The Future of Swimming by Jonty Skinner (2002)


Published


In preparation for this presentation I spent a lot of time going back through the records and researched where we have come from over the last 40 years.  I used this information in part to project where we are going in the future.  I feel that part of going forward requires that we look back at our history, and so what I’m going to try to do in this presentation is to get into your head a little and maybe affect in some ways what you think of as a coach, get you to possibly rethink your philosophy and maybe change some of the ways you approach coaching in the future.

 

World Progressions

I looked at the American Record (LCM & SCY) and World Record (LCM) progressions from the 1960’s to 2000 (Charts 1-6).  I did this since there was a small renaissance in swimming during the 60’s with the advent of interval training, and the drive to increase the volume that athletes went through on a weekly basis.  You’ll notice in the following charts that in both Men and Women there were huge improvements in the 60’s and 70’s with an almost flat line improvement during the 80’s and 90’s.  Not a tremendous amount has changed except in those strokes that have gone through rule changes. (Breaststroke and Backstroke).  There has been a small upswing in both the number of records being broken, and the improvements made over the last few years of the 90’s, but a large majority of those improvements were in large part due to improved racing suit technology.

 

Chart #1

AMERICAN RECORD PROGRESSION WOMEN SCY
  DIST 1960 1970 1980 1990 2000 % CHANGE BETWEEN DECADES 60 to 70 70 to 80 80 to 90 90 to 20 60 to 20
FR 50   0:23.44 0:22.83 0:21.92 0:21.77 #DIV/0! 2.60% 3.99% 0.68% 7.12%
100 0:56.00 0:52.10 0:48.76 0:48.20 0:47.61 6.96% 6.41% 1.15% 1.22% 8.62%
200 02:02.80 01:52.10 01:44.10 01:44.10 01:43.28 8.71% 7.14% 0.00% 0.79% 7.87%
500 05:28.20 04:54.10 04:36.25 04:34.39 04:34.39 10.39% 6.07% 0.67% 0.00% 6.70%
1650   16:54.60 15:49.10 15:39.14 15:39.14 #DIV/0! 6.46% 1.05% 0.00% 7.44%
BK 100 01:03.00 0:58.70 0:54.94 0:53.98 0:52.47 6.83% 6.41% 1.75% 2.80% 10.61%
200 02:16.70 02:05.90 01:57.79 01:55.16 01:52.98 7.90% 6.44% 2.23% 1.89% 10.26%
BR 100 01:12.80 01:06.50 01:01.82 01:00.66 0:59.05 8.65% 7.04% 1.88% 2.65% 11.20%
200 02:33.20 02:23.50 02:11.46 02:09.06 02:07.66 6.33% 8.39% 1.83% 1.08% 11.04%
FL 100 01:00.30 0:58.00 0:53.24 0:52.42 0:51.34 3.81% 8.21% 1.54% 2.06% 11.48%
200 02:16.80 02:03.90 01:53.21 01:52.99 01:52.99 9.43% 8.63% 0.19% 0.00% 8.81%
IM 200 02:20.70 02:08.00 01:57.86 01:57.06 01:55.54 9.03% 7.92% 0.68% 1.30% 9.73%
400 04:57.00 04:31.00 04:08.09 04:04.63 04:02.28 8.75% 8.45% 1.39% 0.96% 10.60%
              AVE #DIV/0! 6.94% 1.41% 1.19% 9.35%

 

Chart #2

AMERICAN RECORD PROGRESSION WOMEN LCM
  DIST 1960 1970 1980 1990 2000 % CHANGE BETWEEN DECADES 60 to 70 70 to 80 80 to 90 90 to 20 60 to 20
FR 50     0:26.06 0:25.50 0:24.63     2.15% 3.41%  
100 01:01.30 0:59.00 0:55.63 0:55.30 0:54.07 3.75% 5.71% 0.59% 2.22% 8.36%
200 02:15.10 02:06.70 01:58.23 01:58.23 01:57.90 6.22% 6.69% 0.00% 0.28% 6.95%
400 04:44.50 04:24.30 04:07.12 04:03.85 04:03.85 7.10% 6.50% 1.32% 0.00% 7.74%
800 09:51.60 09:10.40 08:24.70 08:16.22 08:16.22 6.96% 8.30% 1.68% 0.00% 9.84%
BK 100 01:09.00 01:06.00 01:02.55 01:01.20 01:00.77 4.35% 5.23% 2.16% 0.70% 7.92%
200 02:33.50 02:21.50 02:11.93 02:08.60 02:08.60 7.82% 6.76% 2.52% 0.00% 9.12%
BR 100 01:21.80 01:14.20 01:10.40 01:08.91 01:07.05 9.29% 5.12% 2.12% 2.70% 9.64%
200 02:51.40 02:38.50 02:33.06 02:29.58 02:24.56 7.53% 3.43% 2.27% 3.36% 8.79%
FL 100 01:09.10 01:04.10 0:59.26 0:57.93 0:57.58 7.24% 7.55% 2.24% 0.60% 10.17%
200 02:37.00 02:19.30 02:06.37 02:05.96 02:05.88 11.27% 9.28% 0.32% 0.06% 9.63%
IM 200 02:33.30 02:23.50 02:13.69 02:12.64 02:11.91 6.39% 6.84% 0.79% 0.55% 8.08%
400 05:36.50 05:04.70 04:40.67 04:37.76 04:37.58 9.45% 7.89% 1.04% 0.06% 8.90%
              AVE 7.28% 6.61% 1.48% 1.07% 8.76%

Chart #3

WORLD RECORD PROGRESSION WOMEN LCM
  DIST 1960 1970 1980 1990 2000 % CHANGE BETWEEN DECADES 60 to 70 70 to 80 80 to 90 90 to 20 60 to 20
FR 50     0:25.96 0:24.98 0:24.13     3.78% 3.40%  
100 01:00.20 0:58.90 0:54.79 0:54.73 0:53.77 2.16% 6.98% 0.11% 1.75% 8.71%
200 02:11.60 02:06.70 01:58.23 01:57.55 01:56.78 3.72% 6.69% 0.58% 0.66% 7.83%
400 04:44.50 04:24.30 04:06.28 04:03.85 04:03.85 7.10% 6.82% 0.99% 0.00% 7.74%
800 09:55.60 09:02.40 08:24.62 08:16.22 08:16.22 8.93% 6.97% 1.66% 0.00% 8.51%
BK 100 01:09.00 01:05.60 01:00.86 01:00.59 01:00.16 4.93% 7.23% 0.44% 0.71% 8.29%
200 02:33.30 02:21.50 02:11.77 02:08.60 02:06.62 7.70% 6.88% 2.41% 1.54% 10.52%
BR 100 01:19.00 01:14.20 01:10.11 01:07.91 01:06.52 6.08% 5.51% 3.14% 2.05% 10.35%
200 02:49.50 02:38.50 02:28.36 02:26.71 02:23.64 6.49% 6.40% 1.11% 2.09% 9.38%
FL 100 01:09.10 01:04.10 0:59.26 0:57.93 0:56.61 7.24% 7.55% 2.24% 2.28% 11.68%
200 02:34.40 02:19.30 02:06.37 02:05.96 02:05.81 9.78% 9.28% 0.32% 0.12% 9.68%
IM 200 02:40.30 02:23.50 02:13.00 02:11.73 02:09.72 10.48% 7.32% 0.95% 1.53% 9.60%
400 05:36.50 05:04.70 04:36.29 04:36.10 04:33.59 9.45% 9.32% 0.07% 0.91% 10.21%
              AVE 7.00% 7.24% 1.37% 1.31% 9.38%

