What To Do and How To Do It


The following was a presentation given at the last ASCA World Coaches Conference.

Introduction by Richard Quick:

It’s an honor and a privilege to introduce an extraordinary man, an extraordinary coach. Eddie Reese has been at the University of Texas nineteen years. During those nineteen years, he has won eighteen consecutive Conference championships; during that tenure, his teams have won six NCAA titles. He’s coached several World record holders, many American record holders, many, many National champions. Eddie Reese is a model coach; he’s a model human being.

The thing I admire about Eddie is he’s a tremendous teacher, he’s a tremendous communicator and he always has and always gives everything he knows or cares about to those people who are willing to listen. I think his talk will be extraordinary.

Coach Reese:

Richard listed some accomplishments of my teams. The most important thing to me and the thing that I enjoy the most is getting people to go faster. That’s the thing about swimming that I’m most proud. That’s what I’m here to talk to you about today. Why this topic? “What do we need to do and how to do it?” We come off an Olympics that were phenomenal in our country, a good PanPac and interesting Student Games, but I’m really worried about something and I have been for sometime. It concerns the age-group coach because you lay the foundation for the swimmer’s career…and by career I don’t mean winning an Olympic Gold Medal. Not many of them are going to do that. Our whole goal is to get the child from whatever age they start into the best position for them to reach their potential. Now, nobody ever reaches 100% of their potential, but we’re falling way short. I spent the whole summer preparing for this talk and feel like it’s the most important talk I’ve ever given.

I’m worried about the 2000 Olympics. I’m worried about where we’re headed as a swimming nation. If you ever get a chance, look at US Swimming’s Top 100 times, the best times ever, of every age group. I went through all the 100’s and thought it was really interesting the number of people who are ranked in the Top 20 and what events they are ranked in relative to percentage of U.S. swimmers in the ’90s ranked in the Top 20 of all-time age-groups. If you’ll notice, there’s a higher percentage of people in most every age-group in every case out of the 90s, except 13-14 girls, in the 100 freestyle than in the distance events. In the 10 and Unders, we just took the longest distance that we record 200’s. We do track longer distances. Has anyone seen the new results from the 1000, 2000 and 3000 swims that we did in age-group? It’s real, real interesting where we are relative to eight or ten years ago because there are National records, if you can call them that, in the 1000 free for 10 and Unders, and for 9 year-olds, 10 year-olds, 11 year-olds, 12 year-olds. I think that one of the 14 or 15 year-old girl’s 3000 was like 29-something and if I remember correctly, it was Kim Brown. We did have an 11 year-old break Janet Evans’ 2000 freestyle record by a second, just a little over 21 minutes. I hope that by the end of this talk you’ll believe that we need to do more of that with that age group or the younger ages.

What this shows is that we’re ahead in sprinting, but we’re behind in distance swimming. We know that we’re behind in distance swimming, so we need to figure out why that is. Let me go ahead and show you our American records. In women’s swimming, 11 of 13 American records are from ’92; in men’s swimming, 10 of the 13 American records are from before ’92. If we are following the right direction and we know so much now, my question is, “Does it work?”

I’ve got three things to convince you of. One of them is an aerobic base which is longer, slower swimming. It doesn’t have to be harder. If you have a group of 10 and Unders for three one-hour workouts a week, then it should be aerobic. Granted that 10 and Unders may not be as fast at age 10, but if our real purpose is the best for the swimmer, the best for their career, then somebody’s got to come along and tell us what we need to do. We can’t keep killing off people early.

I picked this topic because I hope I’m a fairly objective observer of swimming. I’ve been a participant and a coach in it for 35 years, so I have a history. I know where we came from in the 60’s and the 70’s. It was back in the days when you’d hear that so-‘n-so was working out four hours a day. Well, we’re going to go four and a half, but we reached a peak. Do you know the longest we ever worked out? We didn’t, but I know the guy who did. They went three hours in the morning and three hours in the afternoon. I don’t know if that didn’t work physiologically or psychologically for the athlete. I think the coach couldn’t stand up that long; it’s too long to stand on the deck. With better planning and if swimmers are a resource (and I hate to talk about people as a resource), we can have more people reach their potential. We’re close to it, but nobody reaches 100% of their potential, no matter who they are, but if they don’t get an aerobic base, they don’t reach 90% of whatever their ultimate potential is. Say the best potential is 90%. Maybe somebody reaches 95%, but they’re usually not the most talented swimmer; 90% is the maximum potential. If you don’t get an aerobic base, you only get 90% of that 90%, which is 81%. If you don’t get technique, then you’re down more. Then we’ve killed off more or left people short.

