PARENT EDUCATION June–December 2010

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December 2010

The Myth of an Overnight Success – Real Success is a Result of Establishing Building Blocks Over a Long Term Development

By Nancy Hennessy, ASCA Level 3 Age Group Coach, Gator Swim Club, Gainesville, FL

When Mary was 12 she qualified first in the preliminaries at the championship meet. Never before had she qualified for a championship final.

“That came out of nowhere.”

Such were the comments that Mary received. Her coach, though very excited, was not at all surprised. Mary’s “overnight success” had been a long term developmental process in the making for 6 years. Only now had Mary begun to tap into her potential.

Mary began swimming at the age of 6. When she turned 7 she began swimming at the local year round club. In her first year, Mary swam 2 days a week with the beginners’ group where stroke technique was the primary focus. The group was designed with a lot of kicking and drilling and FUN!

In the summer Mary swam primarily with her summer club but still continued to practice with her year round club 2 days a week as her parents and year round coach were seeking consistency in coaching and the continued encouragement of the year round coach. Mary remained in this group for 4 months following the end of the summer season building upon her skills and aerobic base while laying down the first block of her foundation.

In the early spring of her second season, Mary moved to the next developmental group in her year round program. She was now legal in all four strokes and displayed the strength, desire and ability to move up. At this time she began swimming 3 days a week. The emphasis remained on kicking and stroke drill work with a bit more intensity aerobically and lots of FUN! Most of the stroke drills were repetition for Mary. As she grew stronger and more aerobically fit, Mary was able to do the stroke drills for longer durations with greater proficiency. In a sense, this was a review for Mary, only a bit more demanding. She spent 2 years in this group. She maintained very consistent attendance during both the short course and long course seasons while still being able to enjoy her rewards in summer league swimming as well. The second layer of cement was drying.

In the fall of the next season, Mary moved into the next developmental group. Due to her consistent attendance and much repetition in the previous group, the transition into this group went smoothly. It was quite challenging, but with sound fundamentals, she was able to take on the new challenges and up the ante aerobically. She was now practicing 3-4 days a week for 1 and ½ hours per practice. Most of the stroke drills were repetitious in nature but there were added steps to each drill and more conditioning while performing the drills. In her first season with this group, Mary had 100% attendance over the holiday training period. With this commitment she immediately added another block to her foundation. At this level Mary was now becoming more accountable for her swimming, more frequently making stroke corrections without a coach’s request, knowing and staying on intervals and beginning to keep a log and knowing her best times.

During the long course season, Mary, again regularly attended the recommended number of practices, continued to improve and learn stroke drills, and aerobically improved her ability to train due to the challenges of long course training. She repeated this cycle in her 2nd year with this group adding one day per week more consistently. The foundation was growing ever stronger.

In Mary’s 5th season, she entered the top group in the age group program. Her stroke drills were very proficient though she continued to improve them and make stroke corrections. She was aerobically very fit coming off a summer of long course training and high attendance percentages throughout her time in the sport. Because of these, she was very well prepared for the rigors of the training at this level. At this time she stepped up her attendance to 5-6 days a week and in her first year in this group won an award for 90% attendance for the year. This was a big goal and accomplishment for Mary.

Now in her 6th season and a top 3 finisher at a championship meet, it comes as no surprise. All of Mary’s coaches have participated in her “overnight success” over the past 6 years. Each season she has made all the necessary adjustments and raised her level of commitment. Some came more easily than others, mentally as well as physically. As she grew and matured, as she became more aerobically fit, and as she faithfully built her blocks and securely cemented them into place, Mary’s “overnight success” could only be explained as PREPARATION.

Mary always participated in meets along the way and usually improved yet never set the pool on fire for many to notice. She was patient, she had very loving and committed parents, and she listened to her coaches. She quietly and cheerfully built her blocks, with a broad base, one on top of another, that has become a solid foundation for many successes to follow.


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Practice Objectives and Routines – What to Expect: Notes to Parents from the Coaching Staff

Practices for our advanced age group swimmers are planned in advance based upon short term and long term goals. Short term goals are usually eight weeks to 26 weeks in time and revolve around increasing the quantity of work, improving the quality (times) achieved in practice, skill development, and progressing towards competition time standards. Long term goals can be summarized by simply saying we are preparing the children for higher levels of practice ability and higher levels of competition.

There is another aspect of practices beyond the improvement of physical abilities. We strive to teach and to provide opportunities for young people to learn responsibility, self reliance, team support, ability to face challenges, and satisfaction from meeting and exceeding challenges.

In general, on some days we focus on developing aerobic ability. Practices range from 3000 yards to 6000 yards in 90 minutes depending on ability. The practice is divided into "sets" of swims lasting 10 minutes to, sometimes, one hour. Within the set we will do a series of distances ranging from 25 yards to 1000 yards non-stop; for example, 12 times 100 yard freestyle leaving every 1 minute and 40 seconds. We work on all strokes during the course of a workout. We teach the swimmers to read a pace clock, to calculate their times, and to swim with control. Most sets are designed so that swimmers will descend (go faster) with each swim. Learning to use the pace clock and report their times to the coach helps the swimmers become accountable and to focus on their efforts. Coaches also make stroke corrections between swims.

In general, on other days, we do extended dryland work, then warm up swimming, then stroke drills, and then race pace or sprint work. These days are shorter in yardage, typically 2000 to 3000 yards, but very intense on quality of times as swimmers are challenged to achieve and exceed race pace times. It’s not unusual to also do relays or possibly a game that improves speed, coordination, and team dynamics on these days as well.

Bottom line: We seek to create an environment where children are challenged, happy, and improving.

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Thoughts About Leadership In the Pool

Coach Mark Schubert: "If you want to raise the level of your team, you have to center your workout around the best swimmers on the team. You don't ignore the other swimmers, but you tailor the workouts to challenge the best swimmers, so the others tag along and raise their level. You can set tough intervals, and adjust the way the sets are done for slower swimmers, but you certainly don't motivate the better swimmers by having them go a lesser workout centered around the majority of the team. I also feel that by giving extra attention to the better swimmers, you motivate the lesser swimmers to strive to be better, so they get that attention. As you gradually raise the team level, you will have people breaking through and challenging the good swimmers."

Coach Ira Klein of the Sarasota Swim Academy says it's natural that kids who lead lanes get more time between repeats for valuable feedback from the coach, and that the prospect of earning such attention motivates more kids to take a leadership position in practice, rather than habitually swimming in the back of the loop.

Some coaches, such as Chris Martin formerly with the Peddie School and now with the British National Swim Team, starts sets concurrently at both ends of the pool in order to create twice as many "leaders."

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November 2010

Three Variables of a Swimmer's Performance that Parents Contribute to

By Jack Maddan, Head Coach and CEO of Hilton Head Aquatics

As we approach the midpoint of the short course season the athletes are realizing that they are on the path to reaching their goals or they need to make some wholesale changes. Each season presents another mountain to climb for each swimmer. The climb they have to make will depend on the level of success they achieved in the previous season. Success is a relative term and is different for each athlete and training group in the program. For one swimmer it might be to qualify for the State meet and for another it might be to make Olympic trials. Whatever the goal might be, each swimmer has to be willing to do more work than they did in the previous season. And parents can help.

Parents put a lot of time, money and commitment into the sport. You assist in providing the best opportunity for your children to be successful in the pool. Coaches appreciate that. There are certain variables that you have a direct impact on that do affect the swimmers’ level of success.

One variable is practice attendance. As a parent, we are asking you to support the coaching staff and encourage your swimmers to be at the number of practices required by the coach. If the swimmers are not making that requirement it is hard for them to benefit from the whole seasonal plan. This is critical because each coach has a daily, weekly and seasonal plan and missing out on that will hinder the overall success. This is different with each group, but as each swimmer moves within the program, the expectations become much greater.

Another set of variables are nutrition, rest and body changes. This is, for some people, the most sensitive area, but it is significant and should be addressed seriously. As parents, if you are not providing your children with good fuel on a daily basis then over time they will not excel in practice. This starts the moment they enter the program. If you start with good nutritional habits it makes it easier for them to sustain over the course of the season and to establish a healthy lifestyle in the long term.

It is also imperative that each swimmer is getting adequate rest. When a swimmer is burning the candle at both ends this is where injuries and illness set in. When we have a day off, all swimmers should be wise about the decisions made so their bodies can recover properly.

