Stephen Widmer: Commercial Swimming Club Inc.. Stephan Widmer provides Senior specialized coaching development for the Queensland Academy of Sport Elite Squad in Australia. His squad is comprised of swimmers brought together from different clubs and some Commercial Swimming Club members.
This talk won’t be in English. I call it “Swinglish” which is a mixture between Swiss and English. Originally I came from Switzerland and as Ian said, I moved half around the world to find my second home and country, Australia. I became a citizen early this year. I would like to speak, not only about the development of Libby Lenton, but also about the way I like to approach coaching. To start with I probably will show a bit of how my journey started and how I developed my coaching philosophies. I was a swimmer myself. I had a few national records in Switzerland. They were a bit slower than in Australia. I had to coach myself because there was no one else around, yet I loved my sport. I had a big passion for it so it was up to me to make the difference in my own performances. I selected Human Studies to study because I wanted to be a teacher/coach so that is why I selected what I did at the University. I enrolled to become a professional swimming coach. I studied biomechanics, nutrition, psychology, physiology. These were all the areas I believe that were important for my own development. Later on down the track we had to select sports as well. I picked track and field because of the strength and conditioning training. I picked gymnastics as well. I also was a handball player so I went for that and obviously for swimming, so there were a few areas I tried to specialize myself in. All was just a plan to become a swimming coach. As Ian said, in 1996-97 I started to travel around the world by myself for one year. On this journey I ended up in Switzerland, but actually I once stayed for a short time, almost a week, with Dave Salo. It was quite a coincidence later on when I met him again on teams. One of my mentors and friends, Scott Volkers, really made a big difference to the coaching experience I had. He always used to call me. I worked for him only for three years, but he had 15 years of experience and within those three years I learned a lot from him.
I did not have to do the same as him, trial and error. I could learn really a lot from his great experience.
Libby Lenton is nowadays a former world record holder, even though she is 19 years old. She lost her world record at the Olympics to a swimmer from the same town. That girl is Jodie Henry. Jodie and Libby did a switch on me. They hate each other. They have to. I call it keeping each other honest because they know they will face each other and have to race each other again. Jodie’s coach, Shannon Rollason, keeps me honest too and I hope I do the same to him. He definitely keeps me honest. He does a great job with Jodie and I have to find new ways to do things differently, to come up with new solutions, to develop my skills as a coach.
Obviously I was fortunate as well to work with Susie O’Neill, a former world record holder in the 200 fly, Olympic gold medallist and a mentor in our program. I was assistant coach for three years and I strongly believe Libby Lenton has taught me a lot as well. Those two young ladies have taught me great skills about coaching, about communication and how to get pretty good swimmers to the next level and how to deal with things they exposed.
I work at the Quinton Academy of Sport which is a similar institute to the Australian Institute of Sport, but only state-based. We have 21 sports there which is a great benefit. We have coaches meetings. It can be that the track and field coach leads a meeting and he talks about sprints or about speed development and all the other sports come forward as well and discuss later on what they do. It is a great cross-specialization of sport knowledge where we think outside the box.
I would like to get straight into my greatest achievement (shows a video of a polar bear swimming in the water). It took me a while. It was all about communication, non-verbal communication. It was zero degrees at the Gold Coast and I started to work with this talented polar bear. The goal was to get him to do a backstroke start. As you see, I am still not happy with the streamline and execution of the underwater kick, but we are working on that. Probably this explains a bit the kind of a coach I am. I was really interested in more than only seeing this polar bear diving above the water so I went instantly underwater to the window to get some footage to see how he entered the water, how streamlined his body was, how he used his paw and things like that. I really wanted to show you this. I am really proud of this achievement.
