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.
- 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.
- 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.
- How do you go about goal setting with 47 swimmers in you group?
- 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.
- Do you worry about going too hard on your aerobic days?
- 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.
- You work with many athletes from different countries. How do you communicate with them?
- 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.
- Do you have your sprinters do distance work?
- 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.
- What training aids do you use?
- 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.
- When you said you swim slowly, how slow did you mean?
- 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.
- How do you teach your team to do push offs?
- 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.
- 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?
- 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.
- 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?
- 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.