Where did we get off track? I would blame the East Germans. They were very, very successful at a program that was lactate driven, almost on the pure science side, and they were enhancing their performances with drugs. We suspected that, but we still bit on the lactate driven program. I did it for two years. The first year, it’s great; the second year, it’s not so good and then you’re gone. The program made it easier and you had early success. We had a fairly good summer and people have asked me, “What did you do different this summer?” My success this summer is not predicated on this summer. It’s probably 20%, 25%, this summer, it’s 40% on last year and 40% on the year before. It’s never what you do that summer, unless it’s the first summer that swimmer swims. Then if it’s real good, that’s the swimmer’s fault.

The East Germans put us on to race-pace swimming and I know we’ve talked about that and there is a place for race-pace swimming. It’s just not a large percentage of the program for 10 and Unders and 11 and 12’s.

What do we need to do with this aerobic base? We know how to do it; it’s not real exciting, but it is easier swimming, so you can spend some time on strokes. Why do you need to worry about it?

There’s an M.D. Ph.D. writing articles out there named Larry Weisenthal. Of course, I only bring to you things that agree with what I want you to know. He and I agree and he’s a lot smarter than I am. He tells about the fact that when we go back to the cave man days, everything they did was done aerobically with lower bodies. They chased and were chased; hence, lower body aerobics, so through the ages, the eons, we have not done much in the upper body. For most swimming events, we are propelled by the upper body. Consider the 10 and Unders that you get who come into your program right now. They ride bicycles, they roller-blade, they run, they don’t do anything aerobically with the upper body.

I have convinced our cross-country team (of course, it will probably kill ’em) to come in and start swimming more. I believe that running can add to swimming by maybe 3-5%, but swimming can add to running 20-30%. And here you have cross-country guys who are at the height of their aerobic ability come in and they’re doing 10 X 100’s on an interval. Some intervals are long intervals ’cause some of them aren’t good swimmers. On the first 100, they are breathing hard. They haven’t felt that way except at the end of races because they have no aerobic capacity in their upper bodies. They get tired quickly that way; they adjust rather quickly. So you’re taking 10 and Unders, 11 and 12’s, whatever, and the same thing occurs. If you had to enhance someone’s aerobic ability and get the most out of it, would you pick 13 and Under, 14-17, or 18-20? When is the best time to do that? I, and Dr. Weisenthal does too, think that it’s the 10-13.

I read so much research this summer that I can’t quote who said that the best time to develop aerobic ability, the most efficient time, is before the onset of puberty, which is different in everybody. A doctor from Lithuania, who came in and talked at Colorado Springs a while back, had graphed 100 best times of 10 and Unders in the 100 free and tried to find out where they are in the 100 free at 17 and 18. Generally, they’re not around. He talked about an aerobic base, he talked about how the male aerobic base should be established by age 13.2. It will vary. You will always have exceptions, but what I’m saying is the system is more malleable, more easily changed, in an earlier age than it is later. So I’m putting that burden on the age-group coaches.

If you make the choice for the swimmer, here’s what I feel has happened (slide presentation): When you take a swimmer and you train him for now instead of later, and if the solid line represents the anaerobically trained, they disappear. I know you know the name Chas. Morton. My assistant coach coached him when he was 12. He allowed him to come to four workouts a week, not two-a-day, Monday through Thursday, and made him play something on Friday. I honestly don’t know whether he came in on Saturday. That’s when he set all those records. He set it due to strength and physical maturation as opposed to two-a-day workouts. What would he have gone if he had gone two-a-day?! I mean, here’s a 12 year old who went a 1:56 for a 200 yard Individual Medley. I’m still recruiting this kind of a guy! Fifty-one point eight for a 100 fly, and he had a fairly successful career. He was a 3:46 400 IM’er, does 2 minutes in the breaststroke, went 1:46, 200 fly. It’s not the kind of college career most of those great 12 and Unders have. A lot of them disappear and aerobically, if we can take ’em up, they’ll be behind early, but the anaerobic people level off.