Okay? Let’s talk about this young girl Libby Lenton. Young Libby is a really interesting character…very gifted…very talented and she has a big heart. Already in the very early stage of her life she had to learn to elbow and fight to get to the next proficiency level, to get to the next spot in her life, the next thing she wanted to achieve. It all started really, really early. We see here Libby in the front, in the right corner, really fighting already, elbowing her way through to get at the first, the most important step of her life. A little bit more on a serious note. Her nickname is Lady. Nobody really calls her Libby Lenton, even in the newspapers and TV in Australia. She was born on January 28, 1985 in North Queensland and moved down to Brisbane where she lives nowadays. Libby is a true professional swimmer. We probably have some small advantage in Australia that swimmers can really choose to make swimming a profession. They can earn money. Some of the top swimmers like Ian Thorpe and Grant Hackett are of a rock star status. People really look up to them. They are in the weekly news and stuff like that helping them to earn their own money. It’s big enough money that they have a very good living, a better one than through normal work. Libby started part-time. She is a fairly small person, only 167. On TV they always come across a bit taller, but she is only 167. I wouldn’t know what that is in feet, but I hope that helps. She is 58 kilos. I believe that is something different in pounds, sorry. She swims for the Commercial Club. I am Libby’s swimming coach. I organize everything and maintain her, but she has a known strength and conditioning coach and this guy does a tremendous job.
I will talk about him a little bit later. I think that the holistic picture of what she does nowadays in the pool is all important in term of what she is capable of and her abilities. Libby learned to swim at a very young age, 1 ½ years old. She joined a swim club at the age of four. Her brothers and sisters were in a swimming club and they took her to the pool. Around when she was 8 years old she trained roughly three sessions per week so not a lot, not a big deal. Early on she already had made her first Queens and State finals. The Queens Championships, it is a huge meet. It is 7 days long where the heat sessions go probably for 5 or 6 hours. The final session starts at 7 or up to 10 o’clock at night. It is a big, big meet of 7 days and it really toughens up the kids. Even 10 year old kids can have finals at 9 o’clock at night. Whether that is good or not I am not sure, but that is how we do it. When she was 10 years old she only trained the afternoons and not in the mornings.
When she was 10-14 she trained five to six sessions. She started building in a few morning sessions and then she came to one of the first important experiences of her swimming. She went to the Queens and State Meet and for the first time since she was 8 years old she did not qualify for a final. That was for the very first time which probably shows what determination this young girl had. She decided with no one talking to her about it, she decided, I have to change something if I want to keep on swimming. She loved swimming. She still does love swimming and she has a big passion for it. So she started to do more training, more sessions and as important, she lost 7 kilos. She weighed as a 14 year old, 65 kilos. I am not sure if she is happy about me telling you guys that, but she was quite big for that age. In those days she used to train with John
Carey. He is Kieren Perkins coach and probably was trained more as a middle distance/long distance swimmer and had a modified swimming program set up for her. At this stage she still didn’t do any strength and conditioning. She only started the dryland training in the year 2001. That is when she met Stuart Britt. He still works nowadays with her. The second and probably hopefully as important decision came in October 2002. Libby knew that she had to change her environment. More importantly, she realized that she kept on doing the same mistakes as at the old program. She didn’t show up for every session and people only saw Libby Lenton as the person who was not 100% committed, only training a few times a week. She knew if she wanted to make it she’d have to move somewhere else. At that stage I was coaching a pretty good program and I had a few girls going fairly fast in sprinting so Libby decided to join my squad. I think that changed her future quite a lot. I’ll show you later on some times and progressions which are quite impressive.
More about her abilities and her characteristics. Libby always had a very, very competitive nature and it is one of the coaching tools I try to use to set up challenges that she responds to. She absolutely hates losing and I think that is a big difference between someone who wants to be in the prime light and someone on the bottom podium. She still seems sometimes, on the podium, a bit shy and appears like it is not really where she wants to be. Susie O’Neill has a very similar characteristic, but if someone is next to her in the pool she just races, not wanting that girl to pass her. I call it being very stubborn. She just puts her head down and tries to go faster and harder and I think that is a very, very important thing. Regarding her mind-set, I think I can trigger really well the link of selling her the dream of what she wants to do. Then everything else, no matter what, I try to link it to her dream, to her goal down the track. That great challenge is waiting for her and sometimes she is even scared of it, but she stands up and has the best go at those challenges. I think that is what a typical sprinter mentality is about. I remember Mike Bottom talking about it as well with Anthony Ervin and what kind of a person he was. He was easily bored, but as well easily challenged. When we have other coaches coming on the pool deck, they stand there and watch her in an event. We do maybe a VO2 max set; a heart rate set is what we call it in Australia. She has the last one to go from a push long course and I would say to Libby, “This coach here next to me just said, no way you will go under 59 in the last one.” She will push herself and really respond to those challenges. I guess you must try to find the right way to communicate with your athletes so they respond to your challenges. If we find the things that trigger an athlete, we are one step further. I think it is very important to know as well that Libby did a lot of exercising in different sports when she was young. It was not always structured training. Before she was 10 years old she did gymnastics and diving. She learned a lot of skills on how to enter the water smoothly, body stability, and body awareness. She was at one stage of her life involved with all of them. I think that helped her a lot to learn about her body, to obtain a greater awareness for later on down the track. She has better motor learning skills to change technique. It is fairly simple with Libby to change patterns in the pool, habits in the pool and technique; much easier than with most of my other athletes anyway.
