The State of Swimming Research in the USA and the World, and What to do about It by Dr. Joel Stager (1999)


Maybe you should reserve conclusions about what I know until after you hear what I have to say. Okay, I have no handouts; I have no notes for you. I ask only two things, that you sit, listen and think great thoughts. Coming up with a topic has been difficult. In fact, I have changed my presentation about … well, I think the last time was about one-half hour ago and one of the motivations for changing was an article that appeared in USA Today yesterday … no, how about saying yesterday’s USA Today.


The title is ‘Information Joins the Web Auction Craze’ and I am going to read you a little bit from this article. It says, “Find answers to pressing questions online for a fee.” An unannounced start-up funded by three top venture capital firms plans to launch a groundbreaking and controversial web-site that promises to be an e-bay for information and advice. It will allow anyone to buy and sell answers to questions over the Internet. The company is called Inforocket and it will launch soon. And this is how Inforocket will work. You can post a question and the amount that you are willing to pay for the information. The question could be factual such as “Who won the Olympic gold medal in the 200 breaststroke in 1976?’ or the question could be subjective such as ‘Who is the best swim coach in the United States in 1999?’Anyone can bid to answer and the person will provide information on why he or she is qualified to provide an answer. And if both parties agree the answer is sent to the questioner who then pays the person who answers. How’s that? Answers will be graded from one to four with comments and questioners will get rate by those who sell them answers. And as the ratings build buyers and sellers can be more sure of what they are getting. How about that? Any investors interested?


Well, can I have the first slide? I went back to my room and made this slide up because I thought it was appropriate for Inforocket and the question that we have to address today is ‘What is it worth?’ and I guess the second question would be ‘What is it?’ And I am saying that it is either knowledge or information, and we have to decide what that is worth   to us.


I had the opportunity this spring to laze around the house and read books. That was actually my job, that’s a term called sabbatical, and it’s a good thing and university professors get to do that occasionally. And I took the opportunity to  read old textbooks on swimming. And one of the conclusions that I came to was that, I guess and actually Cecil Colwin may have phrased this first, there is a modern era of swimming and it probably started somewhere around 1949 1950. Prior to this time, there really wasn’t a whole lot of intensive training taking place. In fact, training was considered, pretty much, unsportsmanlike. I found the quote in a textbook that confirms this. In training, the only maxim for the successful racer is don’t do too much and being a sprinter myself, I endorse that wholeheartedly.


Well what happened during the late 50’s, 60’s, 70’s and 80’s? Well, presumably, as far as I can track, interval training was incorporated in the swimming program somewhere in the early 50’s. The first documentation of annual plans and periodicity also shows up in textbooks somewhere in the early 50’s. I know that people find this surprising, but I actually have the books that show this. Taper and shave down, things that we know all about, again, showed up in competitive swimming, thanks to a gentleman over here, somewhere in the middle 50’s. And of course high-volume training and over-training also started somewhere in the middle 50’s.


Interestingly enough, dryland strength training is much, much older and it predates all the rest of this virtually by a half of century. There are textbooks available on dryland strength training for swimmers back before the turn of the century. Anyway, lots of things, lots of innovations, lots of new methodologies. In addition to all of this, we have new facilities. Again, a revolution in pool design started to take place in the late 50’s and early 60’s and it continues to this day. But probably the most progress took place during that time. Pool depth, gutter design, lane widths, windows, water returns, heated decks, seating, separate diving wells and lighting. All of that is mid 50’s to mid 60’s.


We also had many advances in technology. Timing systems, circa 1940, pace clock, it depends on who you believe, (Right Forbes?) 1947 or thereabouts. Pool technology we talked about and interestingly enough, goggles and suits started to change somewhere around 1970.


Last year at, I think at an ASCA meeting, somebody has to give a review of some of this and they concluded, interestingly enough, that not much has taken place since about 1980 in swimming. I thought that was surprising, and yet the more I read the more I am apt to believe that. Not much has really taken place since about 1980, interestingly enough. I strongly believe again as a result of doing all of this reading that we are in fact in the midst of giants. And I don’t have all of their photographs, but certainly these individuals play a big role in transforming our sport. Some of those I’ve seen around here this week.


