Following a six-year stint as an assistant men’s swim coach under Peter Daland at the University of Southern California, Dave has been head coach of the Irvine Novaquatics since 1990. Dave has recently distinguished himself as a “Breaststroke” coach with the recent successes of such standouts as Amanda Beard and Steve and a host of several other Junior and Senior national level breaststrokers. Dave completed his Ph.D from the University of Southern California and has successfully utilized training methods often considered “nontraditional.” Dave’s theories on Breaststroke training will probably contrast many long thought ideas utilized by today’s coaches.
Back in 1986 I was asked to speak in the Dallas ASCA Clinic. At that point in time I was pretty much a young coach just starting out and I had a lot of theoretical ideas about training. Ten years later I’m back. I hope I’ll be invited back a little bit more regularly.
First thing: I think it’s really important that when you get a chance to speak in front of a large crowd of your colleagues, that you acknowledge some of those that helped pave the way for you. I want to recognize some of the coaches who have influenced my participation in the sport. I don’t necessarily agree with any of them about training, but they did influence my career. They kept me in the sport of swimming and coaching and I want to recognize these people.
John Urbanchek is the first one I want to recognize. I swam for John his first collegiate coaching year. He taught me a lot about swimming. Those of you who know him, know he’s a fantastic individual and he’s been a great mentor all along.
Peter Daland who I don’t agree with in terms of our training methods, but he gave me an opportunity to coach at the college level. Despite criticism that was hefted his way, he got through the criticism and allowed me to continue coaching. I remember once that sitting in an office he came and saw me and shut the door and I thought, “Oh! Oh! I’m in trouble.” He sat down and he sat back as Peter does, and he took a big sigh and he said, “You know, Dave. You’re pretty good at this job. Your methods are a little obscure and a little out on a limb. You might go somewhere in this career. But maybe you need to hold back and maybe you need to quiet down your rhetoric and have a longer career.” I said, “Peter, thank you very much. I know I’m out on a limb. I choose to be out there and I’ll stick to my guns if I can.” Peter was a great mentor.
Eric Lucciano is a very close friend of mine. He’s the one who recommended to me almost ten years ago that I quit coaching and finish my Ph.D.. I did finish the Ph.D., but I got back into coaching pretty quickly thereafter. He’s been a long time friend and somebody I can throw ideas at.
Bjorn Sakawrsky is one of the first athletes that I had of international rank. He’s a German National swimmer. At 29 this year he won the bronze medal in the 400 meter freestyle relay, and finally broke the 50 second barrier in the 100 meter freestyle. He’s been a long time friend and an athlete, and a great source of information with regards to what’s going on in Europe, and what’s going on with him personally.
Terry McKeaver is a long time friend from the University of Southern California. She’s now the head coach at the University of California, Berkeley, and another long time friend that’s helped me guide my way through.
I’ll be remiss if I didn’t recognize those who probably make my job a little bit easier, and those whose job I make a little bit tougher. There’s my coaching staff. I’ve got a very large coaching staff that keeps increasing by the week.
We’re probably missing a couple of names right now. My coaching staff is comprised of my Head Age Group coach Brian Pajer. My Head Masters and Fitness coach is Eric Crownwell. My Assistant Coaches are Annie Calamoto, Elizabeth Coe, Ken Lamonte, Susan Lazenby, Brent Lorenzen, Renee Milton, Nancy Mitchell, Kevin Prectal, and Ken See. Again, I owe a lot to these people because they make my job a lot easier and make me look a little bit better than I am.
Like I said, back in 1986 I was asked to give a presentation that was all theoretical in nature in terms of training methodology. It met with a lot of interest, it met with a lot of skepticism, but it probably launched me into a career of notoriety. It started as just a thought. It started out much like you all as you started your coaching careers. I started out like everybody else in terms of being a very traditional coach. My goal was to see how many yards I could do with my athletes, and I knew that if I could get up to 9,000 or 10,000 yards in a practice session, I would probably be successful. I did that for quite a while, but I had an instructor when I was working on my Masters degree who said, “WHY?!” It was the first time anybody had said why. I had to really explain why. I couldn’t with all the things I knew about exercise physiology and what I was learning in the laboratories. It didn’t make much sense to do what I was doing.
I started writing articles for “Swimming World.” One of the first ones I wrote in 1987 started the groundswell for and against distance swimming or sprint training. It was called: “A Quick Look At The Distance Myth”, which, by the way, the editors of “Swimming World” titled, not me. The response was interesting. I was a young coach, I wasn’t that old. I wasn’t sure why I was the one writing the physiology articles in “Swimming World” magazine. But they figured that if I was working on a Ph.D. and had a Masters, I must know something, so we went along with it. Plus they probably thought they could sell more magazines if I questioned the whole idea about training. I think they sold a lot of magazines during the two years that I wrote.