What I talked about before is Libby’s progression of best times. Above the black line, these were the best times for Libby before she joined me. Until January 2003, her best times were about at 26.03 for the 50 and a 57.0 in the 100 meter freestyle. I think the importance of that is this young girl from January 03 through to the Olympic Trials which were in March 04, in a span of 15 months probably or 14 months, this girl came from 57.0 which is an okay swim but nothing sensational to a 53.66 long course time. That was the world record in those days and meanwhile her body kept on growing.
She responded really well to those challenges I gave her in the pool. The next bit we have to work on now is that she learns to handle international racing and stepping up for big finals, for big moments. When she was an age grouper she very rarely actually qualified for finals at the Australian Age Group National Championships. The very first medal she won was when she was 17 years old. She placed 3rd in the 50 freestyle. One year later she placed 3rd at the World Championships in the 50 freestyle. So that is the progression she made within those few months when she joined me. It really was due to the potential and talent this girl had and the dream this girl had as well. Still, there is a lot more to come. I am 100% sure of this, once we get a lot more experience and exposure. I just wrote down quickly some best times, 24.70, 53.6, 1:59 and there is some conversion to yards and from the short course meters too. This would be a 21.6. I wouldn’t even know how fast it is, maybe a 46.8 and 1:44 conversion from yard from swiminfo.com.
It is probably important to know the Australian system a little bit. We have a support network in my high performance system. I have the advantage of utilizing quite a lot of specialists if I would like to. It is always important that I make the final call. I am the head coach. I decide whether we would like to utilize someone or not, but I am lucky that probably anyone in the system has worked on the national team level so I can learn still heaps from them. I think if we set up our own environment with all these specialists we can help them in turn to develop their own skills for the future. That can make a big difference. There are a lot of names on the national team level for Libby. Again the strength and conditioning coach is an important person as well.
One of my simplified coaching goals involves four things. They are motivation, positive thinking, their attitude, to have the right attitude and to be focused. I really sell my program this way. To execute the following things I ask what do you need to get to the level I want you to go?
That is up to me and I discuss it with the swimmers, communicate it with the swimmer, what is your need. How do you want to set it up? The next is what resources do I need? Obviously the pool, but then do I need certain people involved? How can I make it more professional? How can we grow together? What do we have to do? How do we have to do it and then the resources? If I can answer all those questions I then link anything in my program, any set, any trial and exercise, whatever we do, I link this to the goal; the four other things, motivation, positive thinking, attitude and focus. This all will come along and then the biggest thing is Libby’s big desire. How badly do my athletes want to achieve their dreams? I guess for us coaches it is the same. How badly do I want my athletes to get the best out of themselves to reach their potential. This probably again explains a little bit about how I try to coach my swimmers and Libby Lenton. I call it training learning opportunity. I try to sell a holistic approach to the athletes’ development, not only inside the pool but outside as well. In whatever areas they are, I do not control my athletes. I mean to say by what they buy, what they eat, when they go to bed, things they do. I try to challenge them to do things better down the track. It is a slow process but I think if they learn to do things for themselves they will do it much better down the track. They understand again, everything we set up is linked to their dream, to their goals. That is the way I try to set it up. The development of an athletic intellect is so important to me that my athletes know what are their personal speeds in a 100-meter race and their second 50 speed. They know what are their specific stroke rates. We work with stroke rates. We know what is a good 50 meter time for them. They need to know what base we do and what specific work. I really believe they have to know about all that stuff so I try to create it. Again, it is a slow process, but once they know about it, they move forward I think in a faster rate.
