Saturday, October 22, 2011

Is average good enough for you?

This post has been in my head since getting my GoSwim weekly e-mail update earlier in the week. I had been trying to find inspiration to write something, but struggling to find something that really hit home, until reading Glen's article on Steve Jobs' and Al Weatherhead's life examples and how they can also apply to swimming. He does a great job on showing how these two can inspire coaches and athletes to overcome mediocrity. First of all, read his article! Here's my personal take on it:

In my experience as a swim coach, I have never had an athlete sit down with me to discuss goals and say "I just want to be average". However, I've seen too many athletes paving the path to mediocrity daily during practices. In my last stint of goal meetings, I've asked athletes to think beyond their goals, but to also define, and write down, what they are actually willing to do to achieve them. I've called it an exercise of honesty with themselves.

When people marvel at accomplishments, the path it took to get there is too often overlooked. After Beijing, what made me admire Phelps' accomplishments was not so much the 8 golds, but fact that, according to all accounts, he had practiced all 1,461 days in the 4 years leading to it! The background stories on projects Steve Jobs headed show the same type of intense, relentless dedication to minute details. Basically, there are no great accomplishments without a background of true dedication toward a goal.

Back to swimming, if your answer to this post's title is no, then you need break from the pack, and practice daily according to what you want to achieve. If being mediocre is not your goal (and again, I never heard anyone with that goal), then you need put in quality work that matches your goals! While there are no guarantees to fast swimming and achieving goals, there are ways to increase the likelihood of those happening. This includes quality, focused drills, attention to details (turns, breakouts, etc), embracing and looking forward to pain during hard sets and dryland, and a positive attitude about doing it all again the next day!

How many are willing to practice daily according to the standards they set to themselves? I hope you are one of them!

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Technique comes first!

So, first of all, it seems like the swim season is starting to pick up. I say this not because we already had our first meet, but because my last post here was nearly 2 weeks ago! Keeping up with all the coaching duties has been steering me away from being writing. But, finally, here I am!

Our first meet went great. The kids I'm working with were significantly faster than last year at this point of the season, which shows we are set to swim much faster when the season-ending meets approach! We also had about 50% of lifetime bests, which for a season-opener Intrasquad meet is quite impressive! Looking at the bigger picture of the club, the Senior swimmers were also much faster than last year, and the younger age groupers got a higher percentage of lifetime bests, which shows the whole club is improving. Now, that's a good place to be!

Back to the title of this post. Last night, I had to throw away my original plans for practice, and spend a large portion of it revising drills. The original plan was to spend just about 20-30 minutes of practice with stroke drills, and then hit a challenging set. However, it seemed like the swimmers were thinking about racing and swimming fast from the begining of practice, and were just going through the motions during the drill set. While the racing mentality is important, I felt like making sure we understood the drills and stroke mechanics, especially for developmental swimmers, should stay at the top of the totem pole.

Simply put, I had to remind them that swimming is a technical sport. When you are not being efficient, putting more effort against the water will just get you tired and slow you down. Learning propper mechanics just cannot be emphasized enough. Then, this morning I received my weekly GoSwim! updates, and amongst those was a link to an old article Glenn wrote, which deals with the importance of mastering technique first! While the article addresses more directly the importance of having swimmers aged 8 and below to focus solely on technique, I believe it can also help understand why developmental swimmers - and swimmers that haven't even reached HS yet ARE developmental swimmers - should still focus a large ammount of their work on technique. My way of thinking of it is: Technique comes First! It needs to be mastered before any real 'training' can occur.

So, we'll keep dedicating a good ammount of our practices toward drill and stroke work, and I'll keep that challenging set in my pocket. The swimmers can be sure it will hit them at some point, when they are technically ready for it!