Tapering by Mark Onstott (2010)


My name’s Rick Shipherd, I’m a member of the ASCA Board of Directors. My thrill is to be able to introduce the next speaker, pretty impressive resume. Mythical National High School champion with New Trier High School, also NISCA PowerPoint dual meet champion. Has coached three high schools in the last several years, has been successful in all three; my pleasure to introduce to you, Mark Onstott.

[MO begins]:
Thanks very much, appreciate it. Good, I’m on; super. I got asked to speak just really a couple of weeks ago, and I know John Leonard puts out these hints for speakers, and I think number one on that is don’t make excuses. But taper was not really my choice, but I had spoken on that before so I kind of totally re-did what I’ve done.

“Rest is a weapon” – that’s from the Bourne novels and I just love that. I really think my taper is a very simple complicated thing or it’s a complicated simple thing; its’ really not that difficult, it’s pretty easy. I think that 99% of the success happens before we start the taper.

I did want to tell one story. How many people were here to hear Larry Stoegbauer about Bare Bones Dryland? Okay, yeah he’s actually still giving it out in the–[Laughter] he’s not quite done yet. Larry and I, you know, he gave me a call he said, “Hey, Coach can you help me with some videoing for my presentation?” And I said, “You bet, no problem.” So he came down, we flipped a coin on who would do the exercises and who would video. And I won, so I did some of the videoing and Larry did all the exercises.

This is the Evanston pool, Evanston High School pool. This is where we host our state meet. And this is just a little Larry story here. Larry is the nicest guy in the world, so don’t be afraid to go up and talk to him. He is our dryland coach but he is a swimming coach and he is an outstanding swimming coach. But you can see here that it gets a little crowded. This was in Swimming World Magazine, and this is actually the first heat of the 100 freestyle, I believe in 2008. And you can see that the coaches in Illinois have at least four different ways to teach the forward start. [laughter]

And, oops now I broke it, I’m trying to get my laser pointer to work. But anyway, we are–this is New Trier sitting right over here. I’m the guy right here doing this. And Larry is–well there’s too many bald guys but this is Larry right here. About Larry’s second or third year, we’re at the meet, we get there; in those days, we had to get there like at seven in the morning to get in line, to get in line, to get in line, to get on to the deck. And we would send over our assistant coaches and our alternates to get in line, to get in line, to get in line. And so we would usually get pretty good seats and Larry was also kind of in charge of staking out our area once we got in there.

We’d have 10, 15 guys get up and get in the water to warm up and all of a sudden there’s this blank spot. Well one year, early in Larry’s tenure at New Trier, a team came late and it was really only about 5 guys and their coach. And their coach–Larry said, “Well we’re sitting here, we got guys in the water that’s going to be right back.” And their coach said, “We’re going to sit here anyway.” And, you know Larry, when I asked Larry to hold the perimeter he does a heck of a good job. And so he’s, but he’s really a mild mannered guy. I’d stay out of the dark alleys around here but he’s a mild mannered guy. So he was really upset that this coach encroached on our area and he came to me and said, “Coach what do you want me to do?”

I said, “Well you know, I think we’ll be fine it’s not that big a deal. Ask him to kind of move down.” And he said, “Coach, I can give him the sideline elbow.” I said, “Now exactly what is a sideline elbow?” [laughter] And he said, “Well I’ll just go up and stand next to him and then he’ll be on the ground.” And I said–I thought for a second and then I said, “No Larry we’ll just let him sit in our area.” So the joke around our place is any time Larry don’t like something, you don’t stand next to him because you really don’t know what’s going to happen.
I’m proud to say I’ve never been hit with the sideline elbow. Of course I’m talking about him now so its open season.

Here’s what we’re going to talk about: Confidence which I think is key to a taper. A little bit about New Trier, the preparation we do for our season plan. Research on taper, the origin of what we do. Then we actually talk about taper, which as you remember I don’t want to talk about and then rituals, some of the just the rituals that we do.

Confidence, I think confidence is the key to a good taper. And here’s some definitions, here’s the one that I like right here. You know it’s a belief in oneself, powers or ability, self confidence, self reliance, assurance. And then here’s the sentence, “His lack of confidence defeated him.” And I think that happens in a lot of cases.

So we work pretty hard to build confidence of our swimmers and obviously that’s not an overnight thing. They come in with a certain level of confidence or lack confidence based on mostly their parents and the household they grew up in. But athletically, it could have to do with their swimming experience in the success they’ve either had or not had.

This is an interesting diagram I found online, its www.tennismindgame.com. And you can see here that there’s a self confidence and doubt. And people when they doubt themselves, they’re questioning themselves. So you have these questions out here, “Am I good enough?” “Will I make it?” “Am I ready?” “Can I do it?” And you have your preparation is technique, mental toughness, physical preparations, strategy. And you can see where the answer to the questions is yes, but there’re some no’s in here. And the no’s are where the physical preparation is not good enough, the mental toughness not there, the technique is not there. So if you get too many no’s, at the end of the day the answer is you do have doubt. You do have a problem with your self confidence so the areas of preparation, how you overcome or defeat the doubt is with preparation and that’s basically technique, mental toughness, physical preparation and strategy.

