INTRODUCTION: My name is Mary Anne Gerzanick-Liebowitz. I am the Assistant Swim Coach at Oregon State University. I am here to introduce our speaker, Coach Michael Bohl. Coach Bohl was the 2008 Olympic Coach of the year. He was the Queensland Director of Coaching for 11 years prior to that. He holds a Platinum Certificate Qualification for coaching which has served him quite well as he has been an Olympic Coach for Stephanie Rice and several other swimmers. Michael has also coached some World Class Open Water Swimmers. His has received many distinguished honors including being a coach in the 2008 Olympic Games, the 2008 Mare Nostrum Series and the 2007 World Championships. Michael was also a successful competitive swimmer. He and was a member of the Australian team for the 1983 PAN-PAC Games; the 1982 Commonwealth Games and the 1990 FINA World Cup. He was a backstroker and an IM swimmer. Please give a round of applause for our speaker, Coach Michael Bohl.
COACH BOHL: Good afternoon everyone. I am going to talk about the club that I am involved with in Brisbane but I want to begin with a little with coaching philosophy. The Olympic Games is the highest level of swimming. The eight swimmers who fill each lane in the finals are the top of the top. Those eight swimmers usually come from eight different programs, often from very different parts of the globe. I point that out because I believe there is more than one way to get the job done. There is more than one way to skin a cat. I have a lot of respect for other coaches and programs. This morning I spoke about medley swimming, but I realize other coaches approach medley swimming in a different way. I need to appreciate that and I think you as a coach should appreciate these different ways as well. I enjoy reading about swimming. Despite my modest computer skills, I am on the internet a lot, looking for things to read and new ideas to consider. I think the best form of education you can give yourself is at swim meets by talking to coaches. Denis Cotterell is someone I speak to quite a lot. I have a lot of respect for him. I talked a lot with John Carew before he passed away. He was a fantastic coach. The best tip I can give any coach is take time to observe and talk with other coaches. Coaching requires a solid understanding of technique. You have to understand good and bad technique. You have to be able to identify areas to improve technique and be able provide instruction to make the appropriate changes when required.
The little emblem on the screen is to explain my role. My role is really in two parts. I actually coach at a private school in Brisbane. There are 2,000 students ranging from prep, which is just before year one all the way through to year twelve. It is a very big school. That is located about 3 Kilometers from the CBD of Brisbane. My job involves looking after the school swimmers and also looking after the club side of things. The emblem on the left side is the school emblem and the one on the right side is the club I coach which is called St. Peter’s Western Swimming Club. In my group I have some very good swimmers that are students at the school, but there are also people in my training group like Stephanie Rice and Rhonda Paulin who swam at the World Championships. They are over school age but they participate in the program also. Australia is in the middle of the Pacific for those who do not know. Queensland is the state on the right and Brisbane is the name of the place that I am from. There are about a million and a half people in Brisbane. Sydney has about 3-4 million and Melbourne has about 3-4 million. They are the big cities in Australia. I wanted to share some geography with you.
I want to give you an idea of the people that we have or had in our programs. We have had various people swim at the Olympic level such as Stephanie Rice and Nick Sprenger. Nick has retired but he swam in our program from the time he was ten years of age until he retired at age 23. I believe it is a bit different over in the states where many people swim in club programs until they get to college at which point many train at the colleges. In Australia a lot of people stay in the one program all the way through. Nick was in my program from age 10 until he finished at 23. He was a silver medalist in the 4 x 200 relay in Athens. Another swimmer from our club, Meagen Nay was an Olympic finalist in backstroke. We have also had quite a few people compete and have success at the World Championships. In addition to our Olympians (Nick; Stephanie and Meagen) we had Brendan Capell and Josh Santacaterina in open water swimming. They were both Gold Medalists in the 25 Kilometer distance. We had five swimmers in Rome (Stephanie; Meaghen; Kendrick Monk who got Bronze in the 4 x 200 relay; Ryan Napolean who moved to train with us). Ryan is interesting. He moved to train with us at year 12 and boarded at the school. I had no idea he could swim the 1500 until this year. He swam the 800 at the long course Junior Pan-Pac meet and broke 8:00 in his first go at that. That was in January and then I scrambled to find a meet with a 1500 so he could qualify for trials in March. You can’t simply walk into trials expecting to swim if you haven’t done a qualifying time. We found a small meet in Brisbane where he could swim with electronic timing. He went a 7K session on Saturday morning. He swam Saturday afternoon and he went a 15:34 in his first go at it. Then a month later at the trials he went 15:01 to win the Gold Medal at 18 years of age. Some other swimmers from our program who have represented Australia in International Competitions include: Stephen Parker, David Browne and Trudee Hutchinson; Jeff English; Rob McDonald; Amy Smith; Cameron Smith (not related). Since I have been at St Peters (since September, 2003 until now) we have also had quite a few swimmers on the Australian Junior Team. Yolane Kukla is an interesting story. She was in school at St. Peter’s and she was swimming in our junior program. She wasn’t doing much there and she moved up to our intermediate program and in her very first competition as a 12 year old she went 27.5 for the short course meters 50 free. Then at the age group champs she won a number of gold medals. Her times (long course meters) were: 25.3 and 55.2 (50 & 100 free); 59.9 (100 fly); 1:03 (100 back); 2:02 (200 free). She is a talented kid who came from a gymnastics background where she developed some good strength.