I have two on my team right now. They started late. The first time one of them swam in the summer was after his senior year of high school. To do anything aerobically for him would take ten more years. I’ve got another one who got pretty darn good at a high school, all anaerobically, nothing aerobic, and he stopped. His physical maturation is so complete that it won’t occur anymore. When an age-grouper goes from 10 to 11, their strength gain just through physical maturation is 10% without you doing anything to them. As they get older, that comes down, but about 13-14, that percentage of increase is massive and a lot of improvement we misread as the workouts giving them the improvement when it’s the strength giving them the improvement.

If you cloned anybody and you gave them a year’s workout that had a value of x, how do you get them to go better the next year? They are not going to get bigger and stronger. Let’s pretend that doesn’t happen. Well, you have to do technique always…I have a motto about technique. Technique is like yard work. It’s boring, but if you don’t do it, it gets to lookin’ ugly. It’s the same old thing and you’ve got to do it. I don’t do yard work, but I do technique work.

Take that clone; how do you get him to go better? Technique is a way. Get him to work harder is a way. The most important way you’ve got is to work them harder. I don’t mean they have to feel more pain, but I do mean that they might have to go more yardage or more aerobic. An aerobic base, once established, doesn’t mean that’s all that you have to do. Then let’s say you hand him off to college coaches and we get our chance to screw him up – and we do, due to short relays, due to dual meets and due to how we feel about beating people in dual meets. We can shorten someone’s career. Swimmers can shorten their own career, but we can shorten it, too, if they don’t get the aerobic base from September ’til January or whatever. I don’t mean all they do is aerobic; you just can’t do that.

The main part is aerobic and I’d love to give you numbers and figures to go by, but I can just give you a direction, otherwise they are not going to get better. Have you ever had a college swimmer come back who, after their sophomore year, doesn’t get any better? It is commonplace for that to occur. It doesn’t matter if they’re in a mile…it happens more there…or they’re in the hundred. Everybody needs an aerobic base.

For your aerobic base, you need to consider it on a career basis and on a yearly basis. It’s important that you’ve got to do it over the career and within each season. The world record for the 100 butterfly is 52 low by Denis Pankratov, who until about 3 or 4 years ago, was a Top six 100 meter flyer, who six years ago went 31 minutes for 3000 M freestyle – and he’s a sprinter. It doesn’t make sense! That’s not specific.

I don’t believe in specificity. We bet on Kieren Perkins’ 20 or 30 X 100’s on 1:45 holding average and he could do a phenomenal job on those. We didn’t ask the most important question. How did he get to where he could do that? What did he do the previous five years? Right now, the rumor is going around that Popov is only swimming slow in practice. Popov used to go 15,000 meters a day; he used to go 3 workouts a day. Maybe he’s hurt all he needs to hurt and nobody’s making him go 48 flat to win. Generally, if we’re pushed, we’ll resist the push. If the push gets stronger, we get stronger.

Everybody knows about what Gary Hall is doing now, but when Pierre was out there, Pierre LaFontaine of Phoenician, Gary went to 10 workouts a week. He was a 500 man as a sophomore in high school, a 100 and 200 as a junior, and wanted to be a 25 and a 50 man as a freshman in college. That’s not true. He swam the 200 free for us. He split a :49.0/:49.3 for 1:38.3. He was a worker.

We all know the Tom Jager story. The first standard that he ever made was the Junior National mile.

Some of the fears we have now is if the two Australians, who are 15 and 17, got there aerobically. If they got there aerobically, we’re dead in 2000! If they got there anaerobically, we’ve got a shot at ’em. And you know how good they are. Their 15 year-old goes 3:49, 400M free; the 17 year-old goes 1:47 on a relay, 1:49, 200 free, 3:47.7 in 400 meters and he’s already done 15:03 in the mile. Our 400 free this past year for men at 3:58.6 was 8th; in 1990, 3:58.2 was 16th; at Olympic Trials in ’88, 4:10 plus for the women didn’t make the Team.

