Win the Workout by Bill Sweetenham and Wayne Goldsmith (1999)


Confidence is the key factor in determining podium success with all athletic talent. The reason why athletes win is that, due to their training work ethic, talent, enthusiasm and commitment,, they have not considered second place as an acceptable position in any given competition. Giving their absolute best consistently is without question the most important common denominator in champion athletes.


The greatest challenge for me as a coach was to sell 100% commitment and enthusiasm as being special and paramount to all else,, and that 99% commitment and enthusiasm is worthless for each competitive athlete. That 1% is reserved for only a few totally committed athletes. This 1% probably represents the same effort and concentration as does the initial 99%.


The greatest satisfaction for me in coaching has come from working with this small group of athletes willing to offer their total commitment, regardless of their individual talent levels,, consistently at both workouts and competitions. Many are able to give at one and not the other,, and this is extremely frustrating and challenging for the coach and program.


However,, the greatest challenge in coaching is to convert as many athletes and parents into the 100% philosophy. The chances of doing this are greatly enhanced if everyone in the club from Head Coach,, assistant coaches, age group coaches,, learn to swim teachers, pool staff, receptionists, club officials, parents and most importantly, swimmers also believe and commit to this philosophy at every workout and every competition. Coaches must sell commitment at every workout or practice session.


Convincing athletes that every workout should be practiced as though it is THE most important workout in their lives also applies to coaches. Are you coaching at your absolute maximum potential at EVERY workout? If not, then the goal of having athletes do the right thing when the coach does not have to is lost. The athlete must do the right thing and make the right decision because they want to and not because they have to. Coaching negative or passive/negative athletes is a complete waste of time and coaches should avoid this at all costs as it takes focus, attention and support away from the positive side of the program.


The coaching and workout environment must be a positive, challenging, fun, open environment. A coach must have the ability to focus the athlete on a result and have the ability to achieve and practice for this outcome, utilizing a large number of options, all aimed at the same result. The job is done when the preparation is complete, the outcome is achieved, the athlete is successful!


The psychology of the workout, as in the physical side, has an accumulative positive and an accumulative negative side to the total outcome. Most club training sessions that I see are middle-pitched in that they are directed at the average swimmers in the group, thus motivating the less fit, less committed athletes to be average and, unfortunately, the more committed athletes to be average. A great mistake in coaching is to middle-pitch and focus on negative aspects.


The coach must sell commitment in preference to enforcing commitment. It is the coach’s duty to ensure that the swimmers willingly rise to his or her standard of expectation at each practice session, rather than a lowering of standards to accept whatever the athlete is willing to give at any given workout.


Developing confident athletes is a daily occurrence, utilizing the psychology of the workout to build psychologically invincible swimmers. The goal of any given workout is to have the athlete arrive at the training pool with a positive, open mind and depart the training venue with a feeling of accomplishment in preference to it being just another workout or in just surviving or just making the workout. The athlete must feel like “I” won the workout. “I” was the best performed workout swimmer in the pool frequently and consistently.


The difference between the good athletes and great athletes that I have coached is that the great ones wanted success for themselves over and above my expectations for them. They were willing and pursued the opportunity to do more than  I asked of them. This happened consistently. The coach should aim to instill in his workouts a subtle competitive element, so that swimmers arrive at the pool in that frame of mind where they feel inspired to “win” the workout, and not depart, having just managed to get through it.


As a coach, I always attempted to have a training environment where, on a workout by workout basis, the encouragement and motivation for the athlete was to be competition-ready. Every coach must look at the team prior to each workout and ask which swimmers are involved/participating and which ones are mentally workout-ready and committed to a workout result.


The ability of the athlete to consistently arrive at EVERY workout ready and prepared for a competition-based training session will, in the main set determine:



  • The physical commitment to the workout;
  • The gain to be made in that workout; and
  • How often the athlete leaves the workout arena, having been challenged and


The physical demand of the workout will then become secondary to the mental aspect, but will be of equal value. The confidence of the athlete will be determined by their attitude on arriving at the greatest percentage of workouts committed, rather than merely involved. The coach and athlete must convert involvement into commitment. The coach’s ability and training environment will do much to enhance this, so that the athlete will complete the greatest percentage of practice sessions with a sense of accomplishment.  This builds CONFIDENCE.


Motivation is a lifestyle, not just about being excited for two months before a major competition. How many times does the coach write the workout with an objective in mind, only to find that the athlete completed the workout in a different training zone or energy system to that which the coach desired? Without experience, the coach may not even recognize this within the individual swimmers.


How much is too much? How much is too little? Is the athlete training focused and pursuing an objective in any given workout? Is the difference between effort and speed recognized? Effort should always be recognized if and when an athlete gives totally. If effort is given totally and unconditionally and the workout objective is not achieved, then this is not the responsibility of the athlete. However, they must be rewarded and confidence built accordingly.


How many times in any given workout are competition standard correct form racing starts demanded by the athlete and coach? Note that success comes and ultimate optimal individual performance is achieved when, on a workout by workout basis over an extended period of time, the highest standard of workout is demanded by both the athlete and the coach similarly. An overriding desire by one of these two partners is usually a recipe for a sub-standard training and competition result.  It must be a joint commitment.