I will now go into what we actually try to do at St. Peter’s. First I will talk about the school swimming program and then I will talk about the club swimming program. The confusing thing that I have to explain to all of the parents when they walk in through the front door is that just because you are in the St. Peter’s Lutheran College swim program doesn’t mean that you are in the St. Peter’s Western Club Program. They are separate things, but there are kids that cross and are part of both. I will talk about the primary swimming first, followed by the secondary level swimming and then I will talk about our club program. In our primary school there is no competitive swimming for people that are in grades 1, 2, or 3. Competitive swimming for our primary school members starts at year 4. Most of the kids are about 9 years of age in level or grade 4, and they go through to a range of 12 years. The school swimmers that come into the program are usually not there through the winter months. That is good because I am very busy trying to work with the more serious swimmers. So most of the primary school swimmers that swim in our program only swim in terms four and one which is our summer. From September to about March we have a big influx of young school swimmers into our program. This is when the weather starts to get a bit warmer. You may know that our seasons are opposite from what you have in the states. September is entering spring for us and it starts to warm up. The people in the 4 to 12 age range typically only swim there about five or six months of the year. We don’t really see them that much during the winter. We have many interschool competitions and I am responsible for getting these guys together in a group. I do not personally take them. We have assistant coaches do that. The interschool competitions have district, regional, Queensland Championships and Australian Championships. Australian Swimming does not provide national competitions for the primary school kids who are 12 years of age and under. The primary school kids have their Australian Championships set up by the school’s association. I encourage the 11 and 12 year olds who qualify to swim in the Australian primary school championships, but as soon as they get to the age of 13 I try and take the emphasis away from school swimming onto the competition that swimming Australia runs. The emphasis goes away from school swimming onto the competitive structure that Swimming Australia runs. For St. Peters Lutheran College we have Junior Inter-Lutheran Championships where 8 or 9 of the better Lutheran schools get together in Brisbane to compete. We have the school championships and inter-house competitions.
We have two pools. We have a nine lane, outdoor, heated 50 meter pool that runs 12 months of the year. The other pool is an eight lane 25 meter pool. It used to be heated by gas, but they decided to upgrade the 50 about two years ago. The gas system at the 25 meter pool was costing the school about $25,000 per year so they quickly pulled that out and put all their resources into the bigger pool. There is talk in the next 12 months of the school upgrading the 25 meter pool with a heating facility. The most difficult thing with our facilities is that geographically they are separated. Our 50 meter pool is on one part of the campus and the 25 meter pool is about 400 meters away. A lot of our younger swimmers do not get to see our better swimmers training. I think that is an area where we are lacking by not having those great role models where the young kids can see them every day.
Secondary school swimming covers years 8 to 12. The kids are about age 13 to 17. The season runs from October to March. We train our girl’s for one very big meet that takes place every March. It is an inter-school competition. There are five age groups 13’s, 14’s, 15’s, 16’s and opens which means we need about 60 swimmers. Swimmers can only swim in one relay so you need four separate girls for the 4 X 50 freestyle relay – four separate girls for the “B” freestyle relays and four separate girls for the medley relay. You need 12 swimmers. It is very hard finding 60 swimmers within your school to compete at this level. The commitment is there. We run a camp every January at Run Away Bay on the Gold Coast. Almost 100 of our school kids go to that. It is a really fun weekend. It is a good opportunity for the kids coming into Year 8 to socialize with a lot of kids they haven’t seen before. Every Friday night from late January through March we have inter-school competitions. The boys’ big competition is the Inter-Lutherans and involves about 40 swimmers. There are a lot of competitions. We are overloaded with competitions from January through to March leading up to those big school meets.
The second thing I will talk about is the club. It is probably what most of you are interested in. This is a picture of five swimmers we had at the World Championships in Rome last year. As I mentioned before, we have two separate facilities. At the 25 meter pool we run a small learn-to-swim program but the pool is positioned beside a rain forest so it doesn’t get a lot of sun on the pool. For that reason, we are limited to running learn-to-swim from about November through to February. The group above that is the junior squad with about 40 or 50 swimmers. My junior squad philosophy is a very basic one. I am a big believer in progressive overload to make sure you are not doing too much with your very young swimmers. As the swimmers go through the system they do more and more work. We do not have set rules on how many sessions those kids come in each week. We leave it totally up to the parents. I am a big believer that younger swimmers age nine to twelve should do other sports as well as swimming. Swimming is a highly pressurized, individualized sport. It is a very “in your face” sport where you go to a meet and touch the wall to end a race and your time is there for everyone to see. That contrasts to team sports (water polo, basketball, soccer etc.). Those team sports seem to keep kids interested. I think if you are doing 10 sessions a week with a 10 year old swimmer, a lot of them won’t stay in swimming when they are 13 or 14 years of age. I want them swimming for the long-term. I want them swimming in the program when they are ages 19 to 21 and older. Giving swimmers too much work at the early ages may limit their life in the pool.
