INTRODUCTION: We have come to the final piece of the age group track in what has been an outstanding clinic. And, just in the same way – if this were the final set of your workout at a camp – you would want it to be superb. You would want it to be challenging, and memorable, and something that would say YES, this was a great camp. You do the same thing when you plan a clinic; you want your final speaker to be superb.
So, what we have here this afternoon is a working group. If you ask Coach Brian what works, he would say, “Work works.” Coach Richard Shipherd has been known for hard work his entire career in Southern California. He is the current Head Men’s Coach of the 2009 National Junior Team and a member of the ASCA Board. Today, Coach Rick Shipherd is going to talk about a roadmap for distance swimming with age groupers.
COACH SHIPHERD: Thanks for that buildup – it fits right in. We believe in back-half. We believe in the back-half of everything we do, so I guess I could handle the pressure of the final presentation. I will say that there has been a slight change in the agenda here. Jack Nelson came and asked me if he could have a few more minutes to say his final thanks and of course, I decided to agree to that so Jack come on up – just kidding, just kidding.
Our topic today is aimed specifically at 11-12 girls, 13-14 boys and the pathway that is best for them to make it to the Senior Level of distance swimming. Most of our programs – I am sure yours as well – at 11-12 for girls and 13-14 for boys – that is about where they start to go to work. Then you follow them through for four or five or six years until they are 17 and they make their next choice. They make their next step then, at 17 or 18. So today, we are going to follow that pathway from 11 on and explore some ideas as to how to get them to the most successful point before they leave you.
I will explain the tag line a little later. There is a story behind that statement: “We play games to win.” Our team – “The LaMirada Armada” – if anybody can say that three times fast, I will buy you dinner. The LaMirada Armada is a brand new club. We had a history and a heritage that came out of Industry Hills. I think Ed Spencer is in the audience here, and it was easy when I came into Industry Hills to create an environment for distance swimming, because Ed had already done so. In ten years of working there, we followed through with that environment well. When they closed the facility down in 2005 it was on us to start over again, and we had a great opportunity to re-create something. It took 10 years of mistakes that I had made, and we tried to correct most of them in the new version of the LaMirada Armada. We were about 150 – 160 kids at this point, and my group is 15 which is primarily Junior and Senior National level swimmers.
I will tell you what – public speaking for me is a difficult task, and the way I do it is survive it. Public speaking, to me, can be very similar to the two things I fear the most: needles and running a sprint workout. Generally, to get past the nerves, I simply treat the audiences as if they are my workout group. It is the most effective way for me.
I do have a great time with my kids. I have 15 kids. I work with them very closely. We have a very good relationship, so I consider them both my friends and my responsibility. So, that is how I am going to treat you – as my friends and my responsibility here.
We start every practice with around a five minute briefing relative to the day’s practice, and that briefing includes going over one to three things: It always includes some motivational incentive directive. It also includes a little bit about what we are about to do, how we are going to get it done, and how you are going to make it great.
Well, I put two objectives up here for my pre-workout briefing with you all, and it is this:
To have you walk out of this building today determined to be a big player in the development of the next generation of distance kids.
To give you some guidelines on the best way to achieve this goal. It involves understanding that these developmental possibilities begin at 11-12 – maybe even a little before. It starts with cultivating an attitude. It starts with cultivating a work-out ethic, and it starts with cultivating character.
When I have these meetings on the deck I tell the kids – I have kind of a football background so I tell them “huddle up, bring it in, come on in.” We look eyeball to eyeball, arms around each other and we talk about that next workout. The kids know. They are really great about this, because they know I have about two minutes worth of presentation – what the workout is, what to expect, and then I ask for questions. They are always prepared with questions. They always have something, and they usually try and stretch that little meeting out into 5 – 6 – 7 – 8 minutes instead of 3 or 4. So, to get them back on track, what I present to them is an extrinsic motivation, and I want to do the same for you.
There is a rare opportunity right now – a very unusual opportunity in USA Swimming for us to create the next generation of distance kids. Where we are right now is – it is a transition – let’s call it that. On the men’s side it is a turnover. There is a void. There is a big void. We are looking at guys that retire – Larsen Jensen, Chris Thompson – and we need the next generation to come up. So, in 2012 – you could have a roll on that – or 2016, but it is up to you.
On the women’s side it is kind of yet to be seen. It might be our recent stars will find the right answers and rise back to the top. Or maybe we need some new people out there. In either case the depth is less, and your role is huge in filling the gap. Now, it used to be when I started coaching, it was easy to say “I want to be the next National Champion. I am going to work my butt off to get that done.” Or, “I want to put kids on the Olympic team.” Or, “I want to set an American record.”
For club coaches today it is not that easy. The sport is in a different place. For most of you that are younger – you are in a situation where you are dealing with a sport that relies on power, speed, maturity and the dynamic has changed. The college swimmer doesn’t come back to your club as often. Now we have pro-athletes. We have post-grad athletes. So for you to contribute with the 18 and under directly and get to the big dream – which is what motivated me when I was younger – it is a much more difficult task. This is your one opportunity to do that. Chuck Batchelor is living testimony to this. Elizabeth Beisel probably wouldn’t call herself a distance swimmer, but I know how they train, and she is a distance swimmer.
So, I would say to you all simply this: There is an opportunity here for you to directly contribute with high school age kids to the future of our distance program. That is your extrinsic reward. If that is important to you – to be on a National Team Staff and to do those kinds of things – great. I also tell my kids in these little pre-meetings (where really, only about one in ten buy intrinsic type of motivation, but I play to it anyway) – I tell my kids there is nothing better than being the distance heroes. There is no better lifestyle than working with distance kids. You cannot beat it. They are different. They are unique. Their character is unique and different. They know the value of hard work, deferred gratification, discipline. You cannot work with a better group. So, if that turns you on – if that gets you going – that is your motivation to go home and create a better distance program for yourself.