An expression shared by many was seen in a letter to the editors that appeared in 1988. The author who is a reasonably good friend of mine, but at that time we weren’t friends, we just maybe knew each other, basically took a rather sarcastic and skeptical view of my methods of training and the articles I wrote for “Swimming World” magazine. He said: “Why should I believe that Doc Councilman, Mark Schubert, Nort Thornton, know more about producing world record holders and Olympic Champions than David Salo? I mean David Salo has produced how many under his expert guidance? What more proof is needed? His outstanding record of developing world ranked swimmers over the years is evidence that his scathing attack on current coaching philosophy is justified. I just hope this awakening is not too late. With only eight months until Olympic Trials, I better restructure my training philosophy so my swimmers can be competitive like his.” Basically who had Dave Salo ever coached? Ten years later I finally did it.
But what the letter basically said was what was going on in a lot of people’s minds: who do you coach, who have you coached, and why should we take your viewpoint as the end all of training? It doesn’t make sense. It flies in the face of what we all know about training and what we have had great successes with. But I stood my ground in terms of believing what I was doing, and I think that’s probably the biggest message that has to go along here today, is that you have to believe in whatever it is you’re doing. If it’s distance training, or sprint training, or breaststroke training, or butterfly training, whatever methods you utilize, you have to believe in those methods, and you have to get your athletes to believe in those methods as well. I’m convinced that Amanda Beard probably would have been an Olympic Champion in anybody else’s program as well. I think she probably got there quicker in our program, because she’s a product of the program and the product of the environment that she was part of with the Irvine Nova Aquatics Program.
I always warn my coaches that when you go to these clinics and seminars, that when somebody stands up and discusses how they train a particular athlete, you be warned. While you write down your workouts and you have this vision of what your kids are doing, you think they’re doing something at 90% but maybe they’re doing 70%. You think they’re doing the drills correctly, but maybe they’re doing it incorrectly. So you need to be forewarned that how I train Amanda Beard and how I train our breaststrokers with the Nova program is very different. I think the results we’ve received are because of our program, but it’s not necessarily going to be what transforms your programs into the environment that it has for us. It is always difficult to copy somebody else’s program and make the same things work. So you need to believe in the concepts you utilize and your athletes need to believe in them as well.
Qualities of an Olympic Champion: I learned a lot this year with regards to working with Olympic athletes especially in Amanda’s case, and we almost had Steve West make the Olympic team in the 200 breaststroke, he just missed it by half a second. But I got a realization of what Olympic athletes are all about. Being at Knoxville with the Olympic team training camp, you learn a lot about what those individuals are like. They all share some common qualities and I think those are the things you look for in the athletes that you think might have a chance in being Olympic champions, or being world record holders, or American record holders as well.
An Olympic champion in Amanda’s case is someone who has qualities of competitiveness. She loves to compete. As Kathy said in the introduction, when you watch Amanda race, you have a sense of total involvement. Sitting in the stands in Atlanta and listening to all the comments of the fans in the stands at 150 meters, “Oh that poor little girl. Oh she’s succumbing to the pressures”, and just trying to keep 11,000 people at bay saying, “No! Just wait! It’s okay, she’ll be all right.” And knowing that the competitive drive that really moves Amanda Beard is what drives her as much as anything else. I think that’s a quality that is shared by so many of the Olympic athletes. Amanda loves to race: anyplace, anytime, you name it. It doesn’t matter if it’s male or female. She loves to race.
Steve West was probably one of the most influential reasons for Amanda making the Olympic team this year. I say that because Steve West shares the same kind of quality in that he loves to race. It doesn’t matter when it is, where it is, he doesn’t have to be warmed up, you just tell him to get up on the block, race, and he would do it. Steve West was instrumental in driving up the quality of our program tremendously, because I saw all of our kids that were training with him with the breaststrokers all of a sudden elevate their level of competitiveness every single day. Amanda and Steve would race each other every single day, every single set, and every practice. Amanda inevitably would always win, at least in her mind. Steve would always beat her by five seconds or a couple of seconds here and there, but in Amanda’s mind, she had won. Every single time.
Amanda is pretty care free as I think everybody else understands or has seen on TV. Her presence is amazing for fourteen years of age, there is no pressure. It’s not the kind of pressure that a 24 or 25 year old has in terms of: “This is it. This is my last shot. If I can win a gold medal, I can turn it into a 100,000 dollar prize somewhere.” For Amanda that never entered into the equation. We never discussed with Amanda about winning medals. We had always talked about racing. We had never talked about beating Penny Haynes, we never talked about beating Samantha Riley, and we talked about racing the best in the world. We never talked about breaking world records. We always talked about doing her best. We felt comfortable knowing that if she had done her best both at Olympic Trials and at the Atlanta Games, that she would probably be in there for a medal. But her focus all along was that she was going to a party that happens to be a swim meet, she was going to swim the second day and the fourth day, and to have the greatest time of your life and race. Clearly racing is what she did. So those are some of the qualities of Amanda Beard that I think we’re really influential in her ability to do what she did over the last three years.
