Wednesday, August 15, 2012

I've created a new blog that will be somewhat less in depth then this blog, but will offer great coaching suggestions for the age group and senior level coach.  I hope to actually update this
blog on a weekly basis, or perhaps more often during certain periods of the year.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Volume, Velocity, and Rhythm

If you follow the “Swim Media” like I do you’ve noticed that one topic never seems to go out of style – the topic of VOLUME TRAINING vs. VELOCITY TRAINING. For those who are unfamiliar with this debate, it goes like this: in one camp there are the proponents of VOLUME TRAINING, who believe that larger volumes of training are of irreplaceable value to the athlete. The VOLUME TRAINING athlete spends a large amount of time training, and when they train they swim a relatively high volume of yardage per each hour in the pool. In the other camp there are proponents of VELOCITY TRAINING, who believe that higher velocities of actual swimming have irreplaceable value to the swimmer. The VELOCITY TRAINING athlete spends a large percentage of their training time swimming at race speed, with racing stroke rate or faster-than-racing stroke rate, and as a result they swim a relatively low volume of yardage per each hour in the pool.

This debate amazes me because it’s withstood the test of time, and to this day no one has won! And the reason no one has won the argument is because the “answer” is not found in either extreme.

I don’t hear as much debate regarding the teams who train with neither volume nor velocity as their main emphasis. The reason I don’t hear as much about these teams is twofold:

First, I don’t hear as much about it because when speaking of volume and of velocity, we are speaking of two seemingly opposite philosophies – and so as the discussion turns toward a type of training that has no logically-apparent opposite, it’s hard to find (and argue) an opposing viewpoint.

Second, I don’t hear as much about it because the concept of both “volume” and “velocity” has to do with two of swimming training’s most-measured features: volume, and velocity. We tend to value (and discuss) that which we can measure.

The interesting thing to me regarding this argument is this: neither volume nor velocity has anything to do with winning a competition! No one wins by swimming the furthest, and no one wins by swimming the fastest. An athlete wins by slowing down the least over the given volume of the race!

Because of this fact, I believe that proper training must incorporate rhythm and stroke development. I’m not talking about 25s learning technique or video-taping swimmers and graphing their hand placement (both of which do have a certain value, I’ll admit). I’m talking about training the stroke to handle the stress of the race, so that the athlete can maintain their VELOCITY through the entire VOLUME of the race.

Perhaps at another time I’ll get into exactly what I like to do with athletes to help them achieve this goal. Much of what I apply with the athletes in training I’ve learned from some of the top coaches in the USA, who have produced some of the fastest swimmers of all-time over the last three decades. (And some of these coaches have been unjustly labeled as VOLUME coaches or VELOCITY coaches over time – by the media, other coaches, or the athletes themselves -- but they’d be the first to tell you that there is a lot more to their programs than one adjective over the other!)

I submit that interested coaches and athletes should consider: what does an athlete’s stroke look like when racing the final 50M of a 200M swim? What are the differences in the stroke technique of an athlete who is finishing the final 25M of a 100M swim VS the third 100M or a 400M swim? Certainly, the technique and rhythm used is specific to the swimmer as much as it is specific to the race. But as we place training emphasis on the VOLUME of an athlete’s training or the VELOCITY of an athlete’s training we tend to neglect putting the emphasis where it belongs: the specific stroke rhythm achieved in training that helps us form repeatable racing strokes, which can only be obtained through training rhythm, volume, and velocity simultaneously.

Monday, February 27, 2012

"It's not where you are, it's who you are."

I believe too many athletes, parents, and coaches feel that in order to be successful, you have to have a strong, like-minded group with which to train -- or at least one or two solid "training partners". The reasoning behind this thinking has to do with "workout intensity". It's common to believe that a strong group helps raise the workout intensity, to the benefit of an individual in that group.

Certainly it is extremely valuable as a growing athlete to have those who are more experienced to watch, learn from, and imitate. A strong group is valuable and at times necessary to the individual in many ways that have to do with comradery, fun, team-building, and support. But in actual swimming training, shouldn't there be a point when an up-and-coming athlete catches or moves past the veteran athlete? Shouldn't the inexperienced but strong eventually close the gap between them and those who are already at the top? Even if those at the top are continuing to improve, generally at some point they are improving at a slower rate than the quickly-improving but less-experienced atheltes.

The fact is that the best up-and-coming athletes in the world ARE moving past the athletes who have "been there done that" -- and the fact that many "less accomplished" athletes are aspiring to become better than the current best is the main reason our World Records continue to tumble. So why is it that we feel the need to have "training partners" and why is it that so many aspire to simply do what the "current top" athletes are currently doing?

In my opinion, a group with which to train quietly encourages everyone into the same category of performance. How often do you see a certain team have more than one person perform essentially the same time in a certain event? I see it often, and of course I see that not only around the World but with my training groups as well. Sometimes, this is good -- in particular if everyone is moving forward! But oftentimes the top athletes simply "come back to the group" while the median of the group inches forward.