All right, now we’re going to do a little test here. My wife warned me not to do this, that this could go south on me but she’s not here. So this is really confidence in me, okay? And you are judging your confidence in me. So what I want ask you to do is when I put some information about me up there I want you just in your mind, please don’t do that, “Uh-huh, uh-huh.” That thing Lanny had this morning, I don’t want to hear anything. Just in your own mind, does this increase your confidence in the next 45 minutes or decrease, okay? And those of you who know me, I know where you’re at already so you don’t need to play.

All right, I was a last minute replacement. Does that make you think, “Oh yeah this going to be great.” Or, “Am I sitting close enough to the door?” All right, you may have noticed in the booklet this spiffy bio, okay? So now does that spiffy bio, I want to point out that’s a wrong bio, that’s actually from 2 years ago. I sent in a less than spiffy bio, it’s about a paragraph long and for some reason they didn’t use that. Does the spiffy bio say, “Yeah, okay this is going to be good” or not and then the fact that I wrote my own bio. [laughter]

Does that help or not help? I want to point out that my mother did not write my bio. In which case, there would be no room for any other bio. But does that help or not help, my mother loves me and right now that’s all I can think of, okay. I have a pretty good record, that’s in the bio. Introduction that was pretty good. So does that help or not help? And probably the most important thing that I’m going to tell you and this may blow the whole thing; this is where my wife said, “Urrgh”, okay? This past summer my country club team was 0 and 6. [Laughter] We also got last place at the Big Four. [Laughter]

And I want to point out I’m not the only Big Four or former Big Four coach in here. But the country club swimming in the north suburbs is a different animal. We put a lane down the middle of the pool and my team swims on one side, your team swims on the other. Yeah, I said that a lane down the middle. [Laughter] Okay my first summer league meet, two things shocked me, the lane down the middle and the bars they would roll out to the deck to serve the adults. [Laughter]

Okay, so the other thing we do is we don’t time; we don’t time, you hear that? We do not time. Again, I’m getting out watches, I’m trying to figure this out my first time, we don’t time. We actually do time our kids so we know who to put in the first heat because the first heat is the only heat that counts. That’s what you never say to the kid, especially the kid in the second heat. They always come up and say, “Does my heat count?” Well of course it counts but it really doesn’t score, all right? [Laughter]

And strangely enough, many of you may actually be at least a little familiar with the country club where I coach. Many of you are too young. but there’s actually a movie made or shall we say based on the country club where I worked. [laughter] Bill Murray was a caddie at the country club I work at. And my understanding is the groundskeeper on who his character was based actually retired just a few years before I got there. And one of the famous scenes you may remember was the Baby Ruth in the pool? And I do want to point out that to this day, we do not sell Baby Ruths in the snack shop. [Laughter] So that’s kind of that, that’s a little test, I hope that up and down, I’m hoping that that last thing didn’t kill me.

Self fulfilling prophecy, a lot of your kids come in with things already in their wheel house, they’re already thinking things and so they’re–a lot of their performances based on stuff you don’t have any control over. You didn’t have any control over until they get to you, all right? So it starts with a false definition of a situation, evokes a new behavior and that new behavior makes the original false conception come true. And then you have, I’m sorry I can’t read that far away, you have a validation of this self fulfilling prophecy which perpetuates a reign of error and or terror. Depending on how you look at it, this is a little–a more visual, this is a graphic representation of the same thing. How you kind of get this circle going, in that circle obviously is just a downward spiral, certainly for performance. But the key thing is it’s based on a false idea to begin with, okay?

We go back to the original slide that I had up there, one of the first ones. We talk about overcoming false definition of reality and we can do it with technique, mental toughness, physical preparation and strategy. So even if they come in kind of damaged which most of them do in some way shape or form; we can overcome that and really preparation is the way to do that.

This is in our handbook; it’s one of our core beliefs. Everyone is capable of high achievement not just the fastest and most confident, okay? We don’t just say, “Here’s a kid who doesn’t have confidence.” So we try to coach every kid that comes through our program, it’s not easy. We got a bunch of kids, there are currently on our girls’ team which is three weeks in the season and is just getting ready to start a swim meet about right now. We have a hundred and twenty-five girls. And most of them can swim, so that’s helpful. [Laughter] We actually have very talented group but 125 girls and we try to work with all 125 to get them to be the best that they could be.

Here’re some quotes and I’m kind of pulling out little things here. Confidence and fun and this is Joe Namath, “When you have confidence you can have a lot of fun and when you have fun you can do amazing things.” So kids always talk to me and I’m sure you don’t have this problem because you have fun workouts. But they always want to have fun at practice. Try not to air quote but, you know my answer to that always is, “That swimming your fastest and winning is pretty fun and that’s kind of the fun we’re looking for.” But having that confidence allows you to have fun which allows you to do those amazing things.

And I think the coach has a critical responsibility in developing the confidence of their athletes. Confidence migrates from the coach to the swimmer. I think if I remember correctly Mark Schubert said this maybe two years ago, three years ago, either at a key note address or some other time where I saw him speaking here at ASCA just two or three years ago. Now if you were here this morning you saw or heard Lanny Landtroop say this, “My job was to give kids confidence, so when they get on the blocks at the state meet and they know they’re going to win.” Well I heard Lanny say that about 4 years ago in my basement as we’re having a pre-NISCA meeting and little did I know it’s just a canned thing he says all the time. [laughter] I thought he was saying it and you know it was resonating with me real well but no. That’s what he felt his job was and as you know he was, without a doubt, one of the top 2 or 3 coaches in the nation ever, high school coaches.

