Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Speaking To Young Athletes

When coaching/teaching/encouraging/supporting/laughing with young athletes there are a few different ways to make it all happen.

What is the best style?  That is certainly debatable.  I try to make a great situation for as many athletes as I can – reaching each athlete in different ways. 

When you look at yourself, aren’t you better in certain situations?  Some people are better under pressure.  Some are better in a more relaxed state.  Some need just a little of this or just a little of that.  For some having great practices is important.  For others, they need to feel a little pressure.  For others they need to be able to stay relaxed.  Sure being able to adapt to different situations is key, especially later in life, but with our younger athletes we need to help them along in a way that is both supportive and instructional.  Making sure each athlete gets what they need is key.

How in the world can we help our athletes reach THEIR potential while using ONE method?

How to figure out what each athlete needs?  Everyone is different.  Some need a personal conversation each day to keep going.  Sometimes this is just a short chat – as you stop them for a 50 at some point during practice to reach out to them.  Some need a weekly talk, a “how is it going?” type of chat.  Others need a chat less frequently.  Others don’t need chats at all - they just keep rolling along…. 

Those athletes that seemingly need less or nothing at all still need SOMETHING.  Maybe they just need something that doesn’t have to do with swimming:  “Learn anything cool at school this week?”.  Maybe they just need a quick reminder of something: “Later today we are going to do some 50’s Breaststroke.  One thing you can work on is even counting those 25’s and trying to hit your 200 pace that we talked about at the last meet.” 

When do you connect with athletes?  Before and after practices would be great but often swimmers are getting there just before practice and have to leave just after.  One time that is great to work with athletes is during the warm up.  Stopping them for a minute or two goes a long way.  This is often MUCH more beneficial than doing a few extra laps.  5,400 yards or 5,100 yards with a great conversation?  I would say the conversation is much more beneficial to the athlete.  You can do this in a few ways:
·         You can have a quick chat about practice yesterday.  This lets them know that you were noticing what they were doing even if you didn’t get a chance to tell them before they left. 
·         You can have a longer chat – maybe even getting out of the pool to look at time standards and writing splits on a dry erase board.  Don’t worry about giving someone too much attention – as long as you find time to reach out to every athlete each day, week, month.
·         You can talk to someone about an upcoming set at practice and what you think they should focus on doing during that set.  This is great because you have already connected with them so they are already prepared for the upcoming set. 

I also like to use kicking time to chat with swimmers.  I despise “social” kick, but sometimes we will do a set where they have kicking built into the set and it is a great time where their ears are out of the water and you can talk to them the entire time.  4 rounds of: 100 easy, 4x50’s kick, 4x50’s drill, 4x50’s swim can be an example of where you can spend the 4x50’s kick as a “keep it moving” type of thing and also a time where for 3.5 minutes you can talk to anyone that you want because their ears are out of the water.  Talk about what just happened on the swim or what is just about to happen on the drill.  Tell a joke or a riddle.  Connect with them somehow.

What about the kid who doesn’t listen when I speak to the group?  Well, you haven’t figured out how to speak to them.  Seriously.  Everyone is different and learns in different ways.  Try something different.  When you have to speak to the group for 5 minutes send that kid on 10x25’s on :30, one backstroke kick, one backstroke swim.  Then when you are finished with the long group talk, spend 60 seconds on that one kid and fill them in.  I bet you can get your point that took 5 minutes to get across to the group to that one kid in 60 seconds.  Sure, that’s a little more effort, but it pays off in the long run and is much less frustrating than having to stop and yell at the kid who doesn’t listen during your speech.  PLUS, you can recognize the kid who doesn’t listen for listening during your little chat.  Slowly they will come around and improve their group behavior.  You do not have to fix it in one day.

As you talk to young athletes you can start to figure out what makes them tick.  What makes them tick faster.  And faster.  And FASTER.  As you key into those triggers, you can start to access them at the appropriate times, like prior to meets.  Better coaches are generally better at finding what those “triggers” are in individual athletes.  They are better at connecting with them and thus better at putting those athletes in great situations for success.

Now, how exactly do you connect with a 7 year old?  More on that later….

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Jumping and Diving Games

Just a few things that we do to improve our jumping.  Building well rounded athletes is something that we want to do at T2 Aquatics and in these drills we use water as a landing pad!

