Here are few common mistakes to avoid when coaching age-group athletes:
Mistake 1. Avoiding repetition for the sake of variety.
Coaches avoid repeating sets from week to week because they feel athletes may get bored with completing the same set more than once. This is the wrong way to think about it! Repeating a set, and performing better on it the second or third time is a big confidence booster and a huge motivator for athletes. Make sure you (or they) take good notes, and possibly record the times on the set -- so you have something to shoot for when you do it again.
Mistake 2. Leaning too far on the distance side or too far on the sprint side of training (.....and neglecting to measure your sets).
Younger athletes need to swim over-distance swims, and they need to swim some sprints. An age group program is going to thrive when you have both types of situations occuring every week. Setting the athletes up with only one type of training is going to limit them during this season, and down the road.
It helps to keep track of endurance threshold work, and stick to a plan. For instance, I like to see 10-11 year old kids swim 18-25 minute-long sets of repeat distances anywhere in the range of 50 to 200.
That could be 7x200 on (3:00) or 16x100 (1:30)...or something like that. Maybe they do 3x150 (2:20) with a 100 on (2:20) in between, and do it for 3 rounds. Whatever it is, keep track of the distance and the time it takes to do the whole set (and note whether it's all freestyle or stroke or whatever it may be). Athletes have to get good at doing something for 20 minutes before they're going to be good at going for 40 minutes. If you plan it right, when you are ready to up the distance and the time spent at "X" HR, they will be ready to put in a great set.
The same thing works for sprints, especially when the athletes are old enough to have muscle. You have to measure how many meters and athlete is swimming at race stroke rate (or pace), and make sure you know how much the athlete can handle before breaking down. If you tend to do shorter sets like 16x100 with every 4th fast, you can't expect the same thing from an athlete if you ask for 30x100 with every other fast. They can still do it, but they probably won't hold the same stroke or pace. ....so you have to be careful what you are asking for and make sure that what you want and what you get are the same thing.
Mistake 3. Avoiding technique work, or limiting technique work.
It's more time-intensive, on the coach's part, to work technique for 20 minutes than to give a 20 minute swimming set. It is tough work and you constantly need to be on the ball when working on technique. But the rewards come in the form of bettter stroke technique for the athletes, and faster swimmers! 7-9 year old kids should spend 80% of their practice simply working on skills, and 10-12 year olds should spend 50-80% of their practice simply working on skills. As athletes get older, the idea is that they will take the skill work they do, and transfer it to a main set or two during the week!
Mistake 4. Forgetting about starts and turns.
We have to work on starts and turns separately from the rest of practice. I've heard it said that turns are the easiest thing to work on in practice because you are doing them all the time....and while there is some truth to this statement you have to recognize as a coach that the turn you are doing 187 times in practice is not the same type of turn you are doing to get off your 3rd 25 wall in a race 100. I am not ready to say that we should all swim 3000 yards per day so every lap and every turn is perfect...like it will be in the race, but I do think we should take time to simply "do some turns" from the middle of the pool, multiple times per week in practice with our 14 and unders. If they do a great job with it, it's worth it. This type of work actually teaches them to turn fast and straight, and 10 minutes a few times a week can go a long way.
Mistake 5. Complicating things by creating non-linear (or confusing) sets.
Our training sets should all make sense to the eye. Kids already have a hard enough time focusing on what is going on. Here are a few things I like to do to help the potentially confused kid:
A) I like to put intervals on 1:40 instead of 1:35 simply because it's easier to figure out. Etc.
B) I like to have sets descend or ascend in distance, and not jump all over the place (200s, 150s, 100s....or 25s, 50s, 75s.) I don't like to do 100s, then 200s, then some 50s.
C) I like to keep the intervals and the distances constant throughout a set. Do 10x200 instead of 3x200, 3x150, 4x100, and 5x50. If you want to do 50s, do 40x50s next time. As for the intervals, bringing the intervals down during the set is great for older distance athletes -- and it's ok when the athletes can figure out what is going on....but I find with most 14 and under kids doing a set of 24x100 on 1:20 generally beats going 8 on 1:25, 8 on 1:20, and 8 on 1:15.
Keeping everything simple and easy to understand is key....and I find that when I keep one variable the same (interval, distance), it's easier for the athlete to work within it and change the variable of pace or technique. I've seen too many sets ruined not because the athletes can't DO IT, but because they can't FIGURE OUT what is going on as they are constantly asked to shift intervals or shift distances.
Have fun, and leave a commnet to let others know what you do that seems to work!