Check out http://www.t2aquatics.com for information on T2 Aquatics!

Thursday, 30 August 2012


What are our daily practice goals?  I belive we tend to think in one of three ways depending on the day and/or the time of season:

1. Building Aerobic Capabilities
2. Honing Race Pace (Time and Stroke)
3. Establishing New Habits of Technique

While each of these goals is a necessary component to high level performance, there is one ingredient that must be present for these goals to be reached: Concentration.

Often, simply valuing concentration as a coach can go a long way.  Here are a few ways we can "coach" concentration every day:

1. Replace our critique of effort with critique of concentration
Often, the concentration is what produces effort -- certainly, it's not the other way around.

2. Praise concentration towards a task over the actual result of the task. 
A concentration-oriented athlete will reproduce great effort more often than a result-oriented athlete.

3. Help an athlete understand that being a "good concentrater" is the reason for success.
Show (explain) concretely and immediately that concentration to a certain task was the difference between success and failure.

These points are especially tough to follow, because as coaches we tend to get excited about the concrete areas of our practices (times and 'clock improvement', yardage, big fast sets, achievement of a better stroke technique).  But the area that affects our performance the most is the athlete's ability to block out distraction and get the most from themselves!  If we talk about concentration, and value its power, we will get more concentration from our athletes.

Tuesday, 28 August 2012

Resistance Training and Phantom Walls

Check out part of Erika Erndl's resistance training routine on the following youtube clip: Resistance Swim into phantom wall turn to 15M

Check out this link to purchase a Parachute from FINIS: http://www.finisinc.com/swim-parachute-8-inch.html  Parachutes (pictured above) are a relatively cheap way to get in some effective resistance training.

Part One: Power Tower 25 with 30lbs in the tub.  Tempo at race tempo (or race tempo plus .1)
Part Two: easy back to the wall and rest :45
Part Three: "Phantom Wall" into fast turn plus breakout and 15 M fast, all done with 100M Freestyle breathing pattern.

Part one pushes the athlete to fire the musculature they will use in a race, at a stroke rate that is similar to race stroke rate.  Part two is the recovery within the excercise.  Part three pushes the athlete to fire the "racing" musculature during the "phantom wall", and then fire the "racing" musculature again, right away, during the kick off the turn.

This season, the overall rest will probably be cut in half and the weight will be taken to another level!

You may wonder about the 30lbs in the tub.  Erika could definetely pull more!  But we adhere to the 10% philosophy when we're doing resistance (and assistance) training.  The point is: To swim with "race stroke", the athlete must be no more than 10% slower, or faster, in terms of a) stroke rate, and 2) velocity (time).  Erika is actually to the point now where she has moved up from 30lbs, and we hope to go higher -- without sacrificing the stroke we'd like to train.

Check out Vern Gambetta's article "Speeding Up" where he writes about the "Rule of 10 percent".
http://www.momentummedia.com/articles/tc/tc1209/speedup.htm Mr. Gambetta writes:

"How heavy is too heavy? The 10-percent rule holds true. Generally, the resistance should not exceed 10 percent of the athlete’s bodyweight. A corollary to the 10-percent rule is that it should slow the athlete down no more than 10 percent of his or her best time for the distance he or she is towing. If the resistance is so heavy that it does not resemble the dynamics of sprinting, then there is a real chance that there will not be any benefit to performance on the track, field, or court."


Sunday, 26 August 2012

Check out proswimworkouts.com for T2 Aquatics workouts, and workouts from other participating coaches.  Submit your own workout here as well, and be part of the proswimworkouts.com family.  Here's a description of a backstroke workout I had my training group do earlier this week:


Saturday, 25 August 2012

Five Books off the Top of my Head

There are lots of great books out there for coaches.  Here are 5 of my favorites, in alphabetical order:

1. Built to Last by James C. Collins and Jerry I. Porras.  Do you want to learn about how some great corporations built their culture?  Built to Last teaches "culture building" skills.