THE HOW TO’S
The three things we are going to talk about are environment, personal attention and character development. It was interesting to me last night – relative to one of the speakers that were inducted in the Hall of Fame – I believe it was Jack – that someone summed up his approach to personal attention. That was very much coincidental to my presentation today, but I agree in that I think personal attention is the key to creating great distance swimmers. And, environment is important, and character development is important. Those are the three areas that we are going to look at the most. We will look at the Industry Hills Program – the old – and the Armada program – the new – in how we are recreating ourselves.
I will tell you this little story – Bob Gillett, who is a good friend, moved into Golden West about the same time that we came into LaMirada. We’ve known each other for years, and he is a brilliant guy, and he is a marketer, and he is a businessman, and he immediately walked in and he dubbed Golden West as “Sprint City USA” and he created two groups of training groups. He had the “fundees” and the “elves” and kids flocked to the program because they all wanted to be fundees or elves and they all wanted to swim Sprint USA. And, here we are, the distance background type image.
My kids started saying, “Well, who are we?”
And I say, “Okay – here is who you are – you are DX dwarfs and FX dwarfs.”
And my kids aren’t going for it. “What is that? We do not want to be dwarfs. Let’s be Ninjas or Samurais or something.”
Well, we have a lot of Asian population in our team, and I’m saying, “No – we are dwarfs. Dwarfs – they are in the mines – they are working hard – they are doing the hard work and we are the coal capital of the world.”
My kids are like, “The coal capital of the world? What are you talking about?”
I said, “Well, mining is hard work and what we do is hard work, but you know what coal mines lead to, right? Diamonds.”
So we tried to play on that. We tried to create an image on that. Well, to finish the story, one of Bob’s kids is a great kid – Cindy Tran – great friend with several of my girls – comes over to the pool one night after their practice which of course ends in about an hour and we are still going and we are still in the coal mines. We are training and going at it, and Cindy is sitting there waiting and she is dressed to the hilt. She looks like she is ready to go out and hit the clubs, and what – is she like 16 or 17 year old? But, anyway, okay.
So, I’m thinking the girls are on their way out tonight to scam on guys or whatever they do, and she started bothering me about letting them out. Letting them out early? Come on. And she’s telling me to let them out and let them have some fun. It’s fine – we have a real friendly relationship. It was good natured ribbing, but I said okay – I am going to let them out a little bit early if you will help me with the pool covers while they are getting dressed. So Cindy goes over to the other side of the pool, and this particular night there is a wind – it is about 30 miles an hour – it is pretty high – my kids run out. They get into their locker rooms to get changed. So I tell Cindy to go over to the corner of the pool and hold onto the corner of the tarp. And, we are going to slide this tarp over 20 feet, and then we will roll the next one right where it is. So she walks over to the corner, and I wait for the biggest wind to come up, and I lift my edge of the tarp as high as I can. The wind comes in underneath it like a parachute – lifts her right off the deck and into the pool, and I was just laughing my ass off. I thought it was funny as could be, although she wasn’t very happy about it.
But it turns out at the end of this whole thing they call me – Samantha and Kiersty and Jess are kids on my team, and Kiersty calls me at 2:30 in the morning. We have a rule in our program if you are going to be late to practice, you do not get in unless you have called me and explained why you are late, and how you were trying to be diligent about trying to get to practice on time. So 2:30 in the morning, I get a call from Kiersty.
“Coach – we are going to be a little bit late – we might be a few minutes late for practice.”
“Kiersty, it is 2:30 in the morning – how do you know you are going to be late?”
And she says, “Well – we are in Las Vegas.”
Yes, these are 16 year olds. Sam drives a pickup truck – one of those small pickup trucks and they squeezed four girls in there and drove to Vegas for a little road trip. Sure enough, about 7:15am they make it back, and they get into workout and train like crazy.
My point of the story is two-fold: We had an image we were trying to create – an environment we are trying to create and nothing gets in the way of that environment. They did not get excused from the morning practice. It was their choice to go and do something dumb – they did it. The deal was – they get in and train all out – I do not tell their parents. They had pulled the old story with mom and dad, e.g., well we are staying at her house and she is staying at their house. So the parents – they had no clue. It is a miracle.
TOP 8 TIMES ALL-TIME
So where are we? I think when you design a program you have got to decide where you are. What you see here is the copy of times. This shows all time 13-14 girls 800 meter free, 15-16 boys 1500 meter free. Look at it closely. And, is there anyone here that cannot see what jumps out at you? This is all time – including the suit generation 2008-2009. Right – we are talking about times that are 25 years old. The fastest time is Sioppie in 1978.
Why did I pick 800/1500? That is the essence of distance swimming. All my kids swim the 400. In fact they are probably better at the 400. Sam Shellham is a 4:10 400 freestyler. Kiersty is 4:44 400 IM’er, but we all train distance. So I use the 8 and the 15 as the marker here. In 1978 – Sippsie, 800 free, 8:29. The oldest time in there is 1994 – 15 years ago – Brooke Bennett. The men’s side is not quite as drastic, but it is still the same theme. You have Larsen who jumped in there in 2002, and Fran Crippen in 2001, but still – we are talking some old times – oldest being Bobby Hackett in ’76.
So many of these swims were from two or three decades ago. And, that has got to pose three questions to us:
What dynamic has changed?
Is that change for the better?
Is there an upside to not seeing kids infiltrate that list in the last 25 years?
Three questions and there is not a yes or no answer to either of those three questions.
So, I pose another question: Has this affected our overall performance at the elite international level?
AN ERA OF GREATNESS
Here is kind of a chronological look. I apologize if I have erred in any coaches that are put next to these swimmers, but what I did was this: I took the coaches that got these swimmers on the path to swimming – distance swimming. The fact is – almost all of them moved on to other coaches where they had their biggest successes. Debbie Meyer did stay with Sherm Chavoor. Shirley obviously moved on to Mission. Michelle Richardson moved on to Richard at Mission and also Charlie Hudson. Is Bud in here? Janet stayed with Bud a long time and set a World Record with Bud and went to college and on. Brooke stayed with Peter – Diana Munz with Jerry – Kate Ziegler with Ray.