Chart #4

AMERICAN RECORD PROGRESSION MEN SCY
  DIST 1960 1970 1980 1990 2000 % CHANGE BETWEEN DECADES 60 to 70 70 to 80 80 to 90 90 to 20 60 to 20
FR 50 0:21.20 0:20.81 0:19.75 0:19.05 0:19.05 1.84% 5.09% 3.54% 0.00% 8.46%
100 0:48.20 0:45.30 0:43.16 0:41.80 0:41.80 6.02% 4.72% 3.15% 0.00% 7.73%
200 01:47.90 01:39.50 01:34.57 01:33.03 01:33.03 7.78% 4.95% 1.63% 0.00% 6.50%
500 04:48.20 04:27.10 04:16.40 04:13.06 04:08.75 7.32% 4.01% 1.30% 1.70% 6.87%
1650 16:52.10 15:35.90 14:47.27 14:37.87 14:29.31 7.53% 5.20% 1.06% 0.98% 7.12%
BK 100 0:55.20 0:51.90 0:49.31 0:47.02 0:44.92 5.98% 4.99% 4.64% 4.47% 13.45%
200 02:00.10 01:51.30 01:46.09 01:44.43 01:40.06 7.33% 4.68% 1.56% 4.18% 10.10%
BR 100 01:02.40 0:58.10 0:53.69 0:52.48 0:51.86 6.89% 7.59% 2.25% 1.18% 10.74%
200 02:17.60 02:06.00 01:59.14 01:53.77 01:53.77 8.43% 5.44% 4.51% 0.00% 9.71%
FL 100 0:53.10 0:49.10 0:47.77 0:46.26 0:46.26 7.53% 2.71% 3.16% 0.00% 5.78%
200 01:57.80 01:49.60 01:45.05 01:42.60 01:41.78 6.96% 4.15% 2.33% 0.80% 7.14%
IM 200 02:03.20 01:52.60 01:47.93 01:44.70 01:43.52 8.60% 4.15% 2.99% 1.13% 8.06%
400 04:38.60 03:59.70 03:48.24 03:42.23 03:38.18 13.96% 4.78% 2.63% 1.82% 8.98%
              AVE 7.40% 4.81% 2.67% 1.25% 8.51%

Chart #5

AMERICAN RECORD PROGRESSION MEN LCM
  DIST 1960 1970 1980 1990 2000 % CHANGE BETWEEN DECADES 60 to 70 70 to 80 80 to 90 90 to 20 60 to 20
FR 50     0:23.66 0:21.81 0:21.76     7.82% 0.23%  
100 0:54.80 0:51.94 0:49.61 0:48.42 0:48.42 5.22% 4.49% 2.40% 0.00% 6.78%
200 02:02.90 01:54.30 01:49.16 01:47.72 01:46.73 7.00% 4.50% 1.32% 0.92% 6.62%
400 04:19.20 04:02.80 03:51.56 03:48.06 03:47.00 6.33% 4.63% 1.51% 0.46% 6.51%
1500 17:05.50 15:57.10 15:02.40 15:01.51 14:56.81 6.67% 5.72% 0.10% 0.52% 6.30%
BK 100 01:01.30 0:58.50 0:55.49 0:54.51 0:53.60 4.57% 5.15% 1.77% 1.67% 8.38%
200 02:16.00 02:06.30 01:59.19 01:58.86 01:55.87 7.13% 5.63% 0.28% 2.52% 8.26%
BR 100 01:10.70 01:06.50 01:02.88 01:01.65 01:00.44 5.94% 5.44% 1.96% 1.96% 9.11%
200 02:33.60 02:23.50 02:17.26 02:11.53 02:10.16 6.58% 4.35% 4.17% 1.04% 9.30%
FL 100 0:58.70 0:55.60 0:54.18 0:52.84 0:52.44 5.28% 2.55% 2.47% 0.76% 5.68%
200 02:12.80 02:05.00 01:58.21 01:57.05 01:55.18 5.87% 5.43% 0.98% 1.60% 7.86%
IM 200 02:15.90 02:09.50 02:03.24 02:00.11 01:59.77 4.71% 4.83% 2.54% 0.28% 7.51%
400 05:04.50 04:31.00 04:20.05 04:15.57 04:11.76 11.00% 4.04% 1.72% 1.49% 7.10%
              AVE 6.36% 4.73% 2.23% 1.03% 7.45%

 

Chart #6

 

WORLD RECORD PROGRESSION MEN LCM
  DIST 1960 1970 1980 1990 2000 % CHANGE BETWEEN DECADES 60 to 70 70 to 80 80 to 90 90 to 20 60 to 20
FR 50     0:22.71 0:21.81 0:21.64     3.96% 0.78%  
100 0:54.60 0:51.90 0:49.44 0:48.42 0:47.84 4.95% 4.74% 2.06% 1.20% 7.82%
200 02:01.50 01:54.30 01:49.16 01:46.69 01:45.35 5.93% 4.50% 2.26% 1.26% 7.83%
400 04:15.90 04:02.60 03:50.49 03:46.95 03:40.59 5.20% 4.99% 1.54% 2.80% 9.07%
1500 17:11.00 15:57.10 14:58.27 14:54.76 14:41.66 7.17% 6.15% 0.39% 1.46% 7.88%
BK 100 01:01.50 0:56.90 0:55.49 0:54.51 0:53.60 7.48% 2.48% 1.77% 1.67% 5.80%
200 02:16.00 02:06.10 01:59.19 01:58.14 01:55.87 7.28% 5.48% 0.88% 1.92% 8.11%
BR 100 01:11.40 01:05.80 01:02.86 01:01.49 01:00.36 7.84% 4.47% 2.18% 1.84% 8.27%
200 02:36.50 02:23.50 02:15.11 02:11.53 02:10.16 8.31% 5.85% 2.65% 1.04% 9.30%
FL 100 0:58.70 0:55.60 0:54.15 0:52.84 0:51.81 5.28% 2.61% 2.42% 1.95% 6.82%
200 02:12.80 02:05.00 01:58.21 01:56.24 01:55.18 5.87% 5.43% 1.67% 0.91% 7.86%
IM 200 02:22.10 02:09.30 02:03.24 02:00.11 01:58.16 9.01% 4.69% 2.54% 1.62% 8.62%
400 05:04.50 04:31.00 04:20.05 04:14.75 04:11.76 11.00% 4.04% 2.04% 1.17% 7.10%