Swimmer confidence is directly proportional to the coach’s confidence. I can’t tell you how many times I open up the little weekly newspaper that we have and I read a coach being quoted. We are very lucky we actually get some coverage and once a week and there’s a lot of athletic coverage in there. And I read in there and the coach will say, “Well I hope it works out, you know, I hope he learns to do this, I hope he’s better at this.” You know, talking about a high school kid and I’m thinking that’s not the best way to coach that kid. That’s not a good way to give that kid confidence.

What I try to do and when I’m actually quoted correctly is talk like things have already happened. And I’m talking not to that reporter, not to the twelve or thirteen people who will read that article but to that kid who I hope reads that article and sees that I have confidence that he’s actually going to do what he needs to do.

This is one of my favorite quotes; this has to do with confidence and success. This is Nuke LaLoosh from Bull Durham which is another movie that, looking out here in the crowd most of you were not born when it was playing in the late seventies. “Winning is like better than losing.” Okay and “Winning helps perpetuate success.” And that’s individuals being successful as well as teams being successful.

I don’t really know who to attribute this to, I found this quote but I could not find who actually said it but, “Self confidence is the memory of success.” So you want to have success and success comes in different levels. I know when I was coaching the Cy-Fair the definition of success was certainly different than it is now. Success when I was in Texas at Cy-Fair was how close did we come to beating Clear Lake High School where Lanny Landtroop was for a long time. Cypress Creek High School which was down the road, my high school was kind of a rural high school. We had an outstanding rodeo; actually football was a second sport. Rodeo was number one. And so wasn’t really conducive to great swimming, we did have some really solid teams and some really good kids came through there but it was a different level of success in that particular place.

And then Vince Lombardi, “Confidence is contagious and lack of confidence is contagious as well.” And that just says the more success you have around you, so if I didn’t swim well that meet but my buddies did then that’s going to help kind of overcome that poor performance and it’s going to help you maintain your confidence.

All right, this is about work and confidence, “Confidence is the most important single factor in this game.” He’s talking about golf, of course. “And no matter how great your natural talent there’s only one way to obtain and sustain it and that’s work.”

Arthur Ashe here, again talking about work and preparation, “One important key to success is self confidence and important key to self confidence is preparation.”

A little bit about New Trier. We currently have two pools, that’s a 6-lane pool and an 8-lane pool. So we have 14 lanes of water on two different campuses. We have eight coaches. And I want to emphasize that because I know all you will, that’s the only thing people see, “Oh you have 8 coaches.” Although I do want to point out that two of them are diving coaches. We have about 5 divers, so there’s a lot of personal work going on there. [Laughter]

So we have a hundred plus, I think we had a 108, 109 kids last year. So you take away those 5 divers, let’s say you have 105 you divide that by the remaining coaches you really don’t get that great of a ratio. We do have that hundred plus, we have 6 or 7 target meets. Meets at the end of the year where we taper and shave our kids for. And of course those meets overlap and they cause us to be running multiple tapers in the same pool at the same time. With basically its chaotic beauty, I love taper; I love the kids doing the things that we do which I’ll get into. And I love just the–everything happening all around that, you know, sometimes I stand there and it’s like those movies where the bullets goes swinging by people and I just think, “Wow, what’s happening here?” Luckily I have 8 assistant coaches and they usually have their mind about them a little better.

And getting into preparation, I saw the A-Team movie this summer trying to relive the eighties just a little and this quote jumped out at me, “Overkill is underrated.” And I would say that might be part of our philosophy on training. I had a AD at New Trier who has been gone a couple of years now; he didn’t die – he just moved on and he’s making more money retired. He would say this at every parents meeting: “It’s our job to prepare the students and the athletes for the road, not to prepare the road for the athletes or the students.” And he was saying this to parents, because in our school district and I have a hard time figuring out if it’s New Trier or it’s Olympic Trials, you know, it’s the time.

Because it’s certainly different than when it was in Texas and different then when I was in Iowa. But, you know, the helicopter parents, the parents trying to eliminate any bumps or a kid doesn’t feel any pain and they have no issue so they can go through their life nice slick paved road. Well my thought is my job is to really put those obstacles in their way and to make them climb over things and make them tough. And to put them in tough situations that they really have to work hard to survive and so that’s what we call practice at New Trier.

Again technique, mental toughness, physical preparation and strategy, those four things we’re trying to do to give them confidence but also obviously to help them swim as fast as possible. I came across the concept of volitional training; I don’t know 10 or 11 years ago. I found it in Counsilman’s book The New Science of Swimming, and it actually came from the writings of L. Matveyev, titled The Fundamentals of Sports Training.

And when I read about it I thought this is how we train. And I think it has a really, I think it correlates really well the high school season. At least high school season in my area and when I was in Texas and the coaches that I was around in Iowa as well. So basically it has to do with consistently deciding to train, choosing physical training that demands mental and emotional adaptation, the practice of mental skills, focus, concentration and emotional connection. Simulation in race type training, so a lot of speed; being one with the water.

It’s been my experience in 135 years of coaching that kids who are really good, they just, they like don’t splash. Like even jumping in the water, the better swimmers jump in and then you see a–I don’t want to pick on JV swimmers but you see a JV guy jump in, it’s totally different.

