future.


This is a wonderful honor.  This is my ninth ASCA World Clinic.  I never dreamed that one day I would be a speaker.  So, if this is your first clinic, or second clinic, you never know you might be up here one day.  I’m basically going to be talking about the philosophy that Mike Parratto and I started with when we first came to Seacoast.  We were hired to create a national level program from a recreational team.  “Swimming World” just wrote an article about this summer league in New Hampshire.  The focus of the team was recreational, summer league and we were hired to make it a national level program.


In a fairly short amount of time that’s what we did.  We set our goals and we did that.  We also went in with the  philosophy that I’m going to be talking about — how do you keep swimmers swimming for the long term.  We wanted to create longevity in our swimmers and the program so that the goals of the team would be met.  That is, goals to be the best that you can be as an individual whether it be Olympic Trial Qualifier, making your first JO Championship, or making your first A or B time.


It takes time and patience to create a successful swimmer and a successful program.  If you think you can do it overnight without busting your butt, you are in the wrong business.  Successful swimmers and teams are not microwaveable.  Mike and I like to use that term because with the advent of the microwave we are all used to popping that baked potato in there instead of waiting an hour — it’s great to have it done in a couple of minutes.  But swimmers don’t work that way and programs don’t either.  They are slow cookers, but they yield great success if you take the time.


There are a few factors that contribute to the longevity of young athletes in the sport of swimming.  When Guy Edson at ASCA first called me to present a talk on this topic, my first thought was to talk  with the swimmers at Seacoast.  What keeps them swimming?  I wanted to know what they thought were the areas that helped to motivate them to keep swimming.  I talked to swimmers from all levels.  I wondered what they thought their main reasons were for their enjoyment of the sport and what our coaches had done to keep them motivated.


After I go over the swimmers’ perspective I will talk about several areas in which the coach determines the longevity of the swimmers. I’ll refer to the structure of Seacoast Swimming and how we went about doing that to help to keep them going.  As far as the swimmers’ perspective, I spoke to a number of swimmers.  They ranged in age from eleven to eighteen.  I only spoke to those who had  started at our preteam level, from the very beginning.  I had to leave out those who moved in to the area, or joined our team later.  For the most part most of our swimmers are home grown.  We do not have a lot of feeder teams in our area.  We don’t have a team in a densely populated area.  We have to create most of our swimmers from scratch.  The ability of the swimmers  with whom I spoke went from B-C swimmers to Junior National and Senior National qualifiers, as well as one Olympic Trial qualifier who came at seven years of age and is now seventeen.

I found five main reasons for staying in the sport and I’m sure any of you could probably pick them out.  They are pretty basic. They are not in any particular order of importance.  Number one, the desire to race and compete. Number two, the desire to improve. Number three, A big one was the friendships made over the years.  Number 4 was the unique traveling experiences.  The fifth was the fun days at practice.


My next thoughts, after talking with our swimmers, were how could the coaches help to facilitate these five reasons for continuing to swim?  I drew upon  my own experiences at Seacoast because that’s my only experience coaching.


As far as racing and competing, the swimmers in our program compete in an average of only one meet every four to five weeks in the short course season and about one meet every two to three weeks in the brief long course season.  Compared to other teams in our LSC we do not compete as often as most.  A lot of “Y” teams and other teams might compete every single weekend.  We do not do that.  We say right from the beginning that we are not going to do that for several reasons.  Consequently, the meets became a special event to look forward to.  Because the meets are spread out there is more room for improvement, so our swimmers feel better about themselves.  They don’t say, “Oh, I added time.”  Most of the time, I’ll say 95% of the time, the age groupers will improve their time. Racing and competing do not become stale.  For the most part our young age group swimmers, or C level and B level swimmers who have not made our Senior Championships stay fairly local when competing.  Once the swimmer and his or her family have adjusted to the swimming way of life, then they might begin to go to travel meets where they stay overnight in a hotel.  Then there is more of a financial commitment and time commitment.


The second area which contributes to longevity is improvement.  As I just described, our swimmers have the opportunity to experience greater time drops from meet to meet because the meets are spread apart.  This also gives them more time to practice.  You are not missing a Saturday practice for a meet. You are getting in a good two and a half to three hour practice.  I’m not talking about a nine year old.  I’m talking about a twelve or thirteen year old.  Obviously when they have more time to practice it leads to greater improvement in strength and technique.


Seacoast is set up in such a away that there is a steady progression so that they can see improvement.  Even within a group of swimmers, they begin in one lane within the group.  When they improve they move to the next lane, and so on.  I’m sure many of you run your programs in the same way.  Each lane becomes a little more challenging.  Set up your lanes so each has some sort of status.  Let’s say one day one lane has too many swimmers and you have to move Karin from lane one to lane two and you must explain to her that she is not being demoted, the lane is too crowded.  Kids get incredibly insulted if you move them from a faster lane to a slower lame without explaining why.  So make sure you tell them why they are being moved.


One aspect of which the swimmers spoke is something that we do and it is very important and that is time cards.  (Our Olympic Trials qualifier who joined our program when she was seven said this was a very important factor for staying in swimming when she was being coached by me as an age grouper.)  I would give out three by five cards after each meet with the swimmer’s events that they swam, their times, and whether it was a best time.  If it was not a best time I would write good job or good effort, and then for each of the races I’d write a critique.  I have a pretty good visual memory and I can remember pretty much all of their races.  I would write something like, “Susie make sure you streamline off your IM turns.”  Give them some positive feedback to apply in practice.  It’s like a little report card. They have a little sticker on it also.  The parents love it and the swimmers love it.


It’s a lot of work. Unfortunately, since having my own children it has been very difficult to keep up with this.  I have 44-45 kids in my group alone so that’s a lot of little cards to write out because they take time.  We have a computer program so now I print out their times and put a sticker on it, or I can write a comment.


Friendships are a key to the longevity of the swimmer. The friendships that the swimmers formed over the years are extremely important in keeping them in swimming.  There are several swimmers who grew up on the team with one or two particularly close friends and they did everything with them.  When they are very close, usually they are the same ability and we try to keep them together when moving them up.


Make sure that you provide the swimmers with opportunities to get to know each other. In swimming their faces are in  the water and between sets you probably don’t want them talking very much because you are trying to tell them the set.  So make sure you provide opportunities to get to know each other. Organize team activities, especially early in the season when you might not be as concerned about getting a practice in.  For example, what we do a lot of times in the fall or spring is go for a hike in the White Mountains which are beautiful.  Or we do an occasional beach trip or a movie trip in the summer.  In the beginning of the season we often mix the groups up while doing a water circuit because we have limited pool time. We mix up all the different groups including our senior group, the middle group which is called the junior group and our age group program if they happen to be there.  We’ll mix ages also.  Some of the kids don’t like it, some do.  Whether they like it or not, it’s too bad, they get  used to it.  They have a lot of fun and they get to know each other. It’s amazing, that even on a small team not everyone may know each other’s names and this really helps.  Encourage positive behavior that will encourage friendships at your young age group levels.


Emphasize team and working together.  I know that Skip Kenney talked a lot about team.  Encourage working together and being respectful of each other.  Keep an eye out for social conflicts and help to facilitate healthy communication.  I know of a few swimmers who gave up the sport too soon because someone said unkind words such as, “I beat you,” or “you’re so slow,” and things like that. We all run across that, those of us who coach young swimmers.  They haven’t quite caught on to their social graces yet.  Be a teacher. Help them to learn this.  They might not always have the opportunity elsewhere.  I think that’s very important.


I will also insert vocabulary words into practices.  I’ll use words that they have not heard and I’ll help them to learn the new words. I’ll say this is like school in the pool.  I’m talking basically about eleven years old and younger.


Traveling, they love traveling.  Maybe the parents’ pocketbooks don’t, but many of the older swimmers mentioned the opportunity to travel to meets around the country as well as traveling on training trips.  They know that the widening of their horizons, meeting new people, learning about different areas of the country, and an opportunity to test their limits is important.  Also, getting involved in USS/LSC camps is important.  I happen to be the LSC camp director for New England. We are always pushing it.  It is such a great opportunity especially since those camps are geared towards the ages where we see the most drop out.  So these are a great motivational input for them.  A lot of our athletes have had the opportunity to qualify for the upper level camps at the Olympic Training Center and that’s a great motivational factor.  If you have an athlete who qualifies send them.  It’s a great opportunity to learn and meet new people and challenge themselves.


The last area that the swimmers mentioned — and some of the coaches out there will go “Oh I hate doing this” — are fun days at practice.  The swimmers also spoke about relays, challenge swims, unusual sets, and games.  Try to build some aspect of fun at all levels of your program.  Even Mike, who pounds out the yardage and has really tough practices in our Senior group, somehow creates some fun aspects once in awhile.  We have a birthday risk we do, which is just like a get out swim.  We schedule it once a month and everybody’s birthdays are celebrated. I’m sure a lot of you do something like that.  But, for example, if birthday risk was on the calendar and I decided we weren’t going to do it that day because that day is not so good the kids get really mad.  If you are going to schedule a special day, make sure you do it, or don’t schedule it and just surprise them.


Another other aspect of fun we run at practice is the USS partner program which is really great.  We will only run it in the summer because when we use our older swimmers their time is so limited.  They get in there and they’re training their butts off and then they have to go study.  We don’t want to take away from their time training because we have only a certain amount of practice time, so we only do it in the summer.  When they are done with their practice, we hold it on Wednesdays in the morning.  They spend about forty minutes with a partner, or two partners, who are young rookie swimmers.  It’s a lot of fun for the younger swimmers and our older swimmers also get a lot out of it.  It gives them a new perspective on their own swimming.


Well, to conclude the swimmers’ perspective aspect of my talk, I’m going to go over some advice that the swimmers asked me to present. I condensed it a little bit.  When I was gathering the information they felt that they really wanted to have the coaches that I was speaking to know about what they felt was helpful and not so helpful.  In the helpful area there are four things that I narrowed it down to.  First, get to know each of your swimmers as individuals.  Don’t treat them as just your team, but your team and individuals within your team.


Number two, take time to be receptive to swimmer’s ideas.  That is, listen to them, not necessarily to change the practice, but take time maybe after practice to listen to them.  If you notice that they are dragging in practice, take them aside after practice and see what’s going on. Maybe something’s going on at home.  Give them a little attention.


Third, be enthusiastic and aware in practice:  be aware of what they are doing for repeats, be enthusiastic during a T-30 test, get along the side of the pool, wave, jump up and down, make yourself look like a nut.


Number four, this sort of relates back to number two — take time to talk to your swimmers after practice.  Talk about swimming or anything else.  I think it’s really important to talk to your swimmers about just silly stuff like what they did yesterday, about a birthday party everyone  went to, about something else besides swimming. Get to know them.


The areas that they thought were not helpful:  Number one, don’t do anything else but coach during the practice.  Don’t talk to the parents during practice.   Don’t ride a stationary bike during practice.  We have a coach who does that.  He’s an iron man triathlete.  He’s obsessive.  I like him though.  Number two, don’t swim with your athletes.  He does that too.  Don’t swim with your athletes unless you think its a special occasion and you’re doing some sort of fun game.  Number three don’t be negative.  There I am being negative.  Don’t be negative in your comments to them.  Number four is a big one, don’t sit down during practice.


Question: Are these your younger kids who responded to this, or is it more from your older kids?


Answer: It was a combination, mostly from the more experienced ones, but they’ve all been through the group that I coached so they have a little perspective on it.


Question: Why don’t they like a coach to work out with them?  Is it with a coach who’s coaching?


Answer:  Yes.  I think it’s different with the younger swimmers.  Sometimes you might want to get in with them. Let’s say you have a real beginners level and you want to get in and help them to do flip turns, that’s totally different.  I’m saying don’t get in to do a real workout.


Question:  Would you object to it if you were coaching for example and a coach was working out with the group.

Answer:  yes. That was actually one of the particular situations.  I was coaching and one of the other coaches was swimming.  But, that’s teenage girls giving that feedback actually.


This next area is what the coach can do to directly promote longevity.  Number one, run a solid program from top to bottom. Make sure that all the levels of your team are in sync.  That is, that the coaching aspect of the team and the administrative aspect of the team are working together toward the same goals.  At Seacoast we have always had fairly clear lines of communication.  Of course we have our occasional message lost, and so on, but over eleven years it’s been fairly smooth sailing.


There’s one major reason for the success of our program.  Seacoast is not run by a parent’s board.  Mike and our team president work closely together in making important decisions concerning the running of the team.  All the coaching decisions are made by the coaching staff.  We don’t usually run into the problem of having too many cooks in the kitchen.  It’s pretty much a dictatorship.  What Mike says goes. The coaching staff is hired and supervised by the head coach. Compared with some of the other teams in our LSC, Seacoast is probably one of the few programs with a very consistent coaching staff over the years —  we’re talking over eleven years.  I believe the swimmers and their families stay with the program from the first level to the top level because of this consistency.  The parents feel secure and confident in the staff, so the children feel more secure and I think that’s a big part of it, the sticking with it for the long term.


I’ve seen several talented swimmers in our area hop from team to team for various reasons.  Those particular swimmers may be at a disadvantage.  The swimmer may have difficulty putting his or her trust in a coach because that coach might leave the very next season.  Trust is very important for the long term development of swimmers. I’m sure many of you have had athletes who have been swimming for many years with different clubs and coaches.  It’s very difficult to get their trust in what ever your philosophy is on training.


The next area in which the coach has direct input as far as the longevity for your swimmers is concerned is parent education.  Right from the beginning, Mike and I have emphasized the importance of parent education at Seacoast.  We educate the parents from day one as to how the program is set up and why it is set up that way.  The American Swimming Coaches Association, and this is not a commercial, has been a major influence as far as our own philosophy in providing excellent written information for our parents to read. John Leonard’s “Parent, Coach, Athlete” handbook is always in stock.  We’ve also handed out the “Parent’s Handbook” by US Swimming and I guess they have a new one that’s pretty good.  It’s a little bit more updated and we’ve got to purchase some more.  We don’t have many parents’ meetings.  Perhaps, two to three per year at the most.  We usually don’t have a big turnout, I don’t know if that’s good or bad.  For the most part, it’s pretty good, because if they have lots of things to complain about, or concerns, they’d be there, hopefully.  So we put out a lot of information for them.


In our meetings we always try to include some educational aspect along with the normal details like practice schedules, meet schedules, and son on.


As a staff we’ve always tried to make ourselves available to the parents, except during practice, or five minutes before practice.   That’s a big no-no.  I’m very patient, I think, with parents.  But when it comes to five minutes before practice and I’m trying to set up the pool and so on, they know to stay away from me because I’m not very nice five minutes before practice.  If there is a problem we’ve tried to steer away from confrontational interactions because they are not productive. Rather than have tempers get out of control and cause a scene in front of other parents or swimmers  we attempt to spot areas of difficulty before they turn into an explosion.  Private meetings are sometimes set up or an appointment is made to talk over the phone.  Luckily we haven’t had to put out too many fires concerning parents concerns.  Constructive solutions for everyone involved is a goal, but keeping in mind that the head coach makes the final decision.


So you might wonder how all this affects the longevity of the child in the sport.  Well it greatly affects them.  The better educated the parents are as to how you run your program and the better the communication, the happier that swimming family is going to be. Remember to be very positive with the parents and to keep in mind that they really are the consumer.  They are not the enemy.  I remember when I first started getting into coaching I felt that a lot of the parents were like the enemy. You really cannot take that stand.  You have to work with the parents, but you have to let them know who runs the swimming part.  You’re the coach and you take care of the swimming and they take care of the loving and the raising of the children.  But, once they’re in the pool area they are your swimmer.

Sell your program, and continually educate your swimmers and parents as to why you do what you do.  Don’t feel insecure.  If you have confidence in what you’re doing go with it and let the parents know why you’re doing a T-30 test.  If a parent has concerns and says, “Well my Johnny is going to be so tired.  He is only nine years old, how is he going to swim for thirty minutes?”  Many of you run swimathons. “How is my nine year old going to swim for two hours?”  Well they don’t have to swim for two hours straight.  They can get out and go to the bathroom if they want.  Present what you are doing with enthusiasm and be confident with it.


Teamwork — swimmer, coach, and parent working together.  One of the reasons that Seacoast has had such a high level of retention is because everyone gets to know each other at all levels of our team, almost like an extended family.  It has become a little more difficult the larger we’ve gotten, but if Mike or I hear a parent complaining about working at Bingo, or working at a meet, we emphasize the positive aspects of that work.  Examples of a positive aspect might be getting to know other parents at the bingo.  For many families both parents work, they don’t have time to socialize and meet other adults.  Now that’s a good time for them to meet other people.  Many parents have said to us, “Gosh I really had a great time at Bingo.  It’s not that bad.  I made some good friends.”  We might also point out that their child is working hard in the pool and the opportunity to be a positive parent role model is at their fingertips.  During the same conversation you might also mention that the coaches work hard on the deck to help all the swimmers be the best that they can be and if everyone is doing their part the swimmer, the coach, the parent, it’s easier to reach a higher level because you are all working together as a team.


Seacoast runs several long course meets during the summer and it’s a lot of work for the parents.  I’m sure many of your teams probably run meets.  One of the things that parents are proud of is our concession stand.  They take great pride in it.  While our swimmers take pride in their swimming, our parents take great pride in their concession stand.  They don’t just order donuts and candy and throw it out there.  They have fresh blueberry pancakes with Maine blueberries.  It is great. They make real fruit salad, not from a jar.  I mean they are sitting back there cutting  up each piece of fruit.  They are really working hard and they are proud of it.  It is a lot of work, especially for certain people on our team.  A lot of coaches in our LSC know that it is the best concession stand.


To reflect back on our main topic, does teamwork help the swimmers to stick with it because the entire family is involved?  Yes.


The next topic is the team structure.  How I think the way we set up our team helps to create the longevity and the sticking with it.  MIke and I believe that one of the main reasons why we have a strong senior program is because of the group structure we started with right from the beginning.  Our senior swimmers still have room to improve and to increase their training load.  They have not done it all yet.


The main sacrifice for setting up the program in this manner is that our 12 and younger program is not terribly fast yet.  But at the same time, talented swimmers are not held back.  We always work on technique, but we also have them train hard and test their limits.  When we have talented 12 year olds, we might have them swim with our senior group, but they would no do all the yardage.  Jenny Thompson is an example of this philosophy.


The first level of our team is called Age Group II.  This group is a pre competitive program that practices 2 days per week for 45 minutes.  The age range is from 6 to 11.  The second level is called Age Group I.  This group is the first competitive level and practices 3 to 4 days per week for 75 minutes.  The ages range from 7 to 12.  We have two levels of our Junior Group.  Junior II practices 4 to 5 days per week for 75 to 120 minutes and consists of ages 11 to 13.  Junior I practices 5 to 6 days per week for 120 to 150 minutes.  The top level of our team is the Senior Group.  This group involves the highest level of commitment on our team.  The swimmers practice 6 days per week, for five morning practices and six evening practices are available.  Mike asks his swimmers to attend 3 morning practices per week, if they live close enough to make it to school on time.  On Monday, Wednesday, and Friday the swimmers do an exercise circuit for 60 minutes and swim for 90 minutes.  On Tuesday and Thursday they swim for 150 minutes.  On Saturday they swim 180 minutes in the morning and 120 minutes in the early evening.