One of the books that I came across, which if you intend to be a scholar of swimming, you need to find, you need to pirate, you need to copy, is this one right here. This is called the ‘Bibliography of Swimming’ and it was published in 1940. This text has the listing of every manuscript, textbook and article published prior to 1938 and it has a description of each one. This is rather amazing when you consider there were no CD-ROM’s, there were no lit searches, and there were no hard drives, just a typewriter and a lot of legwork. All right. So I went through this thing basically in search of the science of swimming. And what I found was there were two books essentially titled ‘The Science of Swimming’ one in 1816, believe it or not, and one in 1928. Now I haven’t been able to find the 1816 book, but I have looked at the 1928 one and they don’t mean science in the same terminology that I mean science. This is more how to swim than it is the science of swimming. So, certainly, I would have to conclude that at least prior to 1940 or so, that swimming was directed by art rather than science.


You will tell by the end here what my bias is, and again these are the three books that existed prior to the 1970’s on the science of swimming. In any of that the point that I want to make is that in 1968 Doc Counsilman published ‘The Science of Swimming,’ and it certainly provided Doc with an identity and that was as a scientist coach, but it also did more than that. It also provided swimming with an identity and so swimming had sort of this mystique associated with it that science played a role in driving innovation. I guess what I am going to try to tell you today is, I think that we are losing our identity. All of my evidence will suggest that we are losing our identity as far as the science of swimming is concerned. Okay, and here we are. This is what I am going to talk about. I am not going to talk about the science of swimming. I am going to talk about science and swimming. I can’t spend 45 minutes, well I could spend a lot more than 45 minutes on the science of swimming.


So I was talking to some of the coaches the other day and they said “Well, we don’t want to know a lot about the science of swimming. We want to be philosophical for a change.” So  I am not going to tell you how to coach. I am going to give you some viewpoints and perspectives on what I think the relationship between these two are. All right. And I should note that it does not say Ph.D. after my name, but I do have one and it is a Doctor of Philosophy, and no one has really ever explained that to me because I studied physiology for about ten years. And one of my students recently said “Well, all that means  is  that you  are a  master of  making simple concepts very difficult.” So hang with me here.


How do we know what we know? Well, we have basically six sources or pathways of knowledge. The first one is tenacity and/or superstition. That is the way it is and always will be and everyone knows that if you do it any other way you will surely burn in hell. That is what that means. Or you could just say my dad did it this way and his dad did it this way and his dad before him did it this way and that is the way you are going to do it.


The second pathway is through intuition. I just know and that is all I am going to say about it. I know. Prior to the 90’s that intuition was located supposedly only on the X chromosome, but in the 90’s fortunately because of political correctness, it has also been found on the Y chromosome and now men also have intuition.


Authority. It is so because the Dali Llama said it was so, and it will be so unless he changes his mind. Rationalism. If this is true then this must be true. This reminds me a lot of my son’s jokes. The one in particular was something about a frog and a scientist trying to determine could a frog without legs jump. They cut the first leg off and they say ‘jump frog jump’ and it jumped. They cut the second leg off and they say ‘jump frog jump’ and he does so. They cut the third leg off and it still jumps. And after they cut the fourth leg off they conclude that the frog is deaf. Yeah, that’s the way it hit me too, okay.


Imperialism. Well, imperialism also comes under the guideline of trial and error, and this brings back the quote, from I think it’s Star Trek, and Dave you can correct me if I’m wrong, but don’t the Klingons say live long and prosper. Is that correct, live long and prosper? Well, if you are going to use trial and error for your source of information you must live long and prosper.


Lastly, the scientific method. And that is the one we will focus on. Okay. Something very simple made very complicated. Scientific method is the identification of the problem and the formation of a hypothesis, experimental design, conduction of the experiment, hypothesis testing, communication of results. And, of course, there is another one you must add and that would be that it must be generalizable. Without generalizability there is little value in scientific knowledge or any practical worth. I checked just to make sure that I was on the right track with Webster and this is what Webster has to say about science. Pretty complicated stuff. This is what science is, and if you read through that, you should come  to the conclusion that there is nothing casual about science. Science requires verification and therefore there is some redundancy. It isn’t easy, and it isn’t cheap and it requires focus and perspective.