The physiological factors that take place in athletes can impede or accelerate their progress. When a swimmer is growing, depending on how much they are growing, this can be a good or bad thing. Many swimmers struggle physically and mentally during this time. The growth can make them stronger in the water or can cause them to be awkward because of growing too quickly. This is usually more typical in boys between the ages of 13-16. For the girls, going through puberty affects body composition and proportions and can really mess up stroke techniques especially in butterfly and breaststroke. , especially on the girl’s side. In addition, girls go from an 11-14 year old with a lean body that recovers very quickly to a young woman’s body that takes longer to recover between workouts. This is where plateaus sometimes take place and can last up to several years. Parental support in a positive manner is a key component in helping them to wade through these waters. There are two specific things a parent can do. First, never allow a young swimmer to be identified as a stroke specialist – Be cautious in saying things like, “You’re my perfect little butterflyer,” or “You’ll be swimming the breaststroke in the 2020 Olympics.” Secondly, focus comments on continual, long term improvement in all strokes.

One more variable: parental support of the swimmer and coach. This should be the easiest one to control, but it is not always the case. Parents have only one role at a swim meet: support the swimmer and the coach to achieve the athlete’s goals. I think this is important to remember because sometimes the athlete and parent have different goals.

These are the comments a coach would most appreciate a parent to say to their child before and after a swim: Before the swim - “Good luck and have fun.” After the swim -- “Good Job,” and “What did your coach say?” and “I’m proud of you,” or sometimes, “I am sure you will do better next time.”

If your dialogue is different then this, then you are not supporting the coach and swimmer relationship. The most detrimental thing you can do for your child is compare them to another swimmer, coach them before or after a swim, or give them negative feedback after a race.

So what I recommend is to make sure that you are communicating with your son or daughter on how they are doing in practice on a daily basis. Periodically check in with their coach and ask him or her how you child is doing, so there are no surprises when it comes to competition time.

Remember, swimming is a sport where we look at long term progress. Some athletes have to work for 6 months to drop one second in an event. If you can really be aware what the contributing variables are for success (and remember that means having some patience to reach the process), then I stand behind the belief that your children will be better prepared for anything that comes their way in life.

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Why Is Swimming A Year Around Sport for Age Group Swimmers

First, at the competitive level a swimming athlete must train year around just to stay competitive with all the other athletes. Swimming is both conditioning intensive and skill intensive. Strength and endurance conditioning for swimming are not readily transferable from other sports or activities so they must be developed in the pool and in swimming specific dryland exercises. Swimming skills are constantly being developed and refined throughout the swimmer’s career.

Not all swimmers are at competitive levels so what is the point in training year around for them? The simple answer is that a good swimming program provides far more than swimming skill development and improvements in strength and endurance — it provides active development of life skills. By “active development” we mean planned — not by accident and not by coincidence. Coaches regularly stop practice to take advantage of teaching moments to demonstrate or discuss a life skill and we plan short 10 minute discussions on a variety of topics. Life skills that are actively promoted by this team include responsibility, self-discipline, work ethic, coping with peer pressure to use drugs, time management, team commitment and loyalty, lifetime fitness, nutrition, setting and meeting goals, learning to extend themselves, challenges, cooperation, and goal setting.

We know through research that sport in and of itself does not build character or life skills. These skills are developed by the influence of role models, the environment, and through a systematic, planned process. Our staff does this all year around and it is a very compelling reason to keep your child in the water all year around.

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Playing Favorites

By John Leonard

One day a few years ago, a club board member accused me of “having favorites” on our club team. Several other parent board members nodded their heads in agreement The implication was that this was a terrible sin. When I was a younger coach, I thought it was terrible also. And he was right. I did have favorites. My favorites were those athletes who most fervently did what I asked of them. Those that did, I gave more attention to. I talked to them more. I spent more time teaching them. I also expected more of them.

The implication that he was making was that my favorites got better than the others because they were my favorites, and that was somehow unfair. He mistook cause for effect.

The fact is, that the athletes who came to me ready to learn, ready to listen, ready to act on what they learned and try it my way -- even if it was more challenging and more difficult than they imagined -- were ready to get more out of our program. And they were my favorites.

As a coach, I have only one thing to offer to an athlete. That is, my attention. Which means that I attend to their needs. The reward for good behavior should be attention . . . attending to their needs. The consequence of inattention, lack of effort, unwillingness or unreadiness to learn or just plain offensive or disruptive behavior is my inattention to that athlete.

How could it be other than this? If you have three children, and you spend all of your time and energy working with the one that is badly behaved, what does that tell your other two children? It tells them that to capture your attention, they should behave badly. What we reward, is what we get.

As a coach, I want athletes who are eager to learn, eager to experiment to improve, and eager to work hard. I want athletes who come to me to help develop their skills both mental and physical, and are willing to accept what I have to offer. Otherwise, why have they come to me? And I am going to reward that athlete with my attention. In so doing, I encourage others to become like the athlete above. If I spent my time with the unwilling, the slothful, the disruptive, I would only be encouraging that behavior.

The link I want to forge is between attention and excellence. Excellence in the sense of achieving all that is possible, and desired. My way of forging that, is to provide my attention to those who “attend” to me. This does, of course, result in increased performance for those that do so. I am a professional coach, and when I pay attention to a person, that person is going to improve. Over time, this makes it appear that my “favorites” are the better swimmers. Not so at all. The better swimmers are those that pay attention, and thus become my favorites.

What the above mentioned board member didn’t realize is that you must have favorites if anyone is to develop in a positive fashion. The coach’s job is to reward those who exhibit positive developmental behaviors. Those are my “favorites,” and they should be.

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Who Should the Coach Work With

Concern: Our full time head coach rarely works with the age group swimmers or attends age group meets. The club pays him a good salary to be our "HEAD" coach, he should work with all the swimmers.

Response: This is an important concern and one that must be resolved between the Board of Directors and the coach as soon as possible. It is not a matter that should be circulated among and speculated upon by the whole membership because it too often leads to misunderstandings based on lack of knowledge of the contractual relationship between the club and the head coach. Things can be said or actions taken that hurt the whole program. Express your concerns to the BOD. The Board of Directors may consider the following points:

1. In the first place, the head coach IS ultimately responsible for coaching all the age group swimmers. The head coach makes long range plans that include your age group swimmer, supervises and trains assistant coaches, and cares very much for the welfare and progress of every age group swimmer. So in sense, the head coach IS coaching your child.

2. A child's swimming development must include a steady flow of NEW experiences and skills to learn. We want to give age group swimmers the opportunity to discover new things along the way. When we give them too much today, including the head coach, tomorrow can become boring. A progression of coaches through a child’s swimming career is advantageous to the child.

Age group swimmers love the occasional attention given by the head coach and they cherish every word of good humor and advice the head coach gives. They "can't wait" for the day when they join the senior team. This is a very great and positive motivation for young swimmers that helps them stay with a program and look forward to the future.

3. Think about practices. Coaching senior swimmers and coaching age group swimmers requires a completely different approach and therefore completely different planning. It requires an attitude change to move from coaching senior swimmers to age group swimmers. One coach described it as "needing a different brain" to coach each group. It is important, therefore, in moderate to large clubs where resources allow the hiring of age group coaches, to place them in charge of age group groups and to allow the head coach to focus on the senior swimmers.

Qualified age group coaches who target their efforts toward the coaching of age group swimmers can do a better job than the head coach can in situations when the head coach is required to do both.

In order to assure confidence in age group coaches by the membership it is important that age group coaches are thoroughly trained by the head coach, that they are members of ASCA and certified, and that the Board of Directors financially supports coaching educational expenses.

4. Think about swim meets. We know a coach who, when first starting out with a club and had not yet fully developed a good assistant coach, went to age group "A", age group "B", age group "C" and/or senior meets on 13 weekends in a row -- both sessions, both days. Place yourself in the shoes of the coach. You have a family and you have a life outside of the natatorium. So does the coach and a coach needs time away from work. Age group coaches can handle the age group team at meets while the head coach receives well deserved time off.

5. One might think that a coach in a small club would need to work with all the swimmers but the coach of a larger club, where there are assistants available, could concentrate on the senior and national swimmers. In reality, we know of small clubs where the head coach only works with a select few of the top senior and national swimmers, and we know of one very large, nationally prominent club with a large staff, where the head coach was let go because he did not work with the age group swimmers.

The point is, there is no single and simple answer for this problem acceptable to all programs and parents.. Each program establishes its own philosophy based upon its resources and upon the needs and desires of the membership.

6. In a small club with limited resources and staff the head coach NEEDS to work with as many of the athletes as is reasonable. Most good coaches want to do this anyway, as they recognize it is the best way to build the club.