Within each of our groups are either 2 to 3 different intervals for a set of different distance on the same interval.  In this way, all leavels of our swimmers are pushed to swim hard.  Our objective is to increase yardage per minute through the season for each group.


Each level of the team is progressional as far as practice time in minutes, number of days, intensity, training load, and travel commitment.  In recent years, when moving swimmers up a level, we have utilized a “traditional” approach.  For example, if a swimmer is moving from Age Group I to Junior II, we might have that child swim Monday and Friday with AGI and Wednesday and Saturday with JRII.  If the staff feels a swimmer is ready to take on the new challenge, but he/she seems nervous or unsure, we will utilize the “transitional” approach until that young swimmer has grown more confident.  We have always tried to move  a swimmer up a group with at least one or two friends.


Turning Technique: The Biomechanics of Age Group Turns by John Walker (1995)

Turning Technique: The Biomechanics of Age Group Turns by John Walker (1995)

Coach John Walker is currently the assistant senior coach for Colorado Springs Swim Team. Coach Walker spent four years as a head Division III college and USS coach in Minnesota before moving to Colorado to pursue a  Master’s Degree in Exercise Science. He also works for US Swimming (ICAR) at the Olympic Training Center focusing on performance testing for Select Camps and the recently formed Resident National Team.


Today we’re going to talk about turns.  I became interested in turns at the ASCA World Clinic, I think in 1990.  I had the opportunity to watch an excellent presentation by John Trembley and Eddie Reese with regards to starts and turns.  I really picked up a few things and I picked up an interest in turns from that.  It’s not that I didn’t think turns were important, but from that talk, I guess I changed my outlook a little bit in that I started thinking of turns as a way to win a race, rather than just kind of continue on with a race or to stay in a race.


From that talk two things kind of struck me about the turns.  First, and the one that intrigued me the most, is that I felt there was some really easy seconds hiding in the turns for a lot of my swimmers. Easy seconds in that just a little bit of attention to technique, a little bit of focus, and you can get the type of improvements that might take 100, 200, or 300 thousand yards of training to get the physiology results.  The technique, that was something I really hadn’t tapped into.  Also it kind of struck me that how important the contact or the relationship with the swimmer and the wall is during the turn.  It has to be, you don’t want it to last an extended period of time but at the same time it’s real important that you get something out of that interaction and you use it to the best of your abilities.


Everybody has a feel for that going back into your own swimming experience.  Maybe it was at a High School or a U.S.S. meet, or even at practice where you were doing a 50 freestyle and you’re having a great race of a lifetime.  You’re up on top of the water, go into a wall, come over, hit the wall, good leg snap, good streamline, you’re a third of the way down the pool and you’re up.  Piece of cake. Maybe a week later in the same practice you’re doing the same thing.  Get up, start swimming, go into the turn, everything’s the same, get that leg snap, and you miss the wall by about two feet.  It’s kind of like whiplash, you actually just stop there, and there’s not a lot of things you can do.  You can do a little sculling, you can do a little kicking, but you can’t recover from that.  That type of experience focuses how important the walls are or the interaction with the wall and the turns are for me.


My objective is to offer a different way of looking at turns —  a different way of thinking about them, and looking at the time on the wall, and the contact with the wall.  We’ll talk about first what I’m not going to do today or what I won’t be trying to do with this talk.  I’m not going to be suggesting any drills or teaching progressions.  I haven’t had the opportunity to work with 8 & unders, or 10 & unders for a couple of years so my creative edge might be a little dull in comparison to a lot of you who are working with them everyday.  So I’ll leave that aspect up to you.


The second thing is, I’m not going to be offering scientific facts or statements of ICAR research.  We’ll get into how this is related to ICAR as we go along.  But really what I’m doing today is a very anecdotal, case by case and a general look at this type of information.  Some of this information will be published by ICAR, but these aren’t conclusions from ICAR.  We’re just taking snap shots of what’s happening and trying to get a better feel for what the swimmer is trying to do on the wall.  I think the examples are good. They’re consistent. I’m not just taking one particular example and pulling it out of a mass.  I could come up with three or four or five other ones to support these.  And when I talk about trends, they might not be statically significant but they are very strong trends.  So, don’t take this as the word of science.


I’m also not going to specifically address breakouts or the streamline off of the wall.  That’s becoming an extremely important part of the race.  People are real innovative there and it’s very important, it’s probably another subject for another hour or two hour talk at some point.  But today we’re going to talk about probably what’s the primary, primary not as in importance, but as the first thing you have to do.  You have to get that momentum off the wall.  You have to get that wall speed to be able to use it efficiently in a streamline.  So we are not going to discuss the breakouts.  We will touch a little bit on approach strategy.


I’d like to discuss a little bit the history and importance of working on the turning technique.  I’d like to describe how the information was gathered, and describe some of the forces involved in each competitive turn.  So we’ll go through each one and look at:  what the swimmer is actually doing on the wall, identify some common errors in turning technique for age group swimmers and also their consequences in terms of time and force, and then compare the mechanics of those age group swimmers to world class athletes that we have information on.  Then towards the end we’ll try to identify some goals and principles from this information that you can take into developing your turning technique with your programs.  I will also summarize some points and ideas that came from a lot of the conversations and the reading I did in working on this.


Briefly, I want to talk a little bit about the history of turns and the relative importance of turns.  Turns have not been a exciting or a sexy topic for any swimming researcher to look at.  In the past years they did a series of compilations of science work on aquatics for swimming, an annual swimming science book.  In the last thirteen years there’s been four studies that have dealt specifically with turns.  At the same time there’s been over twenty eight studies that have dealt with starts. Starts are definitely the most exciting thing to work on but I think that the turns are really where you really need to focus your time on getting some productivity out of the results.


As far as teaching technique, ASCA and some of the coaches who are interested in the mechanics of swimming have done a much better job than on the researcher end.  Every year we’ve had a discussion here at the World Clinic at least including turns in the session.  A lot of the manuals that are out to help coaches have at least a decent treatment in length of turns.


Most of the studies that are done on turns in swimming sciences are utilized to break down the races.  So they break down a race into swimming time, starting time, finishing time. And they do this at major competitions.  For this talk I tried to find one of the local B/C Open Meets for the age group turns.  But nobody really wanted to break down a B/C meet so we have to deal with World Championships and Senior Nationals.  So this is elite athletes that we’re talking about.  From those we found that in long course swimming two things are apparent.  Well, actually two things were apparent as we go through races.  The longer the race gets the more the turns contribute to or the more time is spent in the turns.  And also, short course more than doubles the percentage of turns that you have or the amount of time that’s spent turning.


Here are some quick numbers for freestyle:  In the 200 meter freestyle turns contributes 8 to 10% of the race as far as time is concerned.  And in the distance races, 1500, we’re talking 11 – 12%.  With breaststroke it’s, and probably butterfly and backstroke are heading that way, it’s a greater percentage spent underwater. You’re looking at 20 – 38% of the breaststroke races are spent in turning or the under water pull.  So it’s a major percent and you can get a great deal of advantage using the turn.


I am going to go through a few slides to show you how this information was gathered.  I was working on my graduate Exercise Science degree at Colorado Springs with the International Center for Aquatic Research.  I was working on this project for them so it was done at the Olympic Training Center.  So we’ll get to go through a quick review of the nice toys that we have there.  If you haven’t had the opportunity to go out, I would go and visit.  This is the best science place and now the best training place in the world for aquatic athletes.


We used two things to analyze the turns.  We used a filming analysis or digitizing process in two dimensions.  And then we also use the force platform.  The force platform is going to be what we’re talking about most.   This is the video equipment that we have to work with at the pool at the OTC.  We used for this study three over water views and two under water views of each turn to break down different aspects of what the athletes are doing.  The force platform is unique.  I don’t believe this is any where else in the world and it was an opportunity we couldn’t pass up to work with.  The force platform is water proof and you can slide it into the wall  and mount it flush with the turning surface so it actually becomes part of the wall for the athlete.  The force platform measures very accurately the force that is presented by the athlete.  It samples every hundredth of a second so it takes a lot of samples during the course of the turn and it samples in three dimensions.


This is the first time that turns have really been looked at in three dimensions.  It turns out that that is real important especially in butterfly and breaststroke turns.


As far as what the data I’m going to be talking about this is the only age group project that has been in U.S. Swimming Sport Science.  This is the only age group project for ICAR since the change in management a couple of years ago.  We invited swimmers from five different top age group programs in Colorado to come in and perform turns.  We got seventy three athletes to come down.  They were all under fourteen and the average age was a little over twelve for both sexes.  They performed two short course meter swims in each stroke with the turns at that wall at race pace.  So we had 8 turns time 73 swimmers for a total of 584 turns we were looking at.  We had a lot of information to go through.  We also had the opportunity to use a lot of training camps at the Olympic Training Center.


We also asked some elite athletes when they were coming through for different training situations to do some turns for us.  They typically only did their specialty for two course meter 50’s.


What information did we get from all these nice little cameras and platforms?   With the cameras, we were able to go back and use a system where we have to mark joint centers, frame by frame through a motion.  From that, the information that we can obtain are velocities.  We were interested in how fast swimmers come into the wall and how fast they leave right after push off.  We can also look at joint angles.  How much knee bend do they have?  How much elbow bend do they have?  What might be ideal?  We can look at where the center of mass is.  The center of mass, or center of gravity, is if you took all the mass in your body and lumped it into one point so it acted just like a projectile or ball, that would be the center of mass.


The force platform is what we’re going to talk about a little bit more today.  We’re going to be talking about three different axis or dimensions. You can see the Z dimension goes into the platform.  That’s when the swimmer is pulling on the wall or pushing into the wall.  The X is side to side on the wall.  That will show when a swimmer is pushing to the right or pushing to the left.  And the Y is up and down and will show when they’re pushing up on the wall or they’re pushing down on the wall.  I’m talking about what the swimmer does to the wall.  You have to take a second and think about what that’s going to do to the swimmer.  It’s going to be the opposite.  The wall is going to push back.  If I say a swimmer is pushing into the wall, that means that is the force that is going to send them to the other end of the pool, or the fast turn.


These are the graphs you want to see or the axis we’re going to see.  These are three little graphs.  On the side of the graph is a force in newtons — or the force that the athlete produces.  A newton is a metric measurement.  4.5 newtons is around one pound.  When we talk about some numbers I’ll try to change it into body weight.


If you see a curve in this zone the athlete is pushing to the right side.  If you see a curve in this zone the athlete is pushing to the left side.  If you see a curve here, they’re pushing down on the platform.  If you see it here, they’re pushing up on the platform.  This is probably the one we want to maximize which is pushing in so they’re giving themselves momentum leaving the wall.  Then pushing out.  We’re very rarely going to see that but it does happen, that an athlete is actually pushing or pulling the wall towards them.  How can they pull the wall towards themselves?  This happens in either a breaststroke or butterfly turn with of the younger swimmers where they will actually go here and pull in.  Which as we go through and discuss the ideas regarding rotation we may find that it can probably help you.  Whether you can get your hands and the rest of your body in the right position while you’re doing that is a question that I would have.  But that’s the point, usually they’re going to be pulling themselves in that way.  But we can come back to that after we talk about some of the rotation things.


Let’s go in and describe what an average turn looks like.  I’ve pulled some of the age group data, basically what an average age group swimmer is doing on the wall.  But the first thing that we should know is we’re going to talk about freestyle and backstroke turns.  Freestyle and backstroke are the same turn.  After they reach the last stroke they’re trying to do the same thing on the wall and I’m going to treat them as being the exact same turn.  That doesn’t mean that the approach or leaving the wall is the same but it does mean that what they’re trying to achieve by their push on the wall is the same.


To illustrate this we’re going to consistently use an age group swimmer from my team, a thirteen year old named Dwayne Hedges. This is one of Dwayne’s backstroke turns.  We’re going to take Dwayne’s freestyle turn, put it right on top and see if there’s much difference.  So in the dimension that’s important, pushing off the wall, this turn is basically the same.  There’s some minor differences on the other two dimensions, but note the scale, those are really minor pushes.  We’re talking a thousand on the bottom scale and on the top scale it’s a hundred.  So those are less than a tenth of the forces that are the focus of the push off here.  So what do we have as far as a typical backstroke or freestyle turn?  You’re going to have a positive push off the wall in the “Z” dimension.  But really there’s not much happening in the other dimensions.  Maybe consider it a one dimensional turn, in and out.


One thing we found is that if there are things happening in those other dimension, it is probably not a good turn.  Less in those dimensions is better.  Here is what we can tell from these on this turn:  We can tell that Dwayne is circling, he’s circling to the right and also he’s pushing upward.  So he’s coming in and pushing up towards the surface.  Both of those are wasted motions in these turns.


Breaststroke and butterfly turns.  Again, I’m going to argue that these two turns are the same turn per what we’re trying to do on the wall.  Back to Dwayne, this is Dwayne’s butterfly turn.  And we’ll put another breaststroke turn right on top of it.  Now the rotation speed is a little bit different here.  You can see that the initial hand touches down here are at slightly different times.  But the general, basically what he’s trying to do


In a typical turn for breaststroke and butterfly we’ve identified three phrases.  They’re pretty common sense but they show up real well on these graphs.  The phases are going to be the hand touch — what the swimmer’s trying to do while the hand’s in contact with the wall.  And then we’ll go into rotation phase, where the hand actually leaves the wall.  Actually, everything leaves the wall, there’s no part of the swimmer’s body that’s in contact with the wall.  Then finally, the foot or the leg push phase.


So we’ve broken the turn down and we’re trying to find some information regarding what the most important thing to do in each phase is.  And what the time spent in each phase is.  Two dimensions appear to be important in this turn.  The “X” dimension, right and left, doesn’t seem to be extremely important.  The force is very small and the only thing we can really tell is which side they’re turning to.  But the “Y” and the “Z” force are extremely important.  The “Z” force is important for getting the push off the wall and increasing the momentum off the wall.  The “Y” force or the up and down push of the athlete does two things, one in the breaststroke and butterfly turn, which was a surprising result and one that I didn’t expect, we found that the hands have very little force into the wall.  But every athlete that you see will has the greatest force with their hands pushing themselves up or their pushing down on the platform.


We feel that the rotation the hip, getting the legs to the wall and head back rotation about your hips, the short axis of your body is the most important part of these turns.  So another little hint here: the largest force exerted by the hands in the breaststroke and butterfly turn is directed down, downward on the wall to gain rotation.  You want to achieve the fastest rotation possible.  In breaststroke and butterfly it appears that there’s more focus on how deep you are coming off the wall.


[Question]  In the upper right graph, the first section outlined by the red lines is the hand touch.  The person is touching down with the palms of their hands to rotate the hips.  The head going down, and the hips coming up.  Then it’s peaking the other way because when they’re pushing off they tend to push down a little bit because they’re going to do a pull out or kick sufficiently deep to dolphin kick.  Is that part similar for breast and dolphin or is that a lot bigger for breaststroke because you’re going to go down and do a pull out?


[Answer]  It’s actually very similar, very similar.  It’s a good question, the second part of the why it’s important is the depth factor. This person is trying to get down, and we find that butterflyers also try to get down in general.  It depends on their foot placement.  Sometimes they don’t rotate fast enough to get to the wall. They want to go down.


We find the better freestylers and backstrokers tend to go straight off.  The average on the elite freestylers that we have for a vertical velocity, up and down is -.001 meters per second, so they’re basically pushing straight off.


[Question]  Are the elite backstrokers pressing down a lot more when they push off the wall with their legs?


[Answer] Yes.


[Question] With their legs pushing off to kick on their back, do you find the ones going 15 meters underwater pushing off deeper?


[Answer]  No, because the depth that they’re going isn’t much greater than the average backstroker.  They’re just leveling out and going into their kick.


Now, going back to the hands.  The hands’ time is actually the largest time factor in the turn for breaststroke and butterfly. So your hands are on the wall longer than you rotate.  Your hands are on the wall longer than you push.  That leads us to believe it’s a very important phase in the stroke.  They’re there for a reason.  Sometimes I still get on my swimmers to get their hands off the wall quickly.  After looking at this I don’t really encourage that anymore.  It’s, there’s a fine line between being on long enough to get some good force or some good rotation and to get your hands off the wall and not stay on the wall.


[Question] You’re talking about the time of the hands on the wall.  Is this a flat wall or gutter?


[Answer] This will happen either place.  We have both turns, where we asked all the elites to do a flat wall turn and had to touch a little lower than they’re used to but they still had to do the flat wall.  With the age groupers, we just let them do what they wanted.  And it showed up in both with the gutter and without approaching for a flat wall.  Actually it’s greater with a flat wall.


The concept is that we’re looking to increase the idea of torque.  Torque is basically a force applied a certain distance from an axis to gain or to start a rotation.  Again, we’re talking about rotating around a short axis of the body, the hips here.  So I’m trying to get my head down and my feet to the wall as fast as possible.  It turns out that we spend a lot of time thinking about what the swimmer is doing with this hand to get the rotation started.  It’s really the hand on the wall or the touch with the wall that’s most important with getting that rotation going.  That was evident in how much time people were spending leaving their hands on the wall — how much force they were producing.  The idea is the torque or the amount of torque that you produce is dependent on how far away it’s applied from the axis that you’re rotating on, at a perpendicular distance.  The best example that I can think of is a door going into a kitchen or a swinging door.  If you’re standing in front of that door and you push on the outside edge of that door it’s going to slide open after a certain point.  If you move your hand in and push right next to the hinge of the door it’s much harder to push in.  That’s kind of the concept that we’re working with here.


Now how does that apply and why are the swimmers pushing up on the wall?  I kind of stole these the other day from Maglischo’s book.  Basically we’re looking at two different forces — the forces that we’re looking at if you’re pushing straight back and try to get a rotation.  The swimmers are basically going to rotate very close to their hips, very close to the center of gravity.  We’re not sure exactly where it is but when they’re flat on the water when they initiate the turn if they have force going back this way you can see that the distance away from the rotation point is very small.  So you’re not going to get very much torque to initiate that spin.  But if you’re going up you can see how far a distance or how great a distance you have to apply that force.  Actually you’re going to have greater torque generated by the same force applying it upward at that point.  Apply torque around this area to increase rotation then you would have it go straight back.  So that’s why athletes are pushing up on the wall.  And that’s something that you should probably be encouraging.


You can see that torque is going to continue to be substantial all the way through, probably past the point where your hips are under, or your feet are under your hips.  That’s what we still have at this point, the athlete’s coming through.  But we still have a very long distance of application to increase the torque.  So the contact time or a long contact time is probably very important.


We’re going to look at Eric Wunderlich’s turn.  He’s a breaststroker for Michigan.  He’s a very, very fast turner for someone his size.  He’s the second fastest turner that we’ve tested in breaststroke.  He’s got the fastest rotation time.  And he’s also got the greatest velocity coming out of the wall.  So we’re going to look at some video of Eric’s turn with a couple of things I want to focus on. We get three turns, one in semi-slow motion, because the equipment I had to make the tape with was a little difficult.  The things we want to focus on are:  how long are the hands in contact, and where are the feet.