Amanda started swimming with our program three years ago as a twelve year old. From five years to eleven years of age she was a summer league swimmer, swimming three months out of the year, maybe two months out of the year. She would come into our program and swam with Andy Calamoto a couple of times during the year, just to get ready for the summer league season. She wanted to break all the records in the butterfly events, that’s what she was. At one point, for whatever reason, Brian Pajer who was the head age group coach had her in his group convinced her to keep swimming. So she gave up soccer and started swimming year round and focusing on the breaststroke. The reason she focused in on the breaststroke is Brian, who is an excellent coach and swam for me through 1992. Had swum for everybody practically in this country: Curl-Burke, Concord Pleasant Hills, Fullerton, Mission Viejo, and he was getting a little bit from everybody. But he’s always been obsessed with breaststroke. Most of my coaches in this room will attest to the fact that when you come around the deck, most of our breaststrokers are because of Brian Pajer who initially did not know a whole lot about anything else except for breaststroke. So all our kids have a good solid foundation in breaststroke technique. I think that’s important, because it’s probably the most difficult skill to teach in terms of timing, and all the things that go along with the technique of breaststroke. But the reason we’ve done such a good job with it, is because we’ve focused so much attention on the toughest stroke, and the other ones are so much easier to develop. I think in most cases, in most age group programs what happens is that we go around it. Breaststroke is too tough. It gets too hard to work with, so we go around it. We focus on the freestyles or the backstrokes. Those are easier to deal with.
Brian is very black and white. He wouldn’t take a breaststroker unless the breaststroker was right. He wouldn’t allow workout to be done until it was done correctly. That’s pretty much the focus of our entire program is that we focus on doing things correctly technically, at a speed that corresponds to racing. Racing in practice is an important part of our program.
This is the chronology of Amanda’s performances in the 100 and 200 breaststroke. In May 1993, she was a 1:36.2 100 meter breaststroker. We have a lot of those. In May 1994, a year later when she had really gotten into year round swimming a little bit more, a little less casually, she was a 1:19.9. So there was a significant improvement in her breaststroke events. Now in June and July she went from a 19 to an 18 to a 16. At the end of 1994, she went a 1:14.73. Not a bad little breaststroker, coming down there pretty good. In March 1995 at Senior Nationals, she had only been in my group for about two months. In the senior program she had dropped another two seconds at her first National Championship meet.
Now remember, most of us who take our rookies to Senior Nationals, the most we expect is that they finish the race. And if they finish the race, and we can see something pretty positive in that, then we’re pretty ecstatic about the result. What Amanda did was, was she became Rookie of The Meet. She was third in the 200 meter breaststroke, and I think she was fifth in the 100 meter breaststroke. She went a 2:33.05 in the 200 meter breaststroke. What’s interesting is that two weeks before she swam her third ever 200 meter breaststroke and went a 2:41.44. So in about two weeks time she’s a little bit more experienced, figured out what the race was all about, and she went eight seconds faster. I attribute a lot of that not just to great fine tuning or tapering, but I attribute a lot to the racing aspect of National Championships. All of a sudden she’s racing against people who go 2:30. She wasn’t going to be knocked out of the race. She was told all along that you get up and race the best that you can. She hadn’t experienced the 200 breaststroke that much to know that you’re not supposed to go 2:33 the fourth time you ever swim it.
Now we knew we had something special with Amanda Beard at this particular meet because on our way back from prelims to finals in the 200 meter breaststroke, we said, “Amanda here is how you need to swim this race: At about 120 meters I want to see you start picking things up. Don’t worry about where you are at 100 meters or at 115 meters. But at 120 meters wherever you are, really start picking things up. Go into that last wall focused on being in there as fast as you can, hit the turn well, and just start picking up your turnover rate the last 50 and just mow people down.” At 120 meters there’s a distinct difference in her cadence, in her turnover rate. She started moving from seventh place at a 100 meters to about fifth place at 150 meters, and then she closed in on most people all the way down the last 50 meters, where she finished third in the 200 meter breaststroke. So at that point we knew somebody here who was pretty coachable. Somebody who loved to race and was willing to take on the world at that point in time.