In a large club, the need for the head coach to work with all the swimmers is not so great but the DESIRE of the membership to have the coach work with all the swimmers may be. It is important to understand that this DESIRE is not a reasonable request upon the coach, especially where resources provide for the hiring of an assistant coach.

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October 2010

On Praising Your Children

How often do you think about the amount of and type of praise you offer your child? The wrong kind of praise, or praise used too frequently or infrequently can cause difficulties. Sometimes we think that it is not possible to over praise a child because constant praise will build a child's self esteem. However, there is a real world for the child outside of the home and a child's peers may not always be as praise giving as his or her parents. Other children are usually quite truthful and blunt about the feats of their peers. A child constantly praised at home may feel themselves placed on a pedestal only to be knocked off outside the home.

In a recent article in "Parents Magazine", educational consultant Fredelle Maynard listed the dos and don'ts of praise. First the don'ts: [We’ve added swimming appropriate examples.]

- Don't praise by comparison ("You're the best swimmer on the team"). It may encourage unnecessary competition or fear of failing next time.

- Don't praise constantly. If everything a child does is terrific, wonderful, the best, you will run out of superlatives and the child will become blasé about applause.

- Don't praise indiscriminately. Children who are veteran meet swimmers know when a swim is good or bad. Parental ecstasies over mediocre performance can either make children cynical or cause them to feel like frauds.

- Don't praise so extravagantly that children feel pressure to go on shining. Over enthusiastic applause destroys a good motive for activity (to please oneself) and substitutes a poor one (to please parents).

- Don't use sarcastic or "backhanded" praise. "Well, you did all flip turns for a change." "You touched with two hands! I can't believe it."

The best praise to use is encouragement. Encouragement helps build a child's confidence and autonomy while improper praise can be more manipulative, emphasizing what the adult wants. Encouragement allows the child to "own" their accomplishments and to find within themselves the strength and desire to do their best. The following are Maynard's dos:

- Do be specific. Instead of using words that evaluate ("What a great swim"), describe in concrete terms what you see: "You kept your elbows nice and high during that swim."

- Do describe the behavior and its consequences. For example, "Thanks for getting dressed and out of the locker room so quickly. Now we have more time to go shopping for the new goggles you need."

- Do focus on the child's effort, not the product. "You practiced hard for this swim meet and it really paid off."

- Do point out how your child has progressed. "A 200 IM! You couldn't have done that last year!"

- Do give control back to the child. Let the child do the evaluating. Rather than say, "I'm so proud of you," say, "You must feel good that you did all backstroke turns." Try simply asking, “How do you feel about your swim?” and respond accordingly – giving encouragement when they feel disappointed (but never false praise), and joining them in their enthusiasm if they feel really happy.

Consider giving praise at different levels. “That looked like a better swim.” “I thought that was a good job, what do you think?” “That was your best job so far!” Better, good, best. Avoid over using such superlatives as “Perfect,” “Great,” “Excellent” which leave little room for improvement.

To sum it all up, catch them doing things right and set them up for continued improvements.

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Which Events Should Your Child Swim

Issue: My 12 year old will be aging up before the end of the season and she needs every opportunity to make AAA times in her best events before then. The coach, however, seems to have different ideas about the meets we attend and the events she swims. I do not like the way the coach selects my child's meet and event schedule.

Response: Rule number one for any concern regarding decisions made by the coach is to communicate directly with the coach at your earliest opportunity. The coach may mention one or more of the following considerations:

1. Age group swimmers should have an opportunity to experience all the official events for their age group. In fact, many coaches would make a case for having intermediate to advanced age group swimmers also swim 200's of back, breast, and fly, as well as the 400 IM and distance freestyles. BUT, there needs to be a balance found between the time and expense of driving to too many meets versus the larger objectives of a good age group program. See numbers 2, 3, and 4 below.

2. Achievement should be viewed as career long and not dependent on a mid-season peak in coordination with a last meet effort before aging up. A major push at end of an age group often leads to a letdown than can occur when the child ages up. This discourages the steady and consistent progress that most coaches encourage in age group swimming. Coaches plan careers around seasonal planning, not around birthdays. The primary focus should be on preparing swimmers for the senior team and a secondary focus would be on end of season meets.

3. A combined and unified team effort for end of the season meets is more important than allowing individual swimmers to "peak" for mid-season meets in order to achieve time standards or rankings.

4. The coach is the technical expert of the team and the one with the best perspective for event selection. Event selection often times deliberately includes the swimmer’s weakest events as a challenge, as an evaluation tool, as a change of focus, and/or as preparation for future events. Frankly, parents and age group swimmers will not often choose events that offer difficult challenges, change the points of focus, or prepare the swimmer in a tactical way for future events. This is a technical matter and best left to the technical expert – the coach.

Here are a few examples: Distance oriented swimmers may be asked to swim sprint events in order to work on their speed. (If the swimmer’s best time in the 100 meter free is 1:13 and they are trying to break 5 minutes in the 400 meter swim then they need the ability to go in 1:13 to 1:14 in the 400 and swimming the 100 gives them a chance to work on their “going out speed.”)

A swimmer who has been a good butterflyer for the last couple of years and has begun to be identified as a “flyer” by herself and friends and possibly parents, but then finds herself having difficulty improving in the fly events – perhaps due to changes in her body as she matures -- can find new motivation in the other events if given a chance to focus on something different.

One of the great core values of swimming is learning to meet difficult challenges with determination for success. A good coach may deliberately schedule every 11 and 12 year old for the 200 meter butterfly in an upcoming meet and then prepare them for it physically and mentally in practice so that they may face the challenge with some courage. It’s a great confidence builder.

…And building confidence comes not only from doing what one is good at, but from doing the uncomfortable and difficult.

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The Issue of Leadership

Editor’s Note: The following article on leadership by John Leonard is the text of a short presentation given to coaches and volunteers at the 2010 USA Swimming Convention. This article is a bit out of the ordinary of our usual topics for Swim Parents Newsletter… until you get nearly to the end where it presents some good thoughts for both coaches and parents about creating opportunities for leadership in young people. – G.Edson

By John Leonard to the Age Group Chairs at USA-Swimming Convention, 2010 in Dallas, Texas.

Lets talk about leadership for a few minutes. What is it? How Do You Provide It? What do you do with it?

First, my very personal definition of leadership is your ability to help your fellow human beings live a more fulfilling life. It’s about what you can do for others, not what they can do for you. It’s about serving other people. In my humble view, that’s the meaning of life. We can all exhibit leadership traits and skills at various points in our lives. Sometimes we each lead, sometimes we each follow.

Leadership comes from 4 stages of Earned Leadership….first, you must be competent within the group at question. Second stage, once you prove competent, the next thing is that others must believe you CARE about them first, and not yourself. If you pass those first two tests, you will be watched, so now you are leading by example. If your actions set a good standard, then you will be granted the privilege of leading by voice and you have reached stage four. Thanks to George Block for teaching me about those four steps. They’re good for all of life, not just leading in coaching.

Be careful. Once you lead by voice, you’ll have every word and action scrutinized, and your credibility is all you have as a leader.

Ok, now you’re leading. What do you do?

First, leaders help define the vision. What does the group want to be? Do? Stand for?

Second, leaders keep the group on task. 75% by encouraging, 25% by enforcing.

Third, leaders help their group SUCCEED, by pointing out their strong points, skills and assets.

Fourth, leaders measure and evaluate…..set standards and plan and re-plan.

Now, what skills are critical to leaders in doing those tasks?

First, you have to be able to sell your ideas. Sales skill is critical. It can be learned.

Second, you need to be able to SIMPLIFY and JUSTIFY. Have the skill to make complex problems understandable, clear and the way past them simple. (not to be confused with easy.) Have the ability to reduce an action to “JUST do this.” Leaders can be WRONG and we’ll forgive. Leaders cannot be CONFUSING. The leader has to be clear.

Third, you need to be able to REFRAME and REFOCUS the group. Inevitably, things will be harder than the group thinks. The Leaders job is to put it in perspective, look at the issue in a different way, and bring the group back to focus and hard work when they bounce off a problem. Resiliency is a great thing in any team. The Leader sets the tone for that.

Fourth, we all follow people who can “provide HOPE”. The leader says “we will triumph and this is how…” No effective leaders are grumpy pessimists. Leaders are optimists with a plan. Give the group HOPE and show them the way to victory and success.

Finally, the highest form of leadership is reached when the leader can become invisible and people appear to be “leading themselves”. This of course, requires the oft-sought “internal motivation”. In the book “DRIVE” by Daniel Pink, the author delineates three critical criteria for the development of Internal motivation. They are:

1) Autonomy – the person has (and/or appears to have) the ability to control their own destiny by their actions.