Turns, how they act around the walls, all this stuff. The best swimmers I ever had were also the–could swim the slowest while maintaining body position and looking like a swimmer. It’s really amazing and they’re just flowing, they’re one with the water and that happens when being in the water a lot. It’s really not something you teach, you’re teaching the skills but the oneness with the water comes from being in the water and just kind of loving it.

Building endurance reserves and it evokes physiological changes not possible with regular training. And how this fits in with the high school swimming, you know, generally speaking the short intense season. We have a fourteen week season in Illinois. When I was in Texas a little different, we had 24, 26 week season, would not call that short. Doubles every day, we do doubles every day for basically over half of the season.

We do dryland 2 or 3 times a week depending on our meet schedule. Two to three meets a week, now we only have two meets a week. But I do know when I was in Iowa and Texas; I know there’re different conferences in the burbs there in Chicago that might have three meets a week. Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday, it happens.

Many races, we have kids who come in after a swimming club in the fall and maybe swimming 2 or 3 meets and then they’re swimming in the summer. Now they’re swimming spring and summer, they’re swimming year round. But again, how many meets are they actually swimming in? And then they get to high school and two weeks in, we have a meet. And we basically, except for winter break we have a Friday and a Saturday night meet every week; and so a lot of times that kid swim in 8 times a weekend, racing 8 times a weekend.

And I’m a big believer in “You learn to swim your races by swimming your races” which endears me to most of my swimmers. So if they’re a 500 guy, they’re probably swimming the 500 a lot. And they’re swimming the 500 a lot because I want them to work on swimming the 500. And I don’t think swimming a 50 is going to help them.

So while we do move around here and there and we try to get them off weekends, I love going Friday nights, swimming their events and they come back and swim the same event Saturday. That’s a state meet rehearsal.

Let’s see, so you have swim a lot of races and you have these short meets. And again in Illinois we swim a lot of three level meets so the short meet is not that short; it’s three hours depending on how many divers. If you take the diving out, it’s about an hour and a half of swimming. If we have a three level meet, we could have eighteen divers and with warm up and warm up for divers. Get the pool ready and all that stuff that could be an hour a break right in the middle of your meet. Not the favorite thing.

The other thing in high school is kind of a random warm up, no cool down at most meets. And so you’re not in this perfect situation, basically we don’t have our cool down at our state meet. We do if we’re at Everston, the picture I showed you before. We have a little, there’s a little pool that can be used for cool down. But when the meets hosted by New Trier, there is no cool down. And so our season pretty much mimics that so, personally I don’t think it’s a big deal.

Random warm up, you have late buses, you have buses that don’t show up. You go to a meet and all of a sudden you can’t warm up in all the lanes because they close lanes where the divers are diving. Personally we call that sport in New Trier and so you have divers diving into swimmers and everybody gets to know each other. [Laughter] And it’s really not that bad, occasionally its close calls but it’s kind of like the Blue Angels. It’s really more exciting when they come close to each other. [Laughter]

We have practice the day of meets; we always swim the day of a meet. We do that until we enter our taper phase. We have Friday night meet, we practicing regular time, 5:50 Friday morning. We have a Saturday meet, we’re usually in the water at 7 o’clock and we usually go a couple of hours.

We swim a lot of meets in drag suits. One of the first things I figured out when I got to Illinois was that the good teams were swimming in drag suits. And so we got some drag suits. We have our winter break fun, I was trying to think on what to call it and fun seemed like the least likely so we do, we increase our practice time. We do more and longer dryland.

We have a day where we do 100 100’s which is usually the New Year’s Eve day. And then we do an hour of power. We actually do that for a fundraiser that’s 60 25’s on a minute all out from the blocks. We do not do that on the same day of the 100 100’s.

Then dryland, if you saw Larry’s presentation, you know that we do a very intense dryland. We don’t, our JV kind of does that around the pool a little bit more. But our varsity, we do some things around the pool, we do things down where he videoed a lot of that in our field house. Field house sounds like a really cool place but it’s really just the basement of the gym so it’s really not as cool as it sounds.

We try to do 2 to 3 times a week, depending on our meet schedule. It’s linked to swimming; we do a lot of start work. That’s the same there, it’s coordinated with our water work, in other words somebody asked Larry if I go easy when it’s a dryland day, “No” but sometimes he’ll alter what he’s doing. You know, he’ll come in and see what I’m doing and go, “Oh crap we got to change this.” Team building, a lot of team building–yes?

[audience member]: The hour of power, are they diving in then getting out and then walking around–

[MO]: Yeah, yeah. When our girls do it they–one year they broke in to the balcony to the pool, climbed over so they can get the outside lanes because they don’t have to walk as far. [Laughter] Yeah, smart kids in New Trier.

[audience member]: What’s the total time per day including dryland and swimming?

[MO]: We go an hour and 55 minutes in the morning. We go an hour and 35 minutes of swimming in the afternoon. And then when we do dryland, dryland is about an hour but it takes them 15 minutes to get down there so. When we go over break, everything’s two hours except dryland goes through an hour and a half.

Let’s see, I think I need to get moving here. Team building, a lot of team building can take place out of the water because they can actually talk to each other, encourage each other. Coach Stoegbauer does a great job of that. Confidence building, they gain a lot of confidence through the strength and the things. You start talking about one-arm push-ups, handstand push-ups, things like that; they’re kind of a badge of courage when you can do them. It’s not always the biggest and the kids you think the biggest the strongest that can do that, a lot of the other kids can’t get to that point.