If we know so much and we’re doing the right thing, let’s get better. I’m not blaming our athletes; I know the athletes are talented. I see them out there. I try to go to as many meets as I can go to because I don’t recruit anybody unless they fulfill the next part of this speech or unless they’ve got distance-per-stroke.

Technique needs to be important to you and it needs to be important to the swimmer. I’m giving you the “yard-work” deal. Let me show you. I even tried to come up with something new. I tried to come up with a number that you could use for your swimmers that was relative to yards per second or meters per second; however, you want to do it relative to stroke rate. I know you know how to do that kind of stuff. I ‘m a little reluctant to do this because I haven’t done it. Normally, I don’t like to come before you with something I haven’t tried, but I am trying this and while my team is voluntarily practicing, we asked them to voluntarily do 10 X 50 the other day. We found that successful swimmers had longer stroke length and we think stroke length should be a priority for instructional emphasis.

There was an optimal distance per stroke associated with the fastest swimming speed. In freestyle, the fastest swimmers had the greatest distance per stroke at slow swimming speeds. We found the backstroke to be the same, and butterfly and breaststroke were related to stroke rate, but we all know that if someone’s stroke rate is slower than someone else’s – if my stroke rate is slower than yours, if I can increase the speed of my stroke, I can eventually go by you. That’s all I recruit…distance per stroke…not all the time, but generally speaking. I’ve got a guy right now who comes out of a program doing 5000 yards a day, once a day. He’s 6’1”, weighs 145; he’s got a 15 year-old body, and he will break :43 in the 100 freestyle – not this year, not next year. It takes time. It takes time in their career.

Neil Walker broke through short course this year and had a pretty good long course year. If we could document what he’s done since his freshman year or what he did as an age-grouper you would see that he’s put in the work. We were at Colorado Springs for 7 days, right after exams this year, all aerobic. We had 15 opportunities to work out; he worked out 14 of them. He’s a :19.08 50 freestyler. He’s a :44.9 backstroker. He went 2500 meters freestyle at altitude under 30 minutes. That afternoon, he came back and went 40 x 100 backstroke on 1:30, holding 1:07’s right into 20 freestyle on 1:20, holding 1:04. He doesn’t sound like a sprinter, but he needed to do aerobics. That may have been too hard. He thought so at the time.

Distance per stroke is important only if speed is a factor. I can get in and go slow stroke rate and slow speeds and look good on these numbers. We’re going to do this. We’re going to go 20 X 50 freestyle on 1:00. They’re going to be as fast as they can average. Start at the average they think they can average and stay there. They’re probably not going to be as good as the guy in Skip’s workout who went 40 on a 1:00 at :25. He still hasn’t given me that guy’s name, but if they go 25 seconds per 50 than that’s 2 yards per second and their stroke rate is going to be .8 or .9. It’s probably going to be faster than that, but I just did it to show you how we did the math because 2 is a very, very high number. It’s a very high number relative to what I’m seeing in my group. I kind of controlled them and had them go 10 X 50 on the 1:00 and try to hold :30; we got stroke rate. The second one was going 1.6Y/sec. We only had one guy at 1.2 strokes/sec who held :30; everybody else had a faster stroke rate. I took it up to 50 and if you wanted to get clever and had a lot of time, you could…let’s say you’re doing 10 and Unders and they’re going 50 seconds, but they’re going the 50’s on a 1:30, you could include the time in the equation; it would be on the bottom of the equation. It would make the number smaller and you’re going to have people with 1 or .8 or .6. I like to do this on an individual basis.

When we lift weights, I’ve got an incoming freshman that can bench 250 lbs and I’ve got an incoming freshman that can bench 120. Well, I don’t want the guy who can bench 120 worrying about the guy who can do 250. All I want him to know is that if he can go from 120 to 180, that’s what I want because at 120 he’s :46.8 and at 180 he’s going to be :44.7. I don’t know that, but I’m hoping that occurs. The guy that benches 250 has gone :45.7 and I don’t know if I’ll keep him in the weight room. He can’t get any rounder or thicker, but everybody has to get better. That’s why I think you can carry that number through their career and you would like that number to go up. If they get faster, the number goes up; if their distance per stroke gets better, their number goes up. I don’t know if it’ll work and I’m reluctant to bring it to you.