The men’s side – let me ask you this – does anybody see any pattern to that women’s side? You know, at workout I will yell at athletes if they are not paying attention. Okay, I’m kidding. I’m not going to yell at you all. But, what I see there is a pattern that we have to understand. The best distance swimmers in our country chronologically since the 60’s with Debbie Meyer all the way to Kate Ziegler – our most recent star – had the personal attention in a small group environment in a small team situation to get their start. I think Jerry Holtry is the perfect example of that with Diana Munz. I have the utmost respect for what he did with her and the program he runs.
On the men’s side, because men are a little different dynamic – it might be a little bit different. So, like with Brian Goodell – I know Brian probably swam with someone before Mark Schubert, but I didn’t know who. Bobby Hackett stayed with Joe Bernal. All the way – in relatively a personal up close one-on- one type situation. John Ries is listed as coach for Jeff Kostoff. However, Jeff Kostoff swam for Ed Spencer almost entirely and did all of his great swimming. Ed is in the audience now. John Ries is a local club coach in Southern California and for years and years has produced good athletes. Jeff was originally part of that. Chad Carvin started with a friend of mine, Rob Mirande, who is no longer coaching and so on.
I think the best example is Josh Stern and what he did for Erik Vendt. One-on- one personal relationship, small team environment, got him motivated – got him fired up. They made a contract together that they were going to work harder than anybody in the world, and I think that that is what goes on with all these. Does anybody know who Chris Thompson’s original coach was? Jerry – is Jerry here? Good – I will send him a note apologizing. Larsen Jensen obviously moved on to Bill Rose and to Mark and then on to Dave so the only anomaly there really is Mark’s program at Mission. And there is no question that the environment he created there in the 70’s produced great athletes – great distance swimmers. I added the note on the bottom, because when I listened to the talk last night on Rebecca Adlington – the same thing applied there – centers of excellence – she opted to stay with the personal relationship with her coach that was developed, and she was happy, and it worked, and now she is the World Record holder.
Okay, has it affected us overall? Terrible picture – it was the only one I could find. Does anyone know who that is? Rick Kerry right there – no – it does look like Rick Kerry, but it is not. Right – who said Mike O’Brien? Good job Steve. Why would I put Mike O’Brien’s picture up there? He owes me money – NO – NO – that is not true, by the way. No one wants to venture a guess why Mike O’Brien is up there? Thank you very much – 1984 – the last American to win a Gold Medal in the 1500 free. But, it was a boycott year – Salnikov had won in ’80 and then again in ’88, so there is probably a fairly good chance he might have won in 1984 – at least it would have been a battle.
Here is the really bad news – in the 21 medals that have been up for grabs in the 1500 since 1984 – we have won TWO. One silver. One bronze. Chris Thompson. Larsen Jensen. I don’t know about you, but I think there might be a problem. With the women it is a little better picture. We have dominated all the way through 2000 when Brooke won. But, now the last two games it has been off our shores with the addition of Adlington and athletes like Philippe, and it is a contest again. We have got to do something to bring our distance program around and you are the answer. The swimmers – 11-12, 13-14. Bring those athletes forward as distance swimmers with a real passion for it. Create that bond, that contract between you and your athlete to work harder than anyone in the world and make the sacrifices to do it.
What else does it take? Well, at Industry Hills/Armada, these are our basic philosophies. There are ten things we are going to talk about.
Distance Mentality – Then Distance Volume.
We say this to our athletes every day – you have more character and discipline than others. You are the warrior class. You are the essence of a competitor – we indoctrinate them with that.
400 IM plus distance free.
6 beat kick versus 2 beat kick – more details on that in a moment.
Teach the clock – place the clock and never lose a back half. That is a mantra we have – never lose a back half – never lose a back half.
Tempo and DPS are partners. Start with the DPS when they are younger, but tempo is a friend of the distance swimmer. I am one of the few people that believe that and I will try to explain why.
Split strategy and race management: We will talk about that, too.
Underwater with dolphin kick: We have gone to that with all of our younger kids – 11 year olds, 12 year olds – they are all learning that on anything they swim freestyle.
Breathing strategy for today’s distance event: We teach from the time they are young to breathe every cycle – women or men and traditionally it has been only women that would breathe alternately. The men have always pretty much breathed to one side every other stroke, but we want them to be able to breathe on both sides. We work on it every day in the 11-12 groups.
Finally, promote the achievement.
DISTANCE MENTALITY THEN DISTANCE VOLUME
This is really important. It is one of the changes we made when I came to LaMirada. I have my best friend and the man I probably respect the most in the world – Don Garman – as my partner. He is also our head age group coach, but he had kids going 7,000, 2 ½ hour workouts. Don just wanted to win. He really wanted to win. He wanted to take those 11 & 12 year olds and win. So it was a tough sell trying to get him to change his philosophy a little, but we have done it. And how we approach it is very regimented. We ask our 11-12 coaches not to announce yardage during workout. We ask them never to bother with it, but to know it because I want to see it to make sure that it falls within the parameters of what the limit is.
Over-distance sets are all feedback sets. When they are younger we do some over-distance swimming. They might go a set of 6 x 400. There is specific feedback that goes with every over-distance set. It can be clock manipulation – it can be rehearsal sets with stroke counts. It can be game sets. I put a few up there. If I have time at the end I will go through those.
The split manipulation, for instance, let’s say we take the 6 x 400 set. The way Don would do it – he would have the kids start off the first 400 and say we want steady state time on all 6 x 400. Let’s say it is going to be on 5:30. On the first one they will go 2:46, 2:44 negative split – it has to be negative split – and the gap is two seconds. On the next one we want them to go 2:51, 2:39 – same time overall, but the gap is bigger. And we ask them to progress the gap to the largest possible gap, with the idea being we are going to emphasize back half swimming. We are going to see some really fast 200’s on the end of the 400, and some pretty slow 200’s on the beginning. They work on their stroke on the way out. They work on distance per stroke, maintaining perfect balance. They work on racing and winning on the way back, and that is how we approach everything. Stroke on the way out – you are in a bubble by yourself – you take care of the mechanics – you manage your race internally, and then you open up your eyes and you race to win on the back half. The 6 x 400 – that’s a set that would be done to support that philosophy. DPS feedback and they time, time, time everything. We have clocks up on all four corners of the pool and usually one or two on the ends.