We study the relationship between physical activities and the emotional states. For example, it can be when we get to the pool and we have maybe a quality session, a race pace specific sessions. The athlete just came from the school, they sat for several hours on a school bench and the whole body language tells me if someone is very tired. They come in and I get them into a circle. We do a reaction game. The good old slapping game where partners have to try to slap their partners on the hands. Anything that alerts them, that wakes them. I think it is my duty as a coach to make sure, if I want them to be alert and ready to do something later on down the track in the pool, that I have to get them ready. I have to switch them on to do that. The body language, the eyes tell us a lot. When they walk on the pool deck, are the eyes fresh? Sometimes you can recognize whether they get sick. When they had a bad day at home or in their relationships or with the family, I can sometimes read their body language much more. I have a quick chat with them and find out more about them. I manage to change, to turn the mood around. So they can have positive body language, I fake it until you make it. You must smile. If I can do that I am 100% convinced they will do a better job in the pool for me and for themselves. More importantly, I try to set the right training condition which is the work ethic. Work ethic I believe is the one thing necessary to achieve international top performances along with working discipline. I would like to call it standards and standards. They are very hard to achieve, higher standards. It is very easy for standards to slip away. Just this year we went to a big European swimming tour. It was the first time we did a lot of traveling. We did a lot of hard top racing with lack of sleep. It was quite a big thing. The first destination was Monte Carlo. There were absolutely the most beautiful buffets there. The food was divine and offered whatever you would like to have. It all was there. The first day my swimmers ate really well. The second day they saw other swimmers getting a dessert or maybe two desserts. The third day they started to go to the buffet as well and have one. So, the standard already slipped away. I had to get back to them and re-address this. The standard of the other ones doesn’t make it right for you. If we develop something because we believe in it then you really have to make sure to do the same for yourself and keep on doing these things as we set it up. It was a great learning curve, especially if you are going to the Olympic Village. They have from free McDonalds to anything; it’s a big challenge.
The acceptance of the culture, I believe is the next big thing, acceptance. Anything I tell them they have simply to accept it because again, everything is linked to the goals we have in the program. If I tell them now you do ten 200’s and the swimmer next to you does only ten 50’s, it is not good that the kid that has to do ten 200’s questions that in their mind. If they have questions like that on their mind, the outcome of what they do in the pool won’t be the same level as if they instantly accept it. Yes, my coach gave me this and I know that this is the best for me and it is the best for the other guy to do ten 50’s. To sell that is very hard, trying to get them to feel better with this situation. Anything I tell them, they have to accept and try to do the best job they can. Being positive is a matter of choice. What I try to do, as a coach is this. Every morning I come in and park my car. There is one gate I have to get through and I am straight on pool deck. Behind the gate I just stand for probably 5 – 10 seconds. I am not an early morning person. We start at 5:30 in the morning and for 5 seconds I just stand there. Just stay in your chair and fake a smile for 5 seconds. As much as you can, fake it. Fake it and you instantly feel better. You have already a smile on your face. If I can do this to myself then the next thing is positive body language. I want to be positive on pool deck, but I want my athletes to be positive as well on pool deck because being positive we link it again to our goals. I believe in anything to get them to be better swimmers and to make each session better. If I can link it they more likely will do it.
Then the normal principle of progressive overload. I don’t care where an athlete starts out in my squad, it is up to me to create an individual program so that athlete keeps on growing, growing, growing. I have only 13 swimmers to look after so I’m probably in a very fortunate situation. I don’t have an assistant coach so it is easy to call myself head coach, true? I have up to eight programs for those 13 swimmers. Now the big challenge this year is to work better and better and that they accept what I give them is the best for them. This year I had our first competition. All of my 13 swimmers, each single one, swam a best time. A lot of them were at a high international level. I am really happy and proud about my athletes and what they have achieved thus far.
To move on with Libby’s development, there were things I tried to change because I recognize when Libby joined me, two years ago, Libby had more of a middle distance training program from John Carey. He was a very successful long distance coach and she had to learn to deal with much more speed work; sprints and the neuromuscular system being triggered in every session. Libby was hammered again and again and again and it took her quite a while to adjust. Any new swimmer joining my program that is what they hear first. I had once a fairly talented young Swiss swimmer who came over to Australia to train with me for probably three or four months. I killed everything in three weeks. She could not handle all that triggering of the neuromuscular system and she was a short course meters 4:07 swimmer.
That time would probably get very close to making the finals or maybe just miss out. Because she could not cope in that short of a time, I had to step back and give her very, very different things. So it is a very different program than what other swimmers do.