I always tell my students that good science is like leaving footprints in the sand. If you are right on the edge of the water you can look behind you and see where you came from and you can extrapolate a direction towards which you should go. That’s good science. If you are up on the shore too far and you don’t leave tracks because the sands too soft, you can’t see where you came from and you have no idea where you are going. It is basically chaos. And if you are in the deep water you don’t leave any tracks at all you are over the edge. There is no history and there is no direction.


So, what is science? What is good science and what is not good science? Those are our pertinent questions. Again, good science is disciplined and it is ethical and it is directed and it is endorsed. And good science is careful, it can be replicated, and it is able to be confirmed. It is documented by prior research. It is logical and in most cases it is simple and straightforward and elegant. What it is not is, it is not without debate and sometimes we lose sight of that. And we shall discuss this last point a little further. Science is the process and knowledge is the product and again we have to decide how much we are willing to pay for this.


Do we value knowledge, and are we to benefit from the information age or will we pay someone on the Internet, Inforocket, to provide this knowledge for us. Believe it or not, this quote came out of a psychology book and not to step on any psychologists toes but I was surprised to find it there. Science is not just knowledge. It is knowledge working for, it’s living. This is great. It’s correcting itself and it’s adding to itself. It is never complete it is never finished. We must not stop the process of innovation and or development we must continually refine and discard our old ideas.


Doc Counsilman is quoted as saying that one of our worst human traits is being afraid to walk away from something we once prescribed to. And he said that coaching is conservative by its very nature. My perception is, my fear is, that we are supportive of marketing, and we are supportive of public relations and we are not supportive of science because we either don’t understand it or we fear it and we don’t understand the value of debate.


So another interesting quote, this is on my all-time list of quotes, I always give my students five extra points at the end of the semester if they can give me this one verbatim. ‘The more you look the more you see instead of selecting a single truth from the multitude scientific investigation increases the multitude.’ We have to keep our eyes open. What science can do? The scientific method, basically, shortens the time between concept and application. Again trial and error…you must have a lot of patience and you must live long and prosper. Science should enhance communication and stimulate communication and it should reduce isolation. It requires transmission and or communication and without this it is only wasted effort.


I have a colleague and the university who requires that every master student do a thesis. And I said “That’s great! How many master students do you have in a given year?” and he said he and his colleague have forty. So I said “You have forty students doing a thesis in any given year?” And he said “Yes, that is right.” And I said “Well how many of them do you publish?” and he said “Our goal is to publish one out of twenty so that in any given year we might publish two projects.” And I just couldn’t believe it, I couldn’t believe it and he said “Well, what is your goal?” and I said “It would be twenty out of twenty otherwise we wouldn’t do it. It would be just wasted human effort.”


Science has a solid criterion. In other words if all of us agree upon a scientific method, and we adopt these criteria, we can conclude the results as fact. We can discern truth from dogma and really there aren’t any other alternatives that are acceptable.


The next slide is about what science can’t do, I hope. And  I think this is partially to blame for some of the confusion. First, it doesn’t answer what is the best way to do X? The possible solutions for what’s the best way to do X is enormous, almost inconceivable. And I’ll give you an example. We hold Thomas Edison in high esteem. He has many inventions, and one of which was the electric light bulb. Has anyone ever heard the story of the invention of the light bulb? If you go up to Greenfield Village his laboratory is there and it is reported that he tested somewhere between 10,000 and 20,000 different elements before he found one that worked. Between 10,000 and 20,000, can you imagine how much time that took? Now, it’s great that we have electric light bulbs, but few of us have the time or the resources to test 20,000 different compounds, that’s really not science. I’m pretty sure he was not working with a hypothesis there.


In swimming we are actually beyond the descriptive phase. One of the things that I noticed in going through the preparation for this is that while there is a lot written about swimming and about swimmers, there is very little research on the training of swimmers. And we will talk about that a little bit more. Science is the testing of a hypothesis and these are developed by standing on the shoulders of giants. In other words, science requires prior art. There must be something there.


All right, trial and error, it just doesn’t work. How do you like this, science hasn’t done shit for me. And the gentleman there is Doc Counsilman. I warned Marge that this was coming. Way back in about 1993 or so, I happened to have a long day and I went to see, actually I remember sitting down and saying “What’s up Doc?” but do I get credit for that? No. Anyway, he is very gracious and made a spot for me there and he turned in the midst of calling off splits and worrying about airline reservations, etc., and he said “Science hasn’t done shit for me.” Now, this is one of those moments of clarity in your life.


