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Wednesday, 13 February 2013

The Value of Repeating What You Say

During a swim practice, swimmers can hear the coach's instructions when their ears are above water, but not when their ears are under water.  The percentage of time an athlete spends above vs under water depends on the practice (how much swimming is being done vs how much time is spent listening to instruction and/or resting between swims).

A unique thing about swimming practice is that we tend to swim 3-4 to a lane (sometimes more).  If I have 5 lanes, with 4 athletes in a lane -- that's 20 athletes I'm coaching at one time.  It's rare that all 20 athletes are present "on the wall" (not swimming) at the same time.  This issue can affect the effectiveness of our communication toward the group.

Oftentimes swimming coach have 4-8 people who are capable of listening to us (they are resting on the wall), while we've got 12-16 people who are swimming.  This type of thing happens during the majority of a two-hour practice.  As the first 4 atheletes depart from the wall, we've got a new set of athletes on the wall.  Over and over during the workout! 

As coaches, there are times when we need to communicate certain things to our athletes.  Sometimes those things are individual to a certain athlete, so we can find the time to get our thoughts communicated (making the time, here and there throughout the workout).  But there are times when we want each athlete to function in a certain way during the training set -- and we want everyone to think in the same direction.  How do we convey this type of universal message to everyone, when we don't have each of our team members listening at one time?

When I am doing a good job as a coach, I find myself repeating the same statement over and again, so that each set of 4 athletes can hear the same thing during the critical part of the set.   The first group hears "Launch off the wall in a tight streamline", and so does the second, third, and fourth group.  The first group hears "Two more smooth, then it's on!", and so does the second, third, and fourth group. 

Don't misunderstand my assertion.  First, there are plenty of times when I think a coach needs to shut up and let the athletes work and figure it out for themselves.  I'm talking about a better use of the "active coaching time" and spreading our knowledge equally among the group. 

Second, there are going to be plenty of times when the athletes who lead the lanes hear more verbal cues than the athletes who are going fourth -- after all, the athletes leading the lanes are going faster, and on any given time interval they are going to have more time on the wall to hear the coach. 

If we care about how well all of our athletes develop -- and not just the workhorses in the front of our lanes, then we have to make sure the athletes who are not in the lead hear the same verbal cues as everyone else.  I know I'm not alone in thinking that the kid who is going third in my lanes but is 2 years younger than the leaders may in fact be the best swimmer in the group in 16 months!

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