              AVE 7.11% 4.62% 2.03% 1.51% 7.87%

 

 

If we condense the numbers down onto a manageable chart that looks at the average change in strokes it makes it a little easier to recognize problems or patterns.  The numbers that really concern me are related to the overall improvement in all strokes combined across the forty-year span (Chart #7).

 

In looking at the women you’ll note that in short course yards we’ve achieved a pretty healthy improvement.  In fact we’ve stayed pretty much on track with the World progressions through the same period. (9.35% to 9.38%).  However in looking at the individual strokes, freestyle is the only stroke where our improvement in short course is behind long course, and makes the overall total seem close.  If one takes freestyle out, we are well ahead of our long course progressions, and in some cases significantly ahead of the world in backstroke and breaststroke.

In men the pattern is similar in that we dominate both world and our long course meter improvements in backstroke and breaststroke.  Again freestyle is weak, but in this case our long course progression is even weaker.  The bottom line however is the fact that in all strokes combined, we have improved far more significantly in short course yards than we have in long course meters.  There is no doubt that we are doing a much better job in the short pool, and not nearly as good job in the long pool.


Chart #7

MEN USA SCY WOR LCM USA LCM WOMEN USA SCY WOR LCM USA LCM
FR AVE CHANGE 7.33% 8.15% 6.55% FR AVE CHANGE 7.55% 8.20% 8.22%
BK AVE CHANGE 11.77% 6.96% 8.32% BK AVE CHANGE 10.44% 9.40% 8.52%
BR AVE CHANGE 10.22% 8.78% 9.20% BR AVE CHANGE 11.12% 9.86% 9.22%
FL AVE CHANGE 6.46% 7.34% 6.77% FL AVE CHANGE 10.14% 10.68% 9.90%
IM AVE CHANGE 8.52% 7.86% 7.31% IM AVE CHANGE 10.17% 9.91% 8.49%
OVERALL AVE 8.51% 7.87% 7.45% OVERALL AVE 9.35% 9.38% 8.76%

 

 

World Rankings

Comprehensive world rankings have been tracked since 1984, so I looked at the number of USA athlete’s ranked in the Top 10 and Top 20 at the end of the each Olympic Year and post Olympic year just to see if there were any patterns involved.  I looked at the declining numbers through the years, and extrapolated these trends as predictors for 2004.

Looking at the women’s side we have gone from 103 in 1984 to 62 in 2000, and are projected at 52 in 2004.  This drops the USA to almost 50% of the original market share.  Onthe men we have dropped from 95 total rankings in 1984 to 62 rankings in 2000.  This projects to a total of 54 in 2004, and a drop to 57% of our original share of the market over a twenty-year span.

 

 

OLYMPIC YEAR RANKINGS – WOMEN
  1984 1988 1992 1996 2000
TOP
10
TOP
20
TOT TOP
10
TOP
20
TOT TOP
10
TOP
20
TOT TOP
10
TOP
20
TOT TOP
10
TOP
20
TOT
  TOT 50 53 103 42 43 85 46 34 80 35 29 64 32 30 62
POST OLYMPIC YEAR RANKINGS – WOMEN
  1985 1989 1993 1997 2001
TOP
10
TOP
20
TOT TOP
10
TOP
20
TOT TOP
10
TOP
20
TOT TOP
10
TOP
20
TOT TOP
10
TOP
20
TOT
  TOT 36 35 71 33 42 75 28 24 52 23 26 49 20 31 51
CHANGE 72% 66% 69% 79% 98% 88% 61% 71% 65% 66% 90% 77% 63% 103% 82%
PROJECTED 1984 to 2004
YEAR 84 88 92 96 00   CHANGE
IN NUMBERS
AVE PROJ 2004 % DROP
SINCE ’84
TOP 10   50 42 46 35 32   8 4 11 3 5   28   55%
TOP 20   53 43 34 29 30   10 9 5 1 6   24   46%
COMB   103 85 80 64 62   18 5 16 2 10   52   50%

 

OLYMPIC YEAR RANKINGS – MEN
  1984 1988 1992 1996 2000
TOP
10
TOP
20
TOT TOP
10
TOP
20
TOT TOP
10
TOP
20
TOT TOP
10
TOP
20
TOT TOP
10
TOP
20
TOT
  TOT 52 43 95 37 41 78 40 43 83 31 33 64 36 26 62
POST OLYMPIC YEAR RANKINGS – MEN
  1985 1989 1993 1997 2001
TOP
10
TOP
20
TOT TOP
10
TOP
20
TOT TOP
10
TOP
20
TOT TOP
10
TOP
20
TOT TOP
10
TOP
20
TOT
  TOT 36 31 67 37 36 73 47 28 75 36 22 58 34 26 60
CHANGE 69% 72% 71% 100% 88% 94% 118% 65% 90% 116% 67% 91% 94% 100% 97%

 

PROJECTED 1984 to 2004
YEAR 84 88 92 96 00   CHANGE
IN NUMBERS
AVE PROJ 2004 % DROP
SINCE ’84
TOP 10   52 37 40 31 36   15 3 9 5 4   32   62%
TOP 20   43 41 43 33 26   2 2 10 7 4   22   51%
COMB   95 78 83 64 62   17 5 19 2 8   54   57%

 

 

Over the last decade there has been a shift in the balance with regards to our major competitors.  I looked at two specific areas.  The percentage of athletes ranked in the Top 10 (medal contenders), and the percentage of swimmers ranked in the Top 150 (depth).

 

In the men I looked at the Australians and the Italians.  Although the Italians don’t seem to be influencing their depth, they are on a steady climb in the medal contender area.  Granted there have been some interesting stories emanating from Italy with regards to HGH levels, but we still have to race them, and they’re looking better every year.  The Australians are on an opposite trend, but still have a handful of athletes that are unchallenged at the world level.  There doesn’t seem to be another Thorpe or Hackett lurking in the wings, but we’re still 2 years out of the Games and there’s still enough time for someone to come out of the pack.

