Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Lessons from Tennis

I've recently become a huge follower of Vern Gambetta's blog. This happened after a friend lent me a copy of his book "Following the Functional Path." I highly recommend anyone involved with sports (especially coaches) to get a copy of the book and read his blog quite often. They are both full of ideas that will make you question the way you do things. Basically, great food for thought. Ultimately, you will either decide changes are needed or feel even stronger about the way you structure and do things. Either way, you win.

Vern's book and blog are not, however, the subject of this post. In one of the articles from the book (titled 'The System', on page 129) he refers to an article from Play Magazine (NY Times' sports magazine). The article, by Daniel Coyle (author of the best seller "The Talent Code"), is titled "How To Grow a Super-Athlete". Curious, I searched the web after it. The article deals with possible reasons to explain why certain places or clubs seem to produce a high quantity of elite level athletes. Its centerpiece is Spartak Tennis Club, in Moscow, a small tennis club with remarkable success. How remarkable? To quote Coyle's article:
"...this club, which has one indoor court, has achieved eight year-end top-20 women's rankings over the last three years. During that same period, the entire United States has achieved seven."

One thing that stood out to me was the fact that Spartak's 'athletes' are not allowed to compete during their first three years of training! The rationale seems to be that they want to first focus on technique, and don't want early competitive success to get in the way of developing a solid technical foundation. I must be honest: I'd like to be able to pull the ultimate experience, and structure a swim team very much like Spartak structure's. However, I'm aware that would certainly be fated to failure. Generally speaking, copying programs and implementing them somewhere with a completely different culture will never work. The culture of the area where the program was first implemented is one of the things that make it successful there.

So, what lessons can we still take from Spartak and apply to swimming? In one of my previous posts I wrote about how important I believe technique to be in swimming. Reading about Spartak made me feel even stronger about it. While I can't keep young swimmers from diving into swim meets and trying to cut time or win (Oh, the glory of being an 8-yr-old champion!), I can continue to educate parents and swimmers on how technique is a much more important benchmark at certain stages of development. If they understand it and make the commitment to improve it, regardless if it makes them faster or slower today, then they are much more likely to be successful in the long run!

1 comment:

  1. I remember reading that article a while back, and I had the exact same thoughts. What would it be like if we could completely ignore competition until they swimmers had a minimum of three full years of technique-based practices with solid amounts of kicking? Good luck finding parents who would ever buy into something that long-term and kids that patient.