I actually got to Indiana because Counsilman recruited me there after my undergraduate degree. He convinced me that the University of Alaska is not where I wanted to be. I had to come to Indiana. And after X number of years, I am sitting there, and I am looking at him and I’m thinking what did you just say. So there is sweat on my forehead, I’m getting pale, I’m trembling at the knees, thinking where is he going with this and he continued by saying the trouble with science is that it doesn’t deal well with the individual and that is true.


Coaching is all about the individual and of course you know there is fifteen minutes between this thing and I am sweating and thinking about what he could possibly be talking about. And obviously it had been something that he had been working through and Marge said yesterday “Yeah he’d get on these things, and it would take him weeks if not months to work through these big dilemmas in his life.” And then this is what he said this is the one that I absolutely love. He said science provided me with a framework within which the art of coaching could be performed. What a wonderful statement. So he bailed me out, faith was restored, I felt good. It’s taken me eighteen years, sixteen years to understand all of this, but I now understand.


Research, here is something you probably haven’t thought of before. Is there a difference between research and science? Is there a difference between research and scholarship? And the answer to both of these questions is yes. There is a difference and in fact it is a profound difference. Research can be performed without consideration without intellect without an intellectual commitment. Whereas, science cannot and neither can scholarship.


I challenge my students by asking them at our weekly meetings how much time did you spend last week thinking about what you were doing? And I can ask the same of you. How much time did you spend last week actually thinking about what you were doing? And the answer unfortunately is not much time at all. Most of them probably don’t spend any time at all, and then they are surprised at how little progress they have actually made. That is true—they don’t read and they don’t think.


Let’s look at the second question. Is there a relationship between science and research or are they the same things? Well, I think we answered that, they are different. And finally can you have good research without good scholarship? Well, actually you can but of the two, if I had to choose, I would take scholarship over research any day.


The chairman of our department had the opportunity to visit Russia about ten years ago, and when he came back he gave a little speech to the faculty and he said you know they have a university over there that has 20,000 students something like 3000 faculty and he says “Do you know how many computers they have?” He says “Two. They have two computers.” And we were just “Huh, what do you mean?” He says “You know what? They are better scholars then we are. They are forced to be better scholars then we are.” So we have to think about that one. Research is getting the numbers and scholarship is what you do with them. In my twenty something years at Indiana University this is perhaps the most intelligent thing that I have heard an administrator utter, bar none, and I believe it. Research is getting the numbers and scholarship is what you do with them.


We have far too many researchers, believe it or not and it is hard for me to say, and far too few scholars. Swimming needs scholars and again a quote from Doc “We need scholars to find the mystery behind the numbers, to sort out the facts that apply, to provide a direction, to act as bell weathers, to chart the course and provide opinions based upon knowledge. We need literature and we need science, and we are most in need of scholars.”


Much has been made of the significance of the information explosion. But what we have really been facing is an exploding massive data and not of information and therein lies the problem. Scholarship again out of Webster’s. Have you ever read Zen and the art of Motorcycle Maintenance? If you have that’s great. That is the beginning of scholarship, and if you haven’t you probably should right after, well, let’s see, read The Science of Swimming, read Francis Greenwood and then go get a copy of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. That is for next summer that will keep you busy. What is it about? Well, it’s about scholarship, and it’s also about quality. The quality of thinking the quality of the intellectual process. So, that is a challenge for you and we will pursue this a little more. Science and swimming and not the science of swimming.


More questions. How much science is enough science? Are we doing enough science today? Do we have any evidence that we are doing enough science? Who is funding science? Who is funding the science of swimming? How much funding is enough funding? Who makes that decision? Good questions, I don’t know the answers to these. There you go, enough science, weird science, that is what my kids think science is all about. Scientific truth is not dogma. The time spans of scientific truths are an inverse function of the intensity of scientific effort. It goes back to the more you look the more you see. If you are not looking you are not going to see. If we are going to come up with some innovations, we had better keep our eyes open.