The rest of the chronology goes as follows. In July of 1995, that was Summer Nationals, she went a 1:10.3 in the 100 meter breaststroke and went a 2:29.4 in the 200 breaststroke. In the 100 she won the 100 meter breaststroke. In the 200 she was second. As most of you have seen, Amanda does not wear goggles when she races. I think she does that to really kind of isolate her world to be focused on just her lane, just her racing. She has a sense of where people are, but not a perfect sense of where they are visually. She did not know that Annamika McReynolds was a second ahead of her. All she knew was that she was racing Kristine Quance and Anita Nall who were side by side next to her, and she was racing who she thought she needed to race. Annamika beat her by about a second in that race. At Pan Pacs in August she went a 1:09.9, and she claimed to the media that she had been trying to break 1:10 for so long, since she was a little girl.
Pan Pacs was interesting. I wasn’t there, I was at Junior Nationals in Phoenix, but I saw the tapes and I thought, “Gosh! Samantha Riley and Penny Haynes were amazing!” Samantha Riley went a 2:24 in the 200 meter breaststroke, and she almost broke the world record in the 100. These are World swimmers. Amanda is a good National level swimmer, but the world’s best are Samantha Riley and Penny Haynes.
We knew back in March 1995, that our efforts were towards the Olympic Games. What we tried to create an environment with our national training group back in 1993. We went to the national training group where there were about 25 swimmers and we said our goal has to be Olympic Trials. At that point nobody had Olympic Trial cuts. But I spoke to them about making Olympic Trials. I spoke to them about creating an environment that whoever might make the Olympic team, that they would have an environment for success. They all agreed in concept. They all agreed, “Yes, that’s our goal, because if we create that environment, we’ll get better as well.” I also said to them, it might not be anyone in this group right now, today. But it might be somebody who comes from the age group program, it might be somebody who comes in off the streets who walks in and says, “I want to train here.” In May of 1995, Steve West came on deck, Amanda Beard came into the Senior Group of January of 1994, and we had the two Olympian level athletes that we did not know we had at that point in time. But we created the environment two years previous to this, and we ended up with five kids at Olympic Trials. In July 1996, Amanda broke the American record in the 100 meter breaststroke and she was 2:25.36 in the 200 meter breaststroke, won two silver medals, and participated on the gold medal winning 400 medley relay.
As I said before, Amanda came out of the summer league program. She was there a couple of months out of the year from the ages of five to eleven. She turned into year round participation in 1993. She participated in our age group program which shares a very common philosophy throughout the course of our entire program, whether it would be age group or senior level swimming. Our focus is stroke technique, developing technique and being excellent at that technique, and not being satisfied with anything that is not proper technique. We talk about race pace technique. Everything that we do generally whether it be age group swimming or the senior program, is talking about swimming technically correct at fast speeds.
We talk about training commitment. Just like I said, in 1993 we set a tone for the senior group to place people on the Olympic team, and that became the environment that we wanted to create. With our top age group program we are trying to create an environment that calls for excellence: excellence in practice attendance. We went from a program six years ago, where attendance was about thirty or forty percent with our age group kids, to now it’s about ninety percent with our top group. It’s just assumed that if you are in the top group of our age group program, that you are going to be there focusing on swimming. We don’t have a problem with that. A lot of our kids still participate in other activities like soccer and basketball, and things like that. But by the same token, what we are trying to teach the kids and the parents along the line, is that commitment to excellence in a single thing like swimming is not detrimental to a young person. What’s detrimental to a young person, in my mind, is teaching mediocrity by participating in a lot of things and just being a generalist, and never focusing on one particular thing and experiencing excellence. So it’s something that might be a little bit different than a lot of age group programs throughout this country. But I think that it’s helped our program tremendously. There’s an expectation of success in our program that goes along with the commitment to training that we focus in on with our program.
Shortly after Brian Pajer took over the age group program he had a meeting with the kids. He brought out all the top sixteen times for the kids to look at. They came back after the dryland activities for the water session and they’re all laughing and joking around. I went over to a few of them and I said, “What’s so funny?” “Brian thinks we can go this. These people are fast! We can’t be top sixteen.” And all but one or two of those kids really believed that they couldn’t do it, that it was silly to believe that they would ever be top sixteen level swimmers. But once we had one or two swimmers buy into the concept, it got the whole group rolling, and consequently we probably have one of the best age group programs in the country, because those kids believe in that. It’s transformed into their level of commitment and excellence as they move through the senior program.
The specifics of Amanda Beard. As she has gone into the senior program, she’s very committed to her swimming, very focused, but she’s got it all in perspective. We’ve never focused on winning medals or breaking world records, only on doing her best. I’ve only had to get after Amanda once. That was about one month after she had joined the training group, and I had to pluck out three kids out of the group that were kind of meandering through, not really focusing on what they were doing. That was the only time I had to pick her out and say, “You’re not doing the job.” With Amanda and her focus on doing her best, she never questions what she does. She just knows that if I’m asking her to go 2:20 in practice for a 200 yard breaststroke, she’ll darn well do what she can to do that.