Certainly, imitation of the best is the main ingredient to beginning down the road toward success. Do what others do, it you'd like to be like them. If you want to be a champion, you have to imitate those who are more accomplished than you. But this is the beginning step, and at some point you have to move past imitation -- or else resign yourself to becoming almost as good as those who you are striving to beat.

Do you think a World Record holder trains with their competitors on a daily basis? If they do, they are not a World Record holder! Personally, I try to create a situation where my best athletes are challenged by others in practice in those skills with which they are least-proficient. In swimming, there is always something a top athlete can improve upon, so the instances when the top athletes get competition in practice are the instances when the top athlete's least dominant skill is being trained. But if that top athlete is a butterflyer, and they happen to be an aspiring world record holder, there really should be no one who can compete with them during our butterfly practices! In this sense, having a "training partner" or a "group" with which to train is competely over-rated.

It's not the team or the coach that makes you successful. It's YOU, the athlete that is the top reason for your successes. Your coach helps, and your team can support you along the way. But the self-motivation, and the creative outlook toward your own possibilities in racing are the constants you must have within you to achieve ultimate success.

Once this outlook is learned and put into daily practice, the sky is the limit for the performance of any up-and-coming athlete.

Friday, February 24, 2012

T2 Aquatics' swimmmers had an outstanding Senior Championships meet last week in Plantation, FL. We quite a few best times, some extremely high-level swims, and we finished well in the point totals: 2nd place overall combined team, 1st place for the women's scoring, and 3rd place for the men's scoring. Now that this meet is behind us, we must move quickly into the next step -- preparing for fast Spring/Summer swims.

Here are some tips to help athletes and coaches get back on track after a "Championship" meet:

1. Reset your short term goals. What is it that you can do in training to move yourself past where you currently are? Often, prior to a Championship meet, you train your last 10 days just a bit differently than normal (i.e. you do different type of work -- more in line with preparation than with "training") -- and so, because you have changed your training for 10 days, and then you have raced in a three day meet, you must realize that you have not "trained" (so-to-speak) for about two week's time. You can improve many of the training sets you completed 4-8 weeks ago because you are NOW A DIFFERENT SWIMMER than you once were 4-8 weeks ago. Just as your training affects your racing, your recent racing success can affect your training in a positive way!

2. Find a way to get better outside of the pool. Given that you are maintaining good training habits IN the pool, if you can find something OUTSIDE of the pool upon which to improve, you will greatly increase your chance of making an overall gain. At T2 Aquatics, we are going to strive for a better and more consistent dryland program with our senior level athletes. You can ALWAYS improve something, and this is my choice as coach: I believe our next progression will come through getting stronger, quicker, and tougher. What will you choose?

3. Find an edge. You have to get hungry for success as an athlete, or it's not going to be there for you. Success is only there for those who need it. Wanting it and hoping for it are never enough to continue improvement in a sport like competitive swimming -- success comes from that place inside of you that needs to feel victorious.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Gearing Up for a Short Course Championship

T2 Aquatics is preparing for our Short Course Championship meet season!

This year, we are traveling outside of our LSC for our Championship meet. On the weekend of February 17 we are off to the Florida Gold Coast for the Florida Gold Coast Senior Championships! There are a few reasons we have decided to travel out of our own LSC for our championship meet:

1- We want to race Short Course! The Florida Gold Coast is hosting a SCY championship meet format, which is the format we've been planning on since the summer of 2011. Many of our meets this season have been LCM, so it's time to see what we can do in the SCY pool. Certainly, most of our top-ranked athletes have raced LCM since last summer, so it's nice to have a little break.....and as for our developmental Senior athletes -- read on for more of why a SCY championship meet is going to be beneficial.

2- We value competition that allows us to compete in the same course for prelims and for finals. It comes down to learning, and choosing educationally -- sound meet experiences for our athletes. There have been quite a few meets this year in Florida that have been swum as Short Course in the morning, and Long Course in the evening. Of course it is 2012 and athletes are going for Olympic Trial Time Standards, so I can understand this meet format and the concept behind it -- but for our championship meets, I prefer the same course for prelims as it is for finals. There is much more learning, and measured improvement that comes from swimming the same course in the finals as has been swum in the prelims.

Think about it: How often do we swim a decent swim in the morning prelims, and then come back at night to beat the time -- and have a great swim? Often, right?! So, in my opinion, getting involved in too many meets where we swim decent in the morning in the short course pool, then come back at night to swim long course actually prevents us from the type of improvement we could be getting by choosing to swim the same course in the finals as is swum in the prelims.

3- Developmental athletes need to race short course because it is simply a bit easier, in terms of the actual task, to race Short Course well when compared to Long Course. Because of this reality, most athletes have breakthroughs in the Short Course pool before they have breakthroughs in the Long Course pool -- in particular at the developmental level, before athletes are fast enough to swim at Nationals and Olympic Trials. We don't want to miss those potential breakthroughs because we are guided by the meet format into swimming Long Course finals.