He waits until the hand releases and then he sculls up with the hand that comes through.  He does that better than anybody I’ve seen.  And you can see that you’re actually getting another torque if you think about pushing the opposite way to get the same rotation principle and to add to that.  So he’s applying the torque all the way through. In this one you want to watch how long the contact time is.  He really doesn’t let go until a couple of frames after this point, so his feet are past being under his hips.  You can watch the real scull up with his hand below.  This is one of the fastest turns that we saw for the elite male breaststrokers.  The six elite males that we looked at had an average lifetime best of 1:02.7 so it’s a pretty good group.


So looking at Eric’s turn you can see some of the principles there.  After the first hand releases he is going to give you most of the rotation around but after that point there’s a couple of things you can use.  You can use the hand like you saw Eric used there to scull upwards.  You can also use the head, throwing the head back is going to give some torque around that rotation axis.


The next thing I want to talk about is, if you’ve heard some of Bill Boomer’s work, he really focuses on the other end of fast rotation.  I’m talking about the generating torque aspect of fast rotation.  But another way to rotate quickly is to get as small a ball as possible.  The longer you are the slower you’re going to rotate around that axis.  But the tighter you are the faster you’re going to rotate.  And when he’s talking about doing back somersaults in the middle of the pool, he’s talking about making it very easy to rotate.  So you can just do a scull and get enough torque to come around.  Getting people to be as tight as they can possibly be, and Eric, for somebody who’s 6’2″, 220 pounds is doing a pretty good job of getting tight.


Let’s look quickly at some common errors of age group swimmers. The first common error we’re going to look at is when an athlete in a freestyle or backstroke turn is too far away from the wall. They miss the turn basically.  The result of this is a high peak force.  Actually they’re going to generate a lot more force, it’s going to be for a very short period of time.  So they’re going to come in and they contact the wall, it will be a very high spike. And I’ll show you a graph on that but it’s going to be for very short period of time.  You can run the video to show an example. That’s what it looks like in the pool.  This is the turn that he missed.  On the turn, he again, has a very high peak force.  That was one of our twelve year olds, a very large twelve year old.  But his peak force was the second highest peak force we’ve measured, and that’s including the elites.  So he really nailed it for an instant, but after that he kind of died out.


This is the second turn that he hit right on.  Here we’re going to get an idea of why.  You can see that it lasted longer and the peak stayed generally higher through out.  That first spike he missed out, but he had more force applied over a greater amount of time.  And force applied over time is what we call impulse.  And so he had a greater impulse.  Impulse is more important than peak force or how hard you can push initially.  You need to have the contact time on the wall.  If you saw the movie Apollo 13 this is a good example of the concept of impulse and how time is important and very similar to being in the water.  You have only the force of the wall applied.  They’re out trying to get back to earth and they have to get a certain burn time.  It’s not just how much thrust the rockets can give them, but for how long. Basically, with that if you have a small impulse you’re going to have a small velocity out.  You’re not going to have that wall speed to maintain during your normal turns.


Over rotating, that was the next example you get to see.  Here is the first turn of the individual over rotating. That’s a very common problem for the swimmers.  Going in, they’re going to have their feet too high or too low and they’re going to have to adjust with their legs.  Now that does two things:  one it puts them in a difficult push off angel so they’ll have problem streamlining, but also with the forces they’re actually going to end up taking force away from that momentum giving in and out push and have a less effective push out because they have to adjust on the wall.


We looked a little closer at different approach philosophies or approach ideas in breaststroke and butterfly turns. There are three types of approach strategies you can have.  One is the strategy that you want to be on stroke when you hit the wall. That’s an on turn.  A short turn is where you don’t complete the stroke by the time you hit the wall.  And the third would be where you glide or take an extra kick before you get to the wall.  The thing that we found is that the velocity in tends to be related to the rotation speed.  So the faster you’re coming in the faster you’re going to be able to rotate.  And we know one thing, the slower velocity coming in the longer it’s going to take you to rotate.  So that’s probably not a good version to use.  But the “on” seems to be very solid.  The surprising one is that the “short” seems to be as fast or faster than the “on” turn.  The reason for that is probably that they can touch higher.  Again, applying that force farther away from the point of rotation.


Here’s an example of an age group swimmer doing several turns.  You can see a few differences from turn to turn.  You can see that there are minor differences throughout.  No turn will be the same.  But, we could highlight Eric Wunderlich’s turns and you can see that Eric does basically exactly the same thing each time he hits the wall. Control is a very important thing.  It’s a funny thing to me that even though these swimmers were told that they were going to be taped from every angel possible and have all the force platform data and everything, six percent of the breaststroke and butterfly turns were illegal for some type of touch problem.  Being able to focus and being ready for your turn, coming into your turn, I think, is a skill.


It is also interesting to note that about thirty percent of the elite breaststroke turns and butterfly turns were illegal or would have been disqualified because they are leaving the wall not on their breast.  Many are leaving the wall generally on their back.  What it says in the rule book and what happens practice is  sometimes a little bit different.


In comparing the elite and age group swimmers, the averages for the hand time and the leg time are very similar.  In fact they’re within about two hundredths of a second per average.  But the rotation time where there’s no contact on the wall is much shorter in the elite swimmer — almost twelve hundredths of a second shorter for the elite swimmer.  They’re maintaining that contact and not having a lot of the dead spin time that some of the age groupers are having.  That was a pretty substantial aspect.


To summarize quickly, for freestyle and backstroke turns you want to maximize the impulse into the wall or the push off. Just to increase the momentum and come off as quickly as possible you want to reduce the forces in the other dimensions or the other directions.  For breaststroke and butterfly you want to generate as much torque as possible around the short axis of the hips.  Use hand contact to start and probably complete about seventy five percent of that rotation with the contact on the wall.  And the wall is the place where you can get the most force to help you with those movements.  Then after that probably just use a scull and head movements to help you rotate.


That’s it from the picture end and a different view of turns.


I had an opportunity to talk to a lot of great coaches and some great athletes.  Some of the ideas I borrowed from Mike Doane, Jon Urbanchek, Alex Braunfeld, Jack Bower, Jack Nelson, Skip Runkle, Bill Boomer, and just about anybody who came and visited the training center in the last year.  I had that opportunity and each time I talked to them there were some common things that came up when we were talking about turns.   One thing they said that was important is that you teach turn skills young.  They felt, this is coming from college coaches, it’s difficult to change habits from years of sloppy unsupervised practice.  Sounds a little lazy but it’s probably actually the best thing for the athlete.  Consistently make time for turns and focus on turn technique work in each practice.  Do turn work early in practice when they’re mentally and physically fresh.  They said to make turns an important part of you races.  Also, take pride in your turning skills and really attack the turns.


[Question] From your data, if you were to start working on breaststroke and butterfly turns with age group swimmers which would you prefer your kids to use, touching flat on the wall or grabbing in the gutter?  Which would you prefer or would you let them make a choice?


[Answer]  That’s difficult. I’m a Senior coach right now so I like to go with flat wall.  But I think it’s probably easier to apply the force downward on the wall in the gutter.  So I would say grab the gutter.  You can use that as an advantage.  I don’t think it’s a bad thing to use that.  Then as they progress into Senior swimming, try to stay with the flat.  You might try and see if somebody’s having a problem keeping their hand on the wall.  You might have them do a week of flat wall starts. Again they are going to have to automatically get that faster downward push and a greater downward push with a flat wall.  Then switch them back and see if that helps get them off the gutter and maybe rotate faster.


[Question]  I’m not sure if this a question as much as a comment but when you spoke a minute ago on speed, you said a short stroke approach turn can actually be faster or as fast as an “on” turn — when in doubt take another stroke.  I think that’s a little bit misleading because if you take a short stroke you have a really good grip on the wall because of that short stroke and a lot of force against the wall.  The actual turn maybe faster but I think that it would leave out other factors like the time it took to take another stroke.  I think if you watch a high level age group meet, like Zones, Regionals, or Jr. Nationals, and you have a dead even race going on, you see somebody really good in butterfly, really good at streamlining, kicking into the wall when they’re long as opposed to the other guy taking another stroke, the person who doesn’t take the other stroke, the one that’s kicking it in is going to beat him every time.


The same is true in breaststroke.  The breaststroker that instead of taking the time to take that other stroke lets his momentum carry him that foot — my experience has been that it’s a real mistake to take another stroke for that little bit.


[Answer]  There’s a couple of things.  One thing that I didn’t say, a lot of coaches, and it’s showing up in some of those profiles, is you want to make sure you touch high, you’re always touching high on the wall.  So you can again increase that distance that you rotate.  That’s important, if you’re coming short and you touch high I think you’re going to get more spin out of it.  At least that’s what we’re seeing. You’ve got more speed and you are using that momentum coming into the wall to transfer to come back out.  I may have seen some of the same things you did but I also think that part of what I’ve learned from this when I go into coaching is we talk a lot about contingencies because they’re not always going to be perfect.  What you do in each situation?  I think if you take a short stroke and you touch as high as possible on the wall you’re going to be better off than going in long.  At least that’s what I’m seeing here.  I know what you’re saying and I’ve seen that but usually the kid’s trying to touch a little lower.


[Question]  Do you look into head speed as far as initiating rotation and so on?”


[Answer] No, but that is a good point.  We didn’t digitize the neck as a joint but we could look at that.  It would probably be a good thing to look at.  I would say from my observations that for butterfly and breaststroke it seems like the head starts down and comes back and stops in line with the shoulders.  It doesn’t go as far back, that’s what most people are doing, or what I’ve seen.  I don’t really have a feel for what they’re doing on freestyle.


[Question]  For a teaching tool, especially younger ages, how are you getting them to feel the rotation and throwing their head back harder to help them get a start and does that continue on at a Senior level?


[Answer]  That’s good to point out to them, that you can aid your rotation by throwing it back.  Actually even at the elite level you’re going to see those guys, they’re going to have their head start forward and they’re going to move it back quickly and so they’re using it at that level too.  So I don’t necessarily think it’s a bad practice at all to keep doing that.  Even if you’re over exaggerating it, it’s still going to be a learned skill where they can get that rotation faster.

[Question]  For your timed axis, was that started from the first force against the wall or was it started from some arbitrary point that the person?


[Answer]  The force platform is set up that you can trigger it at a threshold level or you can trigger it manually.  And we couldn’t trigger it at a threshold level because there’s a lot of noise with the waves so that’s why I had to move the graphs around a little bit. We just had a three second spot when the swimmer got close you hit it to start.


[Question] Okay, so then the time that he pushed into the wall might not be a real accurate measurement.


[Answer]  We didn’t take it from the start, from zero.  But you get the data in like a spread sheet, and you can cut out points where you know they’re not on the wall or the turn isn’t taking place. We used the cameras and then a real low threshold value or a pattern value looking at the curves.  So yea, that’s a good question, but we didn’t start it from zero.


[Question] Then I just wanted a quick results question, you mentioned that breaststroke and butterfly turns have a different rotation time from age groupers to elite — a different time for their feet to be forced into the wall.  Did you find any differences between age group swimmers and elite swimmers on their freestyle and backstroke turn between the time from the wall to their peak impulse into the wall, peak force into the wall?


[Answer]  I don’t, off the top of my head, you’re asking the first contact with the wall to the highest point?  I would say it was probably faster just because they didn’t go as high as the elites.  No, I can’t answer that question, we didn’t really look at that.  I can tell you that the contact time was very similar.  The age groupers were slightly less, three hundredths seconds less than the elites.


[Question]  This is more of a comment.  It seems a real easy and empirical way to solve the question of which is better, being short to the wall or long. Time the swimmer  in full speed race pace from the flags to the flags, in and out.


[Answer]  Well, in looking at it I’m not sure.  You know the person who talks a lot about coming in short, doing all their turns short, is Michigan.  Jon Urbanchek is the person who was talking about that the most.  He thinks it’s faster.  And the data had some strong trends but not significant that it was faster to be short. That’s kind of where that comment came from.


[Question]  That’s a pretty high level athlete.”


[Answer]  That’s very true. It’s hard to go to the age group level from there.  But hopefully, at least looking at it this way you get some different ideas on how you approach your teaching progressions.


Coaching Novice Swimmers Freestyle and Backstroke by The Kansas City Blazers Staff (1996)

Pete Malone, Head Coach

Mike Lewellyn, Head Age Group Coach

Mary Lane Kamberg – Novice and Age Goup Coach

Peter Malone earned a Bachelors in Business Administration and Financial Management. He was awarded a Business Education Certificate from the University of Toledo, and was a licensed teacher in Ohio from 1972- 1975. From 1975 to the present, Peter Malone has been the General Manager and Head Coach of the Kansas City Blazer Swim Team. He is also the Chief Aquatics Administrator at Johnson County Park and Recreation District. From 1968-1974, Mr. Malone was the Head Coach of the Greater Toledo Aquatic Club. There he also established and managed the U.S. Diving Program. He was also the assistant High School Coach at Toledo St.Francis DeSale, from 1968-1972. Some of his professional achievements include being the coach of Olympic Gold Medalist Janie Wagstaff in 1992. Janie won 100M and 200M backstroke, and the 400 medley relay. Janie also holds the American Record, in the 100 meter backstroke. In addition, Mr. Malone was the coach of Mark Dean, who was a member of the 1988 Olympic Team and the 1991 Pan American Team, where he won a Gold Medal in the 200 Meter Butterfly. Furthermore, he coached Catherine Fox, a member of the 1996 U.S.A. Olympic Team, and a 1995 Pan American Games medalist. Coach Malone has received a number of personal honors and awards. He has been the Region VIII Coach of the Year in 1988, 1989, 1990, 1991, 1992, 1993, 1994, and 1995. He was the Missouri Valley Coach of the Year from 1986-1994. He was awarded with the American Swim Coaches Association Gold Award for coaching Excellence for 20 years of placing swimmers in Top 8 at Nationals. He has earned and held positions on the U.S. International Coaches List (1977-Present). He was on the Board of Directors for United States Swimming Inc., from 1982-1986 and 1991-1995. He is on the American Swimming Coaches Association Board of Director, (1991-1994) and (1995-1998). In addition, he is on the executive Committee of ASCA Board 1995-1996. He is an Olympic International Division Member (1984- 1996). And he was the Head U.S.A. Women’s Coach for the short-course World Championships, in 1993. Coach Malone, has been a speaker at a number of World Coaches Clinics, and he has conducted workshops on goal setting and value of time management.

S.U.P.E.R. Coaches

Teaching novice swimmers can be one of the most rewarding aspects of coaching. Novice coaches get to work with swimmers in the early stage of their swimming careers–a time when they experience the greatest improvements in skills and performance in the shortest length of time. It’s not unusual to witness feats such as a 30-second drop in a 50-yard freestyle, the first 25 breaststroke without a DQ, or the first time the swimmer is brave enough to dive off a starting block. Victories such as these “hook” novices into a lifetime sport that can improve their health and give them the kinds of lessons that competitive athletics teach.

As a novice coach, you have a number of responsibilities beyond water skills. You are the swimmer’s introduction to your team’s program. So along with the finer points of the backstroke flip turn, you must also teach them your expectations on the deck, from behavior during stretches and exercises to your overall program philosophy. The Kansas City Blazers have made a commitment to excellence, and that concept is introduced at the novice level and continued through the age group and senior programs.

Sound like a challenge? It is. But here are five tips you can use to become a S.U.P.E.R. Novice Coach.

S–Show and Tell

Children learn in different ways, so tell them what you want them to do, but show them, too. Use big gestures while you speak about a skill. Use demonstration, too. You can use demonstrators two ways: one demonstrator swims while the whole group watches, or pull out just one or two swimmers and have them watch someone who is doing the skill correctly and/or doing the skill the same “wrong” way as they are.

At first, ask more experienced swimmers to perform the skill (the closer the demonstrator is to the age of the novice, the better. This promotes an “I can do this” attitude). As the season progresses, ask swimmers in your novice group to demonstrate skills they are doing correctly.

U–Useful Information

Use words children understand. Then explain the skill using different words. Assume nothing, especially with younger swimmers. One coach spent weeks trying to get a particular novice to circle the correct direction in the lane.

At each practice, we have odd lanes and even lanes alternate between clockwise and counterclockwise. The direction is announced with the warm-up set, “Odd lanes are clockwise,” etc.

The coach explained clockwise and counterclockwise to the swimmer every day, even getting her out of the pool for a close-up lesson watching the hand on the pace clock. Every day the swimmer nodded understanding, but got in the pool and went the wrong way. Finally, after weeks of frustration, the coach said, “You tell me you understand clockwise and counterclockwise, but you always go the wrong way. I don’t know what to do.” The swimmer–just as frustrated as the coach–said, “I do understand clockwise and counterclockwise. I don’t understand odd and even lanes.”


Surely even your least skilled novice can do SOMETHING right. Find it and praise it. Maybe he has a great flutter kick, can hold his breath forever, does a great streamline. Praise is especially important when correcting a skill. Try to sandwich the correction between two “good” comments. Say something like, “You’ve got a great kick, but you stop kicking when you turn your head to breathe. If you concentrate on kicking when you breathe, you’ll go even faster.”


Novices must enjoy the sport. If they don’t have fun, they’ll go try tennis or baseball. You need discipline, of course, but novice coaches must project a sense of fun into practice sessions. Remember your enthusiasm for your swimmers’ ability and progress is what encourages them to continue in your program.


Tell them what you’re going to tell them. Tell them. And tell them you told them. Create “mantras” like “When your hand goes in, your shoulder rolls up” or “Every flip turn is a sit up.” Remember to say the same thing in different ways, too. Repetition can also be accomplished by asking questions, “What does your shoulder do when the opposite hand enters the water?” Choose two or three different children to answer the same question. This technique is especially helpful for children with short attention spans. Even if you don’t call on them, they hear you say something. Then they hear their team-mates repeat it. Praising correct answers also encourages swimmers to pay better attention so they’ll be prepared with the right answers.

Hopefully novice competitive swimmers come to your program with at least basic learn-to-swim skills. At the Kansas City Blazers, we require that a swimmer be able to swim 25 yards crawl to enter our program. (We do not count underwater swimming, dog paddle, or survival techniques. We recommend additional learn-to swim lessons for those applicants.) Even so, the ability to negotiate one length of our practice pool still leaves an infinite number of skills you must teach.

When our novice coaches approach new swimmers, they assume the child knows nothing. So, from the ground up, here are some of the ways we coach novices in freestyle and backstroke skills.


The biggest obstacle for novices working on freestyle is their unquenchable desire for oxygen. They’ll do ANYTHING to get it. Your mission–should you decide to accept it–is to get them to stop thinking about breathing long enough to work on whatever skill you’re teaching. That’s why we begin with the kick.

The Kick

  1. With Kickboard. Most novices used kickboards in learn-to-swim lessons, so the kickboard is a helpful transition to competitive swimming. After brief safety information (don’t throw the kickboard, hit anyone with it, or throw it into the water and try to jump on it like a surfboard), show them the way you want them to hold the board. Keeping in mind the novice’s addiction to oxygen, we like to have them keep their heads up out of the water with elbows straight. They should hold the board with both hands at the top. (This is different from the way most swimming instructors use the kickboard, so here you are on the first day and they’ve already learned something new!)