Because we use two separate pools, our younger swimmers do not get to see our older swimmers. To address that, a couple of years ago we decided to bring some younger ones to our main pool on Friday afternoon. We identify 15 to 20 younger ones who we project will move up to higher levels and we bring them to the 50 meter pool so they can work with our other coaches and with the older athletes who they will be with when they move up to our next level. This seemed to be a good way to integrate them into the next levels more smoothly. Meeting and watching the older swimmers train helps them see the vision of where we want to take them over time. We think it is important that they see the vision of where we hope to bring them. The older kids represent that vision well.
One of our problems is that we are at a private school in a very affluent suburb. Many parents have the kids doing lots of activities and think they should only swim one day a week. It is hard for some parents to understand that the kids have to do more than one session a week to get better. Some of the parents want their kids doing piano, speech and drama, tennis and more during the week, and they want their kids to do one swim session a week and win the State Championship. It is not going to happen so selling that message to parents can be a bit difficult.
When I first moved to St. Peters in 2003 I had to make a decision of the way I was going to go to structure the program and the coaches. I moved from a centralized program right in the middle of Brisbane to one that was kind of run down. I had to decide whether I was going to start from the ground up with the young kids and build the younger numbers up with me doing a lot of work there or whether to bring my 20 swimmers that came with me to this new facility at St. Peters and concentrate more on the senior. I chose the latter. I concentrated more on the senior kids. We found that because we were getting such good results with our older swimmers, a lot of people wanted to come into our junior program. We probably did it the wrong way but it seems to be going quite successfully at the moment. It is very difficult trying to find coaches in Australia. We only do five afternoons a week with our junior program. Monday to Friday afternoon for an hour and a half only lets us offer someone about 8 hours of work a week so I had to look within the system. We have a lot of physical education teachers at the school. Russell Haag is a 58 year old coach who works 8 hours a week for us. He has 30 years of working with learn-to-swim in junior squads so he is the head of our junior development squad. We have a couple of assistant coaches there. One is a younger guy who is studying at the university and coaches the eight hours a week.
We have swimmers in the 25 meter pool who are roughly from age 5 through 12. Our philosophy is that as soon as they are 12 years of age, if they show a lot of potential and are ready for the move, we move them to the 50 meter pool. In the junior squad we have two to three levels. The kids that come out of learn-to-swim go to the basic level of the junior squad. We have a middle level and then a top level in the junior squad. Most of those kids do between two and five sessions a week. Once again, we don’t tell them how many sessions they should come to. We try to let them pick how many sessions they want to come. Possibly starting at age ten and definitely at 11 and 12, we try and encourage anyone showing promise to come between four and five sessions a week.
Progressive overload is a staple belief in our program. I try to have the coaches with these young kids be technique driven. From a very young age I want to see distance per stroke. At swim meets and camps, and I am sure that it is the same here in the U.S., the best swimmers move through the water effortlessly with great distance per stroke. They feel the water and have fantastic technique. I think if you are not teaching those things from an early age it is very difficult to fix. If someone comes into my program at 14 or 15 years of age and has bad technique, it is very difficult to make the necessary changes. Teaching younger swimmers great technique from an early age makes your job a lot easier.
We do a lot of IM base training so we train our young junior swimmers in the four strokes making sure they are getting in fly, back, breast and free. Something we struggled with early was if we set a day for each stroke, swimmers who only came a couple of days a week were missing out on some of the strokes. To address that issue, we do some medley almost every day. In the five sessions each week we try to cover all four strokes. Sessions last between one to one and a half hours. We break the strokes up from there. Kicking is important. Eddie (Reese) talked about it this morning. You have to be very persistent with it. You can’t give in to someone who is a poor kicker. You have to try to make them kick better if you want them to improve. You have to try to turn the bad kickers into average kickers and the average kickers into better kickers. We determine that by the cycles they can make and also by the speed that they do it at. I think it is very important. Have fun. This may be obvious but sometimes we lose sight of having fun. If you want to hold these kids in the sport for a long time there has to be some fun element to what they are doing. We start doing a little bit of dry land training with kids at this age. It just might be something simple like 10 minutes before swimming they do some simple body work exercises.
Team building is important. On a Saturday morning we would do a barbecue or during the school holidays we will take all the kids on a train and go the movies. We do things that can create team harmony and a good team environment. In October we want to take the kids on a bus trip to the Gold Coast which is about an hour south of us. We plan to take all of our young kids there for the day. I want to make a point about lower level competition. I think it is very important. Exposing the younger swimmers to too high a level of competition can be detrimental, at least for some kids at a young age. We try to encourage them to do club night. We run a club night at the 25 meter pool during the summer months. We have a strict rule that it goes for no more than an hour and a half. The night starts at 6 o’clock and it finishes by 7:30. It runs quickly.