2. Champions - The Making of Olympic Swimmers by Daniel Chambliss.  The story of Mark Schubert and Mission Viejo Nadadores from 1982-1984.  An inspirational story about training for and competing in the Olympic Games.  Probably the best swimming book I've read.  (Good luck finding a copy....Amazon is probably the best bet).
3. The Inner Game of Tennis by Timothy Gallwey.  No tricks here, this is a book about tennis.  But the teaching tools you can glean from Timothy Gallwey is well worth the read.  Thanks to Larry Liebowitz for recommending this book, as well as book #5 to me.

4. The Talent Code by Daniel Coyle.  This is must-read for all coaches and instructors, of any sport or pursuit.  It explains what "fertile ground" for greatness looks like.  You will change the way you teach, coach, or instruct after reading this research-based book.
 5. Zen in the Art of Archery by Eugen Herrigel.  Written from the point of view of a German professor, who visits Japan wishing to "learn about Zen".  He is guided to take up Archery, as a means of understanding Zen.  His trials -- both confounding and illuminating -- educate the reader as to the proper mindset for ultimate success.

Honorable Mention: Gates of Fire by Stephen Pressfield.  This is a great "battle" book written about the battle of Thermopylae (same basic plot as the movie "300").  It goes into great depth to describe the "Warrior Ethos" -- and what a man needs to be like to be a strong warrior.  I've read this book 3 times and given it away 3 times.  It's better than the movie "300"!

On my list "To read" is The Little Book of Talent  by Daniel Coyle and The 50 Meter Jungle by Sherm Chavoor!

Friday, 24 August 2012

Focus on Focus

As an athlete at NBAC, I learned the phrase "train the stroke". "Train the stroke" means that we have to do enough of one stroke at one time, within the same set, to actually improve the stroke.

Here's an example of something like what I was doing as a swimmer at NBAC in 1992:
300 Swim
300 Drill
300 Pull

12x50 (50) IM switching

8x150 (2) -- 50 Kick, 50 Drill, 50 Swim -- 2 of each

10x300 (4)
75 Free + 50 Breast Face Kick + 50 2Kick 1Pull + 50 Dolphin Pull + 75 Breast Swim
{sometimes we would take 10 seconds rest before the 75 swim and change the 300 to 4:10}

10x200 Free Pull (220) last one fast

300 easy

There are two main reasons the set of 10x300 is so good:

1) It's 40 minutes long, which offers enough time for athletes to get something out of it aerobically.

2) It enables the athlete to get into a rhythm with the stroke due to the overall length of the set and the amount of continuous breaststroke swum within each repeat.

The distance and length of repeats of this set can be modified for less-experienced athletes, but the idea of continuous swimming within one discipline should remain. The set should be balanced by different types of training sets for each particular stroke (I try to balance aerobic sets with faster-paced active rest sets, drill sets, and kick sets).

I'm going to try the above set with my athletes and see how well they can average while holding great stroke. Look for a post in a few weeks to see how it goes!

Thursday, 23 August 2012

Cruise Paces

Keeping track of 16+ athletes in one training group is a big challenge for any coach.  It's important that we teach athletes to be self-sufficient and think for themselves during training, so that every instruction from the coach -- no matter how small -- is put to use by each athlete during the practice.  As athletes get older and more experienced, they should be able to go to meets and training camps without their coach, and still get the job done. 

During the fall of 2012, I plan to use this "Cruise Pace" chart with my athletes 1-3 times per week.  I hope that my athletes will take a guideline like this chart, understand it, and then use it to their advantage. Most likely I will use this chart for one major set, plus two secondary sets.  The "Cruise" paces were calculated, initially, based off what Coach Bob Treffene of Australia called "Critical Speed" pace; to get this pace for any athlete take their 200 PR, divide it, and add 4 seconds.  For T2 Aquatics' "Cruise Paces" we use this method as well (you can see that this method is what led us to our 100 "Cruise Pace").  We've taken it a step further and come up with paces for different distances (100, 125, 150, 200, and 300).  I've used my head and experience with certain athletes to determine the paces for anything above a 100.  It's not a perfect mathmatical formula (I rounded and estimated a bit to create this chart) - but I think the chart will serve its purpose.

I believe it's appropriate to find an athlete's pace between "race pace" and "maintainence pace" -- and train it with great stroke technique.  Generally with this sort of thing, the athlete's tempo (stroke rate) will be somewhat above what they will use when racing.  They will be going pretty fast, but not so fast that they would consider it a "Max" effort....and they should be able to repeat this fast but relaxed pace more than once in a row during practice.