The majority of workouts are repeat 25’s to 150’s. This is what I had them go to. And, it is a tough sell because I have my head age group coach who has been doing something for 30 years a certain way. I said, from now on we are doing all 25’s, 50’s 75’s. I had to spend days talking about why. I wanted them swimming fast. When they are young I want them working on their mechanics. It gives you time for feedback on everything you do, yet when it comes to meets, I do not want them thinking about the 50 and the 100 free at all. Don, for years, had done a “100 free – break a minute” challenge. If you break a minute you get a steak dinner. We eliminated that, and we said from now on the only thing you celebrate is the 500 free, 400 IM, 200 IM and if they offered the longer events for the 11&12’s you celebrate that. They don’t train distance. They are training speed technique and low yardage. Like I said, we celebrate those successes in the 500.
We have introduced to them first the concept of train to get ready to train. This is something that permeates the top end of our program and I truly believe this – every week you are training to get ready to train the next week. And the reward – the extrinsic reward: we have a camp – a training camp where you are really going to train. It is strategically placed to have the biggest impact in the season, and if you do a good job Week I, you can train better in Week II, and then you can train better in Week III, and when you get to the camp you are going to really be ready to train. This year I took a group to Colorado Springs – we do it every year and I took some kids that were not ready to handle it. But, off we go. Once they make it into my group they might go 85,000 to even 100,000 on target weeks. We had some kids who definitely had not followed the mantra that we trained to get ready to train, but what we do with the little ones is the camp is more of a reward.
We defer taper, we delay gratification for something bigger, and we hammer the kids and the parents with this until they get it. A lot of teams are coming back to this. I feel this coming, but I think we are one of the few teams that stayed with it from the beginning to the end. We defer tapers and self-rest until you are on the biggest stage of the season – then we let you grab the spotlight and become a star, but we do not care about the politics of the local swim meets. We do not care about the vicarious lives of parents. We are not going to satisfy that at any local, small stage meets.
We introduce them to test set tracking and accountability for performance on those test sets. Even at 11 years old they are doing test sets. They are specific to their needs. We have a log at the pool for everyone. The coaches maintain it – not the kids, but before they do their test sets, the kids take a look at that and then they get in the pool and try to beat it. They are held accountable for it and responsible for beating it. We use a lot of positive reinforcement for beating that.
Progress yardage. We progress the yardage every year. 13-14-15-16 – by the time they are 16 they are averaging about 65 to 75,000 yards a week which is not particularly high, but we do have those target weeks where we are going to go big and we make the biggest impact we can on those target weeks. Stop me if there is any question on this.
PROGRESSION OF VOLUME AND HOURS
Here is a look at what I set up for Don So, at age 11 – six workouts for the girls, 5500 yards – that is the max. A lot of times I will go less than that, but that is the max in any given one workout. Boys: 5,000 in five workouts. That caused a little bit of a problem for a while, but they have gotten over it. The guys do not come to as many workouts as the girls early and it is smart – it is the way to go. 12 – you can see the progression – again – by the time they are 16 and up – I do not put a cap on the 15 and up workouts because sometimes we will go 10, 11, 12 – sometimes we will go 4 – it just depends on what we are trying to do.
Max water time: I think what we – Industry Hills was known and consequently LaMirada Armada was known as a distance program that did garbage yardage and did huge volumes and that is what it was known for and it was the biggest myth and it was untrue. The coach was known as being Hitler and having no sense of humor and all you did was crank out yardage so we made a conscious effort to change that image when we went to LaMarada. We wanted to diversify our program and we wanted an image that was not based on how many yards we went. But the fact is, and the reality is, if you are going to be a distance swimmer you had better put in big hours. And actually it is harder to do the program we do now, which is a far more power-oriented program – a Randy Reese type program – and still get the volumes I want. The only answer is to get more hours and you can see that in 10 workouts – 23 hours – that is in the water – they will put another 6 hours in on dry land. So they will be training 23 – 30 hours a week.
We try to maintain that average volume per hour – 3,500 meters by the time they are in the older groups. We have three groups. We have the Gold Distance Group now, which is our 11 and 12 distance group. We started that two years ago, and it is only based on who wants to be in there. We do not require any kid to be in the distance group. We just offer it as a special place to be and it is the most popular lane – actually it is the most popular three lanes. Once they come out of Don’s Gold group they go into our Senior I Group. In the Senior I Group – they are running 7-8 workouts a week. Then they go into Senior II, and then what we call our National Team.
Character Camp: When they come out of Don’s Gold Group, they have a one week Armada Character Camp to celebrate promotion to the senior group. The camp – this we did for the first time this year – I will be honest with you – it was awesome. It was so much fun. It is a week. It runs about 15 hours and we do it rather than get in the water. There is some in the water, but very little. It starts off with the John Wooden Address to the Olympic Team in 2000. He talks about character development and talks about who you want to be as a person. It talks about developing a code of who you are. It talks about your team’s – this is something that Ed left with us when he visited us – he talks about our team’s legacy. What do we want – our personal legacy and our team’s legacy to be? And then we watch like “Rudy” and “Remember the Titans” and then we go out and play football and ultimate and then we run like “Chariots of Fire.” We do all that kind of stuff, and by the end of it I have got a bunch of 13 year olds – because you have to be 13 before you can move up – that really believe that distance swimming is tied directly to who you are as a person.