What does this do beyond the physiological concept? I think it’ll make your swimmers focus on stroke because no matter how hard you work on a stroke, it doesn’t get done until they decide to do it. The first night at camp in the summer, I tell ’em, “Look, we’re going to work two sessions a day on stroke work, but it only gets changed if you decide to change it.” They’re in control of that. They can make us look good or they can make us look bad. It takes some people 50 times and it takes some people 1000 times to change the stroke, but there are some mechanical things in technique you have to do right.

We don’t all agree on those, but there are some things that work. Get films of good swimmers. They do a lot of things that work, particularly underwater. I also think that it’ll make them pay attention to pushoffs and turns. It’s all a factor…faster times, better distance per stroke. It’s not a panacea and I know there are people out there much smarter than I am about this stuff. If you have any suggestions or something that you do, I would love to hear about that because we need to make stroke work important to swimmers.

We have a lot of different programs. We give trophies to people who have the best technique or to coaches who have swimmers with the best technique. It is important. If you don’t do the aerobic base, if you leave that out, or the technique out, we have hurt the swimmer’s career. Overall, what I’m telling you is that you have to forget yourself. Take care of the swimmer first. It sounds a little idealistic, but I’ll guarantee you it works. Back in the 60’s, back in the era of “Take care of #1,” all people did was take care of themselves, and it didn’t work very well. I’ve seen that the way you take care of yourself best is by taking care of other people. You’ve got the most influence on the people you work with; you’ve got more influence than their parents in a lot of ways. You get more time with them. We’re not looking for quality time; we’re looking for aerobic time.

Aerobics and Stroke Work – That Makes It Easy

What’s the third thing we need to do as a country? I went to Juniors West in Clovis; I went to Juniors, short course, at College Station. I had somebody at New Orleans and I asked, “Did you see any good dolphin kickers?” We know it works; we know it’s good. There aren’t any. Isn’t anybody doing that? I don’t care if they cut it to 10M, but if it’s 15, and they may cut the butterfly to 15, the dolphin kick is a weapon and you’ve got to have your kids do dolphin kicks. I think it’s better to teach it on the side because they always keep their feet in the water when they’re on their side. And you can see they’re just bending from the knees down, which is a common thing. Everybody likes to kick from the knees down… and that’s not the way the kick is. On the side, you can see the undulation and they can feel it better. I used to tell them to try to touch each lane line with their feet. You can’t do that just kicking from the knee. It doesn’t matter if it’s the fly kick or the fish kick, we’ve got to start them in that direction. We started something this summer and I’m real reluctant to give this out because I know it’s good. We started doing 8 X 100 fly kicks on our back on 2:00, short course; we do the same drill twice a week. They say it’s the hardest thing they’ve done.

The dolphin kick is an absolute necessity if you’re going to swim for sure short course and a lot of it long course. An absolute necessity. If we are spending 20 to 25 % of our time in a dolphin kick on 8 and Unders and 10 and Unders, we are making a mistake. There are five strokes: freestyle’s the fastest, dolphin kick is the second fastest, butterfly third, backstroke’s next, breaststroke’s last.

I’ve given you some things to do. I’m not putting it all on the age-group coaches. We used to worry that we were working 10 and Unders too hard. I know a lot of successful milers who were one-a-day until they were 12. I think that’s where Tim Shaw came from, maybe Brian Goodell. Those guys went 15.0-something, but we don’t go 15:00 anymore! But they were aerobically trained. They had good strokes and they couldn’t dolphin-kick, but the dolphin kick is new. I remember when Jesse Vasallo did it in the 400 IM. He thought he’d get tired. I think if you go back through the 13-14 year-old mile, he holds the #1 ranking from 1970-something in the mile.