The next group up from the junior squad is the intermediate squad. These kids are between 12 and 15 years of age. We have two levels; Intermediate I and Intermediate II. These groups do a little bit more work and have a little less fun. The volume and intensity they do is more than in the junior squad. They do six to nine sessions a week depending on the individual. We don’t give 9 sessions to kids unless we think they are ready to do that. The amount of dry land training increases. We normally do gym work with the kids even as young as 12 years of age. We do a highly modified program for about an hour or an hour and 15 minutes twice a week, on Monday and Friday morning. They also do dry land exercises on the Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday afternoons. We do some strength work every day. Monday and Friday is the gym work, and Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday we do body weight exercises with a medicine ball, Swiss ball, etc. We keep focusing on IM based training, but we do a little more work on the main strokes. We still make sure all the strokes are covered. If you talk to a physiotherapist they say that a lot of shoulder injuries are caused by people doing too much of one stroke. Even if they are not medley swimmers we still do work on all four strokes. That makes sure they get good development through the back versus everything being worked just to the front.
I coach at our 50 meter pool. I have been coaching for about 22 years. Michael Palfery was one of my former swimmers and he has been doing a great job coaching with me there. He was actually an athlete with a disability. He has no calves. That has not inhibited him from coaching. He was on the Australian team for about five or six years as a swimmer. There is a bit of a joke about us actually. I lost 90% of the sight in one eye. I have only 10% vision in one eye so the joke is that we are the only disabled coaching duo probably in the world. Louise Raven has helped us out. She is a former swimmer who has been coaching a couple of years. She comes in five afternoons a week. I said we have two levels of intermediate swimmers and she takes the first level. She coaches the kids who move up from the 25 meter pool and then when they are good enough they move from her squad into the group Michael Palfery coaches. Michael is in his second year of coaching and he takes the more advanced swimmers in the intermediate squad. He is the coach of Yolane, the girl I mentioned earlier who is strong and talented and swimming very fast. He had three girls that won gold medals at the National Age Championships this year. Yolane won 4 or 5 and he had two other young girls swim quite fast who won age group titles. Even though Michael has been coaching only a couple of years, he came through our system and he knows it very well and he is doing a fantastic job with the kids that he has in the program. Peter Dawson is a school teacher at St. Peter’s. He is a fine tri-athlete. He helps with the distance group in my squad. He coaches three afternoons a week. For those people that were at my lecture this morning I said during the weekdays we do main sets Monday, Tuesday and Thursday through the week. Peter comes in on those afternoons to run a stop watch and give the swimmer’s their times. I try to float from group to group.
When I first went to St. Peters we had a little bit of a problem. There were a few people on the committee that wanted to pull the reins so the club would go the direction they wanted it to go. In response to that, we tried to come up with a little bit of a catch phrase to describe what this swimming program should be about. After much discussion the words that we came up with was having a training squad that was swimmer focused, driven by the coaches and administratively supported. Driven by the coaches did not mean just me but by the assistant coaches too. I get a lot of feedback from the people working in the program. The best example I can give you is when I first came to the club in 2003. I still remember I came to the sign-on day and the club president shook my hand and said, I am Don Schultz, I am the club president. He said I know nothing about swimming, but whatever you want me to do I will do. I said to myself that this guy is gold. I hope he stays in the club for as long as I am there. His daughter was swimming in the program and she lasted three months and when she gave up I was very worried that Don was going to leave the program. He is still our club president six years later. He has really enjoyed being there and it is nice to have someone as the president of the swimming club that does not have ulterior motives. Too often people are on committees to serve their own children. Don puts that all to the side and he is very consultative with the coaches. He is great to have at the helm. If we have problems with parents, Don gets involved to help right away.
Before I came to St. Peters I worked for Queensland swimming for about 11 years where there was an older, very famous Australian Coach named Joe King. I was the State Director of Coaching for Queensland swimming so I went around the state doing coach workshops and lectures. I got Mr. King to come along to help lecture. He always sat in the front row and during the lecture he took lots and lots of notes. I think that is important. I think Coach King was in his 80’s and he was still taking lots of notes at any lecture, still trying to learn. That is a great model for us coaches to follow. He used a diagram in the form of the five Olympic rings. Each of the Olympic rings had a letter. It is easy to remember. He said if you want to get to the Olympics you have to perform great feats (FEATS). The words he used to describe this were F for flexibility; E for endurance; A for attitude; T for technique; and S for speed. It is a general premise to get the kids improving in each area. It takes effort but it is very simple. Improve in each of those areas and they will keep improving and improvement is what we are all about.