Libby’s stroke model changed. She used to have a catch-up stroke so her hand almost waited here in the front until she started the next stroke. I believe much more in the advance timing so that every stroke is an overlapping timing where she starts in the front part of her stroke for the timing. If I could tie a principle from one overlapping propulsive phase where this hand finishes I have to be with the next hand ready for the propulsion. That took a while to get her into that stroke, but her being very naturally talented, she has great body awareness, she picked it up very quickly. Now I began increasing the training load. I did not give her that training load from the very beginning. We went probably for two months only for eight sessions. She used to train six or seven sessions a week and then we went to another month of nine sessions. Since then she does ten sessions per week in the water.
Also very important to her is the nutrition side. Libby used to love or rather she still loves going to KFC, to Hungry Jack’s, to all fast food. She really loves it. She had to learn well, I have this goal…is it good for me to do it? We then link that thought to our other goals. She now has a much more balanced swimming diet Actually every now and then, if she has done something really special, I then invite her to go to KFC. She still has not achieved that something special yet. When the World Record was 53.77 she had to go 53.4 to get that special invitation and she went only 53.66. I try to set the standards high enough because I don’t want her to go to those places. But this is what we do on a quite regular basis.
If you can see the one to the very right, it’s November 2002 so that was her first swim, when Libby joined me; the blue dot shows she was up to roughly 70 skin fold. Now, just around the Olympics, she was down to 45. I think that is quite a big loss of skin fold. If you look at weight loss it came almost parallel to her success so she is stronger than she was in 2002. She has less body weight, more lean mass. With less fat mass she is a better athlete, a more complete athlete. Unfortunately, sometimes what changes through changing the body that way, in the first stage, is they have a different body position in the water. If I have a little bit more fat I maybe have easier floating, easier efficient body alignment in the water than when she finally has less fat. The whole body changed so we had to relearn to align the body in the way I believe she should swim. There are always new challenges. It is not that people lose weight and then you swim faster. There are new challenges waiting for us in the process. Obviously the weight issue comes back up again after the Olympics. She had quite a few delicious meals and big meals. That is okay to me. Every now and then they are allowed to do it. You see she hit another peak in September. That was after the World Championships. That is when I really wasn’t happy with her at all because we talked about after the World Championships what her skin fold should be going into her training break. This is the skin fold I want you to come back at. I didn’t want to spend a whole season again coming down with her weight and then have her going back up again. We would have to start all over again. The problem is losing weight. She cannot take on the energy she needs to train to recover and everything. That is a problem for my athletes so once we hit a stable phase like we did from January through to actually now it is much easier to work with. Again, it is a skill the athletes have to develop. I do not go shopping with them. I do not go home and check what they eat. They know they will have their skin folds taken every now and then and we link this to the performance. It keeps them honest. That keeps them honest enough.
The second part is creating learning opportunities. Obviously the most important thing is what happens in the pool and how fast they swim. It is very simple. We have the start. It is the underwater speed which I call the fifth stroke nowadays. If you are not good at that it is very hard to win international races unless your name is Jodie Henry. I don’t know how well you know her. She still has not that great ability, but she has an absolutely amazing maintenance of her speed. She has not the highest peak speed but just wherever she starts at she will maintain. “”, Inge DeBruign’s coach at the Olympics, said to me after the finals that Inge had such a lead after the first 50 meters he thought Inge would surely win. I said no, no, that is how Jodie starts all the time and so Jodie passed Inge at the end, very clearly. Libby’s underwater speed is pretty good. Her swimming speed is obviously very specific. We talk about that. What is it? Is it a 50 speed I am after, the 100 speed or 200? We look at her turn skill and the finish speed. Starts, that is again what we talked earlier about, her state of readiness. We do a specific part in training where we work towards that. We work on the connection and the well-balanced position on the starting block, what I would like to call, the first hip action, the push-off angle, the entry in the water. All this is on a weekly plan. We have sessions when we work specifically at it so it is not just luck that Libby is a great starter. I believe she has a great natural ability, but then there are things set up in training to improve that specific area.