We emphasize the stoic warrior – I hate show boating – I just wasn’t brought up that way. Anybody celebrates in the face of someone else – then they are going to hear from me, but we do believe in competition and being a competitor so we teach them that. All the way up to my National Group – this sounds crazy, but at least once a week and the kids are great – this is another thing that when I swam for Ed Spencer as a high school swimmer – I was basically a high school swimmer and one thing we knew is if we got him going we could probably play games for a while, and we would throw balls off the diving board or play handball against the wall so I still do that. My kids – I am a pretty soft touch – they can get me to go out and play rugby with them or ultimate so we do that, but I will tell you what – it is the most intense, dangerous, ultimate rugby you would ever see a swim team doing. I still do it. We do get injuries – it is part of being a warrior and I do drop it before the last couple of months of the season, but it is a modified rugby and I will tell you what – they are fierce.
Sam Shellham is our best swimmer. She is 4:10 400 free. The only thing she loves in this world is going out and banging bodies on rugby and she is fierce – she is fierce at it. But, it teaches them to compete. It teaches them to get knocked down. It teaches them responsibility. We had this saying on one of the shirts – it says, “Don’t let them around the end.” That sounds stupid, but they know what it means. I play with them. If the fastest guys – when we play rugby – if the fastest guys are letting people to the outside – which is easy to score once you get on the outside – they are going to hear me yelling at them. And it just became a kind of a saying that the kids picked up – I was yelling at Dennis Cassiday – one of our boys – “What are you doing? Don’t let them get around the end” and on and on. And for weeks I would get on them and finally it showed up on a shirt – “Don’t let them get around the end.” It teaches them team responsibility. It teaches them that we are only as good as the one player out there and this is a team sport.
Heroes – I find a way to make everyone a hero. And I keep at it and keep at it until I have got everybody believing that they are a hero. I manipulate it. I orchestrate it. When we pay the rugby or ultimate I make sure the last person to score is the person I wanted to be the hero and it works. It teaches them how to compete. That is what this distance swimming is. It is getting to the final point where that decision is going to be made – do I go for the win or not? We are going for it and we teach them how to do that. They all know the greatest moment in sport is a comeback from big odds or a win as an underdog. We go to meets all the time – like everybody – and the kids know if they have had a bad swim or two, they will probably get more attention than any athlete on the team if they finish the meet with a great swim. This is simply because the single most important thing to teach kids is how to rebound from the disappointment, how to handle disappointment and never give in and never panic. We celebrate – it could be an awful meet, but they throw in a big relay performance on the end and they are the hero.
And then, when they go to the National Group they get the things that I have been talking about. We have a group of 15. I limit it to 15. I have always held it to 15. It has not been a problem too often, and it sounds a bit egotistical up there, but relationship with the coach – that is the prize possession of every athlete in most of your programs. You are the guy or you are the woman that is going to bring them to the next level, and they prize that, and so they get that reward. They get small group attention and they start tracking everything they do.
We track everything they do. I will go through this quickly – we believe in 400 IM. You can see what the percentages are. We film at least once a month. Two years ago we started a stroke school that is run by my ex-wife. I knew there was a reason to keep her around. She does a great job. She runs our stroke school and everyone in the program cycled through it, but it takes about 7 weeks to cycle everyone through it. And, when they go through that stroke school, we are filming. It is a very programmed lesson plan-driven school and it is incredibly effective. Mechanics is everything to winning. You have to be fit, but if you can’t use that fit – if you can’t use that endurance with a stroke that is a winning stroke – then you are not going anywhere. You are wasting your time and you are spinning your wheels.
I put down an example there of a 400 IM set. It is a 4 x 100 IM – it is a broken 400 IM. You go 4 x 100 IM’s with 20 seconds rest and that is a minute out altogether so they know how easily they can get their time for the whole 400 IM. They go a broken 300 IM next. It is 25 free active rest on 25 seconds – then 50 fly and then 25 free active rest on 25 seconds and so on. When they are done with that – that is a 300 and it is minus 1:40 on the total time and they get an actual 200 IM time and then they get up and they go a dive 100 from a block. Go 4 times through that. They love that set and they go extremely fast. We have got some 12 year olds go as fast as 4:20 400 IM on that broken 400 and as fast as 2:02 on the 200 IM. Of course, it is a big lie, but they do not know that.
RACE SKILLS AND DECISIONS FOR THE YOUNG DISTANCE SWIMMER
Here are some of the decisions we make and we work with
Six beat kick versus two beat kick. I am one of the few coaches out here that won’t say that the 6 beat kick is right for everybody. I will tell you if you want to win at the International level, yeah – you probably have to have a great 6 beat kick and you had better insist on them using a 6 beat kick, but if you are not a great kicker and it is anatomical – if you have feet that you know – point like this – then for you to insist on a 6 beat kick from that kid you are essentially giving up on them. Insisting when it’s physically not best is like saying you cannot ever be good to the kid. The kid is going to waste tons of energy throwing a 6 beat kick in that is pointless, so let him go to a 2 beat high lift – what we call a toe tap position and all they do is carry their feet out of the way – we just get them out of the way. When I find somebody with great legs, I get a little more excited because I know that is going to make them a potential candidate for our National Team. But, again, I do not insist on the 6 beat from everyone.
Technique is vital. I think it is really important that you make the worst kid in your squad better than they thought they could be.
Fixed Arm Rainbow Style With Tempo. We do not do high elbow fingertip drag. This makes no sense to me. You lift this – this is your arm you are trying – my triceps are not that heavy, but some of your athletes are. This is all put onto your shoulder – it is all weight carried and supported by the shoulder and you carry it forward from there. Why not let the ballistic motion carry that momentum over which lightens the actual weight of the arm? You are swimming thousands of strokes in a mile – well not thousands – a lot of strokes in a mile – if you are going 40 strokes per 100 in a 1500 – 600 strokes so 600 times you are lifting on your shoulder. Let your arm become ballistic – take the load off. Let the torso rotation carry you. Let the center core strength and the connectivity – like a kayak principle, carry that hand to the front.