2) Mastery – the person has or perceives that they have, the ability to become very good at the task at hand. (If you think you can, you can….if you think you can’t, you are also correct.)

3) A sense of belonging to something larger than oneself. (A TEAM thus is a perfect fit for this one.)

If the leader can help create a team of internally motivated individuals, the leader will be left with precious little to do…and that is what every leader should aspire to.

For swim coaches, I am reminded of a great line on life from Orinda Aquatic Club and Coach Don Heidary…..”Prepare the child for the path, don’t prepare the path for the child.”

Trust our young people. They can be strong, resilient competent, caring leaders who can lead by example and by voice, if given the chance to face the “slings and arrows of outrageous fate” by themselves.

Let’s give them that chance every day.

Thanks for your work as leaders in your LSC every day. Good luck for your continued success.

Thank you.
John Leonard

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Where Should Fast Age Group Swimmers Train?

”My ten years old son is the fastest swimmer in his group and he can also beat several of the senior swimmers… shouldn’t he be training in the senior swimming group?”

Answered by: Rick Klatt, ASCA Level 5 Coach

There are three goals I have for age group swimmers on my team who will eventually make the transition to senior swimming. They are:

1. They love swimming and look forward to practice sessions.
2. They have a sound foundation of correct stroke mechanics.
3. They know how to generate speed over short distances.

I think an age group coach needs to be very flexible and very innovative in designing a training program for age group swimmers that keeps their interest and is considered fun. I encourage my age group coaches to include lots of dry land games to build coordination and aerobic fitness. I also encourage the coaches to provide challenging training sessions that are short and to the point. Every training session must include fundamental stroke work and some emphasis on fast swimming over short distances.

There are dangers associated with having younger swimmers training in the senior group. Although training with the older group may produce rapid improvements, it could harm your child’s swimming career in the long run. Training longer and harder produces stress at his age. He could lose interest in the sport. This sometimes is hard to do when he is with swimmers that are mentally and physically more mature. Socially, he may become outcast because of his youth and the training may be more than his body is accustomed to. It is very easy for a swimmer to lose interest in the sport when he is not enjoying himself. His self-image can deteriorate easily if not given the proper amount of attention.

It is also important to let a swimmer gradually learn and improve. If he starts swimming in the senior group at 10 years old, the program can become very stale for him by the time he reaches high school.

In our program, a swimmer will normally move into the senior group when he or she is 13 or 14 years old. I feel I can be more successful at helping the swimmers if:

1. The swimmer has a positive attitude and has the desire to come practice.
2. The swimmer has a good technical background on stroke techniques so that short reminders to him of his already formulated good habits is generally sufficient.
3. The swimmer knows how to generate speed over a short distance. At this point we can begin the training that will be required to maintain that speed for a longer distance.

Age group swimmers should be allowed to develop slowly and have fun. By training with swimmers his age, he will be able to interact with friends and develop close bonds with his peers. He can contribute to the team by being a role model and will create a strong self-image as well as being a good leader for his group.

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Because They MUST Fail

Rick Boucher
Head Age Group Coach
STAR Swimming (UB Amherst Site)
Amherst, N

With fifteen years of coaching in this sport of swimming, I have come to notice a few things that happen on each and every team I have ever worked with. Parents and swimmers, regardless of their location in this country, have similar issues at specific points of their swimming careers. I would love to address the “First Swim Meet” issue.

The “First Swim Meet” issue has been addressed on every team I have ever coached. Swimmers and parents are uncomfortable when it comes to attempting their first swim meet. It is an unknown for both of them. Children tend to be so upset at the thought of having to compete, that they somehow convince their parents that they should not, or can not be competing at their level. What do I think? Attend the first swim meet offered to your child regardless of how you feel about your child’s ability and how they feel about competing.

Here’s why…Every person MUST FAIL in order to become better! Think about this for a moment. Would you be where you are today in your career if you would have only succeeded? I know that I would not. Some of my greatest professional successes have come through having what I would consider a “horrible season”.

Children are afraid of swim meets because they are “scary”. A new swimmer knows they are not going to win. They know that they may get disqualified. They understand that it is going to be hard work. They become overwhelmed with the anxiety of having to step out of their “comfort zone” and actually challenge themselves to a level they never have before. PERFECT! This is what it takes to become an outstanding individual. Not just in swimming, but in life.

A ten year old child knows very little about trial and error. They understand the school system and its grading process, but outside of this, children have had very little trial and error elsewhere. If they have played in a “team sport”, then they have been judged on a “team level” and not as an “individual”. Being ranked as an individual is “scary.”

In basketball, if you don’t get the ball at a time when you can shoot, then it’s not your fault you didn’t score a point. In football, if you do your part on the field as a linesman and the quarterback’s passing is off, then it’s not your fault. There are so many other avenues to place blame and accept the defeat in a form that allows you to continue telling yourself that you played a great game. In swimming, there are none. It is all up to them. They are the ones who either make or break their performance.

This is to me, the most perfect part of the sport. It makes young athletes look at their performance at practice and reconsider if they are doing everything they can in order to become better. Swimming encourages young children and young adults to actually look at themselves and re-evaluate themselves. How wonderful is that? It’s also wonderful to hear from a child that they plan on listening better at practice because they really want to learn more about a specific stroke or race.


- Leads strong-minded children into their success.
- Upsets them enough to make them take control of their own actions.

In swimming there are no guarantees. No coach can look at an athlete and say “You know what? You’re going to become a state record holder”, or “Pack your bags kiddo, ‘cause in four more years I know you’re heading to the Olympics”. Trust me, after all of the years I’ve placed into this sport, I wish I could do this. It would make life so much easier for myself, parents, and athletes.

What a coach can promise is that through hard work, dedication, commitment, perseverance and FAILING, your child can become a person who understands more about themselves than most individuals their age.

It’s taken me a long time to realize that one of the key ingredients to all of my past athletes reaching their potential is failure. All of them have failed more than they succeeded. Some failures were large, other were minor. Most children will fail, learn from their mistakes, and fail again, but with fewer mistakes and so on. The reducing of failures is their improvement, dedication, and perseverance. They should be praised for their efforts and encouraged to continue on their quest.

That’s what a coach does, they encourage young, learning athletes to strive for more and always push themselves. It is a coach’s job and duty to keep these children understanding why we strive and how great it feels to achieve.

So here’s what I have to say…

Let your child fail. Don’t encourage “failure,” but understand it. Understand that failing is a process that is needed in order to succeed. Encourage your child to step out from their “comfort zone” and challenge themselves to a level that they may not think they can attain. Why? Because once they push themselves to that new level, they may realize that they are much faster, stronger, and just plain old better they ever thought they could be.

Parents should…

- Assist the coach in getting all that they can from their young athlete and properly challenging their child.
- Realize that their children are afraid. It’s nerve-racking to try something new and have so many eyes on you.
- Comfort their children and continually reinforce the fact that “effort” is to be praised and that “failure” is part of the process of becoming great.
- Get their children involved. Drive them to the swim meet. Be their biggest cheerleader. Make sure you love them regardless of what place they take in their events.
- Reinforce the fact that doing something that they’ve never done before is wonderful and the chance they have been given to challenge themselves is a blessing in disguise.

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When the Coach Is Away with a Few Swimmers

By Jim Lutz, ASCA Level 5 Coach

“Why does the head coach always go away for a week or two to meets with only a couple of swimmers, while the rest of the team is swimming in a designated “team meet”?

When the coach is away with a few swimmers, they are most likely attending an elite, national or international swim meet. Only five percent of all registered swimmers ever reach the national level. Instead of looking at this situation in a negative way, the team should support and encourage these top-caliber swimmers because they are representing the team at an elite meet.

As a head coach I encourage our swimmers to achieve the highest level of competition possible. They are not only the fastest swimmers on the team, but they are also the role models for the younger swimmers. Every age grouper’s dream is to compete on national level and follow in the senior swimmer’s footsteps.

The majority of head coaches throughout the country are responsible for the senior swimmers. Naturally, the head coach is more familiar with the senior swimmer’s needs having worked with them throughout the entire season. During this time, the swimmer and coach develop a trusting “one-to-one” relationship. The swimmer becomes more confident with the coach’s decisions. The swimmer needs to have the primary coach as his or her support system when competing on the national level.