At the same time the USA men have seen a slow erosion of depth from the 30% level to the 23%.  We have also seen a significant decline in medal contenders over the same period.

 

Looking at the women I chose to not track the Chinese for reasons that are fairly obvious, and have looked at the Australians and the Germans.  In looking at the Germans you can see the tail end of their DDR influenced period, and some of the struggles they have gone through during the mid 90’s.  However, their depth is starting to build back up and they are moving back into the medal contention areas as well.  The results from the European Championships this summer are a strong indication of this trend.   The Australian women have seen a steady decline in medal contenders, but have maintained their depth profile.  Over the last two seasons we have seen a new influx of younger swimmers, and with two years to go they could make major strides in the medal contender area.  At the same time the USA women have seen a decline from just less than 35% to 26% in terms of their base, and a significant drop in terms of medal contenders.  As we head towards 2004, we have some serious holes to fill in some of the freestyle events Although we tend to see the male participation in our sport as an issue, the smaller numbers are holding onto world level competitiveness a little better than the women at this point.  .

If you combine the charts you get a much better understanding of the level of decline that has taken place.  Just focusing on the medal contenders in the men’s chart, you can see that period in the late 90’s where the Australian men really started to put a lot of pressure on our ability to maintain our position.  We’ve managed to change these numbers somewhat over the last 2 years, but we’re still in decline over the last decade.  On the women’s side we have to take a serious look at stopping this constant erosion at the world level, and take a hard look at what it’s going to take to reverse this trend.

 

There are many reasons why these trends are occurring, and it might look to an outside observer that we’re doing a really horrible job.  However, the rest of the world is doing a much better job of preparing their athletes, and in some cases we’re doing a great job of preparing that talent for them.  They’re also doing a better job of recognizing and nurturing talent, and there are now many smaller countries that are learning from us and taking advantage of increased knowledge to improve their potential.  The process has squeezed out many of our athletes out of the Top 10 and 150.  There is distinct lack of Pro sports in many countries around the world, and whereas swimming in the USA is a sport that only finds the radar screen during Olympic years, in other countries around the world it is “the” sport.  During the 2001 World Championships in Fukuouka, Channel 9 from Australia aired the finals live during “prime time” every night.  In a country of 18 million people 3 million watched the show.  That’s huge, and I don’t even want to consider the long-term implications of how that will affect their talent recruitment.  We’re just seeing the small effect that Perkins had on the Australian youth in the 90’s, I can’t imagine what Thorpe, Hackett, Klim, & O’Neill will do for Australian swimming in the future.  Once Australia comes out of the post Sweetenham & Talbot era, they’ll be a force that might be unstoppable if they can harness the potential they’ll have at their fingertips.  Time will tell.  The last country that hasn’t been mentioned in this section that needs some mention is Great Britain.  Deryk Snelling did a good job of getting the Brits to think global, Bill Sweetenham will take that global perspective and return the Brits to a level that will garner a generous portion of the medals by 2004.  They have had a lottery system (that funds all sports) in place for almost 6 years now, and with Bill DEMANDING focus on what he sees as the right way to prepare, they will take what talent they have, and make it competitive at the world level.  Last summers Commonwealth Games was a small snapshot of what we will see in the future.

 

Genetics

One of the things I did this summer was read a lot more about Genetics.  It’s an area that is going to play a major role in the future, and I feel that it’s important that we take the time to become a lot more familiar with this subject.  Genetics in my mind falls into two broad categories.

People that are born with talent.

People that manipulate what they have to increase their potential.

 

Natural talent

As coaches I don’t think we do a good enough job of recognizing and managing the talent we have, and have included a list of things that I feel you need to understand regarding talent identification.

 

Buoyancy.  As coaches you should have a very good idea of how well your athlete does or doesn’t float.  This should begin when athletes enter the program, and should influence many facets of how they train and race.  It’s not required that you have to be a great floater to be a medal contender since being able balance and manage your bodyline in the water is part of this area.  My impression is this very few coaches understand this, and if you are one of those coaches, then I would suggest that you make it your number one priority to find out what you don’t know concerning the subject of buoyancy and body balance management.

 

Feel.  As coaches we tend to think of feel for the water as being a genetic trait.  I believe that it’s part genetic and part environmental.  Some swimmers are born with great feel, but others have as much potential to develop the same level of “feel” if they are nurtured the right way.  Feel is closely related to buoyancy since those athletes who don’t float well tend to compromise their ability to understand feel for the water during their developmental years.  As coaches you can make or break this area.  Again, if you don’t understand this, you should take the time to find out what you don’t know.

 

Strength profile.  Some swimmers are born with natural strength, and some aren’t.  The lucky ones can handle dry land and weight room work fairly well, and not compromise their productivity in the pool.  The non-natural strength swimmers can get buried by too much weight room work and will compromise their ability to perform in the pool.  Understanding your athletes and managing this factor is another area that we’re not handling very well when we prepare our athletes for long course competition.

 

Muscle fiber type.  Although fiber type for the most part determines the event duration, it can be manipulated, and it will affect the athlete’s adaptation to workloads.  Although we have always thought that changing fiber qualities is dangerous, recent studies have shown that fast twitch fiber can return to its original qualities after 6-9 weeks post cessation of heavy endurance training.

 

Anthropomometry.  In developing swimmers (prior to physical maturation) it’s very important to measure growth, and use the growth rate as an indicator of where the athlete is with regards to being able to handle certain workloads.  During periods of high growth it would be best to focus on aerobic development and technique work.  During periods of slow growth it would be perfect to introduce elements that work on skill coordination in a fast paced drills, and explosive or anaerobic ability.  Always measure your athletes and look at most measurements as a percentage of body height, since this allows the coach to measure/compare all swimmers in the same database.  Although there are trends in percentages with regards to long and short axis strokes, just knowing these numbers will help a coach make better decisions with regards to race strategy (stroke count/rate etc).