The next bit is the same. We focus on the underwater speed, the streamline position underwater, speed of the start, the breakout time on the first stroke, the breakout surface skill and angle, and how to come to the surface maintaining the streamline position for everything. There are certain places, parts of sessions per week, where we work on this every week. As for the race, it is obviously very important to know about swimming speed, her history of racing. We look at what is race specific, what is the stroke rate, what are the speeds going out and going in. We determine what is our goal, what time we want to come home in, in the future. We study distance per stroke, stroke count work, and specific stroke rates, what works for the 50 or for the 100 or for the 200. We have different sets, different training models. These are race pace specific sets that include going out speeds, coming home speeds from the sprint to whatever she does after the 200 meter. Even though we have not done any real training at it yet this season, she is starting to get better and better. She led off with a 1:56 yesterday in a 200 freestyle leg. This is not bad for her third 200 meter freestyle in short course in her life.
The next part is the turns. Obviously, how to approach a turn is very important. The maintenance of the velocity into the turn, rotation skill, there is a drill for that. We work on anticipation of the push off, not thinking, oh now I have contact with the wall therefore I can push off. We focus on how to anticipate. Underwater speed off the turn is again different than the underwater speed off a start. What changes here is the breaking out. It is similar as the other one, but we have a bit less speed. Then the last bit are drills for approaching the wall. Again this is speed maintenance. You read the situation where the wall is. You concentrate on the timing of the last stroke and the maintenance of the streamline position, which is in itself a big enough challenge.
I love Getchert’s training tools, nothing too fancy at all. For freestyle and backstroke I normally prefer short fins that just allow a better timing of the upper body because it is not a long slow kick. For fly and breaststroke I more likely use long flippers along with some mono-fin work and rubber bands obviously tied to feet. We also use a pull buoy and weight belts. I will show you a picture of that one, the surf board. Here you see one of my other swimmers, Marika, lying on the board. This is more shoulder maintenance work, sub-scapular training in aerobic style. Sam Riley used to have a lot of problem with her shoulders so she trained on the board. Sam just kept on. This uses the retractor in the shoulders and sub-scapulary as such. Then, the weight kicking. The second picture you see…that is high technology…a water bottle which Libby holds out of the water and just kicks along. Again, Libby is always maintaining a very streamline specific body position while kicking along. Everything is aimed at the body position. I want her to swim on the surface. I use the stopwatch a lot on any little thing I can test, I can time. I really try to get times on anything they do in training because when I time it they do it better. If they do it better it must be better for their future so it is my job as a coach to make sure they maintain that quality of training. Hip rotator belt…I think that most of you guys know that one for the hip timing. One of my swimmers, Casey, always had a problem with his hip rotation. He probably still has it a bit where to rotate on one side. He was just not functional enough.
The timing was not right. I gave him a weight, first only on the right side and then only on the left side.
On the left side he hardly could feel the weights. He just easily kept on rotating up and said oh that wasn’t any good. It didn’t make any difference. We shifted it onto the other side and he could hardly swim. He was not functional at all with the right side so this taught him to get better and better at that skill, using the hips in a different way. It was first an awareness drill, obviously. Later on it became a drill that just triggered and switched that part on again. Then he could go off and swim. So that is just some kinds of things we try out. Obviously on the tick-tock bells it just makes a noise whenever they rotate. We use kick boards, finger paddles and big paddles. I probably use up to three different sizes of paddles. When I like to do some strength development we obviously use more of the bigger paddles. If I like to do power development they use more of the smaller paddles in the water. Handcuffs. I don’t have them here right now. They actually are not really handcuffs. It is an elastic string that goes from one thumb to the other and helps them to work on the advanced timing. The goal is that the string is never loose and that it is always stretched. They learn when they swim along to keep that string always stretched. The only way to do this is to keep your arms moving. As soon as they stop in the front the string is loose. They have an instant feedback and it teaches them the skill much better. The frontal snorkel I believe, especially for sprinters, is a very, very important tool. Obviously later on they have to learn to breathe as well, especially if they are swimming the 100. That is quite a challenge to get them to do a very efficient breathing stroke where they have the same or similar efficiency as in the normal stroke. We use a lot of different drag. Here we use the harness as speed assistance or against the harness in all different kind of ways. We don’t always use this for pure swimming. We do just streamlining where we pull them in really fast and they have to correct and work at their body position. They are great things to wear, especially in the taper sets when we have a little bit more time.