A head coach needs to attend these national meets regardless of the number of swimmers attending. Whether the team has one swimmer or ten at a competition, the coach with the most interactions with the swimmer should direct and be responsible for these athletes. The swimmers should be rewarded for having made the difficult time standard for this prestigious meet by having the primary coach attend. The coach has many responsibilities and duties while at the national meet, acting as a guardian, counselor, friend, confidant and a coach. A swimmer relies on the coach’s experience and knowledge to help swim the best race possible. The coach also handles all of the administrative duties and might even attend special meetings for coaches.

Seniors swimmers receive a lot of attention and recognition that might be regarded as preferential treatment. However, these swimmers have spent countless hours training to reach their fullest potential. The recognition they receive is not only beneficial to the individual but it is a credit to the entire swim program. It is the national representation by these few athletes that brings status and credibility to your program.

So if a member of your team goes to a national level meet, show that athlete how much you appreciate his/her skill and provide your full support. The athlete is representing YOUR swim team.

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August 2010

Nutrition Between Prelims And Finals

By Dr. Keith Wheeler, PhD and Angeline M. Cameron

Question: In a preliminary/finals meet, an age group swimmer might finish the last preliminary event at 3 PM and return to the pool at 5 PM to warm up for the finals, which are at 6 PM. What would be the best nutrition for this swimmer?

Answer: The best nutrition for this swimmer depends on what the swimmer eats the morning of the competition. If he or she eats a large breakfast that contains at least 200 to 300 grams of carbohydrate, the swimmer will need mainly water and a small amount of carbohydrate, which can be provided by a fluid replacement and energy drink or fruit juice.

If he or she didn't each a high carbohydrate breakfast, the swimmer will need to eat carbohydrate after the 4 PM event to provide energy for the warm up and finals. The swimmer should eat an amount of carbohydrate, in grams, equal to 75% of his or her body weight within 15 minutes of the completion of the preliminary event and again 1 hour later. For example, a 100 pound swimmer should eat 75 grams (0.75 x 100 pounds) of carbohydrate by 4:15 PM and another 75 grams of carbohydrate at approximately 5 PM.

Liquid or solid forms of carbohydrate can be eaten: however, liquids are usually better tolerated and are more quickly digested. The amount of carbohydrate needed in the example above, 75 grams, is provided by 4 apples, 3 bananas, or 3 bagels.

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When the Coach Goes to Nationals

Concern: The coach leaves the team for a whole week just to take one swimmer to nationals. It is not fair to the team and a poor use of money.

Response: It is an important milestone in the development of the swimmer, of the coach, and of the team when the first national qualifier is developed. This swimmer represents the current "peak" of the program. All parts of a program are important but the peak is of special importance because it is a point that all younger developing athletes can look forward to and work towards. It provides direction in the program.

It is difficult for newer swim parents, especially parents of young age group swimmers, to understand the importance of sending the coach away to nationals at great expense and while all the other swimmers on the team stay at home without their head coach. The situation is sometimes made worse by the fact that local junior Olympic meets are held at about the same time as nationals.

What are the choices and what are the consequences?

1. Swimmer attends nationals without coach. This is not fair to the athlete or to the coach. The athlete has worked for and deserves the attention and professional guidance of the coach. The coach also deserves the reward of developing such a fine athlete by being involved in the national experience. Attending nationals is also a very important educational experience for the coach. By not sending the coach to nationals with the swimmer the club is also sending a message to the athletes that the club is not interested in elite athletes.

2. Swimmer and coach stay home. This cuts the peak of the program and removes incentives for athletes and coach to become the best they can be. It is the mark of a team that does not include growth as part of its long range goals, or perhaps does not have any goals at all. It is a program that will always have young and relatively inexperienced coaches because few coaches will be satisfied working in a situation where they cannot grow.

3. Swimmer and coach attend nationals with the support and good will of the entire club. This is the mark of a program that looks to the future, believes in growth, and believes in rewarding the good work by both the athlete and the coach. When the coach and athlete attend nationals it is a celebration of team success. The athlete can return home as the hero and "tell the story" of nationals that will inspire the rest of the team.

What then of the younger swimmers who have workouts and possibly a meet to attend while the coach is at nationals? It is the responsibility of the Board of Directors and coach to 1) educate the families as to the needs of the whole program, and 2) prepare assistant coaches and swimmers for the opportunity to be their best during this time. These things should not be thought of two weeks before nationals, but should be part of each seasonal plan.

We are hopeful that parents will look at the larger picture. When the coach goes to nationals it is not just for one swimmer, it is for the whole team… and, it’s for your age group swimmer.

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When Swimmers Return from Camp

Concern: “My daughter was able to do a 50 meter freestyle in 32 seconds from a push off in practice while at camp, which is her best time. Now that she is back home, she can't even do a 32 in a swim meet.”

Response: A coach we know took two nationally ranked age group swimmers to a USA Swimming elite training camp several years ago. He told us how amazed he was to observe and time with his own watch these young swimmers perform sets in times they had never done at home.

Was it better coaching? The swimmers told him that it was a matter of competition and a matter of pride. They worked so hard in six workouts over three days that it took them over a week to recover once back home.

Too often swimmers fall into a niche at home where they EXPECT to out-perform some swimmers and EXPECT to be out-performed by other swimmers. Going to swim camps gives swimmers a chance to be a star away from home. Many swimmers will do exceptional things that can take them several weeks or in some cases, a whole season to duplicate at home. This is not a problem with coaching, it is a problem with what swimmers expect of themselves in a given environment.

If the swimmer can return home and break out of the EXPECTED, they have learned a great lesson.

In addition to the above explanation, coaches are concerned that some camps give swimmers times that are not altogether accurate. Swim camps are businesses and they thrive by bringing swimmers back year after year for positive experiences and by having swimmers spread the good news of their positive experience. One of the most positive experiences a swimmer can have is going a life time best time. Parents and coaches should be wary of best times reported during practice swims or "time trials". Accept only times done in sanctioned swim meets.

Concern: My child learned stroke techniques she never learned at home and trained differently than she does at home. Why doesn't the coach teach this way?

Response: Keep in mind several things:

1. Communicate with the home coach. Ask about the "new" techniques and training the swimmer learned at camp. Often times "new" techniques or training are not new at all, but are simply taught with different words.

2. Swimming performance is not produced by a direct cause and effect relationship. There are many ways to teach a given technique and there are many techniques that can produce a given result. Techniques used at camp may simply be a different, though not better, attempt to produce the same result which can be produced at home.

3. Children are very impressionable by their temporary new coaches at camps. As an example, imagine how you, a parent, feels when your child returns home from home practice one day and announces that he is now going to drink three glasses of milk each day because the coach said it is a good idea, even though you have been trying to get your child to do this for years! Swimmers go to camp and often hear the same things the coach at home has been trying to teach but because it is being said by a new camp coach, it is now important and the child will enthusiastically accept this advice as the best way.

4. Just because it is done at camp a certain way, does not mean it is the only way or the best way. Staff members at camps are often times less experienced and less knowledgeable than your home coach.

5. Be open and cooperative with your home coach. Many coaches do not like swimmers going away to swimming camps because swimmers return home tired, out of synch with the season training plan, and full of "new" ideas that may not be very new or very helpful. When selecting a camp for your child, ask the coach to help you select a good camp. There a many very good camps.

6. If you have a young and relatively inexperienced coach make sure that you turn your child's experience at camp into a POSITIVE one for the coach and team and not a NEGATIVE one for the coach. Share thoughts with the coach rather than demand changes based on something experienced at a camp that is perceived as being the right and only way. Help your coach grow, send your coach to camp! You can make sure your coach has every opportunity to be up on the latest in technique, training, administration, and sports psychology by sending your coach to the ASCA World Clinic in the fall!

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When Sally Swims Poorly… How Mom and Dad Might Talk to Their Child at a Swim Meet

By John Leonard

Swim Meet conversation between parent and athlete can be either highly productive, or highly counter-productive. Your goal as a parent should be to contribute to a positive swim meet experience for your child. This is the same goal as shared by the coach and the athlete. It is important that all three sides of the triangle be working together on meet days, as well as the rest of the swim year.

As I travel the country talking to parents, and observing swim meets and the effects of individual athletes, a few things stand out for comment. The inter-relationship of athlete, coach and parent on the days of swim meets is one of the most important. To discuss this adequately, it is necessary to define the role of each person.

The athlete attends the meet to attempt to gain or affirm some progress that has been made in their development. This may take the form of a personal best time, or holding a stroke technique together for an entire race, or executing accurately a particular strategy for "splitting" the race, or any of a multitude of other possibilities and combinations. The role of the athlete is the active one. It is up to them to perform, and the meet day is a selected time to perform the experiment.