 

There is a constant debate as to whether athletes are born and not made.  As coaches we’d like to think that we are a crucial part of the process, but that isn’t always the case.  The debate of nature versus nurture was the reason this summer that I read a book written by Jon Entienne called “Taboo”.  It’s a cross section between human evolution and racial discrimination.  Although the book tends to lean heavily on the racial discrimination angle as a means to get two points across (black athletes are discrimited against, black athletes are superior), I found it extremely interesting especially with regards to his portrayal of the genetic advantage being held by Africans with regards to track and field events.  In the 100-meter dash, 495 of the overall top 500 all time best times are held by athletes who originated from West Africa.  At the same time a West African cannot be found in the ranks of distance runners.  In Kenya, the national passion is a sport that they cherish to the level that they fund it far and above any other sport in their system.  The seek out and actively recruit and talent ID young athletes at an early age (5 to 7), send them to specials schools and sponsor their development to hopefully one day be National Icons.  The problem is that the national sport is soccer.  A game that requires speed and explosiveness, something the Kenyans don’t have.  The highest ranked Kenyan athlete in the 100-meter dash is around 5000.  If you’ve noticed, the best soccer teams in Africa tend to come West Africa… Nigeria (’96 Gold Medal), and Cameroon.  The interesting thing is the fact that Kenya has a Rift Valley that runs down the middle of the country.  Oddly enough if you’re born on the east side of Kenya (North east & Coast) you might as well be born a Caucasian American for all the potential you’d have as far as distance running is concerned.  The best athletes are located either in the Rift Valley, or to some degree the west side of the Rift Valley.  Within the Rift Valley, the Kalenjin district (pop 1.5 million) produces approx. 30% of the worlds top distance running performances, and the Nandi Tribe located within this district (pop 500,000) produces 20% of the worlds top distance running performances.  I’m not going to get into the reasons behind all of this, but just want to point out the fact that success in running in Kenya has a lot more to do with nature than it has nurture, and that we should take those things into account when looking at the kind of training being done in that country.  In our system the best two cases of nature versus nurture would be Hall and Ervin.  They excel at the 50 with little training, and are almost competitive at the 100 level with a moderate amount of training.  I think this summer that Ervin’s lead off leg in the 400 Free Relay showed where that line is drawn, and I believe Anthony was wishing he’d had a little more nurture before he swam that leg.  The point is that there are athletes in our midst that are physically gifted.  The ones that are geared towards middle distance events in general realize that talent.  However, those that are geared towards sprint events aren’t always that easy to recognize and even tougher to coach based on their specific requirements.

An interesting item that I read in this area was the fact that a study in Great Britain showed that 8 of 11 top ranked 10,000-meter runners were born during the winter months, with six of them being born in a 3 week span during December.  On the opposite side eight out of 10 runners in the 100-meter dash were born in the summer.

 

Enhanced genetics

If we thought the drug problem was out of control, and the cheaters were way ahead of the testers, enhanced genetics will surpass anything in that area by a huge margin.  A daunting example of this is a rat (named He Man) that lives in a basement lab at the University of Pennsylvania.  Since being injected with IGF-1 (Insulin Growth Hormone) he has increased his muscle mass by 60%, can climb up a ladder with three times his body weight, and can run without fatigue for hours.  It wouldn’t surprise me if we were already seeing the effects of this kind of cheating in sports, and although it’s scary as hell, it’s the future.

 

Issues surrounding Athlete preparation

The racing environment

This is an area that I don’t think we’re doing a good enough job on as coaches.  It’s an area that is quantifiable, and every part of each race can be analyzed and worked on.  Since it’s compartmental, coaches can have their athlete’s work on specific things like starts and turns on a daily or weekly basis.  I sense that we leave some of these things to “later in the training season”, and athletes don’t get enough adaptation time to take what they work on in practice and make it automatic when they race.  The NTTS is doing a pretty good job of tracking a lot of athletes in races from Grand Prix meets to International meets, and there is a pretty good chance that we have some information of most athletes that make it to the National level.  At all these meets we tend to focus on the younger age athletes during the prelims, so there is a pretty good chance that we have something on your athlete in the database.  The database itself has a number of new search options available to coaches, and if used correctly, coaches can get an in depth look at how elite level athletes put their races together.  I spent some time at Stanford University this spring, and found out that the coaches had the athlete’s research their own personal data, research their own event, and then they sat down with the athletes and talked about what they needed to do to improve their events.  However you do it, it’s very important that you become involved in the statistics involved in racing.  Along with video playback it’s a critical area that helps athletes see their mistakes and see how other athletes approach the same race.  I don’t coach anymore, and at times at the nationals I’m stuck in a place where it’s very hard to see the races.  However in two races that I watched this summer, I knew within 25 meters that athletes in those races were in trouble.  I know enough about their background, and their Achilles heel to know that at that point in time the race was doomed.  If as coaches you don’t know much about this area, then I suggest that you make it a point to find out what you don’t know.  To access the database use this link http://www.usa-swimming.org/programs/template.pl?opt=coaches&pubid=1192

 

The Training environment

If was to categorize the athlete training environment in a very unscientific way I’d mainly focus on these four areas:

 

Cardiovascular fitness.  It’s a staple in terms of success in distance swimming, and a key to the recovery process in sprinting.  When preparing for any event over 10 seconds, you’re going to need varying levels of fitness in this area.  Understanding how the need changes as the event duration increases is an area that is very gray for many coaches.  This becomes even more confusing when looking at the difference between short and long course adaptation needs.

 

Racing head to head.  This is an area that we moved away from during our national camps in the 80’s and 90’s, but did a great job of getting back to head-to-head training to get ready for the 2000 Games.  As a society we have moved to a softer approach with regards to dealing with winning and losing.  Many youth leagues don’t keep score so the kids don’t have to deal with failure.  Although the philosophy helps maintain fragile ego’s and possibly has it’s place in youth sports, I think that this is something that we need to do more of, and at the elite level it’s a critical element that helps athletes handle the stressful situations that occur during competition.  Even if you have to race male backstrokers versus female freestylers, you have to find ways to put this kind of pressure on your athletes.  There are times when you have to get in their face and challenge them eye-to-eye.  If they fail, then hopefully you can solve the issues before they drag it into their racing.

 

Facilitation training.  Every time you do high intensity work I would advise you to follow the sets with facilitation training.  This would be sets that cover from 800 to 1500 meters of work at a pulse rate range of 130 to 160bpm.  What this does is three basic things for the athlete.

 

It facilitates the recovery process and reduces the lactate level to below 2mm/L in a very short period of time.

 

It trains those fibers that weren’t directly involved in the original exercise to utilize lactate as a form of energy (enhance the buffering system)

 

It helps maintain the cardiovascular system

The worst thing you can do as a coach is to have your athletes do some kind of a dive sprint at the end of practice, and then let them float around and hang on the gutter instead of working on their recovery.  We have gone to great lengths to bring this kind of knowledge to you via the testing we provide at the National level meets, and I think a lot of athletes and coaches have gained a new level of respect for the need to swim “hard” during the recovery swims.