Just a little bit to get into the energy system. I don’t really want to talk too much about it, what they mean. I think it is very important to understand if you spend time in a certain energy system there is a certain time that system needs to recover. Again, whatever sets you believe in, whatever you do, you need to figure out sometimes by trial and error. If someone can help you in the process or something can measure it, that is so important. It is important so that the athlete doesn’t break down. Then we can kill them slowly, but actually get them slowly fitter and fitter. That is one of the very important things. There is a bit of a chart about heart rate zones, the different speed zones and how quick they recover or how long they need time off before you touch there again. Here is a little bit of a chart. The heart rate set is VO2max I think. I don’t know what you call it here in the US … VO2max as well? So that is all there, quality. That is part of my training, how I move on. Again, it is not that important what it says actually on this sheet.
Here is more the way I plan my season. When is the most important week? This was the Olympic Trials for the Athens Olympics in Sydney and there is, down there, the third last line or fourth last line, that is week zero. I count up the weeks to whenever we start. We had 30 weeks to prepare and then I start to throw in where the competitions are and what competitions I would like to go to. I note when do I want to have a training camp and how I would like to get them fit. I don’t believe that my athletes are fit like most of the other athletes. We do not look at how fast can you do ten 200’s or whatever. They are I believe very fit, race specific. I think there is more to fitness levels. We must learn more and more about that side. We must learn how much mileage does an athlete have to do. If you see the mileage on the other side, on the right side of the column, it is quite consistent. I start out so that everybody gets up to 50K. It very rarely goes beyond that amount of mileage, maybe up to 55K. This is the sprinter program. It is not the program for my middle distance swimmers. They always have a bit more. This is roughly what Libby has done. What changes though is always the intensity. If I call a top week like Trials, it is probably called a 9 to 10. They need to be able to handle a week of a lot of racing. Libby swims like here at the World Championships in five days, the 50, 100 fly, the 50, 100 freestyle. Then maybe she swims on relay’s like the 400 and 800 freestyle relays. Thus, she has 15 events total in five days. How do they recover in an event like this? Our job is simply to get them ready for it and to prepare them in whatever way you believe that you can do it. This here is a bit more of the weekly cycle of a sprinter. It is probably a little bit more interesting. In the early stage we would do Monday morning aerobics, then in the afternoon some quality lactate production. Tuesday morning some kick and pull and in the afternoon just swim aerobically. It is not that intense yet. Wednesday morning off. It is my favorite morning. I get to sleep in and I think it is the same for the athletes. In the afternoon the work is anaerobic and race pace specific. They have certain bets we created. We pull and kick on Thursday morning. It is aerobic two and then recovery. Friday morning is a fairly easy day. On Friday we go aerobic two. It is like 40 to 50 below their heart rate max. That is how we work. Then, Saturday morning, again quality. I just finish them off for the weekend. We don’t train Saturday afternoon and no training at all on Sunday. I believe I need a break from the swimmers and the swimmers need a break from me. I don’t want swimming to be an institution. I still believe in social skills and they have to be able to have weekends off to recover. They need to do things that we as human beings like to do. Then we move on to the next week and hopefully they will do a great job. Libby for example doesn’t go out. She doesn’t like what a lot of 19 year old kids like such as to go to the night clubs or to drink…what we call it…get pissed. She doesn’t like that and that is very fortunate. I believe, if you ever look at the really great athletes, they do not play up too often that way. Maybe one time at the Olympics they got into it. Then they think and they hold back again for quite a long time. They just don’t feel like it. Once we move into a more specific cycle, Monday morning, we would do anaerobic threshold. In the afternoon we swim a heart rate set that is VO2max training. Again, more designed for the 200 meter swim and the 400 meter swim. It is a designed set for their speed that I like them to do at the back end of a race for the 1500 meter swimmers. It is what I like them to be at the back end of their race. Tuesday morning is the same, pull and kick training. In the afternoon, we go quality, like very, very hard, very fast swimming. That is probably normally the set of the week where I like them to be the fastest. They are not yet that tired throughout the week. They get more and more tired, but they still compete with speed so we swim that set Tuesday afternoon. I think Monday morning is the worst, especially if they just came back from a break. The body is not used to this again. Then they start to stay up again and by Tuesday afternoon they normally perform pretty well if I have done the job as a coach. Wednesday is their recovery. Thursday morning again is pull and kick and in the afternoon again, heart rate. The chart I showed you before, very quickly, shows how much time roughly it takes, 48 to 72 hours, to recover their system if I really worked it hard enough. If I recover the quality, I can work different energy systems but I need to make sure that they recover. They need to recover not only the energy system, but as well, the neuromuscular system in the whole process. Then more quality Friday afternoon and sometimes I do Saturday morning as well.