And then there’s high accountability, Coach Stoegbauer does not do something if he cannot monitor it both for safety and to make sure that people are doing what they’re supposed to do. Probably the most heard words are “We’re starting that over” and they do. If Coach Stoegbauer says something, they do it.

Again here’re some things you probably saw: We do stairs, plyometrics, shoulder health training, weight training, calisthenics, gymnastics, pole vault stuff; which were some of the things that he showed on the chin-up bar, ab stuff and then yoga. In the four phases of what we do, we do 2 weeks of tack and yardage ramp up. Even though the only way you can get on the Varsity is by having swum in the fall so we know they’re in pretty good shape. A lot of them are in really good shape.

We have, I think, three teams that feed in to us. New Trier Swim Club is the big one and they don’t actually shave and taper for the meet before our season. They probably do a little dip. One of the teams does a full shave and taper, the weekend before we start so that’s a little different situation, not one that I’m in love with but they do what they do. They make it work for them.

We do four to six weeks over distance of specialty then four to six weeks of specialty. We get in to more speed training and then 2 two and a half weeks on the taper.

During that yardage ramp-up, we re-teach all of our drills, teach and re-teach them. We cover all the strokes, cover all the terms, and we start our videotaping. Actually it’s not videotape anymore, it’s on a hard drive and with our Dartfish.

The yardage goes up from seven thousand on the first day, that’s 7000 over two practices with a lot of drill work, twelve thousand at the end of this phase. We go ten practices in first week because they don’t let us practice on Thanksgiving. We go eleven practices, the second week we have our first meet, Saturday the second week.

Oops, I think I skipped one. And then part of some of what we’re dealing with then is the start up stuff with forms, team pictures during that time, warm up, check out. We do shoulder testing. We test our swimmers’ shoulder strength and range of motion during the first week and then right before they taper and that helps us kind of keep an eye on kids who might have issues and we prescribe some extra exercises for them.

Let’s see, Phase 2 is we throw in our goal conferences; they’re usually sometime during that four to six week period. Last year, I didn’t get to them till after winter break which was really interesting because it really allowed the kids to have some meets and I thought their goals were a lot better thought out. I usually try to do it sooner.

We’re doing a lot of freestyle but there’s a lot of choice swimming as well. And we do–you see down there, we do some specialty practices where we expect them to do their primary stroke. We do 45, 60 minutes of dedicated start work every week; Coach S does that.

And then as I said the winter break is challenging. During this phase, we’re doing one or two lactate sets a week. If we have a meet, usually it’s only one; over winter break, it’ll be two. We use Dartfish every day, so we’re videoing every day. Have two coaches, Coach S is one and Mike Leissner is the other who–they pull out that stuff, put in the cameras and we’re just doing it every day. And the way we do it is, either I say “I want to see–“, “I want you to film this on a kid” or one of the coaches. One of those two guys says, “Can we get him over here and look at his freestyle.” But other than that, we try to just roll through every body and we pull them out, put them in a lane, video them, go over it and send them back to swimming. It just all happens during practice.

We’re probably averaging 11,000 yards per day. We go nine to ten practices. And during this five, six, seven, eight week in their week number that is, we drop a morning. And it kind of depends where winter break falls and kind of how I feel things are going. And sometimes I feel like they need a morning off and so I give it to them possibly earlier; sometimes I feel like they really need to be working.

Phase 3, specialty in speed, we do a lot of broken race-pace, Salo sets. You know I got Salo’s book back in the 80s sometime, and I laminated it and put a rubber band around those sheets, folded it over and really used a lot of stuff out of it.

We do a lot of twelve and a half’s, again lactate training, about the same, about once or twice a week. And then we do a dolphin the whole time but we increase it.

Now talking about taper and these are swimmer comments, these are about as unscientific research as you can get. I do ask the kids about taper when we have our goal conferences and so I kind of get a lot of thoughts in and then I have three of my better kids, two of my captains and another kid who’s Varsity swimmer. And so I just kind of pulled them in and said, “What do you think? What don’t you like? What do you like?” And the good news is they like our taper and I think they like it because they swim fast.

But here’s the things they said. They like the visualization that we do. They’re certain what’s coming next, there’s no surprises. They think it brings the team together. They like the possibility that–one of these kids was a distance guy so he said this. Our kid was second in State last year. He liked the idea that he had additional practices because he was a distance swimmer so we brought him in the morning. They liked choice on simulators and segments which is how we do a lot of our speed work or I guess I’d call our quality work. And then they get to be choosing the strokes they’re going to be doing.

Increase tech, which is kind of funky because we really don’t increase tech at that point. We repackage some things that we’d done all year long and they think its more tech when it really is the same thing but we call it something different. Like halves, we do halves but we call it a finish drill. So they’re going from the middle to the wall; we just have them get out and walk around and so now its tech. We obviously emphasize the finish but it really is something we’d been doing; fine tuning, just tweaking strokes. The fact that they have confidence from their success in the past, from the team’s success in the past and the confidence they get from the other taper groups as they come up.