We insist on flat palm entry so when they release they open up. We let them open up – rainbow arm position just means they keep their arm in a rainbow and they make their touch to the tallest point and that is the natural tallest point. You can develop tempo that way – by the way. You can – I guarantee you – I will go to meets and I watch young kids swim – I know which programs are doing a lot of yardage and which programs are not. Kids with tempo are doing yardage. Kids that are in more of a speed power type program – they are doing distance per stroke. You need both. The equation is equal – neither one is more important. That is my view. With the rainbow style arm supported through the torso and momentum through the recovery – that is a natural momentum – you can develop tempo. Now with Rebecca Adlington – absolutely the opposite – she is a World Record Holder so she must be right, but I do not think I coach every kid in the pool – I do not think they all have the potential to be World Record Holders, but I think they have a potential to be a Junior National Qualifiers and this is the way we want to get it done.
Toe-tap 6 and Winning 6. We teach two different styles of kick. The toe tap is something that Kate Ziegler – I worked with Kate in the National Distance Camps a few times and then with Ray after that, and he is the one that sold me on it. What Erik Vendt was doing and what Kate was doing is they were using 6-beat kick, but basically it is above the surface. It is toe-tapping on the surface and they actually do a drill – toe-tap – they do it with tennis shoes or they do it without. They do it with a buoy and the concept is – carry your feet high – do not let it become drag – absolutely no drag that way. Your feet are bouncing in low pressure water so there is very little resistance and then when it is time to win, drop your feet to a 6-beat heavy and it is a weapon – it becomes a weapon at that point and that is how we teach it.
High elbow anchor. As with a lot of the underwater stuff – the front end has become traditional – high elbow anchor position, and this all is about one thing: it is about keeping the palm facing to the feet as long as possible. I believe in drag force creating all propulsion. Well, if the longest path you can create with your palm facing your feet and travel that longest path – you are developing propulsion for the longest time. The way to do that is a high elbow because as soon as you lift that elbow that palm is facing in the right direction. We teach a finger tip dip, high elbow and in that way the palm is set up right after the touch – we do not slide off unless they have great legs – I’ll let them slide – but they better have great legs. Ian Thorpe had great legs. He used to slide off the left hand – left arm. Adlington – she can do that, but I don’t believe in sliding to the extension if they are not great with their legs.
Great legs allow you to carry momentum, but if you do not have them you are just losing momentum. Conservation of energy would tell you that acceleration/deceleration is the most inefficient way to swim. If you are swimming over-lap timing without legs to carry momentum from cycle to cycle – you are basically slowing down every cycle and then speeding up when you get to the propulsive phase of the stroke. That kind of energy consumption is exponential when you accelerate – even with cycle to cycle. So, our principle is this – unless you have extremely great legs – we want constant energy use at a steady state. And the best way to do that is rainbow arm – tall touch – no slide – equal balance on the timing. And this applies even more so if you are not coaching World Record Holders. I think a lot of kids never get as good as they could be because they do not get that opportunity.
Stable head on a body line. We keep our head low. We keep our body line firm. We work a lot of firm core work. Our dry land program is all aimed at basically dumbbells – med balls – pull-ups – that kind of thing. We keep the lower limbs under – we emphasize that a lot.
Underwater dolphin kicking. We do two sets to emphasize it, and the younger kids do these all the time. It is a broken 500 where they go 12 kicks off every wall – where basically, each 25 is on a 28 second interval. They take one stroke breakout. There is a clock at the end – on that one stroke breakout they spot the clock. If it is at 13 they know they have 15 seconds to get to the wall. If that is 28 they leave again and go 12 more underwater. At the end of it – it comes out to a 500 overall, and they can take out 5 minutes, because that adds up to 300 seconds which is 5 minutes. So they know if they see 10:40 – they actually went 5:40 and it measures how fast they kicked underwater.
A set I like better – I stole from Terry Stoddard – it is 25’s underwater on a relatively tight interval. They record their slowest – I really like that idea – the interval could be 25 seconds – that is what our National Group does it on. Inevitably we do 16 – initially we had very few people who could make 25’s underwater on 25 seconds – virtually no one. So they would miss the interval. And I do not want anyone passing out under water, so after missing, they skip two and they pick it up again when the heat returns. They pick it up again, and they go 25’s underwater, and all they have to remember is just what the slowest repeat time was and that is what we record. If it was a 23 and they got 2 seconds and turned and said “I cant do it – I can’t leave because I only got 2 seconds rest – I am not ready,” then they sit and wait. And then they go pick it up on the next two, but the time they record is the slowest time is 23.
DPS AND TEMPO AT AN EARLY AGE
You know – I can get from this end of the room to that end of the room in 20 strides – taken 10 seconds per stride or I can get there in 40 strides taking 5 seconds per stride – I still get there in the same time. I do not understand why people are not willing to manipulate that balance and that equation. What we will do and you will see a copy of it in a minute – we create a race plan for everyone that is based on stroke count, tempo, breakouts, turn times and start times. They get a copy of it. It is laminated at the side of the pool. They do rehearsal sets every week on it.
The way we start? We ask them for their goal times. We temper that and create a reasonable goal time, and then I decide what their stroke count is going to be. I have kind of a formula I use based on their height and weight and basically anecdotal information. Once I decide their stroke count I plug it in to the equation with their goal time and that tells me what the tempo is going to be and that is the tempo we train to. They have aqua-pacer units – even our Senior I-II does now, and they train at least twice a week on Aqua-Pacer Units – same thing as tempo trainers. Our Aqua-Pacer Units are programmable so you can program sets into them – go 10 x 100’s on 1:20, then 5 more on 1:10 and then 2 on 1:05 and you can program that in. It has breakout times, turn times, goal time – separate beeps for all of that and the kids – I will tell you – it is the most lactate set you can do and it is intense. They get into it and they never miss tempo that way. Take them off and they will miss it all the time, but they always hit this thing – it is amazing.