We have a bit of a problem with our pool. It gets very cold in the winter. We train all year around outside. In the mornings it is very cool. In the afternoon it is not warm enough either so it is a bit of hassle. Normally I feel that they are lacking a little bit of skill in what is here the summertime in June. We have summer in January and winter right now. The skill level I think we need when we hit international meets, unfortunately, is not yet as good on the technical parts. This is true especially on the starts because we cannot work that often or rather not as often as I like to. Saturday morning, if I have the feeling that they still have something left, I finish them off. If they are already tired enough then I keep it a little bit more moderate. At this stage I do not believe in planning recovery except on the weekend. It is not like I give them two weeks hard and then one week easy or something like one week more moderate. Why plan for recovery if it is not necessary? If I can keep them working at this certain speed I believe they can get better. They are then fitter and more efficient for the races down the track, but I will respond. If one of the individuals is not ready for it, to swim fast, I will pull them out of the main set and say okay “no good today, you go over there.” I give them an aerobic set and we wait until they are ready again to go fast. That happens on an individual basis and I believe in this. Again, the problem comes when the athletes focus on those who cannot do the main set and say “Oh…this is exciting…I can do the main set and this poor guy cannot do the main set.” In the beginning it was like “Oh, he can have the easy session and poor me, I have to do the tough session.” To create the acceptance was challenging and it is still quite challenging.
I would like to show you at the end of the talk, the world record swim of Libby. You will see some facial expressions that are quite interesting and I think that is what coaching is about. It is not at all about the world’s record, but about the faith. If you have a swimmer who touches the pad, turns around and they see a time there they did not expect and they show you joy, happiness…what they worked at for years and years…no matter what level of the athlete…if they have a reaction like this…that is great. That is what coaching is about. Unfortunately, we don’t have too many of those experiences, but tough – tough luck. So here is just her stroke rate. Her starting time for 50 meters is 6.45. That is pretty good. Her going out speed is 11:6 at the 25 and 25:81 with feet on the wall. This is all fully electronic and it is a pretty good speed, and it was done very efficiently. That is what we have to get back to, that we can do this more. Her coming home speed is what I call the second 50. Her time is 27.8. Jodie Henry right now comes home in 27.3 so she keeps us honest there. I think about the rest of the world at this stage. If I want her to be competitive, I have to create sessions, sets, that we can come home in 27.3. We also have got to have more going out speed than Jodie. Alright, I think there is not too much left. I think I have to move on a bit.
Libby does two sessions in the gym. They are roughly 60 minutes of strength and power development. Depending on what phase, she does two runs per week for 30 minutes. She started that when she joined me. She started the gym sessions in September 2001. It is actually a progression as well a progression of overload. It is only as much as she still can handle along with everything else. In December last year she started to do some extra core muscle sessions. This year she started to do exercise sessions. If you could have a look at the skin folds of her legs when she started to cycle, they dropped as well. Her upper body did not change, but putting her on the bike next to the running, that really changed her whole body. This year I would like to start some box exercises. We call it just upper body core muscle connection strength, hip length and hip power. She performs just 12 exercises in that area. To think this girl is only 19 years old. I think if I don’t kill her or as I call it, if I kill them only slowly, then we surely will have some great times ahead of us. Just one last final word about this girl as well for everyone I see sitting here: why be normal when you can be anything you like? It is Libby’s choice and more importantly it is your choice, everyone sitting here, it is your choice as well.
In Australia everyone would know those three people. Obviously the younger girl is Libby Lenton. The lady to the left, that was Shane Gould. She was the last Australian 100 meter world record holder before Libby. That was in 1972, when Shane Gould won two or three gold medals at the Olympics in Munich. The gray haired lady is no one else but Dawn Fraser who had the world record before Shane Gould. There they were on that stage, the three last Australian 100 meter world holders. As you see here, Libby’s reaction here shows like, Oh my God, I’m meeting these people. They are so famous and they in turn are actually excited to meet this young girl at this moment. That happened at the press conference after her world record.