It is estimated that the vast majority of Olympic and world championship medal winners and world record breakers had a minimum of six years competition lead-up with the same coach.


Is their aggression in workouts the same as it is in competition? Do athletes “race” the workouts? Do athletes ‘win’ the workout? Does the atmosphere for this opportunity exist? Are the workouts competition based, or in reverse, is the competition workout-based?


How many workouts are there where relays are the main set, eg:


12 X 200                               (50-150)                (100-100)


Swimmer 1          (50)       (100)                         (150)

Swimmer 2          (150)     (100)                        (50)


Two man teams matching slowest and fastest the goal is to break the Australian record on each 200. This becomes a team-based, highly challenging workout, videoed to check starts, turns, finishes and technique. A referee should be present to check changeovers and legality of performance.


A coach should not exercise with the athletes for the following reasons:


  • You are easily beaten by the senior
  • You cannot observe the tone of the
  • You cannot appraise, support, correct and applaud the skill and effort of the


A coach should leave workouts on most occasions on a positive note.


This is a challenge to coaches “Would you coach any given athlete (compare the most dedicated, hardest working, most talented to the least dedicated, least hard working, least talented) exactly the same way in this workout, if they were the only athlete present?” As a coach, spend your time and effort on all the positives, especially the athletes.


Ask an athlete, “Tell me ten really great things that you have done in workouts in the last three weeks” and give them 1 1/2 minutes to respond. Observe how many and how quickly they come up with and then compare this with a second question, “How many things could you have done better in workouts in the last three weeks?” Again, compare their responses and the speed of response.


Ask an athlete:


  • What is your best swim set?
  • What is your best resistance pull set?
  • What is your best kick set?
  • What is your best gym set?


This will tell you what area the program and athlete focus on. All can usually get the answer to 1), few can get 2), and very few, if any, get 3), while all males usually get 4), but very few females can answer it.


Are all of the above competition-based at workouts and are the above all workout-based at competition? Are the athletes willing and able to do the right thing at workouts and competition when they do not have to?


Sometimes (occasionally? often?) a coach must set a workout when he or she knows that all the team can do it in preference to looking for the impossible of each individual and team. Sometimes a coach can simulate, by his or her demands, a competition atmosphere in the training arena, when no matter what the athlete does, it is just not good enough.


Organize this in advance so that either the Head Coach or skills coach plays the over-demanding role and the other one plus any other support staff play the role of encouragement to live up to the demands. The training area will then reflect an environment tougher than that which is to be experienced by the athlete in the toughest competition arena. The reaction of the athletes (positive and negative) must be measured and recorded and adjusted as deemed necessary. The same applies to the reactions of the coach.


The toughest arena to be met by the swimmer in competition should not be the first and only time that they have experienced this level of pressure. In fact, it must not be the most difficult or challenging exposure that the athlete has ever faced, or both the coach and swimmer are going into the competition under-prepared for every eventuality. Try creating scenarios, conditions and pressures at training and/or competitions that are greater than those expected to be experienced at the athlete’s highest perceived level of competition. Demand, on occasions, the impossible in the worst conditions and work back.


A couple of examples of being the ‘tough coach’ are:

Example 1

  • 8 X 50 on 4 minutes, holding 26 seconds and convincing the athlete that 8 holding (4 at 26 and 4 at 27) is not good enough, and we need to repeat them



  • 16 X 400 freestyle on 5:30 and accepting whatever

times the athlete is prepared to give.


Example 2


  • 20 X 50 warm up or swim down, holding 36 seconds

and accepting whatever. OR

  • 50’s swim down until you have achieved 20 at 36 seconds with 34


The athlete must ask “‘Will I be a better athlete at the conclusion of this workout because of what I did or did not   do in this workout?” The answer must be clear and easily identifiable.




A few ideas/strategies that should be considered in the presentation of your session(s):


You will have your own coaching philosophy; you may make personal modifications but keep in mind that everything you do, everything you say will be dinner table conversation in each swimmer’s home over the next few days. Your perception of your performance as a coach or teacher is sometimes the least important consideration.


Dress appropriately and act professionally. On deck no mobile phones, no eating or drinking, no sitting down etc.


Speak/demonstrate clearly and confidently. The swimmers are seeking and appreciate leadership.


Keep your approach simple and consistent. Don’t complicate things, simplicity facilitates success. Demand attention (both looking and listening) and do not proceed without it. Praise endeavor, show confidence in the ability of swimmers to achieve the standards you set. Communicate to the swimmers that it is not what you do, it is how you do it and how often you do it well.


Review skills from the previous session 10-20% of time allocated should be associated with this purpose. Do not prioritize skill extension ahead of skill acquisition.


Continually and consistently reinforce expectations equipment, punctuality, lane etiquette do not compromise standards.


Plan your lane Organization to allow efficient use of space, e.g. down backstroke, return freestyle, vary lane leadership.


Be prepared “”why are we doing this?” Relate activities (drills) to the outcomes you are seeking to achieve.