Talk about keeping the hips near the surface. Encourage a shallow, fast kick instead of a deep, slow one. The heel should just break the surface. (Kicking air does not contribute forward motion.) Be sure they kick both up and down and keep their ankles loose. Natural breaststrokers have a tough time with flutter kick, because their feet turn out, often without the swimmer realizing it. They also often use a bicycle pedal technique you should discourage. Tell these swimmers to pigeon toe. Show an exaggerated pigeon toe and have the swimmer stand with you on deck with knees and toes pointed in. Using fins for drills and some kicking sometimes helps these swimmers.


  1. Kick on the Side

Try this on the deck first. Have swimmers lie on their sides with the “deep” arm straight above the head. The head uses the shoulder for a “pillow” The “surface” arm is straight and rests on the swimmer’s side with the hand on the side of the thigh. Have the swimmers kick back and forth sideways and explain (five times) that they are on their sides so there should be no splash. Finally–here’s the part they like–their faces should be in the air SO THEY CAN BREATHE ANYTIME!


Have them swim a whole length on one side, then switch sides for the other length. Correct anyone who paddles with the deep arm or who doesn’t leave the “surface” arm straight and still. The most important part of this skill is head position, so emphasize the idea of the shoulder as a pillow with the ear on the arm. If they can’t keep their faces in the air, have them roll more toward the back rather than lift the head. Be sure they are kicking both back and forth and that the kick is shallow and quick, rather than big and slow.


  1. Kick with Streamline On the deck demonstrate streamline position and have the swimmers try it. Have them put one hand on top of the other, keep elbows straight, and hug their ears. A streamline position stretch and vertical jumps during warm-up exercises reinforce this skill. Say, “Streamline off every wall every time” or some other repetitive saying of your own.


On the deck, use one swimmer as a model to demonstrate the effect of resistance on open arms and how smoothly water goes around the pointed hull of the boat they create when they streamline. In the water have swimmers push off and glide, holding their breath as long as they can. Be sure they are underwater for this skill. Correct anyone who pulls during the streamline.


Next have them push off in streamline position and kick as far as they can in one breath, then stop and either walk or swim back.


The Arm Stroke


  1. Deck Work

Swimmers stand on the deck facing the coach. Have them extend one arm straight from the shoulder with the palm down. The thumb rotates up. The swimmer then bends the elbow to a 90 degree angle so the forearm is parallel to the chest and the hand is approximately even with the opposite shoulder. Be sure swimmers leave elbows in place and move only the forearm.


Now the hand rotates to a palm-down position parallel to the ground. The hand pushes down from the shoulder across to the thigh. Arm stroke ends with elbow straight and palm touching the front of the thigh. After several repetitions, have swimmers float on stomach in the water and repeat the motion.

  1. Sculling

Teach swimmers how to move their hands in a sculling motion. Have them make “tornadoes.” Then teach the polo scull with head up and flutter kick.

  1. Six-kicks and 12-kicks on the side Swimmers do the kick-on-the-side drill, but kick only six or 12 times on each side. They take one stroke of freestyle to roll over and kick on the opposite side. This helps teach the arm stroke and breathing. However, younger swimmers may have difficulty “counting” their kicks. Some are in fourth or fifth grade before they are developmentally ready for this drill. (You may just ask them to count to six before they roll over.)


  1. One Arm Only In one arm drills, the flutter kick is used. Emphasize “long arms,” so swimmers take big strokes instead of short “baby” strokes. Talk about a “pull” and a “push” phase of each stroke (most of them don’t do the “push” part at first). Also introduce the idea of rolling the hip and shoulder up when the opposite hand enters the water and a roll to the other side so they can complete the push all the way back.

The arm that’s not moving should be at the side during this drill. Correct swimmers who “paddle” with the nonswimming arm. This is a good time to teach breathing by reminding swimmers of the kick-on-the-side drill. Have them breathe on the side of the arm that’s NOT moving just as the hip and shoulder roll up. Watch for the same elements used in the kicking drill: head position with ear on the shoulder and continuous back and forth, fast, shallow kick. When working on breathing with one-arm drills, have swimmers breathe every stroke cycle. Pick out a landmark and tell them to “breathe to the bleachers” or “breathe to the parking lot.” Be sure that after the breath, the opposite hip and shoulder roll up as the swimmer completes the “push” phase of the stroke.

  1. Catch-Up Swimmers begin with arms in streamline and swim one arm at a time. At the end of one arm stroke, hands return to streamline position and the opposite arm begins a pull. Have them breathe every stroke (on both sides) on the side of the arm that’s moving. Have swimmers breathe every stroke during the “push” part of the stroke, then complete the recovery by streamlining the hands. Emphasize long strokes. A strong kick helps the swimmer balance the stroke.


  1. Thumb on the side

Add a new dimension to the kick-on-the-side, one arm only, and catch-up drills by having swimmers touch the thumb on the thigh at the end of the stroke. The thumb stays in contact with the body all the way to the armpit. Then the swimmer reaches forward for the hand entry. This drill can also be added to full stroke swimming for swimmers who tend to straight-arm the recovery.



Many of the drills and skills you taught for freestyle give swimmers a good foundation for backstroke work. Help swimmers make the connection between freestyle and backstroke so they’ll build on freestyle skills rather than approach backstroke as a completely different stroke.

Body Position

  1. Float Have swimmers float on the back with arms outstretched in a “T.” They may flutter kick a little to stay afloat, but the idea is to stay in one place. Have them point the child toward the ceiling so you can see their whole neck. Have them be sure the belly button is on the surface of the water.
  2. Glide and kick with one arm in streamline The full streamline position on the back is difficult for novices, they often hold their arms in the air with chin tucked in, which makes back flutter kick difficult. Instead, have them streamline on the back with only one arm up. The arm that’s up hugs the ear with a straight elbow, and the hand stays underwater. Novices have more success with this arm position. Be sure they don’t bend their arms and that the hand is underwater. If performed correctly, this position helps maintain the proper body position for the backstroke.

Teach the streamline glide and streamline glide with flutter kick. After you’ve taught the butterfly, add dolphin kick on the back to backstroke instruction.

The Kick

  1. Sexy Shoulders

Swimmers float on the back with arms at the side. They flutter kick as the body rolls from side to side, with head still. The shoulders and hips roll all the way to side and the kick rolls, too. Swimmers progressively kick on one side, the back, the other side, the back, etc.


  1. Sexy Shoulders with Hand Lift Swimmers perform the sexy shoulders drill. When the body is on one side, the swimmer lifts the arm from the shoulder so the arm is in the air at a 45 degree angle to the legs. Repeat on the other side. Swimmers need a good kick to maintain balance necessary for this drill.


  1. Kick on the Side and 6-kick and 12-kick drills, like freestyle kick drills, but on the rollover drills, use a stroke of backstroke to roll over, rather than a stroke of freestyle. You may have to teach the difference on the deck so swimmers understand the correct ways to roll.

Arm Stroke


  1. Sculling

Make tornados. Also have swimmers do a double arm stroke (like upside down butterfly).


  1. One Arm Drill

Swimmers swim backstroke with only one arm. Opposite arm remains at the side. Emphasize shoulder and hip roll when the hand enters the water. Be sure swimmers are rolling both ways even though only one arm is moving. Demonstrate hand position on entry so swimmers pull deep at the “top” of the stroke.


  1. Right Right/Left Left/Both Both Have swimmers swim two strokes in a row with each arm (opposite arm at the side), then two full stroke cycles.

Explain that when one hand enters the water, the opposite hand is coming out. Correct swimmers who leave one arm at the side until the other arm finishes a stroke.


A Systematized Model of Mental Skills Training for Competitive Swimmers 13 Years and Over by John M. Hogg, Ph.D. (1996)

A Systematized Model of Mental Skills Training for Competitive Swimmers 13 Years and Over by John M. Hogg, Ph.D. (1996)

John Hogg has a unique blend of practitioner and scientist. For over thirty years he was a successful swimming coach at the club, university, and international level. Originally from Britain, John coached the Scottish National Swim Team from 1968-1974 and the British Women’s Team from 1971-1974. In 1976, he was appointed coach to Canada’s Olympic swim team and coached many national teams from 1975-1983. He has earned a Master’s Degree and Doctoral in sports psychology. In addition, he has authored six books related to competitive swimming, produced numerous swimming articles and is an accomplished motivational speaker. He has acted as guest speaker at many conferences throughout the world and notably at ASCA World swim Clinics in 1978, 1979, and 1987. In 1983 he was appointed sports psychologist for the Canadian Swim Team and served as a performance enhancement consultant through to the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta. In the last year, John has written a trilogy of books entitled: Mental Skills for Competitive Swimmers; Mental Skills for Swim Coaches; Mental Skills for Young Athletes (to be published in Oct.).


I would first like to thank the American Swim Coaches Association for its invitation to share with you a specific program of mental skills training that I have been developing for Canadian swimmers and coaches these past ten years. As some of you know I enjoyed an extensive and sometimes successful career as a swim coach before directly focusing my attention on servicing our athletes and coaches in terms of the mental aspects of performance. This program, though relatively new, is already demonstrating that our athletes can enjoy enhanced control over their thoughts, feelings and behavior in pre-competitive, competitive and post-competitive settings; that they are becoming better equipped to consistently create and maintain their unique ideal performance states; and that they can harness emotions and use them to advantage in a variety of stressful settings.

The mental skills program is rooted in the assumption that athletes must strive for a balanced status between the technical, physical or physiological, the strategic or tactical and the mental components of performance. [See Figure 1]. These aspects are dynamic and ongoing and receive specific emphasis not only according to the current phase of training but also dependent upon the development age, ability and commitment levels of each swimmer. Swimmers spend inordinate amounts of time working at the technical, physical and conditioning aspects of performance and expect mental states of readiness automatically to follow. Unfortunately, it doesn’t quite happen this way and many swimmers find themselves mentally unprepared.

One would expect then that in conjunction with the technical, physical and tactical components of competitive swimming, the psychological aspects of performance would be afforded considerable attention by coach and swimmer alike. In reality, mental training either receives limited and somewhat haphazard attention depending on the emphasis and interest of the coach, or a reactionary response on the part of the athletes at different phases of their athletic development and maturation. In this presentation I would like to reflect on the current position of mental skills training, on select related misconceptions, briefly overview some existing models that attempt to characterize top performers, and present a systematized model of mental skills training that adopts a cognitive-behavioral approach while encouraging a constant and meaningful interaction between the coach and the athlete. The program steps of this model will be discussed. Finally, some assumptions, expectations and roles will be addressed.

Some reflections:

It is evident, judging by the media quotes of athletes who reach the podium, that they attribute their success in the main to the psychological or mental advantages they perceive to exist on the day of the competition. In recent years coaches for the most part have adopted systematized training programs that are physiologically similar. On the one hand, most competitive swimmers, while theoretically accepting the importance of mental training, realistically are not fully committed to it. On the other hand, most swim coaches have not as yet created or integrated a formal and progressive mental skills training program that they use on a daily basis, nor do they teach emotional coping strategies to help athletes create and maintain their ideal performance states.

Some misconceptions:

Swim coaches can access a host of comprehensive scientific texts that cater to the skill, biomechanical and physiological aspects of swimming (Carlile, 1966: Counsilman, 1968: Firby, 1975: Colwin, 1992: Maglischo, 1982:1993). However, they appear to lack specific knowledge when it comes to understanding the psychological constructs that underlie the mental skills. Coaches have been labeled ‘natural psychologists’ in the sport setting. Unfortunately, the art and science of psychology has grown too rapidly in recent years for this label to make sense, and it is unrealistic to expect the coach to have insights into all areas of theoretical and applied sport psychology.

Coaches also lack specific resources related to mental training despite the fact that a multitude of general texts in sport psychology and performance enhancement are available. It is only recently that a specific text has been published (Hogg, 1995b).

Similarly, there is a lack of interactive tools or instruments that would encourage athletes and coaches to work together in the applied sense both in training and in competition.

Finally, there is a lack of applied guidelines or pointers that would be initiated for the coach if a sharing of positive and negative experiences existed. These suggestions are essential if coaches are to integrate both mental skills training and coping strategies successfully into their swimming programs.

Competitive swimmers experience different misconceptions and problems about mental skills training. For instance, many develop conceptual problems especially when constructs like motivation, arousal, anxiety, concentration, self-confidence etc., are not explained fully or taught well. Often swimmers view mental training as a further encroachment into their precious time. It most certainly does require time and commitment but it can nevertheless be meaningfully integrated into existing training programs without calling for too great an inconvenience. Many swimmers either convince themselves that they do not require the mental skills or fail to persist with them over time and consequently never reap the full rewards. There may also be a stigma attached to those athletes who report experiencing problems in the mental area. Many adopt the attitude that the mental will take care of itself and it will be okay on the day! Fortunately there are those who do perceive the mental aspects of their performance as all important, put their perceptions into practice and are not slow to attributing their success to pursuing any mental advantage.

Models for improved mental performance:

Sport psychologists have studied the characteristics, successful traits and qualities of elite athletes or winners over the years (Waitley, 1979; Bennett & Pravitz, 1987; Orlick and Partington, 1988). These top down approaches, and competitive swimming is not excepted (Barzdukas, 1994), highlight mental aspects as much as they do the technical, physical and tactical components of performance. Figures 2-5 summarize these existing models.

Generally speaking then, athletes need to master basic mental skills like imagery, concentration, self-talk; to foster and maintain high levels of interest and desire (motivation) in working toward success; to create, maintain and control ideal conditions for performance; and to protect their performance by coping effectively with their emotions and using them to advantage.

A systematized model of improved mental performance in swimming:

I have been involved with the Canadian National Swim team program as a coach since 1974 and previously as a national coach in Britain (1961-1974). I have also acted as a coach educator and performance enhancer since 1981 and I have been fortunate to observe and actively assist athletes/coaches in their mental preparations for major competitions. I have concerns when I see some coaches omit the detail of mental preparations either because they are not too knowledgeable, or feel this aspect of preparation is best left to the athlete. I have seen coaches pay only lip service to teaching the mental skills because they view them as too vague, or too difficult to grasp, or not on a par with the more important technical and physical aspects of preparations. There have been noticeable occasions when coaches label their athletes psychologically inadequate or lacking in mental toughness in the face of competition without attempting to offer any practical remedy.

Just as the physiological and conditioning elements of training have become very organized over the past four decades so there is need for programs that focus on the swimmers’ mental preparations to become systematized and to be integrated in such a way that they achieve the desired results.

In presenting a model it is important to identify any assumptions or biases. Some assumptions rest in the strong belief that swimmers and coaches are best working together on the mental skills program objectives. The model presented here essentially follows an interactive paradigm. The coach needs to be willingly involved and take an active role in helping the athlete master the program content. If the coach shows a genuine interest then the swimmers will make a greater commitment. It is relatively easy to go through the motions of applying the skills with little or no effect. It is much harder to persist in applying the mental skills in a variety of settings and to recognize that learning in a self-reflective manner is incredibly powerful.

Approaches can also be viewed from a psychological perspective. The interactional model adopts a cognitive behavioral approach in the sense that actions are the reflection of the athlete’s thoughts (cognitive) and feelings (affective). To change behavioral responses it is important to influence or change the thoughts (especially for athletes 13 years and over), and the feelings (especially for athletes 12 years and under). This model is also an empowerment model. Athlete empowerment means athlete accountability. It gives athletes the freedom to do their best by providing the necessary educational and technical support. The coach in an interactive way enables the athletes to gradually take responsibility for their own development in this area. Athletes, on the other hand, need to assume increased responsibility for executing the program as they mature.

The program objectives:

Simply stated, the objectives for a systematized cognitive-behavioral interactional approach to presenting the mental aspects of performance preparations are:

  • to introduce the athlete to a balanced perspective regarding the importance of the technical, physical, mental and tactical elements of performance;
  • to teach the athlete basic mental or life skills across their developmental and maturational phases;
  • to integrate the mental skills into both the training and competitive settings so that athletes can create and control their ideal performance states (IPS) in a self-determined and responsible manner;
  • to create and share with athletes (through the use of self-reflective tools and applied exercises) a variety of ways to help them cope with their emotions in so far as these emotions positively or negatively affect their levels of performance, and require to be effectively harnessed.

The program content:

The model recognizes 3 major areas of content illustrated in Figure 6 and expanded in Figure 7. These are systematized mental skills training, the creation and maintenance of ideal performance states, and coping with emotions in so far as they might help or hinder in the pursuit of an athlete’s IPS. A brief overview of the three segments may throw some light on the model.

Foundational mental skills. These are inclusive of self-awareness, goal setting, energizing or relaxing skills, self-talk, imagery and attention control. A systematized approach suggests that (1) the concepts underlying each of the mental skills are clearly explained; (2) the skills are then taught in stages and possibly in sequence; (3) each skill is integrated into the athlete’s daily training program; (4) monitored and (5) evaluated through the use of self-reflective tools and finally (6) refined for further use. Coaches need to learn as much as possible about each of these foundational skills and how they can best be taught and utilized by athletes in a variety of settings to help them reach and protect their ideal performance states and cope with their emotions.

Ideal performance states. The ultimate focus of any mental training program is to help swimmers control and improve their performance (process and outcome). In order to create and maintain ideal performance states the athletes (with the help of the coach) need to be aware and understand precisely what it means or entails to reach and safeguard their IPS. This will require interactive discussion between swimmer and coach, and the creation of planned routines or strategies to ensure consistency of performance whether in training or in competition and no matter the conditions.

Emotional coping. The emotions or feelings – interest/desire, enjoyment, appreciation, care, anger, fear, frustration, anxiety etc., – can be positive or negative, can involve high or low energy levels, and can be functional or dysfunctional in the performance setting. Both swimmer and coach need to know which emotions operate, to what degree and how they might be harnessed to advantage. Athletes need to retain their emotional sting both to find that extra zip and to help them cope with any unexpected distractions.

In summary, the foundational skills provide each swimmer with the mental tools that he or she may need as the occasion demands [See Figure 8]. They should be stored in the mental tool box. The basic tools should be constantly upgraded as levels of performance rise. They are learned to serve each individual Self – certain skills are more significant for some athletes than others. Routines and strategies form the basis of the Plan to ensure optimal performance states. Once the plans have been tested and are perceived as successful they will create an overall Trust. Although some athletes implicitly trust the coach to design their total swimming program in accordance with their specific needs and goals, it is important for mature swimmers to seek and maintain the ideal balance for themselves.

Program delivery:

For the purposes of an effective delivery of this cognitive-behavioral model of mental skills training, specific resources for swimmers (Hogg, 1995a) and coaches (Hogg, 1995b) were created. The first workbook was geared to the needs of swimmers 13 years and over. A second workbook is in preparation for swimmers 12 years and under (to be published in late 1996). Fax and E-mail forms of communication have also been made available to enhance feedback and program refinement. A comprehensive coaching text presents the three aspects of the model from a coaching perspective and there are many opportunities for coaches’ and swimmers’ workshops on mental skills in addition to these written resources.

Program steps:

Figure 9 illustrates 8 steps or phases to the overall program. These steps have been developed over the past ten years both at the national and club levels. Constant refinements have been made and will continue to be made over the next quadrennial. A general framework is presented here and each coach should adjust the steps as he or she deems necessary.