Most athletes learn how to race well in the Short Course pool, then transfer that knowledge and experience to the Long Course pool. The United States is the #1 Olympic Team in the world, and has been for years, because our USA athletes are brought up swimming a perfect mix of Short Course and Long Course -- allowing for proper learning and practing of both courses. By starting with Short Course success, we set the stage for Long Course success. Although it does happen occasionally, it's rare for success to occur in the oppposite order.

4- Our future collegiate athletes need Short Course racing to show the NCAA schools what they can do. The NCAA course is Short Course all year, and while the college coaches certainly look at both Long Course and Short Course, they put some added emphasis on Short Course performance when recruiting our swimmers.

Generally, our soon-to-be collegiate athletes get a few time drops in the spring (from the times they did in the fall) -- and we don't want to miss out on this potential oppurtunity!

5- Racing fast SCY is an American tradition! For years, American athletes have been seeing what they can do in the SCY pool -- and we want to be a part of that every year!

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

T2 Aquatics has been in Colorado Springs since the 27th of December, and with 13 practices down we decided to take a day off today! Three of our team members left this morning, while the remaining 8 athletes have 9 more practices to go.

Since we had the day off we took a trip to the "Garden of the Gods" Park. Check out the photos from our trip -- It's definetely nice to get out and do something other than eat, sleep, swim, and lift!

Thursday, December 29, 2011

The Question/Answer Cycle Problem

In the lead-up to competition, athletes who picture a positive result in performance are more likely to reach peak performance, as compared to athletes who picture a poor result. This reality of competitive sports is well-known among sport psychologists, coaches, and athletes – and must be accounted for when considering an athlete’s race preparation.

It is the athlete’s mindset that determines the deftness with which we walk a path of readiness – and make no mistake about it: readiness to succeed is essential to peak performance. The mindset of an athlete who is ready to achieve peak performance can be defined as an “answer—based” mindset. It is proper training, skill, talent, and physical gifts that separate one athlete from another in competition, but it is mindset that separates our “best selves” from the side of ourselves that is too riddled with anxiety and negative thought to perform at the peak level. There is an important distinction to be made here, because it is obvious and simple to understand that an athlete who does not train hard, often, and well, will not think her way into a win when competing against a trained, ready competitor. But to compete against yourself – “your own best self” – is really the task for all athletes because, simply put, competing against your own “best self” is the task any athlete can learn to control. You cannot control your competitors, but you can control yourself.

An athlete’s ability to control her mind and thus her environment allows her to unlock the free-flow of energy available to her at the time of peak performance!

It is near impossible for most athletes to prepare for competition without asking oneself questions like: “Am I ready?”, or “Is my training plan going to work?”, or “What is my competitor going to do”? It is this type of inner-questioning that makes an athlete, to differing degrees, anxious and insecure about their upcoming performance. To their detriment, athletes tend to dwell in this sort of “question-based” mindset more often as the competition draws closer on the calendar. This type of questioning, posed to one’s self in a habitual way, leads to the athlete’s less-than-ideal picture of what may happen in competition – a picture that readily creates its own reality through performance.

An athlete in the “question-based” mindset may think:

“What if I am unsuccessful like I was last year?”
“What will my parents think if I don’t achieve my best time?”
“Am I ready for this meet?”
“Will my taper plan work out?”

These questions have no definitive answer. One can speculate an answer, but to actually find an answer to these questions is impossible. The answers are impossible because the answers can only be found in the future. The future is uncontrollable. The only thing we can control is the present!

A positive athlete will learn to give proper weight to the answers, and give less power to the actual questions. In doing so, an athlete can learn to control their self-talk, and bring their thought process into the controllable present. It’s ok to field the questions, because let’s face it: no matter how hard we try, questions regarding one’s own personal readiness for competition will always make themselves heard. But with a proper “answer-based” mindset we can either turn a question into a positive answer, or dismiss it from our mind.

The basic question “Am I ready?”, in an “answer – based” mindset, is followed with the inner-statement: “Yes, I am ready. Today, I am stronger and faster than I’ve ever been in my life“. You can stop the cycle of questions by answering definitively.

Stopping the ‘Question/Answer” cycle at one question and one answer is essential! Concisely answered questions tend to create an optimistic picture in an athlete’s mind. The question, “What is my competitor going to do?”, in an “answer – based” mindset, is dismissed because as an athlete you are incapable of discerning what anyone else may or may not be capable of and so logically there is no way to field the question. The question, “What if I am not on my pace halfway through my 800?” can be answered definitively with the answer: “I know I can do an 8:40 in my 800, so if I’m off my pace at the 400 I probably have enough in reserve to make it up on the second 400”. By answering definitively and positively, the focus of an athlete’s internal conversation becomes the answer instead of the question. It is much easier to control the answers you give than it is to control what questions may pop up in your head!

Hard, consistent, skill-oriented training is a key ingredient to achieving peak performance, and certainly there is no substitute. We cannot “will” ourselves to a different level of performance with our minds alone! But it is the “answer-based” mindset that separates us from our previous best selves, stops an otherwise habitual cycle of questions/answers, and allows us to transcend our own peak performances.