 

Neural adaptation.  I don’t think we talk enough about it as coaches, I don’t think we understand enough about it as coaches, and it’s directly related to the stroke rate information that you get from the race analysis process.  If you take a look at the majority of races we tracked this past year using the 3-stroke rates system, you’ll notice that the swimmers tend to slow down their rates over the course of each 50.  They start out hard and then decay through the lap, come off their turn, speed up their rate again, and then decay again over the rest of the lap.  I would guess that less than 5% of the swimmers in the database swim flat line type races.   There are races where there is very little deviation in the athlete’s rate from start to finish.  The best race I saw this summer was Michael Phelps’ 100 fly leg on the world record medley relay at the Pan Pac’s this summer.  Coming off a 200IM final, an awards ceremony and little time to do some active recovery, he stepped to the plate against Heugill in a tough situation and hit a grand slam.  He stayed between 51.0 and 51.6 cycles per minute the entire race, and his 51.1 leg was the difference in the race.  He took Thorpe out of the equation.  You as coaches need to know the rates that your swimmers race at, you need to know because any subsequent training should involve how you’re going to improve that race.  If your athlete swam a 100-meter freestyle and held 51.0 cycles per minute on the way out, and 49 cycles per minute on the way back, you now have information that you can manipulate.  You can either, hold that stroke rate and improve their distance per stroke, or hold the distance per stroke and improve their stroke rate.  As coaches we do sets that simulate racing conditions.  A set like 8×50 on 1:00 holding 200 race pace is probably fairly common.  However if your athletes do this kind of set without the active involvement of holding a specific stoke rate, you are going to fail as a coach because in all likelihood, your athlete will fail in the race because they never worked on specific/planned neural aspects during their training.  It should be… you’re going to hold these 50’s at this goal race rate, and if you don’t, you’re going to do them again.  All coaches do training that can be generally classified as anaerobic training and involves a variety of set types.  It’s my opinion that a large portion of this anaerobic training should be done with a very specific race rate focus in mind.  Working very hard is oversimplifying the specific needs of the athletes, and coaches should be very aware of the equal needs of working hard versus working very hard with a specific stroke rate target in mind.

 

 

Core stability

The last section in this area involves core stability.  This is a concept that has been around for quite some time in the rehabilitation area, but has made it’s way into the formal training adaptation environment.  Bill Boomer has been talking about this area since the early nineties, and it’s taken some time before coaches have come to grips with it’s potential.  However there are still far too many coaches who have no idea of how to incorporate this concept into their programs, and how to affect its use in the whole biomechanical conundrum.   I talked about buoyancy and balance earlier.  Core stability has a lot to do with the connectivity of the body and how this connectivity is instrumental in both power production and body platform balance and stability.  I put together a very simple videotape/CR ROM illustrating some exercises that could be used to improve this area.  Some of the exercises develop the proprioceptive feel for the connectivity and how the musculature is manipulated to achieve a perfect bodyline, some are exercises that develop strength and power in the position.  The more athletes become aware of this potential and use it in everything that they do, the more they will avoid losing velocity due to poor body balance and needless increased active and passive drag.  The key is getting to use the concept in all the other exercises they do on land.  This starts with general strength exercises like say a Lat Pull.  It shifts from there to more swimming specific exercises like the Swim Bench or Vasatrainer.  This is then taken to the pool via drills that emphasize position and connectivity, and then finally connected into the whole swimming stroke.  Seeing themselves on video will accelerate the process.  Again I follow with the same refrain, if you don’t know anything about this concept, then you should make it your number one priority to become fully acquainted as soon as possible.  Follow the direct link to access this tape and scroll down to the “more videos” section (http://www.usa-swimming.org/programs/template.pl?opt=news&pubid=908)

 

Video Technology and Biomechanics

I am shocked by how many programs this country don’t use video playback in their in their daily routine.  I say daily since there are programs that video their athletes at the start of the season, and then never revisit this area as if technique feedback ceases to become a major focus for the rest of the season.  Since Video technology has gone from an expensive time consuming commodity to a fairly inexpensive and simple process, I believe that coaches that put their athletes first will find the time & know how to integrate this option on a regular basis. I don’t know how many times I’ve sat down with an athlete at an International meet and heard them exclaim “ wow this is the first time I’ve ever seem myself on tape.”  It’s shocking to me when I hear an athlete at that level say something like that.

The NTTS is working very hard in the area of getting more elite level videotape into the hands of all coaches.  We’re in the process of developing a relationship with a company called Dartfish, and have unveiled a website called Dartswim that will be the clearinghouse for elite level athlete videotape.  We chose this company because of the software package it provides.  Where most software programs provide very similar quality in terms of picture, Dartfish has a superior quality file management system, and is also well above its competitors with regards to price as well.  If you watched the winter Olympics you would have seen some of the things this software package can do.  They were the programmers who were able to superimpose one skier on top of another to illustrate how technique changes resulted in faster or slower times, or ski jumpers superimposed to show how one jumper was able to go further with better technique.  They have also been working with us to make a product that is catered to swimming and swim coaches, and we believe is a superior product for many reasons. Visit www.dartswim.com for more information.  With the digital age now well through the front door, we expect that swimmers will be very involved in managing their video.  On this past trip to Japan a number of swimmers came into the technical room and copied their races onto their own digital tapes.  We expect that the Basic player provided by Dartfish (cost $20 – $30) will be the product that will be used by swimmers to view and store their personal library.  In time we expect to the use the Dartswim site as a video shopping mall.  This will allow coaches and swimmers to go through and select swimmers they want to see, and learn from these tapes with regards to biomechanics.  At a camp a few months back I asked the group of 30+ swimmers in front of me these questions.  How many of you have access to and use computers on a daily basis.  Pretty much the entire room raised their hands.  I then asked them how many of them used videotape to review and change what they do in the water.  None raised their hands.  This will hopefully change.  So again I will say that the use of videotape will empower you as a coach, that it’s affordable, and over time will be easily transferred via the Internet.  There is a section on the USA Swimming website that deals with video needs, and it should answer any and all questions that you might have regarding this area.  http://www.usa-swimming.org/programs/template.pl?opt=coaches&pubid=2865

If you’re not involved, you need to get involved.

 

I believe that we have yet to tap into our understanding of biomechanics.  We have clung to the technology, understanding and algorithms of the late 70’s and 80’s, and there is a whole new world of full body biomechanics just waiting to be uncovered.  At this stage I can see many more questions than answers, and of all the sciences, this area has the most potential for quantum leaps in performance.  The Bernoulli principle as the main source of propulsion has been questioned by many coaches and scientists who formally believed in the lift/drag rationale, and we are going to spend quite a bit of money over the next decade coming to grips with this issue.  To illustrate this I can see three distinct freestyles in use today that have all shown success.