Our club is firmly focused on improvement. I think a lot of us give a set and just stand there. I have been guilty of it. We have to be more active and instructive. I am proud that our coaches do a good job with this. We have to explain to the kids that for each session and each minute of each session, you have to feel like you are moving forward a little bit. When we get into the water in September and do our test sets, we want to see our test sets at an advanced state by January and February. We need to be really conscious of that. As I said earlier the Olympic final has 8 different people usually representing 8 different coaches and 8 different coaching philosophies. Keep moving forward and get your swimmers to embrace that. I try and keep my understanding of physiology, whether it is by negligence or stupidity, at the very basic level. All I think about with my coaching is there are three energy systems: ATP-PC which involves speed efforts of up to ten seconds. In the course of a week or two, three, four, twelve and16 weeks, I make sure my program has elements that will develop the ATP-PC system. I make sure to include short sprints. Next we have the aerobic system. I want to make sure their aerobic fitness is moving forward. Over in Australia, September is the start of our summer preparation. We want to make sure to start at a place and progress forward so we are further along as we approach our big meets in December. The third system is the lactic system. Similarly, we want to make sure they are getting improvements in this area as well.
We are very, very big on technique. This morning I said Thursday morning is specific for working on stroke drills. That is true but no session goes by where I am not commenting to people about technique. It is very, very important. If you see someone doing something incorrectly, it is important to jump on it right away and not just get to Thursday morning during what we call the our main stroke session. You should be doing technique and stroke correction constantly. We also talk to the kids about race strategy. It is one thing to have a goal session with the swimmer where you talk about times for events. I think you have to work to teach them, in addition to talking about wanting to reach a goal. Help them figure out how they are going to go about it. Stephanie and I talked about a time she wanted to go four years from that date. We made notes on the splits it should take to do it and we talked about racing the best people in the world. You have got to reach people by talking in terms of splits and what that will take if you want to be competitive in that area.
Recovery is very important. They say that taking drugs helps with recovery. I do not know of course. As a coaching group we really need to pay attention to recovery to make sure the swimmers can recover between their sessions so that they can work at greater intensity. We need to educate our kids in terms of ways they can help with their recovery. I think self-management and self- discipline are very important in many areas, including recovery.
One of the good things I heard Mark Schubert say last year in Las Vegas at the coaching conference was that he commended the coaches from the athlete’s home team for teaching their kids good self management skills. He gave some examples like Christine Magnuson and Rebecca Soni who didn’t have their coaches with them at the Olympics, but they put their faith and their trust in the coaches that were looking after them at the Olympics. Those two swimmers did really well in Beijing. As a coach, I try to get my swimmers to be that way with good self-management and discipline. Some coaches are reluctant to let their athletes go away if they are selected for a special camp program if they can not be with their athlete for that event. I think it is great that the swimmer can go away and do a week training camp with someone they are not used to being with. My two Olympic experiences were 1992 and 2008. I did not earn spots on our coaching staff for the 1996, 2000 or 2004 Olympics but I had athletes from our program make the 1996 and 2004 Olympic teams. The message I gave my swimmers was that I am not going to go to the Olympics but you are prepared and you will do well. I want my swimmers to do well, and I need to help them work well with other coaches. They have to be good at self-managing. They need self-discipline. Hopefully we do our job to get them to that level of discipline and belief so that if we get ill and can not go to a big meet like the National Championships, they can still be calm and do well.
Something we try for motivation is put things up on a little notice board we have at our facility. We use positive sayings to motivate and encourage swimmers to believe and stay focused on their goals. This can be good, especially when the training is a little tough. The cornerstone of our program is preparation. We want our swimmers to believe they have trained as well as possible so when they go to the meet they can stand behind the blocks and look left and right and realize there is no one in the race that is as ready as I am. We want them to realize this within themselves so they are confident. The notes and positive sayings seem to be helpful in that area and the kids seem to like them a lot.
For our club (not the school) we have a club committee at the pool. Some if its roles and responsibilities are handling registration, doing meet entries, fundraising and social events like a team barbecue. They handle all the paperwork which saves us a lot of time so we can focus on coaching. The way we do meet entries is we have the kids propose their events. If a coach thinks they need to swim another race we talk to the swimmer quietly to explain things. We get help with the actual paper work part of it. When I first started coaching I did all the entries and selected all the events for the kids. I think after you have been coaching for awhile, it is good to give some ownership to the swimmer. It is interesting to see what they think they can compete well in. Most kids choose the right events. There might be a race they did not choose like a 200 fly or a 400 freestyle that you want the kid to swim so we take time to explain it.
We have been very lucky having Stephanie in the program. There is a company in Australia called Sunrise. Sunrise has given our club a little bit of money which has helped get our swimmers to Nationals, but the club itself has a committee to do fundraising. Our approach to fundraising is active. We encourage the need to fund raise, explaining that money may not always be there. We run three school dances a year. We have a swim competition every February in which we raise about 9 or $10,000. The sponsorship from Sunrise is around about fifteen thousand which helps get our swimmers to go to the National Championships and the other money gets raised through dances, car washes, swim meets, etc. The club is also responsible for club clothing. They organize the team uniforms. Barbecues are a good thing. We do not have a lot of meetings as a group. But if a group of swimmers is going to a World Championship or State Championships or a meet somewhere, we try to organize a barbecue on the Saturday before they leave. At that barbecue we give recognition to the people going away to the meet. It is a good way for the parents to network and socialize and for the kids to get together as a group and get that recognition.