Shortly after she joined my group, I think after Nationals in 95, we’re doing a set of 3x200s on four minutes. (We don’t do this very often.) She was going 2:21 on the first one and I said, “Amanda that’s not fast enough. You’ve got to go faster.” She said, “Okay, I’ll go faster.” Then she went 2:19 on the next one and I said, “Amanda that’s just not fast enough. You’ve got to go faster. Get into those walls, get those legs kicking.” “Okay, whatever.” Then she went 2:18 on the last one, “Well, okay, if that’s the best you can do then that’s pretty good.” I’m not very good at details. So I’m driving home and I pull out the swim guide that we have, and I’m looking through the times and Senior Nationals is like a 2:24 or something like that, and I go, “Ooh! I guess she was going pretty fast.” But what I noticed is that was she didn’t say that’s too fast, she didn’t ask how fast to go. I wasn’t telling her how fast to go as much as, “Let’s go faster, let’s be faster, let’s really focus on being faster.”
Amanda is unique to our program. Obviously not all of us have an Amanda Beard. I was blessed with an Amanda Beard, but I do believe that she is the product of a program and an environment. She would not have been the American record holder in the 100 meter breaststroke had she been in any other program. I guarantee that, because I don’t think she would have learned the technique and the skill that she learned, to the extent that she could have been successful at it. She just as easily would have been playing soccer. In fact she may play soccer this year. She’s accomplished a lot in swimming, she’s not ready to get back in the water, and I’m not ready to force into the water because she’s fourteen years old. She’s got tremendous skill, tremendous competitive drive, but she doesn’t want to swim right now. She comes in a couple of times a week and gets wet, but right now she’s talking about playing basketball. She’s talking about playing soccer. I told her last week, “If you want to do that stuff, go do it. You’ve accomplished what most kids don’t even get a chance to dream about.” I think that’s what has allowed her to be as good as she can be, in that we didn’t focus so much on that part of swimming. We focused more on being the best she can be, whatever that might be. It happens to be the American record holder. I guarantee she will be back in the water before Sidney. Somehow. Her biggest thrill right now is that she’s preparing for a triathlon where she’s swimming the open water part against the Baywatch team.
But Amanda is unique. You might have an Amanda Beard in your program, you might not. I think what has helped her develop is that she has focused on developing technique, she’s been allowed to race in practice and in meets. We’ve never judged her about her level of competitiveness. We’ve focused on those aspects that I think have allowed her to be successful. We didn’t focus on an aerobic development base, which I think is the paramount issue that most age group programs are dealing with, is trying to get enough base in. She has not had the base. Our age group program practices maybe 3500 yards a day, not meters a day. Her program as an age group swimmer was five afternoons a week, Monday through Friday, no Saturday morning, all yards, about 3500 yards a day, focusing mostly on drills, technique, and race pace swimming. Sometimes the workouts go a little bit longer, because sometimes the kids don’t do things correctly. In Amanda’s senior training program, same thing. There are morning workouts: we go Tuesday and Thursday mornings from 5:45 to 7:00. Afternoons are Monday through Friday from 3:30 to 6:00. About half an hour to forty five minutes of that is dryland with medicine balls and squat jumps and stretching. On average it’s about 4,000 maybe 5,000. On occasion when I really get rolling, we might to 6,000 yards in a practice. Fridays are usually dedicated to soccer, or whatever the kids can convince me to play with. So it’s soccer or basketball or whatever. So Fridays have sometimes been maybe on average 2,000-3,000 yards of practice.
Preparing for the Olympic Trials we had a couple of things that we focused in on. Number one: in early 1995 our focus was developing a strategy that when she went to Olympic Trials, nobody would be able to beat her. We knew that she could probably be faster than almost any male, the last 50 of the 200 meter breaststroke. We knew that if we could create an environment over the next six months from March of 95 to December of 95, create an environment where any of her competitors knew that they had to be a second and a half to two seconds ahead of her going into the last fifty, then we knew we could have her swim a race, and win the race, and make the Olympic team. So in every meet leading up to Trials that’s exactly what we would try and do. When she raced Kristine Quance we told her, “Okay, here is how you need to race Kristine. She’s a good 200 breaststroker. She’s got a good ability to come back. But you need to set a tone with 50 meters left to go, that she can’t beat you. That she’s going to stress over not being a second and a half ahead of you.” When she raced Emily Peters and Lindsay Eders and other top notch breaststrokers in Southern California, it was the same thing. Focus on creating a strategy so that when those athletes went to Olympic Trials, and when those coaches took those athletes to Olympic Trials, they would have to strategize a race that would effectively give Amanda the race with 50 meters to go. What was neat about that, what was really exciting from a coaching standpoint, was to construct and prepare and develop that in an athlete who is so willing, and had the talent and had the ability to do those things.