This is just some real basic research. I went on the Internet and looked over some things and this is really sifted down to some major things about taper. One is the reduction in total volume from 60 to 90%; the duration from one to several weeks where 6 weeks was mentioned with 2 weeks being optimal, 14 days. Reduction of training frequency, usually not more than 50%, the worry there is loss of feel for the water. And I think the better swimmers you have, the less of a worry you have with that. I think our JV swimmers might have a bigger issue. There’s definitely a mental component and then there’s super compensation or super adaptation which can be defined as optimal or maximal recovery.

The origins of taper, the inspiration the act of forgetting where you stole your ideas; well here’s where I stole them. From my high school coach, my college coach and a guy named Bill Hendricks who I was an assistant coach with in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, Kennedy High School. Now that’s the good news; the bad news is my high school coach was a diver. [laughter] But again the good news, this will get the confidence back, he was a diver at the University of Iowa when a guy named Counsilman was there. So I think he actually paid extension because he really was, I thought, an outstanding coach.

My college coach, unfortunately cowboy and football player or probably football player and cowboy; I don’t know which goes first. But again, this guy read and attended clinics and by the time we got him, he was a swimming coach and he was just outstanding.

And my friend Bill Hendricks really had no competitive experience but he kind of cut his teeth at a program in Cedar Rapids at Washington High School which was pretty good. Then winning state championships pretty much every year.

The key, in my opinion, is planning. I was fortunate in my first three years as a coach and at a couple intervals after that, to be an assistant coach for coaches who really didn’t plan very well. So I think I’m a pretty good planner, I think I ponder things pretty well. I think about them and I write them down. I’m very visual so I write down practices; I write my practices on Sunday, usually during the Bears game which during the Super Bowl season, practices were easy. Last couple of years when they lose, everybody loses. [laughter]

If you fail to plan, you plan to fail. Okay and obviously this is a big fail there. This is also an issue. [laughter]I actually think I was in that rest room at one point in college but, you know, we worked it out. I heard Corky King speak just a couple of weeks ago at the Illinois Swim Association clinic and Corky kind of does what I do. That when they start the taper, he has what he calls the bible and he brings it out and it’s the same taper he’s been using forever and he brings it out and he holds it over his head kind of like Moses coming down with the tablets. And he says, “This is it, guys.”

Now I only wish I would have thought to call it the bible, I didn’t; I called it the taper book which is a little more descriptive but certainly doesn’t hold the power. And so I’ve been basically running the same taper for about 30, 32 years. I actually wrote it with Bill Hendricks, the guy I mentioned before when we were assistant coaches because the head coach didn’t care about the boys’ seasons so we pretty much run it.

Here’s my question: Are your swimmers swimming fast? If the answer is no, then I think you need to do–do you want them to be fast? You got to ask yourself question, if the answer is no then just keep doing what you’re doing. If the answer is yes, then change something. Now I’ve been pretty fortunate because the answer has been yes, they are swimming fast so I keep doing what I’ve been doing. I think Corky King has been doing the same thing and he’s had some outstanding swimmers.

When we get to the taper, I kind of switch that little philosophy. I want to prepare the road for them. I want to eliminate questions by giving them information. I want to eliminate worry; again information, talking about it. I want to eliminate fear, I want to eliminate stress. A lot of stress around taper time is those questions that are coming, if you remember the self confidence and the doubt graphic that I put there. “Am I good enough? Is this going to work? What’s happening?” We try to eliminate all those questions by our preparation and then we eliminate them also by the fact that we’re doing this, we’ve done it before, not our first time at the rodeo and this is where people are going to swim fast.

And this is just a little graphic that kind of shows our deal with the previous years there at the top. Then we have our freshmen, our most inexperienced group tapers and the freshmen, the varsity kids all go to the freshmen conference meet; we host it every other year. They do the body paint, they do all this stuff. They’re watching our least experienced swim and swim fast and it gives them excitement for what they’re going to do.

Then our last dual meet which our older kids who can’t make another meet. Again it builds on each one and the Varsity guys, by the time we get to the sectional state, they are so ready to swim fast because they know; they know what’s going to happen. We do a taper talk. This is something I do on the first day of the taper every year. And again this is trying to get them ready, answer some questions, allay some fears, put them at ease and also give them some information.

So we talk about the tradition, the history of our taper. The success, we lay out the plan, talk about what we’re going to do each day, talk about some of the repetitive things that we do. So they’re going to have no surprises, no worries. We talk about focusing at the pool but we don’t want them constantly thinking, kind of obsessing over swimming and swimming fast. I much rather they swim–think about it at the pool and maybe do a little relaxation, a little visualization when they’re at home but not that constant on their minds, the stuff that kind of grinds them down and wears them out and really can allow. You can only do that so long and all of a sudden, then the questions start coming in. Am I fast? Am I good enough? Did I do enough? Did I work hard enough? Does Coach O have a clue? Those questions start coming up.

We talk about rest, specifically not wasting away from the pool, what we’re trying to save at the pool. So don’t go do stupid things, just because you suddenly have more energy. And all of a sudden, you feel like staying up a little later because you haven’t had four hours of practice in a little dryland. So you’ve got to be disciplined and go to bed anyway.

We talk about not worrying about how they feel today. And the difference is some kids are going to feel great the third day, some are going to feel great the fourth day. Some are going to feel lousy the whole first week. Not to have that barometer or that thermometer going to get you figured out, to feel bad, again to start questions and self doubt. There will be ups and downs. Okay you’re going to feel good one day, maybe not so good the next day and it’s really going to have nothing other to do with anything but your body’s adapting and everybody adapts a little different.