The role of the coach on meet day needs to be thoroughly understood. It is dependent upon how the coach has presented themselves in the athlete's swimming career. Primarily, for most coaches, they are the technical resource that a swimmer depends upon to help them improve. They also serve as a role model, and to a greater or lesser extent, as a motivator, friend, and co-author of the strategy or experiment being performed on that day.

The parent is the racing "support crew". The parent makes sure they have all their human needs attended to, and continues their parental function of supervising personal development. Their love, attention, and caring are key ingredients in creating a successful experience on race day.

Athlete, technical support, and human support. That's all it takes.

Now, back to the question of meet conversation. Lots of talk goes on at a meet, and coming and going around the meet. Let's focus on the conversations that go on around a particular swim, and see what can be learned from that item.

Sally is eleven years old, and she is about to swim the 100 yard freestyle. Sally is a pretty good little swimmer, and has a best time of 1:01.3. She'd like to go a personal best time in this event at the meet, and she and her coach have been talking all week about how Sally has to concentrate on keeping her stroke long and strong during the last 25 yards of her race. Sally knows she is supposed to stop and talk to Coach before she swims so she goes over to see her.

"Hey Kiddo, ready for the big swim?"

"Coach, I got it all under control, and I'm ready to go fast."

"What do you need to remember on this swim?"

"To keep my stroke long on the last twenty-five."

"Not just long, but...."

"long and Strong!"

"Right! Have a real good swim. Now, go get it!"

Sally blasts off, and gets out in front immediately. Mom and Dad cheer like crazy. Sally turns for home, and......

(Now, at this point let's consider two endings. We will take a look at each one.)

Sally turns for home and...... shortens her stroke bit by bit as she gets more and more tired, and struggles to the wall, with a time of 1:01.5.

Sally is disappointed, and she goes back to her coach choking back tears, and stands there, waiting for her to speak.

"Well, not quite what we wanted. How did it feel?"

"It felt awful! I was terrible! I couldn't do anything!"

"From here, it looked like you were only pushing through to your waist, and towards the end of the race maybe not even that far. Where should your hand finish?"

"At my suit line."

"And what did your arms really feel like?"

"I got all hot and my arms were burning at the end of the race."

"Do you know why that is? I think you haven't had enough good fast pace work yet. Next month, we'll work on that, and by the next meet you'll be much better!"

Sally leaves happy and feeling much less like the Ugly Duckling. Now, she heads to see Mom and Dad.

Most parents I talk to think that this is a tough time to deal with their children. It isn't! (The tough one is next.) All Mom and Dad have to do in this case, is two simple things:

First, deal with human things.

"Are you warm enough, honey?"
"Put on your warm-ups, and your towel"
"Do you need something to drink?"

Then, if all is well, STOP. Do not get into the race unless the child wants to. That is not your role. You are there to support.

But let’s say that Sally comes back and says....

"I Stunk!"

Mom and Dad say, "Stunk? Stunk means you smelled badly. All that chlorine is kind of nasty, but I wouldn't say you stunk. What do you really mean?"

After Sally has a chance to get rid of her emotional response, you should ask, "What did Coach say?"

Now is a good time to explore this. What you are trying to do, as a parent, is duplicate the same mind-set the coach is trying to re-instill. Analyze what went wrong with the experiment. You don't have the technical expertise to offer the answers that her coach does, but by asking questions that require a technical response, you shift Sally out of the emotional context. This is nothing more than an experiment that did not turn out the way Sally and her coach wanted it to. This is perfect swim parenting. You reinforce the message that the coach is sending.

If you will simply take care of the human needs, and shift the emotional disappointment to an analytical response, all will be well in Sally's world.

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Why Should a Club Support Its Elite Athletes Financially?

By John Leonard

Recently a club board member called me, and asked a simple but important question. “I’ve heard that a lot of clubs spend money to send their better athletes to Nationals and some, even to Sectionals, is that correct? And if they do, WHY do they? What does the club get out of it?“

Good questions, simply and directly asked. Hereafter, my equally simple and direct answer.

Yes, a large number of clubs that attend higher level meets, whether they be Sectionals, Junior Nationals or Senior Nationals, (or in some cases, even the Grand Prix series of meets) financially support their club athletes to those meets, to some extent.

What extent? It runs the gamut from a few hundred dollars of assistance to paying their way to the event. What does that cost? Use $350 as the average round trip airfare to an event, use $120 per night for 4 nights in a hotel, and $50 a day for food, and you rapidly have a bill of $1030.00 and you haven’t rented a vehicle yet for local transportation. Yes, high level meets are expensive.

Now, you can use some “family travel mileage” to reduce the airfare, you can share a hotel room with 1-3 others to reduce that, and you may be able to eat reasonably healthy for less than $50 a day, but any way you cut it, it’s not cheap.

So why do clubs do it? Basically to “DE-LIMIT” the aspiration level of ALL of their team athletes.

Once an athlete has been in any sport for awhile, most of them dream of competing at the highest level. As they get a little older, we realize that the travel necessary to do so, can be a substantial drain on a middle class family. No one I know likes to have their dreams limited by the financial costs of those dreams or the financial costs of working for that dream.

A fine writer by the name of Rudyard Kipling, once wrote, “The strength of the pack is the wolf. And the strength of the wolf, is the pack”. When the “wolf” on your team (the highest level athlete) qualifies for a higher level meet and they don’t attend because of money; the dream dies, not just in that athlete, but in ALL the athletes of the team. ”The team didn’t support Tim to the Sectionals, so he couldn’t afford to go.” It’s a killer, and every child on the team, right down to the 8 and unders will hear something about it whether they understand it all or not.

And it kills the aspirations of others.

When the pack does not support the wolf, the wolf will look to go where another pack will support them. And should. Conversely, when the pack DOES support the wolf, that wolf has a strong obligation to come home, explain the marvels and wonderfulness of going to Sectionals, Jr/Sr. Nationals, the Olympic Trials or the Olympic Games and help fire and fuel the dream for every other generation in that pack/team. The wolf has to be willing and able to “give back” to the pack. “The strength of the pack is the wolf”.

I can also hear the parent who says, “Wait a second, my child isn’t going to Nationals, all they want to do is swim and have fun” That’s correct and understandable. But my question is, do you want your child to be in a program that limits how far they can dream of going? Or do you want your child (like I want mine) to be UNLIMITED in their ability to dream of achievements?

The team contributing financially to the aspirational meet expenses of its top swimmers, is in reality, unlimiting ALL its swimmers. And we can all take pride in making that contribution to our team, our friends and our community.

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July 2010

The Taper Chase

By T.J Liston

Many times senior swimmers get to the end of the season and look for great swims and great time drops due to the “Magic of The Taper.” Often, swimmers expect these things to materialize because they have in the past, because other swimmers on the team have done well, because it is an important meet, or because they just want it to. But in reality, the reason why swimmers swim fast is because they have prepared to. Good performance is preceded by good preparation. To swim fast, swimmers must train hard and must swim fast in practice.

The coach lays out a season plan before the season even begins. The season is divided into several different training cycles. These macro cycles are then divided into smaller mini cycles. These all add up to a season’s training. Each mini cycle must be swum with effort and focus or a key part of the swimmer’s training will be missed. Each cycle is in itself very important and each mini cycle sets up and enhances the next training cycle. The successful athlete approaches each cycle with great effort and focus realizing that every cycle, indeed every practice, is dependent upon the one before it.

As coaches, we are often able to detect strengths and weaknesses in an individual’s training by how well they are able to hold on to a taper or by their endurance and ability to go from one race to the next with equal success. To perform well, it is important that early season training is successfully challenged. To put together smart races and have good splits, the successful athlete will need a strong and focused middle part of the season. Good fine tuning in later cycles will help the swimmers set up their races correctly and have the necessary speed to race. Every cycle in a season is important to the success of the next cycle. Successfully challenging and completing each cycle helps swimmers perform faster and to be able to meet the demands of even more challenging sets at practice. Swimmers who are able to perform during physically demanding practices, the ones whose repeats hurt, are the swimmers who are preparing for success at the end of the season.

We establish guidelines for what we expect and want at practices for each cycle. We may make some minor adjustments to intervals and sets, but we don’t make changes to the performance parameters of the cycle’s focus. Many times we use key individuals as markers to determine the effects of the overall training. These individuals are the ones that best represent the work offered and the groups’ expectations and abilities. These swimmers have near perfect attendance and have fulfilled the challenges of the workouts we have given. These athletes understand that the training curve is well ahead of the performance curve, and that practice efforts from weeks before the championship meet are impacting the swimmer’s ability to race. The season’s results are dependent on the season’s efforts. The taper will highlight the work done during the season, and the swimmer whose efforts and attendance have been consistent is usually the swimmer who performs well at the championship meet.