Profile athlete:

It is important to observe and gather as much performance information about every athlete as possible. Coaches can do this by means of formal and informal interviews, by carefully reading swimmers’ behaviors when they operate at the lower, medium or upper limits of their mental abilities and to share in a non-threatening way any mental strengths or concerns. Athletes who can effectively perform inner shoveling exercises in an effort at greater self-awareness and can come face to face with their capabilities will quickly learn what needs to be changed or refined in order for them to reach the next competitive level. Coaches who can enter an honest and trusting relationship with their athletes will be able to provide the necessary means and support for further success. Appropriate use of well proven sport specific tests (See Table 1) may help in determining an athlete’s profile and in labeling the intensity of select psychological characteristics that may be present to advantage. The swim coach should build a rapport with the athlete from the outset that confirms his or her appreciation for all aspects of mental preparation. This is best done by carefully observing each athlete’s mental preparations for and response to performance, and by freely communicating or sharing in a spirit of mutual respect and total trust.

Explain important mental constructs and their applicability:

Time should be spent on a regular basis discussing and explaining select psychological constructs and how these work in the sport setting both in training and in competition. Coaches can selectively choose constructs that relate to the mental skills. For example, arousal and anxiety and their control through psycho regulatory techniques; attribution and the skill of positive self-talk; types of motivation and links to goal setting; self-concept, image, esteem, confidence, etc., and self-awareness exercises. Many constructs related to the sport of competitive swimming are identified (Hogg, 1995b) and simple definitions provided. However, explanations and understanding will occur best through an interactive approach. If encouraged swimmers will share how certain constructs work for them and how they can cope in their own specific way.

Set up an educational program of mental skills training:

Swim coaches can use their own educational approach to delivering mental skills or can utilize a suggested and hopefully a well proven framework. Figure 6 represents the 3 component model adopted by our Canadian coaches. Coaches who create their own program need to determine the precise program content, the theoretical position behind it, and the best way to integrate it into the overall training and competitive program. Any educational program of mental skills training must address all individual needs, the time of the year, the developmental, ability and commitment levels of each athlete, the athlete’s age and gender and the sport specific demands. It is very important for the coach and athlete to interact in a meaningful way (See role of the coach).

Present mental skills systematically:

Once the specific skills have been established and possibly, though not necessarily arranged in sequence and the nature of the various tasks identified, then each skill should be explained, taught in stages (according to age, level of ability and need), carefully integrated into the daily program in very practical ways, monitored as to whether it is executed or not, evaluated as to its effectiveness for the individual, and refined to suit any specific requirements. This approach should not mean that you have to add more time to the athlete’s overcrowded program. It does mean that any mental activities must be smartly and enthusiastically integrated into existing physical cues. How the coach designs and implements the program and to what degree support and credibility are given, will directly affect how athletes are likely to respond.

A program is also inclusive of consistently creating and maintaining ideal performance states and of coping with unproductive emotional states. These two aspects are best attempted once the foundational skills are in place since they are critical tools for any intervention. Seeds about how each athlete can create flow feelings that ensure successful performance should be carefully planted from an early age. Equally, athletes should learn how to realistically assess their emotions and how these feelings and moods might be employed to advantage. It is a long term process that requires long term cooperation.

As athletes mature and aim to exceed personal limits, the mental training program will need to cater for any specific problems that interfere with the ideal psycho physiological states. In high levels of competition, when the athlete needs to enjoy a balanced state of complete well-being (technical, physical, tactical and mental), specific interventions must effectively address all identified problems in an effort to help the athlete cope mentally – e.g., altitude, heat exhaustion, over thinking, distractions, preoccupation with other competitors, media interest, the hype of the competition, sponsor expectations, losing touch with the race, etc.

A small group approach that I have found successful when delivering the mental skills program is to invite swimmers to share their perceptions of a particular construct (e.g., competitive anxiety) and what it means to them. Share your understanding as well. Encourage your athletes to keep an open mind and to avoid putting up any barriers to what is being shared. Then discuss when the athletes think they need to use the mental skill(s) and in which setting should they be applied. They will suggest a variety of occasions. Finally, ask them what they do or would do or what they can do to take control of the situation. Their feedback will present a host of valid alternatives that may have a prophylactic effect.

Empower your athletes to be responsible and accountable:

Some athletes prefer to be categorically told what to do and view the coach as weak or lacking in knowledge if he or she adopts a less than autocratic approach. Other athletes, as a result of self-understanding, prefer to exercise self responsibility and to take control of their own mental states. Their preferences may depend on their home, school and coaching backgrounds. Coaches will experience difficulties monitoring and evaluating the application of mental skills training. Only the athlete knows whether he or she is really using the interventions beneficially or not. The coach can only make presumptions. Empowering the athlete means passing along the responsibility for mental training to those swimmers who can be independent and accountable. The roles of the coach (discussed later) are primarily to teach the athlete the mental skills and then to provide the opportunity for their practice. By accepting full responsibility and independently mobilizing their forces, athletes will experience the security of a consistently successful performance. An empowerment approach does not exclude the coach from stepping in to help in a crisis situation.

Evaluate and refine:

Both the athlete and the coach should be constantly monitoring and discussing progress in mental preparedness. For the athlete this involves the skill of self-awareness, and of truly recognizing existing psychological states. It is critical to determine whether interventions are effective at lower or moderate personal limits and whether they are fully functional or not when the loading limits are exceeded – e.g., in national, international or Olympic competition. Encourage the use of alternative approaches or refine any existing approaches. Some athletes are resistant to change and remain locked into their perceptions. It will take time for them to let go and to reap the benefits of change. It takes a long time to learn the physical skills. The same is true of the mental skills. Currently I am engaged in some interesting work developing self-administered monitoring procedures during the final phases of race preparation (pre-taper and taper). This tool will help athletes recognize their existing states throughout the different phases of preparedness and at the same time allow them to identify whether these states are normal or not.

Apply the program gradually from the lower to the upper limits:

Just as interventions work differently in training versus competition, it is important to recognize that there are so many variables or contrasting reference levels at play that can affect overall mental states. Mental skills can be applied uniquely across the phases of training, across different growth and development phases, across periods of less or more psychological maturity, in times of intense positive and negative stress, or when motivational levels are high or low, and in competitive settings where there are ever increasing demands or expectancies. In other words, athletes are never quite finished learning the full effects of mental skills, and should be exposed to them gradually and completely. Mental skills training is an investment for life.

Build a healthy rapport and trust with your athletes:

Mental skills training is not the saving grace for those athletes pursuing a significant performance breakthrough. It is neither a substitute for technical ability nor a replacement for specific strength and endurance conditioning. Rather it is an added component that needs to be fully explored. It is the role of the coach to facilitate this exploration by creating a psychologically healthy coaching environment in which mental skills training can flourish. This psychologically healthy coaching environment has been defined as one that provides for both fun and enjoyment, and learning opportunities; one that safeguards the athlete’s personal worth and feelings of competency; one that attempts to reduce any unnecessary stresses or fears while at the same time allowing for shared humor; and one that creates and maintains a trusting, enthusiastic, optimistic, positive and caring atmosphere for all participants (Hogg, 1996). Coaches can build rapport and trust by gaining insights into their athletes’ interests, athletic ambitions, career aspirations, family background etc., in a non-threatening manner; by developing friendly relationships that reflect a mutual respect; by building trust and sharing beliefs over time; and by understanding the levels of motivation and commitment embedded in each athlete.

Role of the coach:

In this program, the role of the coach is clear if he or she is committed to the program. Firstly, the coach should endeavor to understand the significance of the mental aspects of performance for a balanced approach. Secondly, the coach should systematically teach the mental skills starting with the very young swimmer and progressing to the elite athlete. Thirdly, the coach should create and maintain pre-performance, performance and post-performance routines to ensure and safeguard ideal performance states. Fourthly, the coach should provide a psychologically healthy coaching environment and one in which all aspects of mental preparation can flourish to the advantage to each athlete. Finally, the coach and athlete should design coping strategies to help athletes control their emotions and effectively handle any problems that could detract from ideal performance states.

Some final observations:

The swim coach needs to come to the realization that he or she is the best person to deliver, implement and evaluate the mental skills program. The exception might be if you have a resource person who has an applied knowledge of the area, and an insight into the needs of competitive swimmers and coaches alike. In this instance you may be happy to step aside and give full responsibility and support to an expert who has the time, energy and commitment for the task. A coach does not have to be suspicious of acceptable psychological interventions or paranoic about an athlete’s head space! Rather, it is important to be proactive and to recognize the responsibility to promote the use of select skills and to provide that balance that will insure mental preparedness and a successful performance.


Learning Skills and Strategies for Age Group Swimmers by Katherine Thomas Ph.D. (1997)

Using Science and Magic to Teach Children and Adolescents to Swim

A paper prepared for the American Swimming Coaches Association World Clinic, Orlando, FL, September 4, 1997

Katherine Thomas Thomas, Ph.D.

Department of Exercise Science and Physical Education

Arizona State University


Children and adolescents (8-14 years of age) are not miniature adults, therefore instruction should be different for children than for adults. Learning is a long term or permanent event, which occurs as a result of practice. Expertise is a result of learning, but not guaranteed by practice. In order to develop expertise, learning must be maximized. Changing bad habits is more difficult than learning correctly in the first place. Optimal practice for children is different than the practice which works best for adults. The structure of practice, feedback, instructions/demonstrations and the role of both the teacher/coach and the learner/child must be planned specifically for the developmental level of the child. Other issues such as development, skill level, gender and previous experience are discussed.


A special thanks to my friend and aquatic mentor, Mary-Alice Miner of Ocean Springs, MS. She taught me about making magic. We share a respect and affection for little ones, and a desire to spread the magic and make science work for little ones. Also thanks to Ernie Maglischo, the Sun Devil swimming coach, for introducing me to the ASCA and allowing me to present at his swimming workshops. Finally, my thanks to the ASCA for inviting me to write this paper and to participate in the 1997 World Clinic.

Using Science and Magic to Teach Children and Adolescents to Swim

Coaches and teachers usually have the goal of improving skill and performance in their swimmers. Further, the goal is for the improvement to be permanent and for the skill to transfer from practice to competition. In order to accomplish these goals we must understand the nature of children and adolescents (e.g., swimmers between 8 and 18 years of age), the environments which nurture skill development in children and adolescents and our behaviors as teachers and coaches. With those goals in mind, this paper will address two questions: How do children learn new skills or change skills? How should teachers and coaches teach skills to children?

How do children learn new skills and change skills?

Learning is defined as

  • a permanent change in performance,
  • resulting from practice,
  • characterized by changes in the CNS (central nervous system) therefore not directly observable,
  • and as efficient, effective and reliable. (Schmidt, 1991)

Learning is tested, and in essence, is accomplished when a movement can be executed after a period of no practice with skill or can be used in a new situation with skill. We could consider learning to have occurred when a swimmer can do a skill with consistency during a meet or at the beginning of a practice session. The issues which influence how children and adolescents learn and change skills include: motivation, control of movement, stages of learning, information processing, feedback and physical growth and maturation. The following sections will address those issues beginning with physical growth.

Physical Growth

Physical growth occurs steadily during childhood, increasing dramatically during the prepubescent growth spurt and then slows until maturity. (Malina, 1984) There are few meaningful gender differences prior 271 to puberty. Females typically have a rapid growth spurt between 9 and 11 years of age, reaching puberty (the onset of menstruation) on average at 13 years of age. Males reach these landmarks approximately two years after females, however there is a large variation within the genders and therefore overlap between the genders. Biological factors account for approximately 12% of the gender differences observed prior to puberty. (Thomas & Thomas, 1988)

In world class athletes, the performance difference between males and females is between 10 and 20 percent, most of the gender difference at this level is biological. The point is that when gender differences exist, the majority of the difference is probably due to environmental factors. There is little or no reason to treat males and females differently. When large gender differences are observed, these are most likely due to different expectations, opportunities and treatment of the genders.

During childhood and adolescence all children increase in size, gaining height and weight. Part of the improvement in performance (e.g., swim speed) is due to the increase associated with growth. (Malina, 1984) In addition, three other anthropometric variables change which have the potential to improve performance. First, the limbs grow at a faster rate than the head and torso, so the levers used in swimming strokes increase and should improve performance. Second, the amount of muscle increases, thus increasing strength. Third, the shoulders grow dramatically in males during and after puberty.

Some of the improvement with increasing age in speed and effectiveness of strokes is due to growth. The major portion, however, is probably due to improved technique. Children undergoing rapid growth may experience at times, especially if the growth occurred during a time with limited practice causing difficulty coordinating movements. Consider a youth who practiced 3 months ago and is now practicing with arms and legs which are 3 inches longer and a body which weighs the same but is 4 inches taller. Clearly, some adjustments will be necessary. Since each child grows at a rate determined by heredity, children will grow and mature at different points in time. Two children who have been very similar in size for several years may suddenly be very different—giving one child a new advantage.

One final note, later maturing children tend to be taller and often the best athletes after maturity, while early maturing children have a temporary advantage (due to increased size and maturity) during childhood. Coaches and teachers should have similar expectations for males and females, encourage all children, both early and late maturing, to develop the best possible stroke technique, recognize and if necessary, discuss with children, the influence (both positive and negative) of growth on performance.

The remainder of this section will address those factors which influence changes in technique, beginning with motivation.


Children 8-11 years of age are motivated by two questions: am I improving? and am I normal? (Scanlan, 1988). While these questions persist through the life-span in many of us, others will replace these questions or add additional questions. For example, during adolescence we may add the question: how will others view me if and when I do this? Dropping out is often attributed to lack of improvement. Another reason to focus on improvement is that task oriented motivation is associated with longer adherence, while ego orientation is associated with burnout. Ego orientation is when an athlete participates because participation brings status, while task orientation is associated with mastering new challenges and continual improvement. In other words, children will naturally begin with a task orientation, but some switch to an ego orientation. Intuitively, task oriented individuals tend to be easier to motivate, especially after they become experts.

Clearly, for many children an important motivator is tracking improvement. Unfortunately many performances are judged by the win-fail method – where winning is success and all other places are failure. Coaches and teachers must find methods of evaluating performance which indicate improvement, for example race times, fewer disqualifications or more efficient technique. Each of these work well if coaches and teachers are genuine. Children figure out very quickly what is actually important to coaches and teachers.

The second question for children: – am I normal? This can be easily addressed, but is often ignored. The teacher or coach can identify problem areas with statements like “many swimmers find it difficult to do this at first,” or “ it is normal to have trouble with this skill.” For all motor skills, the performance is very public. If you are having trouble everyone can see it. Children and adolescents often drop out to avoid public failure, others pretend the skill is unimportant. These youth may clown around or become discipline problems for the coach.

The best motivator is improvement. A clear understanding of the relationship between hard work (e.g., practice) and improvement also helps motivate learners. Children often think that exceptional athletes were “born that way,” or “athletes have ‘it’ while non-athletes don’t.” Looking at practice schedules of successful athletes or a teacher/coach who can recall the effort that went into mastering a skill, and the reward that results from hard work, can be important motivators.

Coaches and teachers should:

  • help swimmers track improvement,
  • encourage a task orientation by focusing on mastery of skills and individual goals,
  • discourage judgments made based on winning and awards,
  • identify difficult skills and
  • relate progress and success to hard work and practice.

Movement Control

Movement is controlled in one of three ways. Rapid movements are programmed entirely in advance and are executed with little or no change to the program. Some slow movements are controlled by sensory feedback, for example reaching for the alarm clock in the dark, your hand moves around recognizing objects until it finds the clock, the switch and finally the alarm is shut off. The third type are movements which have programmed components and then use on-line (or sensory feedback) control for other components. In order to increase speed in these combination movements, the programmed portion must increase. One of the things which is probably gained during practice is to program greater portions of moments, and therefore to rely less on sensory feedback to control moments.

The typical adult can make no more than three changes per second based on sensory feedback, so there is an advantage to programming movements in advance and reducing the reliance on sensory information.

One benefit of practice and one change in the CNS which occurs during learning is that more of a movement is programmed and less is controlled on-line. Younger and less experienced performers tend to rely on sensory information to control movement. With age and experience, performers rely more on programming. Programmed movements tend to be smoother, faster and less attention demanding.

Slower movements tend to be more accurate partially because sensory feedback is available to make corrections. However, when the sensory information is not available the movement will probably deteriorate. That is one reason to limit or avoid slow motion practice. Skill practice should be done in “real time,” not necessarily “all out” (e.g., as fast as possible). Learners should work in units which can be programmed, then as the movements are mastered, the programs can be lengthened or even linked together.

There are three characteristics of a movement which are permanent when a program is well learned, when one of these is changed the entire program tends to deteriorate. (Schmidt, 1988) First, order of the parts is constant within a well learned program. For example, in breaststroke the order is pull, kick, glide. Changing the order to kick, glide, pull would necessitate a new program and would clearly not be the breaststroke as we now recognize the stroke. Second, the relative timing of the movement must be constant. This is the internal timing. One way to think of this, is that if the pull in breaststroke takes 50% of the entire movement, it will still take 50% whether you swim faster or slower. Relative timing maybe the most difficult portion of a motor program to learn. Small changes in timing can have disastrous results on the outcome. As swimmers practice, it is important to avoid any activity which may change the relative timing of the stroke. Many training aides which provide physical constraints do alter the relative timing and should be avoided. Third, is relative force produced by pairs of muscles within the movement. If relative force changes, you see movements of different size, so in the breaststroke example alterations of force might cause one arm to fully extend at the end of the pull rather than ending in a circular motion. Programmed movements also have features which can change without demanding a new program. This allows us to swim the same stroke faster or slower. Overall timing and force are two of these.

Coaches and teachers should:

  • encourage learners to program movements,
  • do most skill practice in “real time,”
  • break skills into parts that can be programmed,
  • encourage learners to think about sensory feedback after the movement is complete,
  • discourage making corrections during rapid movement and
  • avoid changing order, relative timing and relative force in well learned movements.

Stages of Learning

Three stages of learning are evident in children and adults during the acquisition of all motor skills. (Magill, 1993) The first stage is characterized by getting the idea of the task and is called the cognitive stage. The learner wants to avoid injury (and in adolescents embarrassment) while making the first few attempts. The errors during this stage are large and often each trial looks very different.

The second stage is called the associative or motor stage. The learner still makes errors, but tends to make the same error repeatedly. The errors are usually smaller than in stage one, and the performer becomes aware when an error has been made. Hopefully, during this stage more of the movement is programmed. The second stage can last weeks or even years, some performers never leave this stage!

The third stage is reached when the movement is learned. The stage is called the autonomous stage because the performer doesn’t have to think about the movement during the movement, it is programmed ahead. Sensory feedback is used afterward to determine if errors were made and the person is able to make corrections. The movement is efficient, effective, consistent and can be performed after periods of time without practice.

The object of coaching and teaching is to help swimmers move into stage three, the autonomous stage. Because the learner in stage 3, has skill (e.g., low error, high consistency, efficiency) and can detect and correct errors, the process is to make yourself unnecessary! Clearly, the goal is independence in the student or athlete. Realistically, athletes seeking higher levels of performance will always need coaches for the physiological training aspects of performance as well as the skill portion. However when learning, a shift of focus does occur, from skill development to physiological and psychological training. Coaches and teachers should:

Stage One: Reduce anxiety by pointing out potential difficulties, provide a nurturing environment, make sure the learner understands what and why before attempting the task.