Earlier I said that when I first started up at St. Peters Club I had a little trouble with some people on the committee who wanted to impose their desires on the club. Club Night was one of those areas of contention. Club Night is a good program that involves low key swimming, and it does not take long. It lets the younger swimmers have a non-threatening introduction to racing. Early on, one parent expected every older swimmer from my top training group at every club night to make sure everyone saw each other. I explained that we have nine or ten sessions a week at the long course pool and the younger swimmers are welcome to stop by. I also explained that training nine or ten sessions a week is tough so expecting those swimmers to commit to Club Night every week is an imposition on them. I explained too that club night is something for the 12 and under swimmers. If the younger swimmers are new or if they are making technical mistakes still, I want them to learn how to race and how to correct mistakes in a non-threatening setting like Club Night and not at a large meet. I do not want them getting disqualified at a big meet until they have had ample time to get instruction and feel comfortable at a swim meet. The low key meet is a good way to bring them along gently. Club Night is a good thing in our program so I try to get the older swimmers there about once every six or seven weeks. With the 11 and 12 year old swimmer who is progressing at an outstanding rate, l take them to the main competition venue for a couple of competitions to get them exposed to that setting.
I try to have meetings with my five or six assistant coaches. Mick Palfery, my assistant head coach, and I go for coffee on a Monday morning to talk about what is coming up for the week. I am a big believer in giving ownership to the person that is looking after the group. Ian Pope and I were talking about this before. He asked me if I am going to pull the good swimmers like Yolane into my training group. I said no. I think it is important that Mick gets to keep working with her and those other young swimmers who are doing so well with him. Mick has done a great job developing those young swimmers and we are going to keep our system going the way it is, no matter how fast those kids are swimming. Yolane turns 14 in October and she has a reasonable chance of making the Commonwealth Games and the Pan-Pacific Team next year. If Australia takes three swimmers in the 50 freestyle she has a good chance there. I think she is ranked about fourth or fifth at the moment in the 50 freestyle so there is a realistic chance that she could make the team. I think it is important for me, as a head coach, to give Mick his due and keep her in the system for as long as we can. When she gets to 16 years of age we will have to make a decision about which group she goes into. That is a picture of Mick. He looks a bit like Grizzly Adams with the beard.
One of the things we talk about as a group of coaches is the word imagination. We try to come up with different ways of doing things. I think it is important that you are not dishing out the same main sets week after week after week. I think as a coach, you need an array of different sessions that work the same system. This morning I gave an example of a lactate set involving sixteen 50’s. We do not always do that. The following week we might follow it up with two 50’s and four 25’s. We will get a Sports Scientist to come out and make sure that the lactates the kids are getting are high enough to get the type of effect we are aiming for. Within the objectives you outline, I think it is important that you try and vary things as much as you can. Bill Sweetenham says that in the twenty years of coaching, he never repeated a warm-up. I find that hard to believe. There are a lot of sessions in 22 years. Trying to do things in different ways is important. That is something we talk about as a coaching staff.
Challenge is a great word. You have to try to challenge kids. When main sets are coming up, I usually talk to the group about why we are doing a particular set. If we are going a hard lactate set for example, I will pull the kids aside and say okay guys, in three months you will swim at the trials to make the Australian team. I will talk about real racing possibilities. I may talk about the 200 meter freestyle and point out that there will be a line of six girls at the 150 meter mark and the three or four people that can come home strong on the last 50 with their bodies full of lactate are going to be the ones who will succeed and earn a spot on the Olympic team. Continually try to challenge to get the kids to stretch and do things better. Use specific races, times and splits to encourage and challenge them. Explain that if they want to get faster, they have to be willing to do things faster in training; in their lactate work, in technique and in their endurance work. You have to validate the training program and the efforts needed to reach a goal within a time frame toward a respective meet. Explain things and use that information as you challenge kids.
I try to keep things simple. I do not get carried away with sports science. It is great to have a general overview of why you are doing things. There is a role for science but the cornerstone of our program is that hard work equals success. Related to this, both the athlete and coach must take ownership of results. I talk with our coaches to be concerned with everyone. Don’t just look at what the fastest kids are doing. You have another 27 or 28 kids working in the program. Look at each kid and take responsibility and have them take ownership, from the fastest to the slowest kid in the group. The swimmers need to take ownership for what they are doing, and the coaches need to take ownership as well. One of the most frustrating things in coaching is when you come in month after month after month and see the same errors made in technique. If the way you are doing things is not working then try another way because you have to work to create the changes and improvements. That is a responsibility of being a coach. Look for ways to get the job done. Maybe try a different drill, or use video, or try having the kids coach each other. Those are great things to do but keep trying ways until something is working to create the change and the improvement in the athlete(s).