So, before swimmers expect “Taper Magic,” it is important that they put in the work during the early months of training and all the way through the season. Their attendance needs to be as near to perfect as health allows. Their efforts and focus have to be 100% every day. They have to eat, sleep, and hydrate properly throughout the season and all the way through their big meet. They should not gain weight on their taper. They should not use up all their extra energy that begins to emerge as they are tapering by staying up late, spending all day playing in the sun, etc.. What they do away from the pool is as important as what is happening at practices. Rest, rest, and more rest are in order. Save up that energy. Save it for racing. Successful swimming is not magic. Successful swimming is part of the plan.

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The “Stroke Guru”

By John Leonard

Our old buddy Albert Einstein is credited with saying “all things should be made as simple as possible, but no simpler”. Occasionally we run into one of those situations in Swimming. I received a letter last month from a coach who said “I discovered that a few swimmers on my team were secretly seeing a ‘private coach’ for stroke work. By word of mouth, one swimmer who had been taking lessons from this person did well at a taper meet and the word spread. The stroke guru got the credit for the improvement instead of the parents crediting the training in the club setting, or the effort of the child herself getting credit. Naturally, not wanting to miss a good thing, parents flocked to the guru, without telling any of the team coaches. We just noted people missing from practice at time to time.”

My first thought was “can’t blame parents for wanting the best for their children”.
She went on, “We weren’t happy with this situation because the guru taught the strokes differently than we do, and it was undermining our program, and besides, the coach started contacting the children by phone when they were at swim meets to ‘help them’. “

My second thought was “well of course, you can’t have two coaches telling one child how to swim a stroke…all it produces is a confused child…and the phone thing…well, that’s just too much ego disguised as “caring”.

“Our facility and organization do not allow private lessons, and not one parent had approached us about work on a specific skill or technique before seeking outside help.”

Now my mind perked up. Why would an organization not want to allow private instruction? First of all, you can teach in a group, but correcting in a group is close to impossible. Taking the time for individualized feedback during practice to any real extent that is likely to be helpful, is “robbing time” from all the other swimmers. Of course you need private instruction time, and since its needed, it either has to be a part of the coach’s job description, or you have to allow the coach to charge some private and reasonable fees for private instruction.

The organization is asking for trouble when it won’t allow the expertise of its own coaches to be utilized to the fullest possible extent by members of the organization and it’s an open invitation to do something less desirable, like take a child to a “stroke guru” for outside help.

Talk about shooting yourself in the foot!

“I feel the parents are looking for a quick fix and are willing to pay anything to make it happen…..whether it’s a new tech suit or private lessons for their child, in order to “fast track” their swimmer. Am I crazy? Am I paranoid in my thinking that this is a bad thing for our program?”

No Coach, you’re not crazy and it IS a bad thing, both for the children involved, and the program.

1. Stroke technique is a critical piece of constructing a swimmer’s success. And the coach who works with the child everyday must be in charge of constructing and correcting that technique. Trying to do it once a week, without watching the child train daily, is like trying to cook a meal by telephone from 1000 miles away . Can’t be done. But what WILL happen is that when the child swims well, the parent and the child will attribute the positive to the guru…(because that’s what is different) and the guru will happily accept that applause….and when the child swims poorly, it will be the fault of the home coach whose training is “not correct.”. Utter and complete nonsense.

2. The reality is that swimming success is a complex interplay between technique and training and the two must be in harmony. Only the home coach can do that. The guru is ONLY looking at a snapshot in time when they work with the child and the home coach sees the whole, lifelong movie of the child in action and over time. Does a child need a great deal of technique work? Absolutely, and it must be completely integrated into the training program of the athlete…so the new techniques can be learned first by concentration and focus, then incorporated into some moderately stressful sets and finally into the crucible of competition. If you can’t do it under pressure, it is of zero value to the athlete.

3. Every coach needs to be a good teacher of technique. And every organization must realize that to be successful, they must provide all they can to enhance the success of each athlete…including supporting private correctional assistance as needed by the coach’s judgment.

4. As a Parent, we all want what is best for our children. We should chose a swimming team based first on the character of the coach…..if your child grows up a lot like the coach (and many will, since they spend so much time with them…) would you be happy with that? Second, based on the technical teaching and training skill of that coach.

While it is tempting to “go somewhere else” for an appetizer and then to the home coach for the main course and then somewhere else for dessert, it’s a LOT better for the long term health of the athlete’s swimming career, to have the “whole meal” in one setting.

Remember that the bottom line of performance is confidence in what you are doing and commitment to one team, one coach and one organization. Swimming is far too difficult a sport to be done individually…it takes a team

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June 2010

"I Went To The Results Board To See How I Did…"

By John Leonard

It was a great teachable moment. Out of the mouths of young people come things that “set up” the coach for an opportunity to do some great education. When an athlete came over to me and started with the sentence at the top of the page, here was my response.

“Really? You didn’t already know how you did?”

“Well, I was sixth the 100 fly and 5th in the 100 back and….”

“ No, really, you didn’t already know how you did?”

“What do you mean?”

“Well, what did you do incorrectly in the 100 fly and what do you need to do to improve?”

“You said I have to keep my hips up on the back 50 and make sure I keep breathing every second stroke…”

“and so….??”


“and so, THAT is “how you did”. Not the place. The place means nothing. I can take you to plenty of swim meets where you can finish first….and can take you to even more where you’ll finish dead last……where you finish depends on what others have done, not on how you have done…..You need to measure two things…your time versus your best time (which is you against the previous best you) and how you did compared to the assignment I gave you before you headed for the starting blocks. How was your time?”

“Well, I don’t know, I never swam long course before.”

“Of course you haven’t, so now you have a time to measure yourself against…congratulations. And do you need a results board to tell you how you did?”

“No, I guess not.”

“Don’t guess. Know that you don’t. If you go to the blocks with clear goals, you know how you did without anyone else needing to tell you. You can evaluate the race for yourself, and “know how you did”.

“So what is the race for?”

“Two things…first, it’s always easier (and more fun) to swim fast when you are racing someone next to you. And second, as you mature, there is a purpose to “winning races”, but in the developmental stage, it’s a terrible way to evaluate yourself……. racing is stimulation, not measurement of you as an athlete, a learner, a person…. anything….. Enjoy the race, but measure against your own best self.”

Please everyone take that lesson to heart and mind.

All the Best, Coach John

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When a Child Starts on the Swim Team as a Teenager

“My 13 Year Old Son Has Just Started Swimming Competitively. What Are His Chances Of Succeeding Having Begun At Relatively Late Age For A Swimmer?”

Answered by: George Block, Aquatic Director of the Northside Independent School District, San Antonio, Texas.

The word “chance” reflects the disparity between possibility and probability. There is a long history of late beginning male swimmers doing very well, from George Breen to Rowdy Gaines, but the “possibility” doesn’t matter. We’re talking about your son.

First of all, he has to have certain basic physical abilities. Can he float with his lungs inflated? Can he streamline and glide when he pushes off the wall? Does he have normal strength and flexibility? Is he in good health?
You also have to find if he has some basic psychological abilities. Is he attentive? Is he a good listener? Does he follow instructions well? Will he persevere?

A little higher up the ladder, I would consider his athletic background, his extracurricular activities and his academic performance.

After this evaluation, the parent needs to work very closely with the child’s coach. The coach can tell you if your son has “talent”. Does he have the “feel” of the water? Does he learn quickly?

Finally, you must look at the team and the environment. Are swimmers performing well on the local level? The state level? Are they doing well at the Junior Nationals? Senior Nationals?

None of those things can explain the short, uncoordinated kids who try out as freshmen in high school and go on to become superstars in college. That is explained by perseverance. Coaches see perseverance beat talent every day. Perseverance in its most tangible form is “being there” and it is what changes the odds from possible to probable.
In swimmers who take up the sport “late”, the effects of training are always more “acute” (short term) than “chronic” (long term). Since your son won’t have the chronic training history of some of his teammates, he will need to train more effectively, have better attendance, and learn more from each competition than they do.

This may seem like a full order, but actually it’s great opportunity. In the long haul, the “process” is more important than “the product”. If your son decides to commit himself to excellence in competitive swimming, he will have taken a major step out of the crowd that seeks only mediocrity. He will be one of the few “committed” in an age of “dilettantes”. He will have to plan, organize and work for long term goals. He will have to arrange for the cooperation of those around him; parents, siblings, coaches, teammates, teachers, and friends. He will also have to measure his own success. Yes, your son can be successful, and, yes it will be difficult…but that is what makes it worth doing.