Collin talks about the information explosion and this is a search through the literature for articles that contain exercise or exercising in its title. In 1946 there were twelve articles published. By 1962 there were 128, by 1981 655, by 1986 1288 by 1994 more than 1500 wow. Who has the time to read all that stuff? Certainly, an information explosion. The literature on swimming on the other hand, 1988 my projectionist’s back there Dave Kantor did this for me, there are 344 publications pertaining to swimming.  Those that were based on science the scientific method numbered 70. Those that came from the United States numbered 33, almost half. In 1998, on the other hand, just about identically the number of publications 346. Those that were based on experimental designs with data and analysis and conclusions were down to ten and those with a United States authorship were down to four, that’s four.  So, I call that an information implosion.


Again lots of information about swimmers but not much science. This is a good one. This is a quote from Forbes and it’s in print so he can’t deny saying this. But, he basically says you have this information explosion and yet our times have leveled off. How can you argue that this information has helped swimming? Well, my only comment is, again looking at the nature of these publications, they are about swimming, they are not about training swimmers, and there is a big difference between the two. Another analysis is this is another opportunity for scientists to communicate. All right. These are World Congress proceedings. In 1989 in London England, 43 presentations, eight from the US, roughly 20% or so of those presented. In 1997 there were 63 publications, three of them came from the United States And by 1999, there were 70 publications and again three of them, less than 4%, and two out of the three were invited talks that didn’t contain any data. So that leaves one. Is this enough science? I don’t know how you can draw any other conclusion. This is not enough are we not asking questions anymore. Are we not looking? That is my question. Okay. So all of these other publications, where are they coming from? What I did is I added them up and just made a histogram, and this is a rank order and we are not talking close here. But China is in fact producing more science than the rest of us. With Australia number 2 and a close second, Japan three and a close third, the entire continent of Europe being four and us a distant fifth that means us the United States. So is this enough science? What’s the problem? What’s going on? I think that is what I’m supposed to conclude. I don’t know how to come up with that conclusion, but that is one of the things that John asked me to do. So. Here is one place to look. Who is funding science? Well the USOC funds science through the elite athlete or the science and technology program one or two projects a year in swimming and the project must be endorsed by the NGB and in line with previously identified objectives. Now, does anybody have any idea what the previously identified objectives are? Do you know how long ago they were updated? When were they stated?  They have a Web page and you can actually look  at it but it hasn’t been updated in two years. They haven’t had a director in, I don’t know how many years, two years, three years, and they have had a personnel turnover, right? So maybe they are going the right way. But as far as external groups becoming involved in funding from the USOC, very limited potential. How many division one universities are there? I don’t know let’s see. The rankings in football go down to like 360 or something. I know that because Indiana is 359. Okay. ASCOT, well it does it part. It does fund the Journal Swimming Research.  Presumably all members get one of those, whether or not you read it or not is another question. And again FINA funds biannual aquatic sports medicine congress and that is about it. So I don’t know? What funding? All right. My next step in the journey was to go to strategic management book. I know nothing about business and I know very little now but I actually read this thing to try to figure out what’s going on. Is swimming a big business or not? I mean, I look around and I say, wow, you know, this is a big business. There are a lot of dollars changing hand. There are a lot of people on salaries. There are 300 and some thousand registered swimmers in the US and there is probably twice that many involved in high school and then there are master swimmers etc., etc. And so here is a quote, again very appropriate. If one runs away for a more aggressive product and process strategies one should not be surprised by the fact that competitive advantages are lost to foreign competitors. It has nothing to do with swimming and it has everything to do with swimming.


I spoke to some people in our business school, and they said that you had to have a plan. You had to have objectives and you had to weigh those objectives to determine how much money should you spend on R & D. The focus on R & D efforts can vary greatly. Some entities attempt to be leaders and innovators. I guess that is something we have to decide. Are we going to be leaders and innovators or are we going to be satisfied to be followers. Where product introduction is the driving force behind competitive strategy, R & D activities must be extensive.


So, then I decided, well, okay what businesses probably have to invest a lot in R & D? Well, it turns out, probably the pharmaceutical industry does the most, and it’s upwards of 20 % of their yearly income. That’s a lot. Well, what’s the average? The average is somewhere around 5 %. GM, Ford, some of those companies about 5%. Some of the electronic industries have to have more money because it is changing so fast.


