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Saturday, 29 June 2013

The "Performance Mindset" -- an Antidote to Mediocrity

Photo: by Peter Bick, 2005 Indianapolis
For more of Peter Bick's photos: http://www.printroom.com/pro/PeterBick/default.asp?

It is our intention as competitors to "Perform" at Competitions -- rather than to simply "Participate".  "Performance" can be quantified in many ways, most of which are black & white and some of which are personal to an individual.  Unfortunately, unless we put ourselves in the correct mental position, society and normal 'family life' / 'school life' allows us to be OK with simple participation. We get points for 'participation' -- and reserve the great accomplishments and performances in this world for those who we deem capable of accomplishing great things and performing at peak levels. 

Some may think, “Who am I to consider that I may be the best at something?” without having the slightest idea of what ‘being the best’ might look like, and never fully understanding just how close the target actually is.  The mindset of “Performance” that allows one to consider great accomplishments and performances possible – is the antidote to mediocrity. 

We tend to consider ourselves worthy of victory and of a higher status, in whatever field we are in, before we actually get to that level of accomplishment.   As far as accomplishment goes, we rarely move past where we see ourselves performing!

This weekend at the US Nationals in Indianapolis, our small team at T2 Aquatics has come perform.  We are not perfect, and at this stage in the game we are not as good as we can be in the future – and in some cases, have been in the past. 

But each athlete has achieved a few things.  Even though our ages span from 15 to 35, each athlete has swum at least one race faster than they ever have before.  Two of our athletes have achieved high enough to earn the distinction of a “National Finalist” (The fact that each of these athletes is well out of college, and Married {not to each other J} – is a different ‘accomplishment’ in itself).  And most importantly, when considering “Performing” VS. “Participating”: each athlete on our team has earned a “Finals” swim in every event they’ve swum in the preliminary heats.  We have had 11 morning swims, and after tonight we will have 11 swims in the finals.  We have not had a single person sitting on the bleachers at night after having swum in the morning session!

Congratulations to all of our T2 Aquatics’ athletes, and to those at home in Naples. Get ready, because we have a few more of these meets this summer – and we want to be ready to perform well.  We don’t have any room for those who are only interested in ‘getting the cuts’ for the meets.   If we are going to improve as a team, the next step is to understand that it’s performance -- and planning for high-performance in a positive, optimistic way -- that matters most.

Sunday, 16 June 2013

Training for Impact

2004 US Olympic Trials Pool
Long Beach, California
I was talking with one of our T2 Aquatics coaches last week about an athlete on our Senior Squad.  We were discussing the fact that this athlete has an exceptional ability at a certain aspect of training-- in this case, 50s Long Course Butterfly.  The athlete’s ability to swim under 200M pace, for multiple 50s, is exceptional.  Shouldn’t the athlete be able to go a great time in the 200M Fly?  If the athlete can do 4x50s Fly on (:50) at 31.0 seconds, shouldn’t the athlete be able to swim a 2:04, or atleast a sub 2:10, in the 200M Fly?

The multi-faceted answer to this question gets to the heart of the challenge with athletic development.  There are at least 8 different areas of training in which an athlete must excel.   Because an athlete might hit some good “markers” in one area of training does not mean the athlete is ready to make a breakthrough in the event!  Multiple markers must be hit for an athlete to make a breakthrough.

Here are the markers I look for in athletic development:

1.       Aerobic Capacity Development

2.       Neural Racing Development (Race Pace training, with proper Tempo and Distance per stroke cycle).

3.       Start/Turn Training

4.       Kicking Development (including the development of underwater kicking ability)

5.       Mental/Psychological development (including development of ability to ‘self-talk’ appropriately and ability to handle pressure)

6.       Dryland/Strength Development

7.       Hidden Training Development (ability to control outside challenges like nutrition & sleep)

8.       Practice Attendance

It’s clear that an athlete who swims 4x50 on (:50) at 31.0 seconds has the potential to do a 2:04 200M Fly, but it's the athlete’s ability to kick well underwater and train to be aerobically fitter than he/she has ever been that will directly determine the outcome when it’s time to perform in a competition.

I’ve mentioned in a previous blogpost** that an athlete’s ability to develop each of these areas will determine an athlete’s general performance level (i.e. whether an athlete will become a Nationally-ranked swimmer vs. a Regionally-ranked swimmer).  In the same way, when thinking about individual event performance, hitting multiple markers will determine an athlete’s performance level (their time!) in a certain event.

{*Photo by Paul Yetter}
{**Previous Blogpost here: http://developingthechampionwithin.blogspot.com/2010/11/competitive-swimming-order-of.html}

Proswimworkouts.com -- New Post

I posted a workout that appeared on Proswimworkouts.com last week.  Here's a link:


We are trying to get our 400-1500 guys doing some good work (of course!).  This was a good set. 

Yesterday we went 9x500 SCY -- 3 on (555); 3 on (545); 3 on (535) -- descend 1-3 x3.  The first one of each set of three was faster than the previous round; the second one of each set was faster than the previous round; and the third one of each set got faster than the previous round.  True to the way I thought it would go: the guys who tend to be a little bit quicker in the 1650/1500 were the ones who could do a strong 3 set descend as described (descending 9-6-3/8-5-2/7-4-1 in terms of "speed rankings" through the set)....... All were good and at least close to this, and all will do this set again soon.