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Lifetime Fitness

Growing recognition that many American children are neither developing sufficient fitness, nor learning appropriate lifetime health habits has caused leading physical educators to re-evaluate their long-time methods and shed the traditional coach/drill sergeant image for an educational approach that gives young students the tools for lifetime fitness.

Ron Feingold, Ph.D. of Adelphi University in N.Y., and one of the leaders in this movement explains,”To me, what's relevant is what they learn about fitness, and how do they feel about physical activity. The goal should be to get them to enjoy fitness and physical activities and to understand their benefits."

Accordingly, progressive P.E. teachers are exchanging their former emphasis on teaching competitive sports skills and administering competitive fitness tests for an approach that encourages students to adopt "appropriate lifelong exercise behavior," and a healthy appreciation for physical activity. The proverbial "ounce of prevention" will help children improve their long term health prospects by developing healthy lifestyle habits from an early age.

The new priority is that kids should know how their bodies work after they've had 12 years of physical education. As one teacher said: "It's more important that they understand how to develop strength and cardiovascular fitness, how to train safely, and to have a basic understanding of what happens when you move, than to know how to shoot a basketball."

The changing focus of thinking about youth fitness is also leading to a re-examination of fitness testing methods. Such competitive tests as the Presidential Physical Fitness Test tended to discourage those children who needed help the most. Kids who performed poorly were embarrassed both by taking the fitness test and by their results, while better athletes were rewarded for their performances.

That test has now been adjusted to make it an educational process and to focus on personal improvement rather than performance level with rewards and recognition to those making progress from previous tests. "We want kids to buy into the idea that it's the activity that's important and the performance score is secondary," says Dr. Marilu Meredith, director of youth fitness programs for the Institute of Aerobics Research. "If we can impart an activity habit - and keep it fun - they'll stay active and they will be fit."

What actions can both parents and age group coaches take to import these ideas into age group swimming?

1) Consciously communicate to kids the importance of aerobic fitness and "healthy hearts" by raising their level of awareness of swimming's aerobic benefits.
2) Be more conscious of the importance of your own role modeling in maintaining good health through personal fitness programs.
3) Balance emphasis on achievement and performance for age groupers with emphasis on the simple values of participation for the long term and communicate swimming as simply the first step in a lifelong fitness habit.
4) Tie in the value of good nutritional habits, not simply for better performance, but for health's sake.

If we adopt a health-related outlook for age group swimming we'll be giving the kids in our programs a form of lifelong health insurance that can't be purchased at any cost.

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Good Starts

It’s clear to anyone observing a swimming meet that some swimmers are much faster off of the blocks. Differences in starting ability from one swimmer to the next are easy for parents to observe. Unfortunately, it is one part of the race that is not always mastered equally well by all swimmers. There are two contributing factors to the success of the start: learned skill and natural ability.

The simple fact is that not all swimmers are built the same. Some will always be better starters because they are born with a higher percentage of "fast twitch" fibers making them more explosive and capable of getting off the starting block faster. It is an hereditary factor and cannot be significantly changed through training.

But start ability is not all heredity as proper mechanics also contribute. Coaches teach these mechanics several times a week and can help the swimmer make significant improvements over time. It is important to remember that swimmers learn at different paces. Despite the best efforts of coaches, some swimmers will take longer to learn a good start than others.

Before judging a swimmer’s ability to get off the block, either as very good or as needing a lot more coaching, look at where and when the swimmer surfaces after the start. After the starting signal, who gets to the 10 meter mark first? It’s not always the first swimmer off of the block. A study done several years ago examined the relative importance of the initial quickness off the block versus the swimmer's ability to enter the water, streamline, kick, and breakout properly. According to the study, how the swimmer hits the water and what they do in the water are of far greater importance than speed off of the block. This ability is a complex skill requiring a lot of practice, mixed with the right body type. Some argue that it is more dependent on body type which is a factor a swimmer cannot control. The fact is, that because of body type and buoyancy, some swimmers streamline better than other swimmers and with proper kicking an breakout mechanics will surface in front of other less able swimmers.

So what can we make of all this? Answer: always look at the larger picture. Is the swimmer improving and is she or he happy? That’s the larger, larger picture. Looking at the “smaller larger picture” one needs to consider all aspects of the race including good approaches to the walls, good turns, proper breakouts, good stroke mechanics, proper race management, and a great finish. It all adds up. If the swimmer has not yet developed a great start, entry, and break out, there are many other areas of the event we can look to for success.

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What We Do In Age Group and Stroke School Practice

Written by the ASCA Staff (Who actually do coach senior, age group, and novice swimmers every day.)

Parents, you are always welcome to observe practice and if you do you might see two or three different ability levels doing different things depending on the objectives for that day for each group. Above all else, their safety and well being are our primary concern.

In general, there are eight different things we do in practice, usually not all in the same day. We work on skills including freestyle, backstroke, breaststroke, butterfly, and starts and turns for each stroke. We do drills which emphasize various aspects of each of the strokes. We race -- giving the swimmers a chance to swim fast which helps develop coordination, strength, and racing strategies. We work on basic cardiovascular conditioning doing longer swims of 200 to 1000 yards at a time depending on ability or by doing “sets” of shorter swims with limited rest, for example swimming ten times 50 yards with 15 seconds rest between each swim. We have fun — we play a game once or twice a week or we do relays. Fun can mean more than playing a game, it can also mean learning something new or swimming farther or faster. We provide opportunities for fun every day. We present life skills sometimes during a pre-planned 5 to10 minute interactive discussion and sometimes during an appropriate teaching moment. Topics range from learning how to listen to instructions; to positive self talk, to personal responsibility. We also offer dryland training which helps increase coordination and strength. All of our dryland for age group and novice is done without weight equipment and the greatest care is taken to use proper technique and to be safe.

The final ingredient, and our favorite, is to challenge the young people to do something difficult -- something they might not have thought they can do. The role of the coach is to set the appropriate challenge before them, to prepare them to meet the challenge, to cheer them on, and finally to praise them for a job well done. Stroke Work, Stroke Drills, Racing and Speed Work, Cardiovascular Conditioning, Fun and Games, Dryland Training, Life skills, and Challenge: these make up our day-to-day practice routine.

A Short Note on Practice Times

Practice starts on time every day. That means we begin the first exercise right at the beginning of our practice time. If children are late, we welcome them and get them going right away. If the work being done at the time they arrive requires a warm-up we will accommodate that need in order to avoid any risk of injury or strain. Practice also finishes on time. If your child needs to leave earlier simply approach the coach directly and we will get the child out of the water immediately. Please do not approach the poolside to directly take your child out of the water – see the coach first. You may also send a note with your child if they need to get out earlier.

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Kids and Two-Career Parents

The prototypical swimming mother, renowned for devoting herself wholly to her children's swimming careers is nearly an extinct species. With both parents working in 70% of households, the old swimming mom is now a career mom, with all the stresses and complications that brings. And that means everybody in the world of age group swimming must adjust - from coaches who will have to be more reasonable in enforcing rules on practice attendance and parents who must plan more thoroughly to arrange kids transportation from school or home to an afternoon practice the demands the sport makes on families who must give up now-precious weekends to attend meets.

Making time for kids, jobs, and the personal needs of every family member is the greatest challenge in the two-career family. A child who feels neglected by busy parents will feel resentful. Here are some hints adapted from PARENTS magazine on how to prevent kids from feeling neglected.

It's important for kids to feel they're not competing for attention with their parents' careers. Dr. James Comer, professor of child psychology at Yale University suggests putting your child's practices, competitions, and special events on your work calendar and trying to plan work requirements around them. If one parent has a more flexible schedule than the other at particular times, that parent would take on greater responsibility for involvement in swimming activities. Whenever schedules permit, both parents should attend the kids' activities. When neither parent is available, make arrangements for the children to call on neighbors or nearby relatives.

Dr. Comer also suggests parents should be willing to receive a call at work from their children at any time. If an ethos of cooperation and teamwork evolves through honest and open communication of the reasons for both parents working, children will be unlikely to abuse the privilege. This can also be an opportunity to give children added responsibilities and a meaningful role to play in achieving family goals. Parents who actively plan for and show a clear interest in their children's activities will find that the kids, in return, respect the needs of their parents.

Above all, Dr.Comer stresses the importance of listening to the children's concerns and being willing to acknowledge the shortcomings of the situation to address the kinds of plans and cooperation needed for all family members to have their needs met.

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