Then we talk about enjoying it. They literally look forward to taper all year long, right? All swimmers, I mean, that’s what they do. “When are we going to taper?” So they should enjoy it because this is what it’s really all about. And taper actually can be a lot of fun. If you just kind of let it go and have that confidence that you’re going to do well. I always tell them that taper doesn’t make you swim fast; it allows you to swim fast. They have the personal responsibility and control over the whole situation. They can’t just dive in and expect that it’s magically going to pull them through the water fast.

Another thing I tell them is that it doesn’t mean that it’s not going to hurt. So if it’s hurting, that doesn’t mean that you did something wrong; it doesn’t mean the taper’s not working but I also tell them, it’s amazing when you swim fast, how fast that pain goes away. And that pain only stays when it’s not quite as fast as you want. And again no doubt, you will swim fast.

I just think, you really can’t talk people into swimming fast but you can talk them out of it. And so I try to be really careful in what I say and how I say it. And assistant coaches as well, on what they say and how they say it.

All right, the basics of the taper; we do a straight yardage descend. We do a lot of our speed work pyramids so it starts out what we work into the speed work, our quality work if you will and then we taper it off the second week. We do a lot of easy regular fast so if we’re doing 9 100’s, we’re going easy regular fast and we’re expecting them to monitor that speed and go fast on the fast one but then to come back with the easy regular. So they’re not doing like a lot of straight sets fast.

We build, again same reason we build repeats; that’s my terminology. When I talk about build, I’m talking about within the repeat. Again, so they’re getting fast swimming but it’s not a lot of straight in-line fast swimming and then we just send sets which a lot of times the kids say, “Isn’t this just the easy regular fast?” And I say, “Yeah, shut up.” [laughter]

I try to do regular distances. I put this in here because in my mind, I think that’s true but when I look at my taper, you know, it’s not so much. We’re doing a lot of 25’s, we’re doing a lot of halves, we’re doing stuff that’s off but I try not to do a lot of 75’s, 125’s, 225’s; I try to be more race distances. I just think that helps hone them in on what we’re doing.

As we go through, the number of repeats decrease and I talk about things that we kind of do that are repetitive. And we may do, on the first day we may do 9×100 and we may do them on, let’s say, 1:45. Now most of these kids have been doing hundreds, 1:10, 1:15 most of the season, so they are getting more rest right off the bat but by the end of the taper, we’re doing 3×100 and we’re doing them on 3:00; so a lot more rest, lot less swimming. We do decrease the kicking. I think the big muscles take a little longer to recover and then we do minimal pulling; just because we–my opinion is we’ll swim full stroke and I really don’t like the whole pool boy thing and body position and at that point for that last 2, two and a half weeks.

All right, tech; like I said we turn halves into finish drills and they think we’re doing more tech. We turn center to center stuff which is from the middle back to the middle; we turn that into turn drill, they think we’re doing more. We do relay exchanges pretty much right from the get go, as soon as I can figure out who’s on the relay and sometimes that doesn’t happen as quick as I’d like. But they peak about the third day out and then we taper those off. And usually day before the meet, we won’t do any. The only time we’ll do some is if there’re some issues and every once in a while, you got somebody who’s got an issue.

Relay exchanges, we do a TiVo and we use TiVo rather than Dartfish because it’s just easier to do, you know, on the delay. So we do those, we do a set, get the kids out, watch it. Do another set, get the kids out, watch it. It’s really exciting to try to do that when we’ve got our Varsity conference, our JV conference and our JV Invitational and we have some of all that going on at one time. And relay touch offs are quite exciting during that particular time because people are jumping off blocks everywhere. And then occasionally, we’ll do some video or Dartfish during the taper but generally not. We got somebody who we think needs to see something we do but we usually at that point, we’re telling them what they’re doing right so if they’re doing it wrong, we’ll tell them, “Well that looks really good when you put your hand in like that.” And actually, they’re doing this or whatever and we’re hoping that it’s a positive way to get that across.

In my opinion, it takes guts to rest but when in doubt, rest. I think a lot of people–my inclination during the taper is we should really be doing more here. It takes guts to rest. You got to stay the course. You got to just kind of stay with it. Taper, two and a half weeks for the state team. Just these guys, we bring them in the morning the first week and on occasion, the guy who got second place, I think I brought him in Monday. He was a junior last year; I think I brought him in on Monday. His sophomore year last year, he said, “You know what? I don’t think I need to come in.” So we didn’t.

We do start taper earlier for some kids; we had a kid this year who we knew was totally beat down tired so we actually tapered him for the conference meet; shaved and tapered and everything. And then brought him back, he ended up being on our short relay and swam faster two more weeks down the road. We do a re-taper with kids when necessary. We obviously tweak things individually.

And, oh this is wonderful. I’m going to hit this real quick. Drop morning practices so we go from 9 to 5. We drop dryland one to two weeks before taper. Coach S would like to do dryland all the way up including the day of the State meet and bring them on Sunday after the state meet but right now, I’m not on that point mentally.

The volume goes through ten thousand to about twelve hundred, obviously aerobic yards descend, speed pyramids. Here’s basically our yardage and here’s a chart of it. This is the same thing basically. Every time I look at that, I think we don’t swim enough. [laughter] But we do swim pretty fast. Again this is a chart of it, same thing; you can kind of see it visually this says more to me than the numbers because I don’t think the numbers are that important. Simulators are one of our major way of doing quality. This is for my college coach, the cowboy. And I say this before every simulator, we get them up the block; it’s like a race, quiet, everybody focused although we may have 10 other things going on in the pool.