Then when we went to Olympic Trials and the 100 breaststroke was the second day of the meet, we decided at that point that we were not even going to shave for the morning swim. I felt comfortable and confident that she could go under 1:10 in the 100 meter breaststroke in the morning. I felt fairly comfortable and confident that would make the top eight, and then she would come back that night shaved and swim a good 100 breaststroke. Working with Amanda through Olympic Trials was a great experience from a coaching standpoint, because we knew that we had something really special with her, and that we could try and do some things that were pretty risky and out of the realm of maybe intelligence. But we did it. I was a little concerned at Olympic Trials in the 100. She seemed to be taking on the environment around her. Everybody was really stressed and everybody was uptight, and she started taking on that same look of concern before her 100 meter breaststroke race. I didn’t know if it was she hadn’t shaved and she was worried about that, or if she was becoming a chameleon and taking on everybody else’s emotion. But she got up, we didn’t talk her out of her emotion, she got up and raced and went a 1:09.9. I think she qualified second with Kristine Quance being first, and it was a sigh of relief that we didn’t goof. We let it be known at that point that she was not shaved. I think that helped strategically that all of a sudden her competitors now had to go back to the hotel and are going, “Amanda hasn’t shaved. She went a 1:09. She’s only thirteen but she hasn’t shaved. She’s got hairy legs!” So when she came back that afternoon, she was warming up, and those of you that have been on National teams and seen Amanda or just watched her, you can see a difference when she is relaxed and excited. She was warming up and I was sitting down and she kind of looked over at me and said, “I feel good. I feel ready!” I knew at that point here is this kid that it doesn’t matter if she’s at Olympic Trials, she’s ready, she’s excited, she’s happy, she’s got a big old smile on her face, and she ended up winning the race with a 1:08.3. So Amanda Beard is not like everybody else.
We all don’t have Amanda Beards. I don’t have four more Amanda Beards that are following up behind Amanda Beard. When you get an Amanda Beard, it’s a very exciting opportunity to do some things that you never thought you were able or ever get the opportunity to try. But our breaststroke program has been successful not just with Amanda Beard. It’s been very successful with a lot of our athletes: boys, girls, men, and women. Steve West went from a 2:16 to 2:14 at Olympic Trials and almost made the Olympic Team, missing by a half a second. I think he went a little too fast in his first fifty. Those are the things that weigh on your mind after the fact: if we had done this, or done that.
What was probably more impressive than anything else at Olympic Trials was not Amanda’s swims. I think everybody expected those swims. It was Steve West’s’ swims in the 100 meter breaststroke, when he went a 1:02.6 and almost made the Olympic Team in the 100 meter breaststroke, because he’s not really considered a 100 meter breaststroker. He’s considered a 200 meter breaststroker. When he went a 1:02.6 on the first day of the meet, we thought we had something pretty close to a sure thing, but we knew Erich Wunderlich was going to be tough and we knew Kurt Grote was going to be tough. They were half a second too tough. But Steve West swims were pretty impressive, because here’s a 24 year old man coming out of a program that was very different than anything he had ever done, he was willing to take a risk, and he was willing to do what we had asked him to do. I think the slight consolation was he broke the Nova Aquatic team record for the senior men 100 meter breaststroke, which was a 1:02.8 which my head age group coach did in 1992 trials. So he’s pretty jazzed by that. The other thing that he’s jazzed by is that he’s faster than Steve Bentley ever was. They always had a common rivalry. So I think that was a very impressive swim.
Some of the other impressive swims that you don’t know about I’ll tell you about right now. Most of you know John Moffet held the record in Southern California swimming for 13-14 boys for over 18 years. It was a 2:26.77. We had a young man who is not exceptional, he’s a good hard working kid, but sometimes we have to keep him in line. He started swimming in our age group program about three years ago, about the same time as Amanda. They’re actually pretty good friends. His name is Daniel Kim. He’s made progress through the years, he’s a pretty good solid swimmer, and he was going to turn 15 at the beginning of July. He wanted to break John Moffet’s record and his best time to date was a 2:30 last year in the 200 meter breaststroke. So we gave him the opportunity, without fine tuning too much, at a meet in June and he got up and raced and went a 2:27 and missed it by a second. He was horrified, he wanted to break the record so bad. We told him two days later he could time trial. Just get up and time trial. Give it one more shot, you’ll be rested two more days, and you can shave your legs and arms and all that stuff and get up there and go after it. So two days later he gets up with somebody who was doing 200 fly. Daniel Kim has a way of changing his stroke every three strokes so we’re never sure what we’re going to get. Every day in practice it’s like “what version is it today?” But he got up there and he went 150 meters and it’s like, “God he’s going great, he’s beating the butterflyer.” Through that third fifty he was a little tight and changing his strokes a little bit and he came off that last wall, and he started moving. He started picking up his turnover and started seeing the end of the wall and seeing the end of the race. He touched the wall and went 2:25.77. He broke John Moffet’s record, and he is just kind of an average Joe kid. But he’s a product of a program that is very different and it’s beneficial probably more so to our breaststroke swimmers, than any of our other swimmers.