To show you what aerobic training does if a miler trains aerobically, name the best 400 IM’ers in our country from the last 8 years. Tom Dolan. Can he swim a mile? 14:28…yards. The answer is fairly close to, “Yes.” Eric Namesnik: freshman year at Michigan, he got mono, was out of the water awhile, went 15:13…1650. Dave Wharton: 9:02 in the 1000 out of high school. That’s a 4:31! Mike Barrowman: have no clue. Mike Barrowman split a 1:09 on his breaststroke leg in the 400M IM. He’s different; there are always exceptions. Chad Carvin…a real good miler; we know that. Steven Brown, the other guy under 4:20, is a miler. It points to something. We had a fifteen year-old kid with a great deal of potential. I spent the whole first week at camp telling him he better like the mile…at least for the next couple of years. If he’s going to be a great 400 Individual Medley swimmer, doing it legally and ethically, he’s going to have to do that.

Audience Q&A:

  1. A lot of what we do to improve Neil Walker’s dolphin kick we got from Bill Boomer. We do vertical dolphin. Let’s say short course, we’re doing 15 X 100 freestyle, with the last 25 some other stroke, on 1:30 to warm up, all the freestyles breathing every three. They get 5 seconds rest at the wall and they do 20 vertical dolphins after every 100 and I want them to do it in 8 seconds…2.5 kicks per second. Loveless kicked 2.5 off the wall, Jeff Rouse kicked 2.7 kicks per second off the wall and Neil kicks 2.6 off the wall. This is frequency.Where are we going to go when dolphin kicking on the board or dolphin kicking with fins or Monofins or whatever kind of fins you use is not going to take us any further? So we started trying some things. We started pushing off the bottom and streamlining and just dolphin kicking as fast and as high as they could go. What I wanted people to do is to get to where they could dolphin kick out and go over the flags. In the 8 X 100 kick, I really believe that’s a factor. It gives them an average to hang on to. It sounds like a test set and a lot of test sets used to bother me because of the psychological implications of having to go hard and face it all the time…not hard, but REAL hard, so I don’t approach it. They get very tired, so I don’t worry about it being just a test set. It’s like paddling a canoe across that lake; it takes time to get there. If you’re doing something and you know it’s good, and if I told you it’s good, you know it’s good, but it’s going to take time to get there. If you’re headed right, don’t give up. Jonty Skinner told me he had been getting workouts sent to him for him to look at and he said that the 10 and Under girls are doing more anaerobic training than Amy Van Dyken did in her Olympic year at her age! Then he said that there are some 13 and 14 year-old girls doing 3 or 4 times as much anaerobic training as Amy Van Dyken did in ’96. We shouldn’t be doing that. Just like in that graph, they go up in what I call “their career.” You’ve seen swimmers do that. Have you ever seen a swimmer come out of a known hard program and go into another program and boom! they go faster? Then the next year, they go slower. They don’t know why. They did the same thing they did the previous year. If somebody is going to get better, particularly in college, the workouts have got to be harder. Every year, they’ve got to be harder.
  2. I’m working more on the physical side of the dolphin kick…the muscular side is what I was trying to do. When you do that, you get a greater bend. Keep their hands over their head. We do the kick that way, but I don’t like backstrokers to kick with their hands locked over their head. That’s not the right position they’re supposed to go in the water. If you’ve ever watched the backstrokers who come into my camp, they put their hand on their midline in the back of them; it doesn’t work. If you look at the Top 16, Olympic Trials, NCAA, USS, there’s only one stroke that succeeds in backstroke and that’s putting the hand in behind the shoulders or slightly out, going little finger first. You know that. Don’t let them do it any other way. There’s no future in it. The reason I do it is from a strength concept.
  3. If I were to come back in November, I might have something different because, once again, I haven’t tried it. Those 20 X 50 that I showed you were the fastest average they could get for 20 X 50. We’ve already tried it just holding 30 seconds for 50 ’cause most of them can’t go any faster than that. To apply this to age-groupers, you can start them, if you’ve got younger kids, at whatever they’re comfortable with. If they’re :28.5 for 50Y freestyle at age 12, maybe they start at 40 seconds. The object is to go fast with a good stroke, have good pushoffs and good turns. All we really want is for everybody to be as fast as they can be. We’re in charge and it’s not easy. If it were easy, everybody would do it, and everybody doesn’t do it.

Comments are closed.

Sponsorship & Partnerships

Official Sponsors and Partners of the American Swimming Coaches Association

Join Our Mailing List

Subscribe and get the latest Swimming Coach news