Stage Two: Focus on programming more of the movement and having the learner detect errors.

Stage Three: The focus shifts from skill acquisition to physiological and psychological training.

Information Processing

Learning is dependent upon cognitive understanding and occurs in the CNS. Therefore the information processing system (cognitive system) is the center of learning. (Thomas, 1984) Expert athletes have many facts, large banks of declarative knowledge which are often viewed as necessary for expertise. (Thomas, 1991) Having this knowledge does not guarantee expertise, but it would seem expertise is impossible without declarative knowledge. The first stage of learning is also characterized by knowing, so the foundation for skilled performance at many levels is contingent upon knowledge. The information processing system is the source of knowledge acquisition.

Children process information more slowly than adults or they process less information in the same amount of time. In addition children have less experience with learning and decision making, fewer strategies and often approach learning differently than adults. For example, when an adult wants to remember something, the typical strategy is to repeat the item(s). At 7 years of age children begin to repeat, prior to that children do virtually nothing to cause a remembering. When we asked 5 year olds how they remembered different movements they said “I put on my thinking cap,” “I just did because my teacher told me to,” while older children (11 year olds) had specific strategies such as “I visualized a peace sign and moved around the lines,” or “I saw a clock and moved to 2, then 10 and then 6.” (Winther & Thomas, 1981) These statements explain a great deal about why 11 year olds perform movements more accurately than 5 year olds. Adults use many cognitive strategies to aid memory, while children do not. Fortunately, children do benefit from using adult strategies; children just can’t invent these strategies. So coaches and teachers can help children remember by having the children do what the adult does naturally. In other words, as an adult you have the secrets which are not available to children, but if you share those secrets of memory and decision making children and adolescents will perform more like you.

Adults typically search their memory for experiences which will help in a new situation, children do not search and often lack experience. (Thomas, Thomas, & Gallagher, 1993) Relating new tasks to old tasks helps children initiate new skills. Forcing kids to use cues, for example 1, 2, 3, where 1 is face in the water, 2 is float, and 3 is kick, helps them to remember and therefore learn. Asking a child what they are going to do before they try is another helpful strategy. Children often do not plan (or program), asking them forces them to have a cognitive representation of what skill they will try next. By about 12 years of age children do most of the cognitive strategies observed in adults, but they are not as effective—probably a result of less experience. So for children under 12 years of age sharing your strategies will be helpful, and for adolescents providing links to experience and new experiences will also be helpful.

Coaches and teachers should:

  • have children under 12 verbally repeat items to be remembered,
  • provide labels (physical locations or mental images like 10 on the clock),
  • accompany physical practice with cues and verbal rehearsal,
  • ask children to explain what they are going to do before trying it,
  • help children use your memory strategies (e.g., repeating) and
  • link new skills to previous experience.

Extrinsic Feedback

Feedback can be sensory (intrinsic) or extrinsic. Extrinsic feedback is information which the performer is unable to obtain for him or herself—feedback from a coach or teacher. Early in learning the most frequent and important feedback is knowledge of performance (KP) which provides information about errors in execution. Knowledge of results (KR) is also extrinsic and is about the outcome, for example you were 2 seconds too slow on the first 100 m. In order for feedback to be helpful it must provide corrective information, the learner must have time to use the information to make corrections and it must not 274 interfere with learning.

Feedback should be presented more often (e.g., after each trial) at the beginning of learning, but during stage two (the autonomous stage) should be faded so that feedback occurs about 50% of the time. This could mean beginning a session with feedback on each trial and reducing the feedback to about 1 in 5 trials (fading). On some of the trials where feedback is not given or before feedback is given, you should ask the learner “what do you think you did wrong?” to encourage error detection. One way that feedback can interfere with learning is that it may become a ‘crutch’ where the learner never learns to detect errors, thus keeping them in stage two of learning permanently and dependent on a teacher or coach.

As we get older and as we gain experience we can use more precise information than when we were younger or less experienced. “Too fast” may be precise enough for an 8 year old, while an adult needs to know how much “too fast” the movement was. Children, when faced with too much information will either “round it down” to an amount they can understand or ignore it completely.

Young children need more time to make corrections based on feedback and typically do not consider the feedback or take too little time to make adequate corrections. If it takes an adult 3 seconds to make a correction it will take an 8 year old as long as 30 seconds to make the same correction, and with older children, somewhere in between. Often children are rushed into the next trial before they can actually use the corrective information given by the teacher or coach. Asking them to explain what they will do to fix the problem is one way to be sure they can use the feedback.

Coaches and teachers should:

  • give younger children and adolescents more time to correct errors based on feedback,
  • provide more precise corrective information with increased age and experience,
  • make sure the learner has a plan of how to use the feedback before the next trial,
  • give feedback which is unavailable to the learner from other sources,
  • fade feedback from every trial early in learning to an average of 50% of the time and
  • ask learners what they think they did wrong.

Learning and Unlearning

The most obvious example of a learned skill is riding a bike where we often hear “once you learn you never forget.” Why is that, when other skills seem to fade so quickly? Think about when you learned to ride a bike, did you say, “okay, been there, done that, never again?” Probably not, you most likely rode your bike many times and hours once you had some basic skill.

One way of determining when a skill is well learned is to determine how much practice was done for the skill to be efficient, effective and consistent. To practice the skill that much more would make the skill well learned and one which you are unlikely to forget-similar to riding a bike. The idea of a well learned skill also gives us insight into the problem of eliminating a bad habit, or unlearning.

Consider a skill that took 1,000 trials to learn and 1,000 more to be well learned, for a total of 2,000 trials. Now let’s assume that our skill was learned incorrectly and must be relearned. It is likely that 2, 000 trials will be necessary to be consistent, efficient and effective at the new version, then 2,000 more for that to be well learned for a total of 4,000 trials. Clearly there is a high cost to getting into bad habits, and the longer the habit is allowed to remain, the more difficult it will be to change.

How should teachers and coaches teach skills to children?

Teachers and coaches should use science to plan practice. Magic is what allows you to connect with your swimmers. This section will describe planning practice, planning for transfer, using instructions, demonstrations and cues, coaching for autonomy, and developing trust.

Pre-practice Planning

Goal setting is the first step in planning practice. You are undoubtedly familiar with long and short term goals, both are important. Each practice should have a goal and that should be easily articulated by you and the swimmer(s). When asked “what was the teacher/ coach teaching you today,” all swimmers should be able to answer with the same answer. In addition to practice goals, goals for individual swimmers are helpful, especially as these relate to motivation. Once you decide what you want to accomplish during practice you can organize practice to make progress toward that goal.

The most common practice schedule is to have everyone practice one skill for all or part of the practice, then switch to another skill. When we practice one thing over and over it is called constant practice. This works well to help learners get the idea (e.g., stage one of learning). When we practice one skill many times, then switch to another skill, then another etc., it is called blocked practice. However, since nothing is ever easy, these two types of practice is often ineffective. Learners tend to stop thinking about the skill in both blocked and constant practice, so they benefit less than if they were thinking. Remember the learner is in stage one or two and both require thinking about the skill. Other types of practice are random, serial and variable, all of which are more effective than constant or blocked. This is especially true after the first few trials of a new skill.

Random practice means that the same skill is never repeated two times in a row. Serial practice is similar to random, except the order is always the same. Variable practice is like random practice except in variable, the same skill is done at varying distances or forces. Variable practice works well for skills like trying to hit a target, but has less application for swimming. If we did constant practice in swimming we would plan to do all flip turns. Blocked would have us doing 20 turns, 20 starts, 10 lengths of fly, 10 of free always grouping the same skill. Random would be 1 turn, length of fly, 1 start, 1 length of free, 1 length of fly, 1 turn, 1 length of free, 1 start, etc. Serial would be like random but in a predictable order. One reason random and serial practice are thought to produce superior results is that each trial must be programmed completely. The learner has to think, “okay, this time I’m going to…. .” With blocked and constant practice, the learner may do that for 1-3 repetitions then they just repeat without planning. The movement deteriorates and the most important part of learning hasn’t been practiced – the act of programming. So, as soon a possible move from constant practice to random or serial practice.

Intuitively you can see that random and serial practice are more like competition. So with random practice there is greater transfer and greater retention. As a rule 3 repetitions of anything is enough. After three, there is little learning going on. Switch to another task, and then go back to the first.


Another issue with practice is how to structure groups. How many ages and skill levels should be included in one group? Planning is easier for homogenous groups – groups with similar skill levels. However, there are benefits to having some variation. The absolute best teacher is the person who just learned the new skill. This person knows what tricks they used to master it, while a coach or very skilled individual may not remember exactly how it was learned or even be aware of how the skill is done. Remember we become more automatic as we learn, so we are less aware of what we are doing. Experts often have inaccurate ideas of what they actually do during a skill, even though to become an expert they had to have the knowledge of what to do before doing.

Planning for Transfer

Transfer and retention are the two measures used to assess learning. Planning practice so that maximum transfer occurs, maximizes learning. The most frequent transfer situations are either to competition for swim teams or to recreational and emergency swimming for swimming instruction. The first rule of transfer is that the more similar the situations, the greater the transfer. Ideally all practice would be just like the application, however, sometimes that is not possible, other times that is not practical. Clearly, in swimming, safety is of primary concern. Until at least a minimal skill level is reached the primary concern of practice must be safety. After a minimum skill level is reached, planning for transfer should be done. In a competitive situation the individual does a start, strokes, may do a turn and has a finish. Practicing those parts together and in order makes sense for transfer. Further, practicing at speeds which are “real time” and sometimes the maximum speed is also beneficial. To add “randomness,” alternate the strokes, one race of free, one of back, etc., or if the swimmers are young and do only one stroke, alternate deck exercise with a mock race.

Interestingly the factors which seem to transfer the farthest, that need the least similar situations to transfer, are perhaps the most important. Confidence, perceived competence, notions of efficient movement and actions which have similar timing, are the most likely to transfer over great differences and time periods. (Schmidt, 1991) Children and adolescents who are confident about themselves (those who have had positive self-tests) are likely to approach most situations with confidence. Further, those who view themselves as skilled or competent, will also enter each activity with the belief that mastery is possible.

Previous experience helps us to understand what is efficient and what is not, for example, that splashing more does not equate to greater speed. Finally, the feel that is associated with rhythmic or well-coordinated movements may also help us, probably because we understand the importance of timing.

Teachers and coaches should:

  • organize practice so that each performer has the chance to develop skill and view themselves as competent,
  • build confidence in swimmers, avoid undermining confidence,
  • assist performers to understand the components of efficient movement,
  • teach the importance of timing in skilled performance and
  • begin with knowledge of execution, working toward skilled execution.

Instructions, Demonstrations

Instructions are verbal presentations of information, for example: “line up over here” and “you will go pull, kick, glide in breaststroke.” Instructions fall into two categories: management and skill. Management is necessary, to keep the swimmers organized and indirectly influences learning. Instructions about skill should focus on 1-2 important points, beginning with the most important. Demonstrations are visual examples of what to do. Demonstrations work best early in the learning process. Demonstrations do not replace instructions or practice. Most demonstrations should be accompanied by instructions about what to look at in the demonstration, for example “look at my hand” or “watch the way Susan’s hand moves under her body during the pull.” Between 1 and 3 demonstrations before trying a new skill is usually helpful for “getting the idea.” More demonstrations are actually counterproductive. Never spend more time demonstrating then the swimmers spend practicing. Cues are words which represent an idea or action and summarize the instructions. Instructions, demonstrations and cues are all used before practice and with practice. None of these substitutes for practice.

Teachers and coaches should:

  • limit instructions to 1-2 key points,
  • use cues (1 word) which represent an idea and instructions,
  • ask the students questions: about the instructions, about management, about cues,
  • give 1-3 (no more!) demonstrations—use a kid if possible,
  • focus the learners attention before the demonstration by telling them what to look at and
  • never spend more time demonstrating than the swimmers spend practicing.

Autonomy and Trust

The goal of teachers and coaches is to work themselves out of a job by developing independent swimmers. Swimmers are independent when they are skilled, can detect and correct errors, and feel confident and competent. Swimmers who need coaches or teachers present to perform well are not independent. Most athletes, including swimmers, will need some help throughout their careers in setting goals, developing new skills, establishing training regimes and eliminating bad habits. So in fact, coaches and teachers will always be needed, but the role shifts from constant guidance to intermittent advice.

The key to instruction at all levels of expertise is trust. Athletes return to trusted coaches for advice, swimmers learn best from trusted teachers. The basic component of trust is the truth. Feedback must be genuine. Feedback must be positive, corrective and encouraging. Teachers who promise help, must give what is promised for trust to be developed. Coaches or teachers who say, “It doesn’t hurt to lose” or “sniffing water doesn’t hurt,” do not develop trust in their swimmers. Recognize hurt and encourage swimmers to move on. Developing skill reduces the opportunity for many types of hurt. Helping swimmers achieve skill can build trust.

Childhood and adolescence are difficult and magical times. Adults who are sensitive to the developmental changes and to the need for magic will enjoy instruction and coaching—and make the experience better for the children. Magic includes kindness and fun and trust and skill. It is everything a child enters a sport to find.

Teachers and coaches should:

place the responsibility for learning on the swimmer

tell the truth

be magical, make magic, enjoy the magic.


Appropriate Mental Preparation for Age Group Athletes by Megan Neyer, Ph.D. (1997)

Appropriate Mental Preparation for Age Group Athletes by Megan Neyer, Ph.D. (1997)

MN: It is a pleasure to be back amongst my aquatic colleagues. I have a great relationship with many of the swimmers I used to spend many hours with as I was growing up in the aquatic world; specifically Mission Viejo and the University of Florida.

Being back in this environment, amongst very tall individuals, does remind me of exactly how short I am.

One of the things I would like to ask you is, what brings you here today? What questions do you want answered during this hour? I could certainly fill up this time very easily with any tangent I wanted to go on. Therefore, what I feel is relevant, is that I am asking you, what topics would you like, to be addressed during this hour? What would you like to know about training your young athletes?

The audience stated the following issues they would like to hear Megan Neyer cover during this hour. They are as follows:

Each appropriate, systematic way of teaching 8 and under and on up.

How young children are to take this type of training seriously, as in mental training.

Incorporating mental training into workouts.

Methods to accompany the fear of competition. L Dealing with parents.

How mental training will apply towards the rest of their lives.

The difference between Success and Failure.

What the characteristics are of each one.

MN: Posing some very interesting questions such as: systematically and developmentally, at what age to you start introducing ideas, how does one deal with parents, how does one apply mental training as they progress in life.

There are several reasons for which children are drawn to competitive sport. There are social reasons, friends might have joined the sport, recognition, they heard it was fun, just to name a few. The primary six (6) reasons why children join competitive sport, or sport for that matter are: Continuance, New Skills, Affiliation, Team Identification, Belonging to Something, Health and Fitness.

So why do children drop out of their chosen sport? Several reasons: The sport no longer is looked at as being fun, the enjoyment is no longer there, peer pressure, friends quitting, rebellion against parents and involvement in other activities. For young adults the pressures of reality start to take precedence. One of the main reasons for children quitting their chosen sport, is the involvement of a BAD COACH.

You now, know WHY, children affiliate or dis-affiliate with their chosen sport. With this in mind, let’s talk about what we CAN DO from a mental perspective in concordance with physical training to enhance their enjoyment of sport.

When is the best time to start mental training with sports? In reality, the minute these children arrive on your pool deck or doorstep, you have already started the mental training process. You are already mentally training them as well as physically.

How do we instruct our children to take this type of training seriously? There are no specific instructions. Some techniques will feel uncomfortable to children. Children will giggle, laugh or play around when asked to do something, which to them is not in their comfort zone. This is a nervous reaction. But because children are nervous or uncomfortable with a technique, feelings such as those should not be taken as reasons for not pushing them through the techniques. The more we teach, coach mental skills early on, the less awkward it seems later in their lives.

The more we teach, incorporation will occur early on. Tiger Woods is a great example of attaining mental skills and the incorporation of mental skills from a very early age.

Although the sport of golf is definitely not my love in life, Tiger Woods has definitely given that impression to the masses. Stemming from eastern philosophies, the technique known as centering and working with positive energy, has certainly influenced his life early on. Along with these techniques, was the coaching from his parents. Therefore, as he achieved the higher rankings in his chosen sport of golf, these techniques were common to him. They became second nature. Second nature as in stroke technique, foot turns and all other things which make one a great athlete.

Self Talk is something you commonly hear being associated with a mental technique. Once perceived as a symptom of mental instability, this is no longer the case. We talk to ourselves, mentally all the time. A good tool to observe this type of mental technique is the movie Animal House. A specific scene deals with a decision which needs to be made. The individual involved is discussing the possible answers with two (2) other individuals. Naturally, there is no one physically there present with him. Should you know of an example off hand, which would better demonstrate the Self Talk technique, I recommend you use it as an important tool. This tool is not for everyone of course. Being that children between the ages of 5 and 8 are more physically oriented, it would not behoove one to presume that these children have the ability to self reflect. Children/young adults, between the ages of 9 and 12 are much more cognitively oriented enabling this technique to be used realistically.

In relation to Self Talk is Imagery. Imagery is to be able to effectively image or visualize something. To do this, we must be in a state of relaxation, see what we are doing in our minds (either correctly or at least in part) and use all of our senses.

The following is an exercise I use with Imagery. Remember the breathing technique we did a bit ago? Start off by doing that, this will bring you into a state of relaxation. While doing this, close your eyes. Now, in your minds pick up a lemon. Feel the skin of the lemon. It feels smooth yet bumpy, a bit on the cool side. I want you to smell the lemon. Smell the tangy scent? Next, cut into the lemon, hearing the skin separating. Cut a slice of the lemon, a wedge. Feel the juices running onto your hands. Maybe you have a tiny cut on your hand and the juice finds its way there, stinging. Take the lemon wedge and place it in your mouth, biting down on it. What does that taste like? Have your athletes tell you about what their experience is with this exercise.

Visualization, does not only pertain to laying down. It can be done while standing and even involving some type of movement. Remember to use all your senses.

There are many different ways in using imagery. Mental rehearsal, preparing for competition stress, picturing the outcome, handling adversity, planning strategy, self regulation, motivation, skill acquisition and injury rehabilitation, are many ways to use imagery.

Children tend to lose interest because they do not understand what it is you’re teaching them or why you’re teaching them. Teach them in all adulates. Teach them to hear you, to see you and they in turn will feel what it is your trying to teach them, it helps them to understand the example better. Make sure you provide feedback, positive feedback. Keep sayings positive, like the old adage, “the glass is half full”, rather than “the glass is half empty.” Children tend to concentrate more on the negative. This is primarily due to the negative feedback constantly given in the real world. Children zone in on the ‘don’t do that’ aspect, which we all tend to do. Don’t tell them what not to do, but what you want them to do.

Another important issue when teaching children is to find the balance between mastery and challenge. If the challenge is perceived as great, children tend to lose motivation. If the challenge is perceived as easy, they get bored. Therefore, it is very important to find the balance in keeping children motivated. Be very specific in your feedback as well as being concrete in what you’re saying.