This is the only data that I could find. I talked to one of the budgetary officers at USA Swimming, and I asked the question “How much money was allocated for S & E for research last year?” And the answer they gave me was $32,000, and I didn’t say much. Then I said, “Well, what is your yearly income?” And they said, well, it’s over 12 million, they didn’t know exactly, but they could find the figures if I wanted them. Well, I calculated that out and what do you think it comes out to? Well, it’s well below one percent. It is a fraction of a percentage of a percentage, it is very small. And then I said “Well, that is not a whole lot.” And she said well we also have personnel costs we could add into that and I said well that’s fine. I think I know what I need to know. $32,000. I hope that is going to change. I hope you guys are going to put some pressure on those guys to have that changed because that is not enough. I could spend that in one afternoon, we all could spent that in an afternoon, right?


Aside from that, we are going to have to look at this we are going to have to get a plan. So one of the things that you guys can do is put some pressure on those guys to establish a plan. Let’s propose objectives. Let’s get a mission. Let’s plot a course. Let’s put some footprints in the sand and extrapolate. Where are we going to go? What do we want to be? Do we want to be followers or do we want to be innovators? Try something new every year, that is something you can do. That is one of the things Doc used to tell me. Every year we try something new. Write it all down. I have a good friend at Kenyan College that writes it all down. Encourage research start a foundation. There is an easy one, start a foundation, contribute a couple hundred k? Right? Read and ask questions and challenge the experts. Stimulate debate. Stimulate debate. I think that is a great thing. Identify objectives and talk about, endorse and profit scholarship. Question authority.


I asked somebody if they remembered the 60’s and what was going on and they said, are you kidding I don’t remember the 60’s. Question authority. The more you look the more you see. We saw that one already. We need to start looking. This is the great debate of ’99, and we could also call it the great debate of ’79 for that matter. And Barry, thanks for the drawing, that is your name down there. First proposed in 70, and yes, Doc did in fact propose that the outstanding swimmer propel himself , a means of hydrodynamic lift. But you’ll have to remember that he also said “Hey, if it ain’t right, walk away from it.” I am trying to convince Marge that he should be honored that people are still debating this. Try something new. These guys are carrying bricks I guess, and they’ve got snorkels and fins. Sure, why not, write it all down. Doc said that the best science that he ever did was he wrote down every workout and every goal set and every time trial form 1957 to 1993. Inspect your assumptions. Why are we doing what we’re doing? Who said so? Is this dogma, tenacity, rationalism? What is it? That guy might be the fastest 100-meter freestyle in the world. Be aware of wonder. I have this one posted over my door. Be aware of wonder don’t stop your curiosity.


So where are we, and what have we learned? We are not spending enough money on research. I don’t know how to solve that. I don’t know where there is enough money. We are not training future scholars this is one that bothers me. Five or six years ago, I proposed that somebody should come up with money for swimmers who want to go on the graduate school to study sport science. How much does that cost? Not much, that really doesn’t cost much. My graduate students make on the order of $600 during the summer. That’s what they get for teaching a course, 600 bucks. That gets them through three months. That is not a lot of money. They could be researching swimming for less than $1000 all summer long. That’s not a lot. We are spending far too little time on scholarship in general.


I am the editor of Journal Swimming Research, and some of you have been after me and said hey where is the journal, you guys are late, three months late, where is it? Well, you know what, if there is nothing to publish, I can’t publish. If we only have three presentations, what is there to publish? We have no comprehensive plan or none that I am aware of, none that I can find. We have no direction nor do we have a mission, so we need to get on with it.


And finally it is better to debate a question without settling it then to settle a question without debating it. We have to endorse this philosophy. We must if we are going to innovate and lead rather than follow. Another one of my top ten quotes. I absolutely love this one, ‘I don’t necessarily believe everything I say or write. I think it is my responsibility to stimulate debate. By stimulating debate, maybe someone else will eventually identify the truth maybe that is my legacy.’ A body of knowledge, unchallenged and unreplenished grows sick and may itself become superstition and that’s, my folks, where we are headed. That’s where we are headed, in my opinion. The concepts are the things science did help me coach Jim, Mark, Gary per say.


Generalizability of science that is important. People that I consulted with, people you can share the blame with, Dave, Cecil, Forbes, Doc and Marge, John Leonard.

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