Have you got any questions? Yes, we do train VO2 MAX. We do things like sets of 100’s. The sets are normally very small. I would probably include my VO2 MAX work in the lactate system. If you are doing a set of three 100’s on two minutes going for your best average, you can be assured that their lactates are going to be screaming quite high during that series.
Like I said at the start, there are many different interpretations of energy systems. To keep things clear so I understand things, instead of having 5 or 6 different interacting systems I think of it as 3 energy systems. First there is the ATP-CC system which I think of as up to 10 seconds at maximum speed. An example is six sets of four 15 meters at maximum speed. If you are a 22 second freestyler then convert 21 seconds to 15 meters and that is the time you should swim for the 15 meters. You need to swim at higher velocities than you actually race at.
The aerobic system is a combination of things. It is warm-up. It is short rest interval work. One of the best governors in my mind of whether they are well developed aerobically is hundreds on a short rest interval. When I can get mile swimmers doing twenty long course meters 100’s on 1:10 or a 1:07.5 or even a 1:05 send-off, then I know their aerobic system has been developed well. I try to sell it to the kids. I tell them their aerobic system has to be good. As an athlete and a swimmer, you have to be a great transferer of oxygen. The better you are in terms of aerobic fitness, the better you are going to be able to transport oxygen through your blood stream. You have to be able to service the muscle and to do that your aerobic fitness needs to be good. At the start of a season the amount of 100’s they can do on a short rest interval is going to be very small. As they work through the season you want them trying to do more and while trying to do more, also trying to do it easier. That is my governor for the aerobic system. There are varying levels of aerobic. There is easy aerobic as well as harder aerobic. It is all interchangeable.
Finally, the third system the way I look at things is the lactate system. This is anything that causes them to get that heavy feeling. Normally we stick to distances of 50’s on that. I think if we are doing too many 100’s it is just very difficult to hold the velocity that you want to. We do VO2 MAX work, but I classify that more as sort of lactate training. My good male 200 free style swimmers try to bring their back 100 home in 53 seconds. So what I might do is a set of three 100’s on two minutes where they are working that VO2 MAX. By trying to hold the best speed they can on three 100’s on two minutes is a way to work that system.
In our area of Queensland we won quite a few Olympic medals in years past. In 1984 Jon Sieben won Gold in the 200 fly. He was from Brisbane, coached by Laurie Lawrence. Duncan Armstrong, from Brisbane, won the 200 meter free gold, in 1988. We had Kieren Perkins in the 1992 and 1996 games. In 1996 there was Susie O’Neil. In 2000 we had Grant Hackett and Susie O’Neil. In 2004 we had Jodi Henry from Queensland. Ian Thorpe was from New South Wales, probably the only swimmer. We had Petria Thomas in 2004. So Queensland and New South Wales is probably the hot bed that you are talking about. In Queensland we have the Queensland Academy of Sport which is the shirt that I have on today. They give us a little bit of assistance in terms of high performing athletes. We get the kids together as a group on maybe two or three occasions during the year to have small camps. We haven’t been doing that much of late because Swimming Australia is taking more of the lead role. There will be a butterfly camp or a backstroke camp, and one for breaststroke where the best of that stroke get together as a group for a training week. A really good thing at the Queensland Academy of Sport that I got benefit from as a younger coach was to get all the top coaches from around Brisbane and Southeast Queensland together. There might be twenty of them and a featured coach would talk about his training of a team or an athlete. We had Ken Wood talk about coaching Jessica Schipper when Jessica was swimming with him. Stephen Widmer talked about what he did with Libby Trickett. We get together to learn from fellow swim coaches. We also look outside such as from Rugby which is a big sport in Australia. Our top coach in Brisbane is Wayne Bennett. He has won about four or five National Titles with the Brisbane Broncos. We have had Lee Mathews who is an Australian Rules Football Coach. He addressed the group on one occasion. It is amazing the things you pick up from those coaches even though they are from another sport. I got some great tips from the two coaches I mentioned. Wayne Bennett spoke about not losing belief in yourself when you coach. He said we all have a bad days like at a Nationals or State Championships. He went through periods where he won three titles and the next year 4th, 5th or 6th. He said at the end of the day I am still the same person. My knowledge base is the same. I can’t lose belief in myself as the coach because that will spread like cancer through the group.
When I first started coaching I tried to do too much. I was trying to be everything: the Sports Scientist; the Psychologist, etc. Lee Mathews, who was the Australian rules coach, taught me that when he started coaching he wanted to control everything and he ended up doing an average job of everything. Then he got help such as a specialist kicking coach, and a specialist defensive coach, etc. He had four or five people helping him in important roles so he could walk around coordinating everything. He said you have to know when to take your foot off the accelerator and put your faith in the people working with you. I think that is what I have done, but I never had an assistant coach like Mick and I am putting a lot of faith in him. It is really paying dividends at this point in time. I am hopefully still influencing him by getting together on Monday mornings for those coffees that we have. He will talk about his plans for the week and if I think something needs to change I will talk with him about it. If he doesn’t want to change it, that is fine. I will say what I think should be changed but I give him freedom and we talk things through.