I will use the chart in two ways.  First, as a set with speeds approaching race pace:

Example 1:
4 rounds: {3x100 Free (115) at "cruise pace" + 1x100 easy (130)}
Once the athlete hits the cruise pace they can simply hold it while working on little things like walls (no breathing in or out) or breathing patterns (every 5th) -- or really, any kind of "detail" work the coach finds appropriate.  This way, the athletes are performing at a strong but not overly-hard level, and the coach is watching them perform the swims with the best possible stroke technique.

Second, as a set with speeds in the "Threshold" pace area:

Example 2:
10x300 (330).  Hold Cruise 300 pace for 7 300s, then descend the final 3 of the set to cruise pace minus 4.  This method gives the athlete something to hold throughout the set that should be right in the "Threshold" area based off their 200 PR.  Adjustments can be made for athletes whose Threshold pace seems to be a bit faster or slower than the indicated time.

With large groups, I hope this "Cruise" sheet will give coaches some pace times which we can use to keep all of our athletes honest with their efforts.  It takes away the guessing game for submaximal training ("how fast should I go?"), and it will give the athletes a standard to which they can aspire during a given set.

*For anyone who would like a copy of this sheet, send me a comment with your email address -- and I'll send you a sheet over the weekend.

Wednesday, 22 August 2012

Check out T2 Aquatics' Head Age Group Coach Tom Yetter's blog.  It's full of tips and examples of some things we are doing with age groupers at T2 Aquatics.  http://gettingevenfaster.blogspot.com/#!/

How long does it take to gain skill?  The amount of time it takes is dependant upon the age of the athlete, and the type of skill being practiced. 

Here's a real basic guide to some age ranges, and how long athletes can focus on one particular skill without going crazy or making you (the coach) crazy:

8 and unders: 7-12 minutes
9-10: 10-15 minutes
11-14: 15-30 minutes
15 and up: 30 minutes+

These are rough estimates of course, but the point is that each group of athletes (in particular the young ones) have:

1) a time limit before they lose their focus, and
2) an amount of "skill practice" time that they require to actually acquire the practiced skill. 

If we instruct for too long on one particular skill, the athletes are going to get bored -- and oftentimes begin to practice the skill poorly.  But if we are too brief with our instruction the athletes won't get enough time to focus on skill acquisition.  Finding the right amount of "skill acquisition" time for each training group is a huge part of effective coaching!

Photo Credit: Connor Spielmaker 2011

Tuesday, 21 August 2012

My experience working in conjunction with "Super" Phyiscal Therapist Scott Heinlein
http://www.lifestrengthpt.com/team taught me enough about the shoulder girdle to know what to do last year when one of my athletes incurred a seemingly spontaneous shoulder injury during practice.  The athlete reported that she "couldn't move" her shoulder, and could hardly climb out of the pool. Even as she stood out of the pool, she reported that her shoulder hurt "to just stand there".  Instead of sending her home with the recommendation of ice and Alieve, I asked her to try a "knee pushup".  She oblidged, and although the first 3 were a bit stiff she was able to feel no pain doing sets of 3, then sets of 5 knee (and then normal style) pushups.  Her shoulder felt better as she completed her sets.  The next day she swam with no pain.

I've learned that movement (proper and normal human movement) is the key to shoulder health --  proper movement, properly timed to occur prior to swimming practice.  I've never been much of a "Static Stetching" coach as it is, but the latest research (really this is 3-5 year old research) shows why "Dynamic Stetching" is the best option for athletes prior to training, as well as racing.  The "dynamic" movement of performing a pushup helped my athlete that day simply because her shoulder was "reset" to its proper spot by performing a basic excercise well.

I believe there is a place for a small bit of static stretching -- but it must be preceeded by warmup-based movements like pushups.  For swimming workouts, T2 Aquatics' Pre-Practice routine is full of pushups and other dynamic activity like medicine ball throws (chest passes and passes between the legs), planks, squats, abs, and cord work. 