 

The Brooke Bennett/Sylvia Poll style of freestyle.  High rev, limited body roll, front quadrant based with a bent elbow catch and a two beat style crossover kick.  Oddly enough we have two athletes at the gold medal level that use this stroke successfully and they are very far apart in terms of height.

 

The Ian Thorpe/Grant Hackett style of freestyle.  High elbow catch, with a mid quadrant body roll six beat kick based stroke.

 

Michael Klim/Scott Tucker/Janet Evans style of freestyle.  More based on a straight-armed front quadrant connected body roll stroke using the opposite arm and angular momentum as a source of power.

 

They are all very different, and I have seen hybrid combinations as well.   Which one is correct, or are all three correct based on the body type and assessment of the athlete.  I don’t believe in looking at the stroke of the best swimmer on the planet right now (Ian Thorpe) and saying that what he does has to be correct, and should be the technique all swimmers should use.  I believe it’s a combination of all the factors that go into an athlete’s assessment.  Buoyancy, feel, strength, physiology leg power and anthropomometry are all factors that coaches should gauge when trying to figure out what will work best.  The whole issue of core stability, connectivity and how it connects to angular momentum is a key area for the future.  If you don’t understand what I’m talking about, then you need to educate yourself so that you do. There is a ton in this area that has a tremendous amount of potential for the future.

 

A quick story…

Some folks did an experiment that involved a troop of chimpanzees some time back.  They put a group of 5 in a cage and left them to create a hierarchy.  One day men went into the cage, pushed a flight of stairs into the middle, and then hung a bunch of bananas from the roof above the flight of stairs.  After the men had left, the alpha male decided he was hungry so he proceeded to climb up the stairs and get himself a snack.  As the chimp went up the stairs, the men turned on an ice-cold fire hose and beat/herded the entire troop into a corner of the cage.  They continued to blast away at them for good measure just to get a point across.  For a number of hours no chimp went near those stairs.  Eventually another chimp decided to try his luck.  He crept cautiously to the stairs, and as he put his first foot on the lowest stair, the water cannon came back on and the entire troop was herded back into the corner… this time with a little added emphasis.  After a long while another chimp showed signs of wanting to climb up the stairs, but he never made it.  The entire troop descended of the chimp pounding him away from the stairs since none of the others wanted to deal with the water cannon.  After that, no chimp went near the stairs.  Now they took one of the original 5 out and inserted a new chimp into the cage.  It doesn’t take long to see the bananas, and since the chimp has no clue, it eventually decides to climb the stairs.  Needless to say, the other four convince the newcomer via a severe beating that it’s not an option.  They then take another original chimp out and insert another newcomer into the cage.  Same scenario… chimp starts for the stairs… four chimps convince the chimp via a beating that it’s not an option.  Now we have 3 chimps beating on the newcomer and they know why they’re beating him, and one chimp beating the new comer who has no clue why but joins in anyway.  Pretty soon you can replace the entire original 5, and you’ll have the same result with no chimp in the room knowing why they were beating the new chimp.  My point in all this is the fact that we tend to do things as coaches because someone else is doing something.  We don’t understand it, but we do it anyway.  I cannot think of a more dangerous position to be in… doing something and having no idea whatsoever as to why it does or doesn’t work.

 

The evolution of swimming since the 60’s

Coaches like Counsilmen, Gambril, Daland and Haines created the foundation for a training revolution that swept the country in the 60’s.  Interval training and volume became the fuel for worldly ambitions, and swimmers like Patty Carretto propelled us forward by challenging the myths of the 50’s. (She became the first athlete to swim an entire mile doing ‘tumble turns” the whole way).  Working hard wasn’t a question or an option, it was a way of life.  The competition in the lanes at Santa Clara was so intense, that it was not uncommon to see World Records be broken in practice.  In some cases, people who weren’t even granted the status of being “fast enough” to lead a lane broke these records.  This renaissance period of training adaptations was centered in the club system, and the youth of America was raised on a diet of long hard endurance training.

 

The 60’s begat the 70’s and young coaches like Mark Schubert took up the call to raise the bar. We certainly pushed the envelope during this period.  Athlete’s were pushed further and harder and coaches around the country rose to the challenge of finding ways to get more out of the their athletes.  The country was at it’s peak of improvement performance wise during this decade, and in the late 70’s the woman finally got the better of the enhanced ‘wunderkinder” from the DDR.

 

The 80’s were a lynchpin in many ways.  Two major things occurred that have changed where we are today.  Coaches and athletes began to look for an easier way up the mountain, and many of our great club coaches moved into the collegiate ranks.  This created a level of inertia with regards to improvement.  The social landscape changed:  states began legislating mediocrity by removing physical education as a high school requirement; no one “lost in youth sports”; the computer went from the office to the home; hand held devices became the rage of the youth and the term “couch potato” became a reality.

 

The 90’s deepened this dilemma as even more top-level coaches ran from parent run boards to the relative sanctuary of college swimming.  The 50’s and short relays were introduced into the equation, and the skirmish line between college and club coaches was exacerbated by the fact that many swimmers never returned to their club roots.  College coaches who recognized the performance value of mining the sprint option now heavily outweighed club coaches who espoused endurance training.   The NCAA Championship became a major focus with many coaches, and when questioned regarding their allegiances, they were always quick to point out that “they were paid to be college coaches first”. The drive to excel in SCY propelled the industry of athlete development.  Strength and power in the weight room capitalized on club endurance programs and 8 months of the year was spent on focuses and challenges to prepare for yards swimming.  The “short cut” power option was very attractive to athletes tired of long endurance sets, and their reluctance to retrain their base has created in many college programs a diminishing return environment.  This has over time subjugated our ability to prepare for LCM performances.  Even though it’s hard to recall the last time the Indoor National Championships were swum in a SCY pool, it hasn’t improved this countries ability to keep pace with the World Record progression.  What has fallen behind in the grand scheme of things is the USA’s progression in a LCM environment (See Chart #7)

 

If you look at the major time differences between a break down of meters versus yards race analysis, you will see the huge difference between some of the events.  In some cases there is a significant difference.  In these charts we have eliminated the underwater and turning time from the equation, so what you see is the actual swimming portion of the race.  For this purpose I’ll use the women’s results to illustrate my point.