The Arousal & Performance model is a primary model we tend to use when basing our decisions on what we will be teaching our athletes in terms of mental skills. On the model you have a ‘Low to High’ performance as well as a ‘Low to High’ arousal. To put this in layman’s terms, suppose you have an athlete which is not a morning person. He/she hardly says a word, is not very friendly and is just in a plain bad mood. Here we could easily say that the arousal is very low, therefore the performance would match. On the other hand, let’s say the athlete drinks 8 cups of non-decaffeinated coffee. The outcome would most likely be a wipe-out; energy levels are too high and there would be a lack of fine motor movement. Therefore, to maximize performance, it is very important to understand how one will achieve it.

Some say, butterflies in one’s stomach is not good. On the contrary, they are good. Too much nervousness is not. On the high end of the continuum, excessive nervousness, is what I would call anxiety. When one’s levels of anxiety are too high, their motor movement skills are affected. Cognitively one might be bouncing all over the place. This might be evident of children false starting. Find out if your young athletes are sematic, meaning ‘are they bodily overloading?’ Some signs are sweaty hands and shallow breathing. Or, are they cognitively overloading, which tends to happen to young adults between the ages of 12 to 17. Your decision on what you will and will not be teaching should be based on which way the athletes are overloading.

Let’s assume that the athletes are sematic. Meaning the breathing is shallow, sweaty hands, agitated, etc. One thing which is taught very early on and is taught almost daily is breathing. Focus your athletes attention to their breathing, not just every 3 to 5 strokes, but before competition, before they get up on that block. Have them use the technique of breathing to them in the “Zone.” A good example of a 228 breathing technique, is Syphermatic Breathing.

A simple way of teaching Syphermatic Breathing is to follow the example below.

Lay on the ground, face up. Place your hand on your stomach. Pay attention to the way your stomach expands itself when inhaling and decreases in size when exhaling. Inhale to the count of 4 (try inhaling through your nose). Exhale to the count of 4. Do this a couple of times, concentrating on the vision of your stomach expanding and decreasing.

We have often been told to ‘take a deep breath’ in order to decrease our anxiety level. What we tend not to realize, is that when we coach our athletes to do this, they take quick breaths, tucking the lungs. This does not enable full oxidation to the body. In order for ‘take a deep breath’ to actually work, one must take a DEEP breath, releasing normally. Teach your athletes to breath properly, making sure that when they breath their stomachs are expanding when inhaling and decreasing when exhaling. Teach them to do this effectively.

We have been discussing methods which help all involved, but primarily concentrate on young children. At this time I would like to turn the discussion over to young adults.

Professor Lunquist came up with what is called a Brain Stapling Technique. Basically this has to do with the balance between thinking too much and not thinking enough.

Young adults can be very present oriented, but they focus on things which are out of their control, past performances, future consequences and outcomes. Basically there is not outcome. The bottom line: outcomes are what come out of a process. The only thing one has is the process. Get the young adults to concentrate on the process. Instill in them that they cannot control the winning or losing, but they do have control over their performance.

Self -Talk

What is it?

Self-talk is the internal dialogue that goes on within us all of the time. It is not a matter of if we do it, but more a matter of what kind. Positive self-talk is usually energy producing, whereas negative self-talk is energy consuming and anxiety provoking.

Gaining Awareness

The first step in any self-talk program is to become aware of your thinking style. It is impossible to make a change in your thinking style if you are not aware of what you are thinking. Thoughts are not always verbal, they can also be images that will pop into our heads. A good way to make yourself aware of your self-talk is to monitor it and write it down as you begin to hear yourself say something to yourself, or see an image. WRITE IT DOWN!

Some Common Types of Negative or Self-Defeating Thoughts

  • Fear of failure, and thinking of the possible consequences of performing poorly:

It would be terrible if I lost this tournament

Everyone will be so disappointed in me if I lose I just know I’m going to screw up


Feelings of inadequacy and putting yourself down:

  • I’m not ready for this game I’m not good enough to compete at this level

3) Focusing on things out of your personal control: The wind and rain are going to wreck my game, I play terrible in these conditions The officials are terrible and they’re against us

4) Worrying about past performance rather than concentrating on the-present: I’ve never played well here before My practices have been going poorly, so I am going to play bad. I always choke at big games

5) Worrying about future consequences instead of focusing on the present: I have to play well to make/stay on the team How am I going to explain it if I play poorly

6) Focusing on the outcome It doesn’t matter how I play as long as I win I have to win this game

What Can I Do to Change My Self-Talk?

Develop a repertoire of positive and realistic thoughts. That does not mean look at everything with global optimism. It means focus on the present, be realistic about what you can expect from yourself, focus on your performance, not the outcome, and focus on factors that are within your control.

1) Focus on Performance – Keep thinking about the present; what can I do right now? – “Park” the past, you can revisit it later – Let go of outcome oriented thinking – Let go of what others might think

2) Focus on Things That Are Within Your Control – I cannot control the other player (s) , but I can control myself. – Learn to appreciate adverse conditions (love the wind or the officiating).

3) Focus on Your Strengths – I’m in excellent shape for this competition – My form is feeling very good – I am mentally tough and prepared for this competition

4) Focus on Realistic Expectations – I will do the best I can out there today – I have set realistic goals for myself

5) Coping with Arousal Self-Statements – Breathe deep and say “calm” to yourself – I will approach this competition as if it were practice – Some tension is good, and I will use it to my advantage

6) Use Positive Affirmations – I am relaxed and confident – I am a champion – I have a great deal of positive energy – I am in control of my mind and body 230 – I have trained well for this event – I love the challenges in this sport – I enjoy myself when I am competing


Imagery is an experience similar to a sensory experience but arising in the absence of the usual external stimuli.

Uses of Imagery

  1. MENTAL REHEARSAL Mental practice can be carried out virtually any time, any -.there. And it works! It can be especially important during the LEARNING of a new skill, or in maintaining a well learned skill. It can also be used to analyze and correct errors. See and feel yourself make an error then go back and see and feel yourself do it correctly. Imagery serves a blueprint to guide future performance and helps automate the skill.
  2. PREPARING FOR COMPETITION STRESS You can go to a competition before the actual event- in your mind. Then you can FEEL the excitement build, and practice seeing yourself perform as you want to. You can also see and feel yourself in the internal mental state that leads to peak Performance for you.
  3. PICTURE THE OUTCOME YOU DESIRE See yourself performing in the way you want to. Then go and do it. The POSITIVE mental image you have exerts a powerful force of confidence on the body. 4. SEE YOURSELF OVERCOME ADVERSITY Athletes many times lose their poise in competition when “unexpected surprises” occur. These surprises can be reduced through imagery. Imagine the surprises and overcoming them successfully. In that way nothing will surprise you in competition.
  4. MAKING YOUR PLAN Plan your strategy. Create your plan. What’s your mental and physical plan for this competition. A good idea is to also to make plans for what you will do if things is go wrong. Then you will be less likely to choke if things go wrong.
  5. SELF REGULATION If athlete’s experience too much tension and pressure, a quick way to calm down is to imagine a favorite scene that they associate with relaxation- a sunny day at the beach, a mountain lake, a sunset. Imagine being at this relaxing place and feel yourself mentally calm. Through imagery you can learn to control your emotions such as anger and anxiety.
  6. MOTIVATION Picture your goals and see yourself attaining them

IMAGERY CAN BE USED IN CONJUNCTION WITH ANY MENTAL AND PHYSICAL SKILL YOU ARE WORKING ON Imagery has an effect on the brain and nervous system that may be almost identical to the actual experience.


  1. Imagery can be used most any time: at home, before, during and after practice and competition. Especially in the learning phases imagery is easier to do in a quiet nondistracting environment.
  2. Imagery is most effective when the mind is calm and the body relaxed.
  3. Just let distracting thoughts and feelings float through as you refocus on the image
  4. Use all the senses, especially, sight, feel, and emotions
  5. Create the image as vividly as possible.
  6. Start with easy images, such as skill you have already mastered.
  7. As imagery skill increases, imagine more difficult skills and incorporate them into practice then competitive situations.


Sensory and Emotional awareness: The first Step is to gain sensory awareness before doing imagery. For example, it is hard to see and feel something in imagery if you do not know what it feel and looks like prior to imagining it. With strong sensory awareness you will be able to produce better images. Become more aware of your sensual and emotional experiences involved in your sport.

Vivid: See the image in detail. Use all your senses, especially sight and kinesthetic feel. Also, imagine how your body would respond to what you are imagining.

Control: Learn to control the image. If your image starts to go out of control, stop and restart. Another option would be to see yourself overcome the mistake and perform the way you want following the mistake rather than starting over.

Internal or External Perspective. Both perspectives are useful. Some athletes prefer to use internal in some situations and external in others. For example, some athletes prefer the external perspective in analyzing their performance and seeing errors. While other athletes report that it -is easier to feel themselves perform from the internal perspective. Some also like to use slow motion imagery to analyze performance. Others like to use videotape-augmented imagery. Finally, remember that imagery is a skill that can be improved through practice. Devote 5-15 minutes working on your imagery skills. Remember that imagery is more than daydreaming—it has a purpose. Before your imagery session ask yourself, “What is my purpose or what am I trying to accomplish through imagery today”.


The Bolles School Swimming Program by Gregg Troy (1997)

There is so much knowledge at a clinic like this. It makes me realize how little I actually know. I have often thought, as I sat in the audience in a clinic like this, that I would like to ask a few more questions. One of the best talks I ever attended was by Terry Carlile who began his talk by simply saying give me 21 questions and I will answer those. I didn’t personally ask a question because I was scared to death but I learned a great deal from the answers to the questions other people asked. I am going to run this presentation the same way.

Questions: Can you give us a brief history of the Bolles program before you came there?

Answer: They won their first state championship in 1952. The school had a tradition of being pretty good. They have had some good coaches. Randy Reese coached there one year. Terry Carlile coached there for one year. There have been a few good athletes. Fred Tyler was an Olympian when he was at the Bolles School as a senior.

I started at Bolles in 1977, exactly 20 years ago. There was an eight lane 25 yard pool with a little diving well, Tshaped. The mythical high school championships had just been won by cross town rival Jacksonville Episcopal where Randy Reese was coaching. Gary Butts was the coach at Bolles at the time. Gary had left that summer to work for Jack Nelson. There was no club program that summer, it had completely fallen apart. Jacksonville Episcopal had an outstanding summer program including Stephanie Elkins. I walked in to my first meeting thinking I was walking into a great job and the headmaster told me, “We are a little weak this year.” Well I had seen Bolles and they had been pounding on us for years when I was coaching in the Fort Myers area. At the first swim meeting only seven swimmers showed up. There was one girl at the Junior National level. The boarding program had one boy. There was no club team at all. The best team in the country was on the other side of town. Everybody wanted to swim Bolles that year.

There was a club team that used our facility. They had about 30 athletes including a couple of talented boys who had never been challenged. In the first six months that coach came to me and said he felt he was going to lose the boys because he was used to coaching age groupers. He wanted more pool time during the school year to train. So we put the two programs together.

Question: How much science do you use in the training of your swimmers?

Answer: I don’t. I do the reading. I have always been an ASCA member and read all the materials. I read a lot of running magazines because I think they give some great information. I have been fortunate that I have never been an assistant coach. I say fortunate because I have made a whole lot of mistakes with good kids. I know the mistakes I have made and try not to make the same mistake twice. I have learned more form the athlete than they have learned from me and I have had some really great athletes to learn from. Anthony Nesty is one of the best ones. The first time all the science rage was coming out I sat down and tried to impress Anthony with it and he said, “Don’t tell me that, just tell me what to do.”

I can’t tell you whether we do EN1 or EN2. They mess me up — they keep changing just about time I get grasp of them.

We work hard or we swim long and easy. Long and easy— I guess that is one of those “A…” something categories. And we work hard, I guess that is EN stuff. Sorry. And we go real fast sometimes and I guess that is all the SP4’s. Unfortunately I am not a real good scientist. I am an historian by trade. Every time I see a swimming study I think about the perfect world the scientist works in where everything is controlled. I work in an imperfect world. I’ve got teenagers. If you have teenagers who do everything you ask them to do I’d like to see them. I have some great kids but they still don’t do everything I ask them to do. I only see them four hours a day. If I tried to do it like a scientific experiment and followed all the scientific principles I am off base all the time because they mess it up every time they walk away. I am constantly compensating for where they are at. I have to be judging on a day to day basis.

In order to work for a living I work with too many athletes to be taking blood tests all the time so I just have to be aware of what is going on. I rely on three assistant coaches because I need their opinions about what is going on and then I make decisions.

I don’t know what EN1 or A2 and those things are. I just know that the kids work real hard. And I have changed the word hard in the last couple of years. I still come back to it but I think hard is the wrong word. I think that the kids who are challenged regularly and accept the challenge, perform real well.

I think the scientists give us great information and it is a tool and it is important to know what they are doing, but you have to place it where it fits you best. With all these categories of training, I cannot design a practice where it is possible to zero in on one of the categories without it spreading out into the others. Maybe that is my own disorganization but I think all those things cross. It is important how you blend them and make them cross.

Question: Tell us about your dryland program.

Answer: I used to do the traditional thing with lifting weights for about my first six years. We were pretty successful. We had people scoring at nationals. But we were a little bit soft. One of my athletes who was a finalist at nationals went away to the special forces and jumped out of planes into hot spots and was a real physical fitness nut. He got out of the Air Force and came to practices. He would hang around and talk, maybe swim a little. After about a week he asked if he could tell me something. He said, “You guys are awful soft. You are horrible off the blocks and you just don’t look strong.” We were doing a lot of yardage, and we ran, and we did weights. Nevertheless I decided to listen to him. He offered to set up a fitness program similar to the one the special forces guys do so I hired him as an assistant coach. Then we started doing all kinds of abdominal work and this was before anyone told me this at a clinic. We do all kinds of sit-ups. We do flutter kicks laying on your back. We do an exercise where you lay on your back and lift and separate your legs and we do it in gigantic numbers.

We spend a total of 45 minutes a day on dryland. They run and do calisthenics. We were stronger than we ever got in the weight room but we swam like garbage. We didn’t rest enough. It has taken me six years to get it down real good. When you are doing stuff like that you need to drop it far enough outside of your meet that you can recover. We supplement that program with medicine ball. We spread out the dryland to alternate days. I keep track of the things we need to work on and If I think we are weak on running then I build that up. I rotate the type of things I do and that keeps the program fresh.

Our dryland this year: We go Monday, Wednesday, and Friday all abdominal work and medicine balls and a run. We will do that for a month. On Tuesday and Thursday and Saturday they are lifting weights and going for a  run.

We are not doing any stretch cords at the moment because I cannot find time for it but I do like to do them. We will do stretch cords in and out of the water. We do press ups from the water on the side of the pool. It is real important in dryland: You cannot expect the athlete to do it themselves. These are teenagers. There are some exceptions, but for the majority of the athletes you have to create the environment. You have to sit them down together, you have to be there when they do it. You have to supervise what they do. We used to count repetitions, now we use minutes. I like to start a certain number then add so many a week. What I found is that if they do the same thing they get so good at it that there is no benefit. I read an article in a running magazine that said if you don’t change what you do every eleven days you lose effectiveness and how much it is benefiting you. We try to modify what we do every seven to twelve days. We try to shock the system. Maybe if we have been doing sit-ups a certain way for two weeks we will then go to a way we haven’t done them in two years. It is nice because they do not know what to expect. They know they are doing dryland but we change it all the time.

Question: How do you know how long to rest?

Answer: We got to the point where we were spending more time out of the water than in the water. We modified that. Now we go 45 minutes a day on 5 days a week, sometimes 6. It’s tough. I don’t think swimmers who are not used to this program can count on having a good first season. The benefit is later on. Right now, if we are not off our maximum at five weeks out from our major meet we will not perform. We bring it down gradually. We do none on the week of the meet. Every once in a while we will go in and do something silly like ten sit-ups and leave, just because we are creatures of habit. If we stay in the habit it is easier for us to come back and train.

I think it is real important to have a plan. It doesn’t matter all the time if your plan is good or bad. You have to have reasons for doing what you are doing and then you have to follow through with the plan. If you do that you are going to be relatively successful. Some plans are going to be better than others. I don’t think you can do the same thing every year. Every year it is a different athlete, a different environment, a different competitive climate, and the calendar is never the same.

You have to have a plan but I am not sure the same plan form year to year works. The longer term you make the plan the more successful you are. I used to be one of those that wrote a plan season to season. Every 12 to 18 weeks  I did a plan. Now I look farther ahead. I am pretty certain what I am going to do in 1999 and I’m even thinking of changes for the next Quadrenium in 2000 to 2004. I know what I want to do next fall — not exactly, but I have the general parameters. I am constantly evaluating that. There is now doubt in my mind that for any true successful senior athletes in our sport 90 percent of us are too short term. We live in a short term society. We live with short term swimming parents that are willing to pull their kid out of your program if you don’t do the right thing. You have to make commitments to do what you think is right and you have to be willing to make sacrifices along the way. If you are going to really make a commitment to dryland training and do it right, the first year you do it you are not going to be very successful and that doesn’t mean you stop — it means you keep doing it until you are so good at it that you are going to be successful When you have really done it, that is when you can rest from it

Question: What is your philosophy of your weekly cycle?

Troy: I think if you work with high school aged swimmers you have to train IM. That is certainly true with age groupers and young seniors. We have the best athletes in the world, they are great kids to work with — but they have no perspective. I have a tough time at age 46 knowing what I am going to do. They are having a tough time at 20. When I was 20 I wasn’t planning four years ahead and most of you aren’t either. I certainly wasn’t interested in doing the toughest things to get there. I was easily distracted. I think that is where these kids are. They mean well, but I don’t think they know what they need to do. We have to make that evaluation.

I have a plan, but I am flexible and I make modifications on a day to day basis. Our traditional plan is that Monday is an aerobic day, and it is long. We get in as early as possible and stay in as long as we can. We go on the shortest interval we can and still stay alive. There is something that happens in that aerobic day that is very important and I absolutely positive that the physiologist do not have a way to measure what is happening in real long swims. There is something that happens in long easy swims that relates to swimming fast. If you don’t do long easy swimming you are going   to suffer. Anyone who has done a bit of research on what Popov has done will find that he does it. Sometimes you don’t see him for periods of time and it is my belief that he is off somewhere doing it on his own. Traditionally we have done it Monday morning and night. I don’t believe in getting adjusted on Monday morning. Now I have changed Monday night somewhat. We are not quite as long and we do other strokes besides free. We used to go all free on Mondays.

On Tuesday we go a single workout. I don’t believe you can double every day. I think you can be a great student and a great swimmer. I’m not sure it takes 30 hours of training a week. We double every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. If you don’t sleep you are not going to get enough rest to do what you need to do. Tuesday afternoon is race specific. The whole practice is designed towards your race. My terminology of race specific may not fit your terminology of race specific. We are not going to come in and go five broken 200’s. We might do a series of 4000 in a variety of different intervals. It is all working toward their race. What that race specific is depends on what I see the week before and what our plan is for the season. It is real fast and it is stroke specific.