Always outline (in advance) to the swimmers “what’s in it (the session/the drill) for them?” Use incentives and rewards, e.g. cards, certificates, praise (to every swimmer at some stage), novelties (e.g. treats such as candy) but be sure to expect the best they can offer (no more no less no excuses).


Positive, corrective feedback (coach @ swimmer -> coach) should prevail. Swimmers should walk away from every session confident they have enhanced their knowledge and/ or skills.


Be in control at all times, eg. allowing swimmers to make decisions is just another way of you being in control. Keep the session moving a minimum of talk (demonstrate, explain, but on a needs basis). Have many and varied skills to achieve any pre-determined objective.


Don’t be distracted.


Have a theme for each session, e.g. 100% right is 100% right, 99% right is 100% wrong; good is not enough where better/perfect is possible; do your best no more, no less, no excuses, no reasons.


Use care and common sense, but don’t be afraid to challenge the swimmers. Young people love to acquire new skills and have those skills recognized. They enjoy being able to do things others cannot do.


Do something positive and personal for every swimmer, every session, eg. praise, stroke correction, special attention, a comment/joke, personal comments to swimmers in view of the parent, have the swimmer demonstrate to the group, lead the lane, or answer (correctly) a question.


Eye-ball every athlete at every workout.


There are many other issues and strategies. Every swimmer is an experiment of one. You will constantly add to your strategies it’s called experience. You cannot buy it, only acquire it. But, keep in mind that teaching is fundamentally a simple process. You take a group of students/swimmers into a classroom/pool, show them, and explain to them how to do something, organize skill acquisition opportunities, and provide appropriate feedback. Then, let them have a series of attempts, see how they perform, reinforce, refine, replicate the learning process never ends!





A simple and common test carried out by most coaching programs is the minimum number of strokes and maximum effort swim. A value is achieved by adding the number of strokes and times together. This gives both the coach and swimmer an efficiency index. The coach may compare this then to other top swimmers with similar technique and event emphasis.


However, it has been my experience and certainly the emphasis of my priorities at club visits, state camps and national camps that a minimum (strokes) maximum (effort) efficiency value is of lesser significance unless it is developed further to a minimum (effort) maximum (speed) value as well and after the initial efficiency index is achieved.

Minimum                              Maximum Number of strokes + Effort = Efficiency Index Effort + Speed =  Economy Index

This end result is focused on swimming maximum speed with minimal effort. The difference between effort and speed must be clearly understood by all involved. The goal of every single competition or practice session (workout) must be to optimize speed and minimize effort.


With the ‘maximum force and minimize resistance’ principle, the total minimum maximum effect can be confusing to the young athlete. When learning this skill, it is not so much how many strokes you take or at what rate, but more so how much concentration you can put into each stroke with the least amount of effort.


The goal is to swim a given distance at 100% speed with less than 100% effort (the less the better). This is probably best done over 50 meters. Stroke rates would be taken over the minimum effort maximum speed repeat in preference to the minimum strokes maximum effort repeat.


In the minimum (number of strokes) maximum (effort) repeat, it is about learning distance per stroke efficiency. The minimum effort maximum speed is about learning economy of speed at rate stroke rate. This can be developed by means of linking drills over 25 meter or 50 meter repeats at training. This can be worked into the 10 X 50, 5 X 100 etc. youth and age step test.


Linking Drills


For butterfly and breaststroke, this drill is complete when the swimmer can push off the wall to normal swim streamline position, then complete either:


  1. 10 6 front mid-point sculls, then 6 full strokes to complete 25 meters (twice through for 50 meters).
  2. 6-3 mid-point sculls and 3 strokes twice through for 25 meters or four times through for 50


The swim section must be completed at race stroke rate. Note also the difference in mid-point scull variances within breaststroke and butterfly mid-point scull. This teaches distance per stroke, minimum maximum values and stroke rate economy of speed values.


For backstroke and freestyle, this same routine is completed from a laterally trunk rotated pressure point scull position with 8 sculls and 10 strokes once through for 25 meters and twice through (changing arms) for 50 meters or 8 sculls and 5 strokes twice through for 25 meters and four times through (changing arms after each segment) for 50 meters. Full strokes should be completed at desired race stroke rate.


The later progression in both freestyle/backstroke and butterfly/breaststroke would be used for younger swimmers as a stepping stone to the longer, less repetitive progression. This can be mixed with some breaststroke head up/head down pull (pull buoy only) and some backstroke pull (hand only) to facilitate the teaching of feel of the water and early limb force application and specific strength development for all strokes.


Note the importance of applied limb force and hand speed for the longest period of time during any given stroke as well as the application of a greater amount of limb force application during the minimum resistance phase of any given stroke.


Backstroke pull also facilitates the teaching of early limb force application and range of mobility. I have found these routines to be beneficial for all four strokes. However, I have also found that learning and accomplishing the 8-128-12 (100 meters SC) and 16-24-16-24 (200 meters LC) individual medley values should be achieved prior to commencing this skill.


Does the swimmer go faster if they can apply the greatest amount of force when the body has the least or most amount of resistance? Or is it a matter of sustaining application of force through the longest range of time within each individual stroke? Is it different for different strokes? Is it a combination of all of the above?

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