Check out Dr. G. John Mullen's website http://www.swimmingscience.net/2012/07/dryland-mistake-stretching-part-ii.html for a great article regarding the dryland mistakes we tend to make as coaches and athletes.  Thanks to Dr. Mullen for providing many insights on this type of issue (and many others) on his outstanding site http://www.swimmingscience.net/ If you are a coach you should really check this out!

Monday, 20 August 2012

Practice Adjustments to Increase Athlete/Coach Communication

At T2 Aquatics we base much of our higher-level race-pace training on not only
the athlete's speed, but the stroke rate the athlete performs and the splits the athlete
adds to get to their final time.  Providing feedback on splits and rate is a difficult task
for many coaches who are asking for this sort of detail.

But it is possible to make small adjustments to the practice plan to accomodate a
larger number of athletes per practice, provided the practice is orchestrated correctly.

Imagine you have 8 lanes with 4-5 swimmers per lane.  Consider this set:
10x {150 Fast (2) + 150 easy (2)}.  Rather than start 8 lanes at the same time
on the {00:00}, I'd prefer to start 4 lanes on the {00:00} and 4 lanes on the {02:00}.
This way I've got 4 lanes going at one time from the start of the set until the
two-minute mark, and then at that point I've got another 4 lanes going from {02:00}
to {04:00} while the first group swims an easy 150. 

It looks like this:

Lanes 1-4:  Fast Swims at {00:00}, {04:00}, {08:00}, {12:00} and so on through 10
Lanes 5-8: Fast Swims at {02:00}, {06:00}, {10:00}, {14:00} and so on through 10

A few things happen with this scenario:

1. You have time to get splits on more swimmers, and communicate splits to them as
needed -- ensuring your athletes are not getting their fast swims from a blazing first 100
and a mediocre last 50.

2. You can discuss stroke count (stroke rate) with them more often, making appropriate

3. You can split into 4 lanes of girls and 4 lanes of guys.

4.  You can have the fastest of the group split into one group (5 lanes), and the slower
of the group in another (3 lanes).

Some of the benefits are technical (communication of times/splits/rate), and some of them are
socialogical (girls/guys, fast/slow, younger/older, etc). 

Through a week of training 8-10 times, I'd use this type of structure  1-2 times.  It's too important,
for a number of reasons, to keep the group together for the most part through the week.  But at times we can consider alternative practice organization to benefit our training groups, which if used appropriately will increase the overall productivity of the entire team.

Sunday, 19 August 2012

She's Just Going For A Swim...

You think YOU had a tough practice this morning?  Diana Nyad is 20 hours into her attempt at swimming from Havana, Cuba to Key West, Florida.  Check her progress here: http://www.diananyad.com/swim and @diananyad

Saturday, 18 August 2012

The Pacific Institute

Everyone wants to get ahead with their "mental game" right?  What strategies do you use?

This is a great site -- "The Pacific Institute" -- that has on it's front page a terrific video discussing "self talk".  Learn about how WORDS create PICTURES which create EMOTIONS....and how this mental reality affects us all in positive and negative ways.

Check it out here: http://www.thepacificinstitute.us/v2/index.php?name=education_px2

Planning to Race

Certainly a large part of training younger athletes must be aerobic in terms of energy usage, and submaximal in terms of velocity.  But we need to keep an eye on the "Racing Mind" as well.  The picture above is of a white board used by T2 Aquatics' Age Group 2 training group (these are 9-11 year olds).  The group finished the main part of their practice yesterday, then did two 50s Breaststroke in heats (with an transition swim between).  The "BB", "A", "AA", "AAA", and FLAGS (Florida Age Groups Champs) Time Standards were posted by Coach Tom, so that the athletes could go for them in practice.

The athletes learn three main things when we offer time goals for them in training.  First, they learn that they can go fast in practice.  Some learn that they can swim best times if they work it well enough!  Two, they begin to understand that our sport is about performance -- and we will hold them accountable to daily performance standards, even at a young age.  And third (this is the important one), they learn how to predict their own performance internally, then go out and and either succeed or fail. To be effective, they actually need to say to themselves: "I'm going to go 36.9.....I will squeeze my arms to my shoulders tightly as I finish each kick to do so".  The more we practice this "internal talk" during training, the better we get at making our internal plans reality on race day.