I say 100 yards all out race pace, 50 ten-seconds rest, 20 five-seconds rest, 25; say that every single time, try to set it up, try to get everybody focused on what’s going on. They get help from each other on send-offs and times. And they are obviously doing primary stroke, target meet strokes. All right, here’s how the simulators; we go one then we go two, we go three. Friday the first week, we’re back down to two. We go 2-2 on Monday, Tuesday and then if the State meet is on Friday, we’re going to go one on Wednesday and none on Thursday.

All right, again Corky King, Hillsdale Central; talk about the perfect lie so when you’re timing kids. See what I used to call it, is just flat out lying but Corky called it the perfect lie for some reason I thought that sounds much better. And then I looked up white lie and turns out white lies are “Minor lies which could be considered harmless or even beneficial in the long term.” White lies are also considered to be used for the greater good. [Laughter] So the perfect lie is a white lie. When the kid comes in and you know that kid needs to hear that he went faster than he went. Now sometimes they need to hear they went slower than they went, I rarely will do that but I will tell them what I think they need to know but a lot of times they need that boost. And during the taper, usually they do.

So a breaststroker, did he go 1:02 on that or did he go a 59, you know? And because of the way I time them, a lot of times they can’t figure out the time is because they start them at odd places and they really, you know, they’re not paying attention where they start. So they really don’t figure it out. Again smart kids at New Trier but you can fool them every once in a while.

So I like–I think that’s important to their self confidence.

And then we also do segments. I threw in segments when I was in Texas because I think it’s a lower stress, physical stressor and we have some kids who love to do segments. Segments are basically the parts of the race and they do it just like a race so if it’s a 100 yard race, they’re doing a dive to whatever touches the wall in the race, hand touch or foot touch depending on the stroke. Then they do, go in the correct direction so they would go into the first wall not into the start wall and they do their turn and go to the other end again, turn to touch. Do the thing, go in the back the other direction and then go to a finish on the last one.

They do these with partners, they time, they kind of have fun with this. They will write these down on the white board; I don’t encourage them to do it because I have a hard time with my perfect lies when they do that. So they write them down and they add them up and of course, their buddy is not going to tell the perfect lie. Their buddy might be lying to them but he’s lying to him the other direction because he got two breaststrokers working together and they want to beat each other. So they put names up, they make up nicknames for each other and then I go over there and kind of perfect lie is there; I have no idea whose times are what because the nicknames they make up for each other are just–I don’t know what they’re talking about.

We do visualization two to three weeks out. Coach S does a lot of this; I did it up until 2003. Actually I have a background in hypnosis, my high school coach was a hypno-technician but then in 2004, I had some situation where I couldn’t do it and Coach S did it. We won the State championship so after that I’m not–what do you call that?–superstitious, not at all but there’s no way I was going to do it after that.

So we do it after practice. It’s basically relaxation; we teach them imagery and then we do guided imagery and then our rituals; shaving obviously, head shaving, we have over a 100 kids on the team. We ask our divers not to shave their heads and we usually have about a lot of years, there’s one or two kids who don’t shave their heads; everybody else does. We give them a t-shirt. We have little stronger water polo contingent here and apparently that hurts them playing water polo. Some of them don’t. We do rub downs, I have an assistant coach who does all of our rub downs. He has a secret formula which he puts it in a crock pot. He takes two crock pots to the meet and he heats it up in crock pot; it’s like voodoo, [Laughter] it’s a little scary.

As I said earlier, our freshmen lead the way on our taper; we call them the tip of the sword so we put a lot of confidence in them. That they’re going to swim well, they always do. And just gets everybody else going. We have a pasta party in my house and then we always play the previous years’ state meet, not maybe the year before but we pick out races that we love to watch and watch again. And we play them and it gets the guys ready to go. Then we suit up and swim. [Laughter] And you don’t know how glad I am we got rid of those other suits although looking at this picture, I’m not sure why. Questions?

[audience member]: Just to give us some perspective, what is the format of state championship? And does the regional results, they get to the stage–? [Crosstalk]

[MO]: Yes, we have a sectional meet and then the next week is our State meet.

The order of our meets is this: time final sectional, prelim final, state; and usually going into sectional, we’re at the point where we might have one or two guys who were shaved and tapered. At sectional, we really try to avoid the shave and taper at sectional and save it for state. So we have a lot of guys on the bubble and they’re just kind of, grit their teeth and make it.

[audience member]: What do you do for the one that does shave that regional meet or the sectional meet then make state cuts and then they have to–?

[MO]: Well, it’s not a real high tech thing. What we do is put him right back in the first day of the taper and he just tapers again. We don’t put hose on him, we don’t swim him up a little more and drop him faster, we just run them through the taper again. Yes?

[audience member]: When you say run him through the taper, are you talking about the week leading up to the sectional or regional?

[MO]: We’re talking about a re-taper. Now if we have a kid who we taper for a conference meet and they’re going to swim the next week. Then we would drop him into the second week of the taper so they would just swim that second week of the taper again. And they’re the one who’s always saying, “Haven’t I done this?” “Yes, you did it last Tuesday.”

Okay. Anything else? Thank you very much.

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