Our greatest – just a note – it is too big a generalization – all swam in the 1.1 – 1.2 tempo range. Brooke Bennett – Janet Evans – Diana Munz – Michelle Richardson – they all swam in the 1.1 – 1.2 tempo. We measure tempo seconds per cycle and I know that for others that is probably, I don’t know – 47 or something, but our kids relate much better to the seconds/cycle without excessive cycles. Samantha Shellams – she is only 8:40 in the 800, swims at 1.36 and she takes 41 strokes per length. That is an improvement, because what she was doing was swimming at 1.42 previously and taking 41 or 42 strokes per length and at the last US Open she dropped 9 seconds to go 8:40. She has a lot of work to do yet on the 800, but she works with an Aqua-Pacer Unit and her goal tempo is 1.36.
RACE PLANS (Slide 13 – see end of article)
This is a very poor reproduction of our cards, but you can see Sam there – 400 free – there is Flitzer there – her start breakout time is there – turn breakout times, etc. It depends on how many dolphin kicks you take off the wall – it is all programmed in and stroke count you can see – 37 on the first 50, 41 thereafter. The goal was to go 4:09 – she went 4:10.7 – was a few second drop. Kiersty Chan at Olympic Trials – her best going in was 4:53 and we had set up every stroke count and tempo for each of the 4 strokes and all the breakouts – she hit every single tempo and every single stroke count on the button. I mean – not one deviation and went 4:45 which was our goal time.
CREATE THE ENVIRONMENT, PROTECT THE ENVIRONMENT
The most important thing is to create legends and be a story teller. The second thing people would tell you is I have no sense of humor and my kids would agree with you – no – they wouldn’t. We talk a lot and we spend a lot of time telling stories and joking and that is the most powerful weapon you have in creating an environment. I talk about what Ed told me about Jeff Kostoff. I talk about the kids that used to be at Industry. We have an absolute given tradition – any athlete that walks on the deck that used to swim with us in the national group – workout stops for that athlete.
We had Morgan Henson come back. She graduated from Stanford a few years ago – a couple of years ago. I hadn’t seen her for a year. She came in to workout. We spent 15 minutes talking to Morgan, because these kids have heard me talk about Morgan. She was a finalist at Trials in 2004, and they knew what she did and they knew the kind of character she had. They knew the person she was, but it was an opportunity for them to see that first hand. It creates the environment. The kids love when our kids come back. I think they get on the phone and call kids and ask them to come back because workout stops for them.
We have a Hall of Fame on our website. It is a Training Hall of Fame. I will show you that in a second. How much do you demand in control? Those are all decisions that you have to make. We require every workout and we do that even in the Senior II group – not just the National Group – that is because the Senior II coach just harassed me to the point where I finally said okay. Now, the kids know that and once they know that you do not have a problem.
You have got to make the right choices. Don Garman was not the right choice to coach the three lanes of distance 11 and 12 year olds. He loves speed stuff and so we got him an assistant to work with the Gold group to do the distance lanes 4 days a week – 11 & 12 distance lanes. It might not seem right to you, but believe me, it creates that mentality early. And yet, it doesn’t burn them out because I won’t let them train so all we are doing is creating a mentality and we picked the right coach. You have to pick the coach that is willing to put in the extra time, who is willing to do everything necessary to be a distance coach. And it is far more demanding than any other discipline in the sport.
We do not allow coaches to sit on deck ever. We do not allow them to eat on deck and we want animated people in the distance lanes. I see too many distance coaches – I love Bill Rose. I think he has created an environment at Mission that is unbelievable, but my picture of Bill is leaning on the backstroke flag pole for about 80% of the workout. Is he here? I have kidded him about this a lot so it is not like I am picking on him. Really though, I want kids to know you are moving up and down the deck with them. You are encouraging them and you are there for them and you are sharing in that workout and that is what distance coaching is. You had better have good knees if you are going to last 50 years doing it. You have got to choose someone that can lead by example – that has a work ethic – that never is late – never is late. You create an environment – you have to create an environment by example.
Probably the biggest thing there – if you are going to run a distance program for age group kids you are going to spend more money and you are going to have to buy more water time. You are going to have to buy more lane space. You are going to have to buy them toys. Distance kids never get toys – only the sprinters and the middle distance specialty swimmers get toys. They get the stretch cords. They get the ankle weights. They get all that stuff. You have got to buy toys for the distance people – it costs you money. We have a lot of toys. We use them for variety more than anything else – whether it be a snorkel or a parachute. We use a lot of the Ky-Tech parachutes now, but they all have their own and they are all productive.
PROMOTE THE ACHIEVEMENT (Slide 15 – see end of article)
You have got to promote the achievement. This is an abbreviated version of how we promote it – this is – in order to get into the National Group you have to go through the challenge set, and you have to finish in the top 25 all time to move into the National Group. We had our first failure on that where the kid we thought was ready to go did not make it into the top 25, and we didn’t let him in and that kid left. He went to another team. I abbreviated it here. I think these are the top 10. It is simply five 500’s free on 6 – followed by five 400 IM’s on 6 and those are short course.
Kevin Clements was 3rd at Olympic Trials in 2000 – he was a work ethic guy and he was a guy that started a tradition of work and to this day – in fact – the most telling one there and here is the best part about this – Morgan Henson is probably the best distance freestyler we have had – 8:35 in the 8 and 16:30 in the mile and so on. Janie McGony was in her shadow all the time, but her goal in life was to get above Morgan on that test set and now Samantha Shellam has the same feeling. She nearly cried a month ago or two months ago – the last time we did it, because she thought she was ready to get by both Jane and Morgan on that list. She didn’t do it and she should have, but she is the best swimmer of the three, but it keeps a goal out there in front of her. And we celebrate that and we put it out there, so you need to have these kinds of things for your kids.
I don’t put a lot of stock in this, but we do it – you have to know that a kid that has discipline is willing to be patient, is willing to be tough, is a distance swimmer and those that aren’t willing to do those things – well – there is something else. I think USA Swimming for years has done a disservice to us by not doing the VO2 MAX testing or at least offering it. I think we have a lot of kids that are spending their lives training to do something that they may not have the potential to do, and it is a guilty feeling for me because they want to train with me so they are going to train 10-11 workouts a week and they are going to go 85,000 yards a week for 5 years and the fastest they are ever going to go is 8:55 in an 800? That was not their goal to be sure. I think VO2 MAX – I wish we would test it.