Friday, 17 August 2012

Head, Hips, and Heels

Improving breakout/swimming body position creates higher levels of propulsion from the athlete's kick.  In this photo Erika Erndl is breaking out with her heels, hips, and head -- simultaneously.  Erika's kick is affecting her propulsion in a 100% positive way by directing movement 100% forward along the horizontal surface of the water.

If her feet were 8 inches underwater as her head broke the surface, the kick would be doing work, but directionally the kick would be pushing her body up instead of forward.  Because the law of gravity won't allow her to continue upward (humans are not dolphins), the 8 inch depth of the feet make for an inefficient kick -- no matter how powerful it may be.

Thursday, 16 August 2012

Breaststroke Kick Starter Drill

Breaststroke Kick is a tough technique for some young kids, and likewise it's a tough skill for instructors to teach.  Much of the trouble with teaching breaststroke kick has to do with the verbage we use as instructors.  I hear a lot of "point your feet" coming from instructors -- when "pointing" the feet is the opposite position we'd like to see from a novice breaststroker.  In fact, we'd like to see the feet flexed from the onset of the kick (heels up), to the finish of the kick (feet together). Sure, it's great at the end of the kick to point the feet before getting into the next kick cycle, but the pointed foot in this case is for the advanced breaststroker -- not the beginner. 

This is the "Flex Position" in Breaststroke kick -- we want kids to learn this position.


This is the "Point Position".  When we tell swimmers to "Point their toes" this is what the athlete does.  We tell them to "Point the toes" because we figure if the athlete can directionally situate their toes toward something, the problem will take care of itself. I've spent hours telling kids to "Point the toes toward the wall" before I figured out what I was doing wrong.

Here is a good drill you can do with young kids to teach effective breaststroke kick.  I've seen plenty of kids who otherwise couldn't get it -- simply "get it" with this drill.

Step 1: the athlete situates on the ground.  Place a kickboard on their feet like seen here.  Teach the athlete that their feet are in the "flexed" position.  Let them hold the kickboard for a full minute.

Step 2: Toss a few more kickboards on the top.  The extra weight will create added kinesthetic awareness of the "Flex Position".  Continue to talk about the flex position with the athlete. 

Step 3: Press lightly on the kickboards, applying more pressure toward the athlete's toe side.  Explain each time you press that the pressing down on the kickboard helps the athlete into the "Flex Position".  They will feel it in their feet and ankles.

Getting into the Flex Position, and holding it throughout the kick cycle, determines in many cases if an athlete is performing a legal or illegal kick.  I like to go through the above drill on land for 5 minutes, then ask the athlete to get in the water -- without a kickboard -- and kick a few "flex position" kicks on the wall.  The whole time the athlete is on the wall, the instuctor should verbalize the goal: "Flex, Flex, Flex...."

Once the athlete can flex their feet on the wall (hands on the wall, feet toward the middle of the pool), then the athlete is ready to attempt a few strokes of breaststroke, or a few kicks on a kickboard.  When I find someone who has gotten it, I usually walk up and down the pool with them a few times, saying "Flex, Flex, Flex" over and again.

Once you can get a young athlete to feel the "Flex Position" and perform it for a practice, they will have the basics of that skill for their entire swimming carreer.

Weekly Practice Plan Worksheet

I came up with this new weekly worksheet today.  It's pretty simple.  I may end up listing our weekly practice goals on it, day by day, and post it on a bulletin board on Mondays.  If anyone wants a copy, I can scan it and email it.  Send me a comment with your email address, and at the end the end of the week (tomorrow or Saturday), I'll email a clean version on a PDF.

Something We May Not Notice....

Consider this set:

200 Free (230)
100 Kick (140)

Many training groups have this situation: lane leaders getting 15-20 seconds rest, while the swimmers going last in the lane are getting 3-8 seconds rest.  It's kind of the way it goes, unless you have a dozen athletes in your trianing group.  So as coaches we end up talking with the athletes who lead the lanes more often, and for a longer duration of time.  This also, is the way is goes.

But we don't want to neglect athletes who go last in the lane.  So how do we create time with these athletes?

1. Talk with the athletes before practice, about practice.  A one-minute conversation can go a long way.

2. Instruct the athletes between repeats during the warmup if you think you'll have a hard time instructing them during the main series of the day.  Stop an athlete at times if needed, then integrate them back into the warmup.