 

 

AVERAGES
WOMEN
total
u/water
time
total turn
time
actual
swim time
100 FR SCY 9.13 3.49 35.39
SCM 8.86 3.46 41.25
LCM 4.91 1.14 49.24
DIFF -4.22 -2.36 13.84
AVERAGES
WOMEN
total
u/water
time
total turn
time
actual
swim time
200 FR SCY 16.40 8.69 81.15
SCM 17.90 8.55 90.10
LCM 8.95 3.59 106.60
DIFF -7.45 -5.10 25.45

 

 

AVERAGES
WOMEN
total
u/water
time
total turn
time
actual
swim time
100 BK SCY 18.45 3.73 31.32
SCM 15.82 3.93 40.04
LCM 9.19 1.16 51.39
DIFF -9.26 -2.57 20.08
AVERAGES
WOMEN
total
u/water
time
total turn
time
actual
swim time
200 BK SCY 31.64 9.59 73.60
SCM 28.01 9.90 90.20
LCM 12.71 4.17 114.84
DIFF -18.92 -5.42 41.24

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

AVERAGES
WOMEN
total
u/water
time
total turn
time
actual
swim time
100 BR SCY 17.32 2.63 40.58
SCM 16.48 2.45 47.83
LCM 8.69 0.98 59.08
DIFF -8.63 -1.64 18.50
AVERAGES
WOMEN
total
u/water
time
total turn
time
actual
swim time
200 BR SCY 35.46 6.84 87.25
SCM 34.29 6.46 101.99
LCM 16.87 3.29 125.74
DIFF -18.59 -3.55 38.49

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

AVERAGES
WOMEN
total
u/water
time
total turn
time
actual
swim time
100 FL SCY 18.04 2.65 31.14
SCM 12.45 2.63 43.29
LCM 7.34 1.04 50.87
DIFF -10.70 -1.61 19.74
AVERAGES
WOMEN
total
u/water
time
total turn
time
actual
swim time
200 FL SCY 25.96 7.03 83.51
SCM 21.71 6.63 100.73
LCM 12.89 3.15 112.87
DIFF -13.07 -3.88 29.35

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We all talk about the differences between SCY & LCM training, but I have seen very little in my travels that leads me to believe that coaches make that much change from their SCY philosophy when they prepare athletes for LCM competition.  Most follow the same short course pattern of X number of weeks in general conditioning, and X number of weeks of speed work.  They expect that it will get the job done as long as a majority of the training is done in a long course pool.  This unfortunately is very far from the truth, and if you are training athletes in this way you’re going to miss the mark in one pool or the other.  The answer lies in the training content and not the training environment.  Mike Barrowmen proved this point by spending most of his time training in SCY pools, yet still managed to get to a level in the 200-meter breaststroke that stood for 10 years.

 

The major elements that need rethinking:

The emphasis and content of land based training

 

The emphasis and content of endurance based training in the water

 

The emphasis and content of speed endurance training in the water

 

How neural training fits into the mix

 

Since training adaptations is a glass that can only hold so many options, we have to pick and choose the modalities we use to condition our athletes.  I believe that our infatuation with SCY swimming has led us down a path of diminishing returns, and the sacrificial lamb has become LCM swimming.  I urge you to take a strong look at what you are doing, to think of long course swimming as something very separate from short course swimming, to create plans that emphasize the needs of the specific course, and to hopefully make the long course environment your primary focus as a coach.  I believe we will always do very well in the short pool when focusing on long course meters.  I believe that it’s possible to actually do both as long as a majority of the fall training period is geared towards long course.  However if you spend 8 months of the year in a short course focus, I believe that over time you will hurt our international effort, and we will lose some of our depth at that level.

 

Some closing thoughts

Change is generational.  To make major adjustments to a system in most cases requires an entire generation to pass through before we see changes or effects.  The effect of Australian TV will show up at the world level in about 4-8 years.  How many 5-10 year olds will get into the sport because they want to be the next Ian Thorpe.  We are trying to generate the same effect at home, however I don’t think that we’ll ever get to the same level with regards to the percentage of viewers, and so we have to ensure that we get the job done with those athletes that fall into our net.

How many coaches out there read the article about coach Gene Mills in the ASCA Magazine.  How many of you had to fight back some tears when you read it.  I know I did, and I was so taken by its message that I took it home and read it to my two children.  Now you might question why I read it to a 5 & 7 year old, but I wanted them to hear about how someone had influenced other peoples lives.  How much this person had meant to the people he cared about, how he cared about not just his swimmers, but all those around him, how he made it a point to make sure that everyone was looking at the bright side of life.  In some ways I wanted them to see a slice of what a coach is, but most of all I wanted them to begin to understand the enormous influence we have on one another.  How much we can make a difference, and how much we mean to the kids that believe that we are there to make their dreams come true.  My five-year old (Cydney) kept asking me if I was talking about my dad or myself, but my seven year old (Cleone) got it.  I could see in her eyes that she understood the emotion of it.   I coach 5 & under and 7&under soccer teams.  It’s breath of fresh air after dealing with elite athletes, and has brought me back to the roots of what coaching really is.  I had the white board out one day, and was beginning to explain the “stopper concept” to my 5 & under group when a small voice beat me to the explanation.  Seems Cleone couldn’t wait for me to formulate my reasoning and barged right in.  She did this a number of times in the space of 10 min.  Although one side of me was irritated with the interruption, the dad side was proud that his kid had the drive to coach/teach other people.  I plan on reading it again, and maybe many times more, simply because as coaches we have to have passion to do this job.  We have to be committed to the goals and dreams of our athletes, and we have to be selfless when it comes to the time needed to solve the many problems that are inherent in the youth of today.

 

We all know that children are different.  They differ in size/shape, physiology and personality.  The kids today are less tolerant, more computer based than their predecessors, and with the many options available to them, able to make decisions regarding their future at a much earlier age.  Money abounds at the professional level, and although less than one percent of the athlete population is able to reach that level of achievement, it doesn’t inhibit their desire to be the next Jordan, Rodriguez or Hamm.  As coaches we have to be so many things to these athletes.  We have to reach them at a young age, coddle their dreams and desires in a way that enhances their commitment, and be open minded enough to develop new concepts and ideas that suit the athletes they are working with.  As coaches this comes down to one of two choices.  We can spin one kind of web in one section of the forest and wait for a swimmer that meets our vertical structure to fall into our hands.  Or we can develop many different web shapes and locations, and work with a variety of concepts regarding athlete development.  Option one tends to drive those athletes unsuited to the environment out of the sport… option two not only develops our talent, but keep the athletes interested in the sport.  You can’t afford to relax because the job requires complete focus and commitment to understanding all that it takes to be successful.  In the 60’s and 70’s there was so much out there that helped coaches makes improvement almost easy.  However, in today’s world there are many more things that coaches have to come to grips with to get the job done.  We are all part of the same system, and we are all part of the program that develops a Gold Medallist.  We all feel that deep feeling of pride when an athlete wins a gold, so I say to you.  Be a Gene Mills, be a learner, be an innovator, be a person who is willing to understand whatever it takes to see that all so important smile on athlete’s face at the end of a successful race.

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