Back in the 90’s I was quite friendly with a few coaches and we would get together for a training session with our swimmers who excelled in a particular event. For example, on Saturday we would come together with our great sprinters at a location within 45 minutes from each other. Some of the coaches back then who had great sprinters were Vince Raleigh and Denis Cotterell. The strong coaches in our area help us produce good swimmers and programs. Some good coaches in our area today are Stephen Widmar, John Rodgers, Denis Cotterell on the coast and Ken Wood at Radcliff. They are within about 45 minutes or less so there is very good coaching. The combination of great coaches, very good swimmers and great access to competitions is fantastic. The swimmers rise up in practice knowing how good the competition will be at the meet on the weekend. The great swimmers we have had over the years have been great role models. At our State Titles every December we have about 1200 swimmers from 10 years of age all the way through to 24 or 25. They swim together at the same meet. A lot of coaches and officials wanted to separate it into opens on one weekend and age groups on the other. I stood firmly about not doing that even though it was more uncomfortable since as one large meet we were at the pool from 9 in the morning until 2 in the afternoon and then we come back in the afternoon at 4:30 and go until 9 at night for the finals. I believed that when the young 10 and 11 year olds see Grant Hackett and swimmers like that warming up, it has a huge positive impact on those young swimmers. It elevates the belief system in these young swimmers. We rarely have an opportunity like that so I argued to keep the meet as it was. This year at the state titles they saw Libby Trickett. The young kids gravitate toward swimmers like Libby or Grant and get excited seeing them warming up and swimming down in the same pool with them. The young swimmers see them swim in the same pool and the same meet. They can meet their heroes and get their autographs. This experience adds to their excitement and sense of what they can achieve later on.
Q/A: Mick more or less controls everything. He sits in with me on the Monday meeting and at the start of the season. He asks what I think about some things and he runs through what he wants to do for the season. A lot of times I agree with it. There are some things that I think need to change a little bit. Mick swam with me for about four or five years and is very familiar with what we do. I think he likes what we have been doing and he knows the kids that came through the program and swam well. We are kind of beating from the same drum if you know what I mean.
I think it is very important to have consistency in your program. It is not good if the Junior Squad people teach one technique and then it gets changed at the intermediate level and then I have to try to change it again in the senior level. I am a big believer in technique. There are some kids that can’t swim properly because they are limited by flexibility and their strokes aren’t going to change, but it doesn’t mean you stop correcting them. You need a streamline version of what you agree is good or bad technique so the coaches teaching the young swimmers are doing so in a similar manner to what we teach at the older ages. With the two locations for our pools it is challenging to ensure that we are teaching in a consistent manner, so establishing a streamline language is important. I get together with the junior squad people from time to time, but nowhere near as often as I get together with the intermediates and the seniors. That is something lacking in our program.
A Question about Club Night: Club Night is just for our club members. No one else comes in. There might be 40 or 50 young swimmers there. We run a short session just for them. The very young ones do 25’s and the older ones do 50’s and 100’s. We do all the events. There is normally a 25 of the strokes for the little ones, 50 of each of the strokes for the older ones, and we normally do a hundred medley. It is not high level stuff. It is very low level stuff. If we have kids in that group that need something extra we take them to our main pool to swim in some major competitions. The young ones are learning so I prefer that they compete less rather than more early on. I want a very non-threatening setting for them. It is all about trying to get technique right and teach things like following a practice or race plan, how to read the clock and how to use equipment like a pull buoy or kick board properly. You are educating those guys.
The progressive overload theory requires that we start the young ones at a bare minimum. I do not agree with 10 year old kids doing ten sessions a week. It is not until they get older that you start adding more sessions and advanced things like gym work. It is easy to get success with young 11 and 12 year old kids if you give them ten sessions a week with five or six miles a session. They would swim fast, but they might swim fast for a longer period of time if you start very slowly and build up gradually.
A question about visualization: I do bits and pieces of it, but nothing structured. I say things to the kids like when you get into a race you are going to be eyeball to eyeball with someone with 50 to go. The people that train the best and can hold that speed are the ones that finish. Emphasizing cornerstone principles and painting a picture like that is being visual. I try to ready the kids. When we start to taper I get all the kids together every 4 or 5 days. We will talk a little bit about what lies ahead. The focus is to keep them relaxed. I think that is the most important thing you can do as a coach as you gear up to a competition. You have to be able to keep them relaxed. You want them calm. We all know during the taper swimmers will fluctuate. One day they swim fantastic. Two days later they are swimming terrible. Helping the swimmers keep that belief and stay relaxed and confident during taper and during the resting period is your biggest job. I think that is what you are probably going to talk to your athletes about. I hope you all got something out of that. Thank you very much and we will see you next time.