I’m learning more of what I need to do with our other athletes who swim something other than breaststroke, by looking at the model that we have put together for breaststroke swimming. We have lots of examples, but Daniel was an exciting example this year in terms of what he was able to accomplish. Unfortunately at Junior Nationals Chuck Riggs had a young boy by the name of Benjamin Warvue who ended up breaking the record by going 2:24. So Daniel had it for about a month.
The Nova breaststroke training program is different. We focus on being very intense with our training. Our breaststrokers for the most part do probably 70%-80% of the workouts breaststroke, not breaststroke swimming necessarily, but breaststroke oriented. We’re very drill driven. All of our drills are supposed to be done fast. I can stand up here and tell you the “How they train” so and so speech, and tell you that all our kids do exactly what I’m telling you, but they don’t. That’s the reality. That’s what we want them to do, and we try to get them to become more and more of the ideal of what we want them to do, but it doesn’t always happen. But the idea is that everything that they do is fast paced, drill oriented, and not just straight swimming breaststroke.
How many of you have been breaststrokers in this room? That’s why you have this interest of being here today. You can all think back in those years of breaststroke swimming and what you did. One day you feel great, and the next day you feel like crap. And you feel like crap for two or three days and you get frustrated. One of the things that doesn’t happen with our breaststrokers is that same sense of crap feeling. Because they’re not swimming breaststroke the whole time. They’re doing kicking and pulling and sculling, and a lot of change-up and changing speeds, and a lot of drill orientation that’s done at very fast paces that keep their heart rates up, that keeps them focused on their stroke, but doesn’t get them stale for the stroke of swimming breaststroke. We focus on technique, we focus on fast drills, and we focus on high intensity level of swimming. What we were really able to do this year, we were able to emphasize with our breaststrokers that our program was the best program for breaststroke swimming in the country. We had Amanda Beard who was the best in the country, and Steve West who was second or third best in the country. It’s hard not to be able to say that. So we said that a lot, that this was the best place to be if you’re going to train breaststroke.
Again, the focus of our program is drill oriented, fast pace, high intensity in yards. We don’t train a lot of long course. Leading up to Olympic Trials, Amanda Beard did two long course workouts between September of 95 and Olympic Trials in March of 96. Two long course workouts before Trials. They were two morning workouts, that lasted about one hour each, and because I didn’t want to kill everybody, we probably just did a lot of kicking and a lot of just kind of swimming around. All these are my opinions. I see Pat Hogan in the back, and he’s got some great breaststroke swimmers, and he and I don’t probably agree on a lot of things that I’m talking about here. But what is great about American swimming is that Pat Hogan and I can be as diverse and contradictory to each other, and have tremendous successes within our own programs. Jilen Siroky and Katie Hathoway this year were amazing. Obviously they were the product of a program that they believe in and that Pat surely believes in. You should see all the down the line breaststrokers that Pat has. But these are my opinions and they work really well for my program, because it’s my thought, it’s my belief, and I’ve got my athletes believing in what they do.
Leading up to Olympic Trials, we did do a few more long course workouts. We did long course workouts in the morning four days a week. We did all our afternoon workouts short course. The reason why I think for breaststroke training, long course swimming may not be the best thing, is that they can’t maintain their stroke and they can’t maintain their intensity going long course, as well as I think they can going short course. Some of the drills that we do, you just can’t do them for an extended period of time. A lot of the drills that we incorporate are the drills that were developed by Josef Nagy and Mike Barrowman. So we’ve incorporated a lot of those drills and we’ve tried to add to a lot of those drills. But a lot of those drills you just can’t do over fifty meters. Trying to do them for 200 meters would probably be very difficult. We can do them for 25 yards and 50 yards and mix them up. You’ll be able to maintain the intensity level to a greater extent, maintain the technique to a greater extent, and still at the same time incorporate very focused intense training with good, solid proper technique. So those are some of the characteristics of the program. Those are some of the characteristics that have led to the success of Amanda Beard. As I’ve said before, Amanda Beard is the product of a program, but she’s certainly the product of her talents. I’ve heard rumors that people have said she must be doing more, she must be doing this or that, but I’m telling you today what she’s done, what she’s been a part of. Despite her saying on the “Tonight Show” that she goes eight hours a day, she does not go eight hours a day. It doesn’t go very well with the quote in “Swimming World” magazine, when she was interviewed, saying we go 4,000. So 4,000 and eight hours is a little problem. It’s more like three hours a day on about 4,000 to 5,000 yards of practice. But again you’ve got something very unique that works for Amanda Beard and works for a lot of our breaststrokers and it’s a program that I feel very good about. With that, I’ll answer any questions that you may have.