3. Time the athletes at the end of warmup in a 50 or 100 yard effort.  Or pit two relay teams against each other.  You can't do this often.  You don't want your entire team taking big breaks between the warmup and the main series.  But if you pick the right day it can create some success for the athlete in front of their peers, and in doing so creating a tigher team.

Wednesday, 15 August 2012

Lane Placement

As coaches, we are in charge of lane placement.  Whether it be during a specific set, for a particular practice, or for an entire season of training we have to decide which lanes the athletes will use.  Lane placement can be decided based on a number of factors:

1.  Each lane should have a leader.  Move potential leaders into position based off this need.  When lane leaders are homogeneous, the second swimmers in each lane will be homogeneous as well.  Not only does this make for a more competitive environment, but it allows a coach to effectively manage the group.  Consider the training  set of 10x100 (120).  If you have you entire first group swimming 1:05s, you can more effectively manage their set -- as oppossed to the situation when you have 3 swimmers swimming 1:05s, two swimmers swimming 1:08s, and one swimmer swimming 1:11s.  In the less homogeneous situation, you have to wait until the 1:11 mark to teach effectively to each member of the first group.  If each swimmer in your first group is swimming 1:05s, you can begin instruction to the entire group at 1:06, and by the time the second group comes in you'll be free to address them as needed.

2.  Create groups based off gender sometimes.  It's true that most competitive girls enjoy racing the boys -- they simply like the challenge...but they also don't always like to "beat" the other girls who are not only their teammates, but their classmates and friends.  So it's good to let them race the boys.  But as girls and get older, the boys generally improve at a faster rate.  Even the most well-trained girls have an increasingly hard time staying up with the boys of the same performance level.  We have to make sure in case that we separate the girls into "girls heats" and the boys into "boys heats".  Certainly with the gender-based lane manipulation, what the answer is one day may not be the answer the next day.  We have to figure out when it's appropriate to move people around, and when it's not.

3.  Make sure you keep everyone mentally in the game.  As a coach you have to watch for kids who are getting beat up everyday by the same people, or for kids who need a different type of challenge to achieve at a higher level.  If you find either of these situations to be the case, find time to move the athlete around so they are in a different situation. 


A principle of effective education is to re-teach. Once a skill is taught it must be revisited constantly until it is learned. Practical application of this educational point means that we find time to construct workouts that feed into each other. Create an opportunity for your athletes to practice a skill toward the end of a workout, then revisit that skill when starting the next workout. Here are a few ways to create opportunity:

1)Finish with a skill (flipturns), and start the next day with a skill (flipturns).
2)Perform the same warmup drill routine each day for two weeks
3)Use recently-learned drills throughout the practice, incorporated into warmups and transition swims.
4)Use recently-learned drills throughout the main series of the practice.
5)Talk about the importance of a skill, and do it daily.

How often do we see young swimmers get close to learning backstroke flipturns or breaststroke kick, only to have the practice end and essentially cut off the learning for the day? It happens a lot. As coaches we get that feeling often: "Ahh, they almost got it." This is a great feeling to have, because it does take time to learn skills -- but we have to act on the feeling, and reteach that skill again the next day, right away.

Creating an environment of excellence

Excellence in Performance is created through excellence in practice everyday. This blog will explore practice strategies that I have found effective.

Many of the strategies are not new ideas of mine; they are a combination of my thoughts and realizations through trial and error -- mixed with the experience and wisdom of coaches who have achieved great success on the International level, who have taught me a great deal. The direction this blog takes, in any way that is helpful to others, is in large part thanks to my fellow coaches. Thanks to Bob Bowman and Murray Stephens -- my coaching mentors and who showed me practical strategic techniques in creating an environment of excellence, while allowing me the space to figure things out for myself. Thanks also to Jon Urbanchek, Jack Roach, and Paul Bergen -- who are three people I go to with questions, and who are three people who tend to make "coaching conundrums" easier on the mind.

As a coach, you have to ask questions. Sometimes you look to the new ideas for the answer. Sometimes you look to the past, and find answers there. One thing is certain, if you are not looking -- you won't find.