You can’t tell what their heart stroke volume is, so this is simply their heart rates. Buoyancy levels, fairly obvious. Lactate profile – we do lactate testing in the Senior II Group once a season – at the beginning to create their training paces. We do lactate testing for the National Group 4 times a season – it is expensive. Flexibility has a lot to do with how well you can extend in front and what kind of talent you have – what kind of ankles you have, etc. Flexibility is crucial. Then vertical jump – we will look at that.
TEST SET PROGRESSION
Just the last thing here – a couple of test sets – how we progress our 11 & 12 test sets – they go 15 100’s free on 1:30. We record for average. We go three 500’s – it is a modified challenge set so they get the first look at it at 11 & 12 on 6:30 – the 2,000 free for time. The second thing that is most competitive on the team is a 3000 free for time. We have had a number of kids who have broken 30 minutes on that and that is a big goal.
Race Rehearsal: All that with a 1650 is what is really called a parametric set, but we use that for the younger kids – is they count their total strokes and add it up for 1650’s and the goal is to under that total stroke count. When they get a little older we progress those sets. Genadijus Sokolovas has been a big help to us over the years. He designed the parametric sets – what standards and intervals to use and gave me the parameters of where they should be on those sets. When we go the parametric sets, they will take – almost everyone gets through the initial goal phase in the first month or two. If the season is 5 months long they will get through it maybe a second time where the standard has dropped. The set would be like our best boy – Brendan Jacobson is a 15:50 1,500 freestyler. He goes 16 75’s – his goal time is 39. He has got to go – actually a 38.7 I think it is and on 1:30. Well, that is not very fast. He did that. It took him like a long time. I was shocked. He went 3 months before he got it done and then the next time his standard became 36.5. He made it through that by the end of the season and finally we felt like he had enough speed to go. I have heard this emphasized at this clinic throughout – everything in the pool is speed swimming. There is no real distance event – certainly not the 400. So, you must have speed and you must train speed, and you must train power and you must train lactate and we do – the myth is busted. We don’t do you know – ten 1,000’s. We do that maybe twice a year – I call them memory sets. Our big memory set is – we go 12 x 800’s last part of the season. We have a water park in our facility, and it has an 800 meter lazy river and there are jets turned on in that lazy river that flow against you and they get going pretty good so the set is you go two 800’s in the 50 pool, your third 800 is in the lazy river against the current. It takes them like 25 minutes to finish it. The next two in the 50 meter pool – back to the lazy river and so on. They thought that was going to be all kinds of fun and they hated it by the end and that is why we do it more. 1650 set – go 1 x 550 free on 6:30 and then you go a broken mile with six seconds rest and then a 550 again and then another broken mile with 12 seconds rest and then a third 550. The goal is to descend the three. The 550’s add up – to 1710, and then the broken 11 x 150’s with six seconds rest adds up to 1650, and then the broken 1650 with 12 seconds rest adds up to 1635 – that is the goal of the set. That is pretty easy to do, but they really get going fast on it. Again, this psyhologically makes them believe and last.
Sets and Games: Let me explain the tag line at the beginning: We play games to win. We were trying to come up with something to define us other than just “we work hard” and so we were at Colorado Springs and I had mentioned this young lady – Cindy Tran from Bob. I wish Bob was here, but she went to Colorado with us in 2004 to train before Trials and she wasn’t quite used to what we were doing. She is a great trooper – she stuck with it, but at one point she just stopped and screamed out, “Don’t we ever do anything fun around here?” And my kids of course picked up the call right away, and so Sam is kind of the leader and she goes, “Yeah, you know, we need to play more games.” And so a year later we are looking for a tag line for our team, and I said okay – everybody give me what you want as a tag line that defines you, and she popped up with that. So we play games to win, and it comes from the things that we do out on the field, and the things that we do outside of maybe the regular training, and I got to thinking about it and I realized that really, that’s what it’s all about. It’s a game – it is a sport and it can be as intense as you want, but it still doesn’t change the nature of it being a game. And so we teach them to win by playing games and we play a lot of games.
Drag and Drop – it is a great little thing if you want to bring their belief in their ability to do interval training at a tight interval – maybe you think the best interval they can handle is 1:05 per hundred. You get six of them in a line and have them leave on their feet and you go on 1:04 and you know – you get somebody up in front that can carry that – after two they drop to the back and then you have got a new leader and they stay at 1:04 and then after two they drop to the back and the new leader. Sometimes we will let the person that dropped from the front sit on the wall for a 50 and let the group come back around and then they pick back up on the drag, but we will go like 3,000 yards that way – sometimes it is amazing how fast that middle pack is moving and they don’t even know it, but most of all it sells them that they can do an interval maybe they didn’t know they could do.
Tour de France has been a lot of fun for us. It turns kind of brutal sometimes. We go two across and two heats and the heats leave about 5 seconds to 85 seconds apart and they jockey for position as they swim. Well, the task is when you turn you have got to turn underneath the oncoming crowd so A) you have got to accelerate into turns and B) you have got carry them long and then – they have two lanes they can play with – well the goal is to stay together in the one lane – it is like a cycling race – you kind of draft off one another and pace off one another and then you decide when it is your time to go and when to win and you slide out into the open lane and go and somebody sees you slide out – they have to make a decision as to whether to go with you. And then they might go you know twenty x 100’s that way, and then I stop them and say everybody up on the block, “We are going to dive 50 and we add up the 50’s and we add it to the total.” It is a great little way to do a lot of fitness work and teach them to swim fast when they are tired.
And that is all I have. I want to summarize it again by saying just create an environment – the personal attention is everything. You have to work small groups with kids in distance. It is incredibly important and most important – your job is to build their character so they believe that they are better people than the people they are racing and it goes a long ways. Thanks.