Component training is breaking down the stroke into its components. In breaststroke it’s the arm stroke, it’s the kick. As an example: we might go a set of 4x75s in which the first lap will be bike kick. Bike kick for us is having hands out in front, head on top of the water, back nice and flat, and all they are doing is working on heel speed. The second 25 might be head up dolphin kick with breaststroke pull. That’s another component, keeping the elbows up really focusing on hand speed and developing strength in the arms. The last 25 might be kick, kick, pull. Again it is component based on taking a stroke, breaking it down into all of its components, and then utilizing that as your training mechanism. It doesn’t matter how much you do, but how you do it. You do it well, you do it right, and you do it well fast, I think. Then you’ll see some benefit to what you’re doing.
Do we have to start out slow with the drills? There’s a learning curve and we try and keep our drills fast. So we work in the learning curve and still keep our drills fast because you can’t do a lot of the drills that we do slowly, and still maintain body position, and the kind of stresses that you want in order to get the benefit from it.
Do we structure our training towards the back half of our swims? A lot of our swimming is based on 200. I talk a lot about pace 200 sets and holding pace 200 in a given swim, whether it might be 75, 50 or 25. What I try to do in my mind is create a swim or a set that mimics a 200 breaststroke. We might go a set where we go four rounds of 3 x 25 full speed drill, followed by 75 swimming at pace 200. I think that incorporates the back half idea. Mentally in my mind I say, “I’m going to get them really fatigued for about 75 yards then I want them to come back and do the stroke correctly and do it at race speeds.” I think that is going to teach them the back half aspect of the swim.
What is common to our program is that we’ll do small bouts of exercise. Maybe it’s a minute to three minutes of just really fast, hard, intense swimming, and then we’ll get anywhere from ten seconds to a minute rest. We look at it more in terms of packages, bouts of exercise that are pretty intense of the component training, giving them rest, and then coming back and doing them again.
Does the wrestling that we do help our breaststrokers more than anybody else in the program? We do a lot of water wrestling. Underwater wresting is really a lot of fun. The kids love it, it’s pretty safe — we tell them they can’t do anything around the necks. I think it helps them all but I think it helps the women probably more so than the guys, because we found that the women are really willing to wrestle. What happens is that we get a couple of female wrestlers going, and everybody stops and watches the two that are really battling it out on the bottom. But it’s a lot of fun. I look at a lot of our training as just good physical fitness.
A lot of people talk about aerobic base, but everything we do is aerobic. The only thing that is not aerobic in nature is when I make them swim underwater. Then they’re not supposed to swim anyway, so it doesn’t matter.
Now we’re also into jogging in the water. The reason for this is I had a girl with a shoulder injury this year and for two months we did nothing but aqua jog. We put a little belt on her and put weights on her and she would just jog up and down in the water for an hour and a half. She was a 1:49 200 yard freestyler and she was really concerned that she wasn’t going to be able to do those times. She ended up going 1:50 point at a meet to requalify for Seniors based on two months of just running back and forth in the water. I’m convinced we need to develop an aerobic base or whatever you want to call it — endurance that can be really interesting for the kids and can be a lot of fun for the coaches, and it can really liven things up a bit.
Amanda Beard has become a fairly good 200 IMer. She’s got Senior Nationals cuts with a 2:22 in the 200 IM. In the 400 IM which she hates a lot, she goes ‘s a 5:09 400 IMer. We had a meet back in December and I said if you go a Junior National time in the 400 IM, you’ll never have to do it again. She got up there and she raced her heart out! She raced so hard and she missed it by like a second, and she was crushed. She made herself sick and she had to scratch the rest of the meet, but she really tried, and you have to give her credit for that. I have an agreement with Amanda Beard: when she makes the Olympic Trial time in the 100 meter butterfly she can then retire. We’re not going to do a lot of butterfly for a while.
Do we do any of the typical aerobic sets? I did a set this summer. Swimming World came out and every month they have this clipboard thing with somebody’s workout. It was a Dennis Pursley workout. I looked at it and finally said okay we’ll do it. So I photocopied 20 copies and gave it to all the kids in the national group and said this is the workout. It was about an 8,000 yard workout, with a lot of freestyle. They didn’t ask why, they didn’t ask what it’s all about, they just did it. Amazingly they did a great job. They swam it, they did well, and actually we found out we had a couple of kids that are better at distance freestylers. So we’ve got some distance kids coming out now. What’s interesting is I had one swimmer complain. He said it was stupid. He was a kid who had come out here from the Mid-West to train breaststroke. He couldn’t understand why I was making him go 8,000 yards of just freestyle. But everyone else did fine, nobody complained and they just did it. So everyone once in a while we’ll do it.