Monday, 10 June 2013

Thoughts on Distance Racing for Younger Athletes

I love watching athletes swim fast in practice and in competition. Watching athletes swim slowly up and down the pool? -- well...not so much!  Certainly there are many coaches out there who are with me on this issue. 
I believe that in many cases, a coach’s general stance on “getting the young kids into distance swimming” is well-intentioned – but at times can be a bit misguided.  What is it we are really trying to do?  Certainly much of our thought process is guided by which side of the fence we are on:  are we trying to get a National Qualifier out of our training squad, or are we trying to get a World Record Holder/Olympian? 

(We should always treat our 10-12 year olds like they are all going to be a World Record Holder.  We will realize later that the vast majority will never do it, but at least we will have done it right for the one or two that need to be treated that way! – and for the rest, we will have gotten the most out of them.)

These are just my thoughts, and I’m probably both right and wrong (there are always exceptions to the “rule”)….but we should consider training our athletes to move up in distance instead of down, as they get older.   Let’s train them for distance early, but race them for distance late!

Consider 2012 US Olympic 1500 swimmer Connor Jaeger’s story.  Connor swam with the Central Jersey Aquatic Club growing up, and developed into a strong 400IMer, and particularly in the later years of High School he developed a strong 400M and 200M Freestyle.  At the University of Michigan, when he was 20 years old, he raced his first 1500 (according to the USA Swimming database).  Seven months later, on his 5th 1500 ever, Connor made the US Olympic Team in the 1500.  Connor’s 1500 in London was his 6th 1500 ever!  Here is the breakdown:

Time                      Age                        Date                      Lifetime 1500 in Competition

15:35.10               20                           11/2011                1st

15:07.29               21                           5/2012                  2nd

15:16.84               21                           6/2012                  3rd

14:59.97               21                           6/2012                  4th (US Olympic Trials, Prelims)

14:52.51               21                           6/2012                  5th (US Olympic Trials, Finals)

Connor made the Olympic Team in an event he had only done 3 times in his life!  One advantage to this was that he never gained experience racing the distance slow.  By the time he started competing in the 1500 he was ready to hold 102s.  Maybe there is something to that.

Take a look at two-time Olympian Katie Hoff’s progression in the 1650. 

Time                      Age                        Date                      Lifetime 1650 in Competition

17:40.55               12                           2/2002                  1st

17:30.36               13                           2/2003                  2nd

15:24.35               18                           2/2008                  3rd

Katie was an Olympian in 2004 in the 200 and the 400IM, and then made the Team in 2008 again in both IMs, as well as the 200, 400, and 800 Free.  Along the way, in 2008, Katie swam the 1650 for the third time – and broke the American Record.  She didn’t need any experience in the event because she had swum many 1000s and 1650+ efforts in practice, backed by a lot of fast 150s, 200s, 300s, and 400s.

In the racing pool, Katie had no experience swimming 1:00 pace in the 1650.  She didn’t swim the event when she could have during the 2003-2007 years.  She was an already-established athlete who had set a few American Records, and for me as her coach – I didn’t need to see her swim a 16:15 1650.  It may have done her some good, but generally the 1650 and the 200 Back/200 Fly double were on the same day in competition, so we chose the double….it was more valuable to us.  But after she got her 200 and 400/500 down to an extremely fast level, we knew that if she swam the 1000 and the 1650 she would be able to hold an extremely fast pace.  We didn’t view the 1000 and 1650 as long; we looked at it as a race she could take hold of because those races are only a few minutes longer than the 500.  It’s not like she was going from a 500 to a 10K.  My opinion is: If Katie would have done the 1650 three times per year when she was 12-13-14 she probably would have considered the race to be somewhat of a struggle to actually go fast.  Having no experience going slow, and getting an opportunity to swim it in 2008 – she had the speed to race the fastest swim in US History.

The best athletes like to go FAST!  They hate going slow.  The best athletes realize that there are no points for the people who can swim the farthest.  Not in our sport.

To be clear: I’m not suggesting that everyone has to hold off swimming the mile until they can set a big record in the event.  There is GREAT value in putting young kids in these events when they can either win locally, or make the top 10 list Nationally.  If we have kids who can do these things, as coaches we need to give the chance to do it – because the confidence they build at meets (winning or getting National recognition) is irreplaceable.  If you have someone who can win, or perhaps drop time in the mile when they haven’t had a time drop in anything for 3 months, then they HAVE to do it.  That is coaching.  But we have to have gone through that particular thought process with the event.  It’s not like the 100 Free, which to me is an event an athlete can and should race many times every year.

Please understand: the examples I’ve used are the extremes – but they do show that it can be done, and perhaps the examples will make us think.   I do believe that many 11-13 year old girls and 12-14 year old guys should race the mile 2 times per year SCY and 1-2 times per year LCM…but I think we have to watch it with the particular personalities and perhaps try to encourage their performance in the 200/400 with more intensity.   We should consider waiting until they can swim a good 100/200 when they are 10-11 before putting them in the 400/800 – even if the 400/800 are the only events offered on the day.   I believe that we should train them for the mile and the 400 IM at all times after age 10 (and before age 11, for the 100 Free and the 200IM)….but just because we are training them for something doesn’t mean we need to race it 6-8 times per year at the younger ages.  We are all in this for the Long Term!