Wednesday morning is weak stroke IM or your best stroke. We never call it the worst stroke in the IM, it is always the weakest stroke. If you are weak in the backstroke leg of the IM it’s probably because you didn’t swim enough of it when you were little. You are not going to improve by doing a little backstroke here and there. So on Wednesday morning we will go about 6,500 meters and if you are a weak backstroker you will go 90 percent of it is backstroke. Since it is weak stroke or best stroke, if you don’t swim IM, then you are swimming your best stroke. So now I have all the worst breaststrokers and the best breaststrokers and I set the interval off the middle. It helps everyone because the weak breaststrokers are forced to raise their level of performance and the best breaststrokers have a bit of recovery. I’m not very good at recovery days. They will find ways to recover.

Just a digression for a moment: If you have not read Doc Counsilman’s book The Science of Swimming, it’s still right. The majority of it is great stuff. I go back to it often.

The better breaststrokers get a more moderate interval so they get to see daylight a little bit. Their technique is a little better. And they actually swim a little faster. So I think everyone is improving.

In our Wednesday morning workout there will be a backstroke group, a breaststroke group, a butterfly group, and a distance freestyle group.

On Wednesday afternoon we do a lot of kicking. It is usually a kick day or a quality day with a whole lot of rest. Sometimes we do 25’s. Volume is not a concern.

On Thursday afternoon is race specific again like Tuesday.

On Friday morning we train IM or we train distance free. The athletes have their choice. If you are someone who is a real backstroker and you swim no IM or distance you go with the IM’ers and do backstroke. I let them choose but if they are in the wrong place I will move them.

On Friday afternoon we all swim butterfly. It’s not a punishment. It is a source of team pride. Developing pride is one of the most important things you do. If you are a butterflier you can feel real well about yourself because you feel special on that day. If you are not a butterflier it is real challenging, real demanding. It makes them tougher. We don’t raise tough individuals in our society. I was watching ESPN a while ago and there was football coach on talking about what a travesty it was that no longer is there anyone in society that is willing to call kids on something because it isn’t the right thing to do. A parent told me last year that I am not warm and fuzzy enough. I don’t plan on being warm and fuzzy. There are a whole lot of warm and fuzzy people in society and I am not one. If you are fair with the athletes you can challenge them.

Friday fly day is challenging for everyone. It is not out of the question for us to be 8,000 to 8,500 meters and 80 percent of it is butterfly. More commonly we are 6,000 to 7,000 meters with 90 percent butterfly. The drill is butterfly, the kick is butterfly, the set is butterfly. We do 400 flys negative split. The interval is usually moderate. I do not set a challenging interval that day. The only shoulder problems I have are people that come to me from other programs and they had it when they came in. Usually within two years in the program they can do Friday fly day. Yesterday afternoon we went 6,500. It is our third week back in training. We kicked about 3,500 fly of it. We build up to 8,000. If you have a good general strength program where you are working on the shoulders and the rotator cuffs they can handle some work.

On Saturday morning we go for four hours. By the way, Monday, Wednesday, and Friday morning workouts are all 2 hours and almost all of it is in the water. The afternoons go for three hours. We used to go for 3 hours and 20 minutes, then 3 hours and 10 minutes — I’m a lot nicer than I used to be. We do about 45 minutes of dryland, 15 minutes of change time, and two hours in the water. I take a look on Friday night at the past week, what I think was good and not so good. On Saturday morning we are going to do what it takes to make the week right.

Martin Wilby, one of my assistant coaches, is real good at punching into the computer what we do. We have been doing it for three years. It is only as good as his ability to call a set what it really is. I can tell you what the percentages are. It is real interesting what I found out — I found we are just about where I thought we were.

Back to Saturday: If we lifted weights three times during the week we don’t lift on Saturday. I used to tell everyone we have a 3 hour workout and if we went three hours and 30 minutes they were angry. Now I tell everyone we have a four hour workout and if we finish in three hours and forty five minutes everyone is happy. Usually we do an hour of dryland, 15 minutes of change time, then in the water. The distance people go for three and a half hours in the water.

I used to do dryland before practice. About three years ago I changed to after the water workout. I definitely like the weights after swimming. I think our performances are better. Sometimes we do dryland first just to see what happens. I have had to be flexible. Right now the football team wants to use the weight room.

Back to Monday morning: I have Janet Evan’s log book from when she swam with Bud McAllister and broke the world record. I started pulling sets out of the log book and we do them but on a different interval. It is pretty amazing to look at the times she did. It has taken us five years but we finally did one of her sets on her interval this past season. One time we came in on Monday morning and went 8,600 meters from 5:30 to 7:30 in the morning. Our kids did a horrible job. It was the pits. It made me upset so we repeated it the next week and they were better. So we repeated it every Monday morning for the rest of the season.

One of my motivational tools, similar to something Mark Schubert had when he was at Mission Viejo, is an animal lane. Our guys at one end of the pool, predominately distance freestylers — but not all because we have had some sprinters come out of that group, comprise our animal lane. No one was making the set so I started kicking people out of the group and into easier lanes. Eventually I had two lanes with nobody swimming in them, and I had two lanes with one or two swimmers, then I had about 20 people in each of the other lanes and they’re real angry with me. It wasn’t a pleasant day.

Did you ever watch the kids as they come into practice? I think we fail to give them information that they can use. We give them a lot of stuff they can’t use. If you have an open practice where you are doing something kind of generic, your real good kids will always go where they always  do— to the fast lanes. The weaker kids will always go where they always go — to the slower lanes.

Sometimes I put a first set that is designed to be unsuccessful. I make it the most unreasonable interval I can think of and it is always a very long aerobic series. I call  it an aerobic test set — they don’t like that. Now it is the Monday morning test set. They come in Monday morning and do the same set the entire season. It is designed so you don’t make it. We found that as the season goes on some swimmers will make it and it becomes a real success thing. Half way through the season I pull the sprinters and give them a variation set. A little further in the season I will pull the stroke people and give them a variation of the set — the front part will be the same but the last part will be more specific to them.

  1. You’ve done a great job with many athletes and we all know that it is more than training. It’s also the art of coaching and the way you talk to your athletes. Let’s say I am one of your athletes and I am capable of making one of your sets but I am not doing it, what do you say to me.
  2. It depends on the situation and it depends on the athlete. I have a reputation for being a hard ass and really getting after people. I am going to get after the people that need to be gotten after. If you’re a swimmer who always comes in and does everything I ask you to do you’re beat to death and I’m not going to say a word. I might even move you down a lane and tell you to work on technique for the day because you’ll beat yourself to death again unless I stop you. If you are a swimmer who just isn’t doing the job I’m going to get in your face. I’m going to ask you in no uncertain terms, “What are you doing today?” It’s real personal, it’s real individual. It depends on the relationship you have with the athlete. My athletes accept me for what I am. I am real honest with them. I tell them exactly where they are at. I tell all of them I am going to do what is best for them.

Trina Jackson and Ashley Whitney both made the Olympic team. They were one tenth of a second apart. They trained very differently. They know each other very well but they are not always friends. They are very aggressive at getting after one another. In that situation if Trina is not doing a good job I would go to her and ask, “What are your goals? We’re not getting anything done today.” And she will be awful the rest of the day. The next practice will be outstanding. She is not going to give up her turf to me to let me know I was right. That’s OK so long as she comes back the next day and does the job. It didn’t happen very often with her. Ashley is different. I have to be real careful how I handle it. I have to say, “Ashley you are not very good today. Is there some problem?” She might say she doesn’t feel very well. Then I would say, “Well if you don’t feel very well in your event what are you going to do? Are you just going to roll over and hang it?” At that point she usually gets a little bit better. On the days that she doesn’t get better I usually kick her out.

Kicking someone out of practice is the worst thing you can do if you run a program where you really discipline. We have 99 percent attendance at practice. If you are not at practice you either call me or clear it with me ahead of time. I know where everyone is every day. It is the only way you can be fair to the team. It is the only way you can build a program. I firmly believe that. We had practice yesterday at 5:30 in the morning and we have 47 people in the group I work with and we had 47 people in the water. It will be that way all the time until the flu comes through and they we will have 44 and I will have to ask 3 not to swim because they are sick. They’ll come in and I will send them home.

We’re disciplined and I am honest with them. They handle it. They know when they are not good. I don’t think you need to use four letter words with them all the time.   I do think once in a while there might be a key word that they pick up on that helps them get their attention. I think it differs how you deal with the males and how you deal with the females. I actually think you need to be nicer to the guys, not worse, because with the guys it is a whole lot harder to decide if they have broken down or not. With a guy like Anthony Nesty in the water and he is giving you everything he has most of the time but you still think there is more there you better not just go over and yell at him. I think you go over as ask them what their goals are, what they want to do, what is it going to take to get there. I like to keep it short because I don’t want to pull someone out of practice, but I think you have to do it on the spot.

I challenge them to race one another. I make sure they are aware there is someone else around them. I remind them of what their goal is. I really like to do that.

At Trina’s first world championships in Italy she made a comment that the press picked up on about how she was tired of getting beat and she wanted to come back and do better the next time. She heard the comment a lot, from me on a bad day.

  1. How do you go about goal setting with 47 swimmers in you group?
  2. That’s why I haven’t been here at the clinic all week. It takes a lot of time to set up the season. I used to formally set down with each one and do it. What I found is that it was real intimidating and they didn’t like it. I like to use the weight room and time like that to walk around and individually sit with one on one. I am more successful informally. We have a big meeting with the group. We talk about our team goals. We always talk in our team meeting about what our individual goals are. We highlight everyone’s goals. This is a good team building thing.

At our team meeting we have guys in the room who are 1:04 hundred freestylers — we had two groups in the room together yesterday, about 100 swimmers. And then I have Gustavo Borges who is 48 for 100 meter freestyle. I talk to all of them together. I made it really important to everyone in that room that it was important to me and our staff that the 1:04 swimmer break a minute just much as it is important for Borges to win the 100 freestyle at the world championships. I made it important that the success of the 1:04 freestyler in being on time for practice, doing what they are supposed to do in practice, making a commitment to the team, played a part in whatever Borges does. Something is going to happen in the next month where a pool breaks down or we are short staffed and Borges is going to be in a lane with someone who swims slower. It is incumbent upon them that when Borges gets ready to pass them that they do not let him by. They do not stop. He is like everyone else, he needs to work himself by. That is a challenge he has to face. By the same token it is incumbent upon Borges that he realizes that other person has goals also. I think the kids in our program are real good about that. They get after one another, they are aggressive. They do not like each other on some days. But they  value that the other people have goals too.

  1. Do you worry about going too hard on your aerobic days?
  2. No. If I see a kid that I think is overworked on a Monday aerobic day then I don’t think we have done our job in communicating with the athlete. If we have one I’ll make the change the next day. That might be the day I make sure he swims the weak stroke IM, or put him in a different group. That might be the day I take a distance guy and slide him down and say, “You need to go down with the sprinters and work on speed.” I work with a big group. If I had a small group of five or six people and I could test them all the time — but even then kids can over train.

The Spanish have had a national training camp for years. It is highly unsuccessful. They cannot get anyone to come out of it to be successful. They are real individual, real specialized, real scientific. But they are still kids and they are still making choices. I live in the real world — my kids aren’t all angels. We have kids who do everything teenagers do. We are after them constantly to be as good of people as they can but they still make mistakes.

If you run a very scientific program and you do blood testing, and do pace work, and you follow all the little details that you are supposed to and then your premier athlete’s girlfriend has a birthday party and he happens to have six beers and he comes to practice the next morning and he gives a 100 percent effort but he is so hung-over that he just cannot do the job — what has that done to your scientific program? I don’t know. No one has ever given me the answer. But it didn’t just mess up that day because everything is programed off of everything else. If that athlete doesn’t tell you he is hung-over then where does that put you. I think you constantly have to adjust.

John Leonard told me something years ago that really helped me a lot. There were two new coaches who moved into an area that where high profile coaches and I asked John how he thought it would work out and he said, “There are artists and there are scientists. One guy is an artist and he is going to find athletes who work well in that environment and the other guy is a scientist and he is going to find athletes who work well in that environment.” I think you have to be a bit of both now. On the art side you have to know what you are looking for and have a real good feel for the athlete. On the science end of it you have to know how all the parameters are affecting your training.

  1. You work with many athletes from different countries. How do you communicate with them?
  2. The pace clock is a good communicator. Our international athletes are pretty good students and speak English well. Of the 47 swimmers in my group six or seven are from other countries. The first time we won nationals foreigners could not score. Before we were a boarding school and had all Jacksonville girls we won Juniors East two or three times.
  1. Do you have your sprinters do distance work?
  2. Yes. Larry Shofe works with me on deck so our coaching ration is about one coach to 20 athletes. We break the groups up in a lot of different ways. Every day in practice, other than the Monday morning aerobic, there are five to eight groups in practice. There are always three basic groups and so many variations. I’m not big on telling a 16 year old that they are a sprinter. I think they need to do other things. They all swim the 200’s. We spread them out. When we broke the national high school record in the 400 free relay the sprinter lead off with 51.0 — she spends about a quarter of her time in the sprint group, the rest in middle distance, she also swims the 400 IM; the second girl went 50.6 — she never leaves the distance lanes; the third girl was 50.9 — she is a distance swimmer and swims a little middle distance, she never goes in the sprint lanes; the 4th girl is the one true sprinter who has been 23.6, she went 50.9. The fast girl on our freestyle relay for the past six or seven years has come from our distance lane. Borges, second at the Olympics in ‘92 in the 100 free — most people don’t know that he has gone 4:05 for 400 meters at the end of practice. He has been a little low key lately but he came back and made a commitment through 2000. He said he doesn’t really mind going 8000 meters but he doesn’t like the sets of 4 x 1500 very much. I told him I realized he didn’t like them but he has to do them. I think they have to do those type of things.

We do things that are speed related but different than the sprinters — more stroke per distance.

One of the things we have done different over the last couple of years is swimming slow, and swimming right. It might be one of the most important things you can do. You can swim fast sloppy but swimming slow right reinforces good stroke.

  1. What training aids do you use?
  2. The most important thing we use are the old tire tubes we cut up and tie your feet off. I like it because you cannot cheat and you have to work hard to maintain body position. We use paddles. I stopped using them for a while. Out of 47 athletes we average 70,000 yards a week and we have three kids with shoulder problems off and on. We use pull buoys. We have kick boards at the pool. The more and more I watch I don’t think kick boards help. I think you are better off kicking in good body position. All of our kick drills now use proper body position without the kick boards. If you can kick in the body position that you want to swim then you are probably going to be pretty good at holding it when you swim. We use surgical tubing in the water for speed aided stuff and we use it as technique to swim against.


  1. When you said you swim slowly, how slow did you mean?
  2. I like to finish practice with a 1500 to 2000 swim, going as slow as it takes for you to do it right. I want it to be perfect. I don’t time it. We started swimming a 2000 backstroke after practice about once every two weeks with perfect technique. When I say perfect technique, it’s nice to say, but another thing to do it. We’re in our first four week phase now and in this phase everyone does everything over that someone does wrong. It is real unfair but we are just trying to get in shape anyway. We’re just looking for general fitness. If we we’re doing butterfly drills and we might have a set that is 4 x 100 freestyle and 4 x 50 fly drill and we might do that cycle six or seven times. If on the third or fourth time someone is doing it wrong we stop everyone and start it over. You have to plan on doing it. They get the message real quick.
  3. How do you teach your team to do push offs?
  4. In the very first practice we have we talk about one hand hooking over the top of the other hand. I’m not sold on having the arms behind the head, maybe in backstroke, but in the other strokes I think over the ears is right. I don’t want to see any space between the upper arms and the neck and head. Usually in the first day’s practice we don’t get past the first set because we just stop and start over until everyone does it right. To me the single most important thing in swimming is momentum. We don’t talk about it enough. If you come off the wall and you have momentum than it makes everything you do on that length better. Your leg muscles are the strongest ones in your body but you only get to use them on the starts and turns effectively. You want to take that force and use it to get the length going and then to maintain that momentum with the first stroke.

In the first two weeks of practice we didn’t do a flip turn. We do open turns to emphasis the streamlining and momentum. We do a lot of squats, especially for breaststrokers. At summer nationals I think Jenna Street won the 200 breaststroke on the third wall. We did a drill where she would get to the last turn and instead of turning right away she would stop with arms straight and kick ten times against the wall and then turn. To me, it’s not what you do at the wall, it’s want you do into the wall and off of the wall. You need to build momentum into as well as off of the wall. I also like to put weights on a kick board and push off.

In the last two years we have gone twice a week doing 10 x 25 kick with a board and a 14 pound weight on the board. On the last two repeats they kick just with the weight and no board. In the last year and a half the single biggest thing that has helped our walls is push offs from the bottom of the pool vertically up.

  1. If you have swimmers who come to your program with a history of knee problems or shoulder problems are they going to be IM’ers, and how do you deal with the demands of the parents?
  1. Parents can be your biggest asset and our biggest enemy. Everyone has to fight them. The biggest mistake we make as coaches is to sit around and complain about them. On one hand we want parents to raise money, run swim meets, get their kids to practice, serve on the board of directors, and more, and then on the other hand we say you can’t do anything else. It doesn’t make sense. What we have to do is remove as many as those responsibilities from the parents as we can and take on as many as I can. I got rid of my board because every time something came up that they needed someone to do I did it. If I couldn’t do it I gave it to a staff member. What eventually happens is parents are sitting at the board meeting and they have nothing to do. The next thing they ask is who wants to be president next year and no one wants to do it and so I volunteer to do it. So along those lines, I think you have to tell the parent what you want to do. If the parent doesn’t want the swimmer to do it then there are other programs. I am going to have the swimmer do what I think it takes to be successful and if I think they have the ability to swim the IM and the child indicates to me that they are willing to do it then I’m going to do what it takes for them to have that opportunity.

Too often we sit back and let parents be a problem. We need to be more aggressive and go to them. We have 300 kids in the program. I don’t know all the little kids anymore. I used to know all of them. But I make it a point and so does Larry Shofe and Martin Wilby of walking into the age group practices and look for kids with parents who are potential problems and address the parent directly saying something like, “your child is doing really well,” or “your child is doing poorly.” We have all had a situation where you have a swimmer who you know is not going to swim well. They haven’t done the job, they don’t have the tools, or they flat out don’t do well under pressure, and you can see they are not going to make it. The biggest mistake you can make is wait until the swimmer fails and then the parent comes to you and thinks they’re the expert and you don’t know what is going on. You need to call the parent early on and have them come in so you can talk about the child. When you call them in to your office to talk to you about their child, no matter whether they like it or not, no matter how good or bad the news it, you have created a positive situation. You have shown an interest in their child which is the number one thing they have. You made yourself the expert because you are giving them information they didn’t have and you are giving them options. You are asking them to help. If you do that the majority of you parent problems go away.

  1. What about the families who have not been happy with their club coach maybe because the parents felt they were the “experts” and they want to come to Bolles?


  1. We treat them like everybody else. We don’t advertise. My admissions office wants us to but I won’t do it because I don’t want that type of family. I have some of the worst parent problems in the world come to my club. For some we are the last resort. It costs $18,000 a year to put the kid in our boarding school. I tell them right up front what we are going to do. If you are passionate about what you do, and you enjoy what you are doing, and if you are interested and honest with the kids and their parents, and they go somewhere else then they probably aren’t going to be successful anywhere.