Being more explosive off of the start as well as on every push-off is something that we would love to improve upon.  Plus, this stuff is FUN!

Friday, February 17, 2012

Bribery Works.

Bribery works.  No doubt about it.  Kids will do anything they can for an ice cream cone.  Or a new ipod.  Or a new X-Box.  Or a Lexus.  Or a yacht.  Or a house on the Gulf......  This however is short term. This type of thinking is fun to play around with, even I do it from time to time!  But THAT is totally different!  I am the coach!  I get to! (more on this later)  When parents play this game it clouds the issue.

Here is how I play the game:  I offer things like.... High Fives.  Pennies.  Random things at the bottom of my bag like paperclips or broken pencils. Pieces of fuzz from my pockets.  I am not kidding.  Kids go INSANE for these items.  7 year olds.  12 year olds.  18 year olds.  Boys.  Girls.

Here is why I play the game:  The key is teaching them how to focus, getting them to focus, and then feeling good about it all.  Teaching them to focus....thats the difficult part!  Getting them to focus.....thats the easy part!  Having them feel good about all of it.....thats the AWESOME part!

Small little "bets" for high fives and pennies need to be traded off into "personal" rewards as the athlete ages.  I try to do my best to help the swimmers substitute these rewards that are essentially nothing to rewards that are more personal.  Going from "YES! I won some pocket lint!" goes to "YES! I was able to do something that I didn't think was possible for me 3 months ago!  What's next???"  When a swimmer makes this switch from outside bribery to achieving a "personal" reward - that is when huge things can happen.

I believe it is easier for athletes to see that they are working for that feeling of accomplishment when the bribes are silly than if the bribes are for big-ticket items.  The bigger the item, the more they work for that "item".  The smaller the item, the easier it is for them to realize that the feeling of accomplishment is the best reward out there.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Practice Gains Have Been Made

Here are some of the sets that the T2 Aquatics AGP and AGD2 groups have been doing recently. The AGP group, where some of our 11-14 year olds train has come a long way in the last 2 months. The AGD 2 group has come even further. Both groups have spent some time doing some great aerobic sets. Some of these are "classic" aerobic sets. The key is having a great attitude about it and understanding what the challenge can bring you. They offer the chance to make some breakthroughs. The key? Make the breakthrough and USE IT.

Working with the swimmers and helping them navigate through these changes over the last few months has been both fun and exciting to watch. By watching what they are doing, mixing the sets and helping them progress through - it has been awesome. We just need to keep giving these swimmers what they need when they need it. It is these types of changes that I enjoy seeing the most. How boring is doing the same thing every single day! We must have purpose with what we are doing. It is just so much more fun that way!


Some Examples From AGP:

Half of AGP did 40x100's on 1:20. The other half did 40x100's on 1:15. Just about everyone made these without a single miss.

Some kids in AGP did a freestyle set in December that was:

3,000, 2,000, 1,000, 800, 600, 500, 400, 300, 200, 100 (all on 1:15 per 100)

They did it. What did they prove? That they could do it. It was a challenge - the biggest they have ever had. 25x100 Free on 1:10 doesn't seem so difficult now does it??? The 500 Free seems so....short now doesn't it? Maybe we could get some swimmers splitting a 500 Free at :58, 1:01, 1:01, 1:01, 1:00 from someone in this group soon? These guys grew their engines on that day!

The entire group going from: 8x400 FRIM (on 6:00) to:
8x400 FRIM (2 on 6:00, 2 on 5:55, 2 on 5:50, 2 on 5:45) to:
8x400 FRIM (on 5:30) -

These are the training jumps that we are making. Huge strides quickly. It shows great changes in the group as a whole.

So what? So what you say? We can do a set and crank down the interval. Whoopdy do. When we do sets like Monday Jan 30th (LCM) - you can see where we DO SOMETHING with the breakthrough.

4x100 FR Moderate on 1:40
4x100 FR Even Pace on 1:30

Simple enough. We had four 13-14's average 1:12 or better. We had three 11-12's average 1:13 or better. Not too shabby. Especially for where we were a few short months ago.

Taking these gains and translating them to some more speed practices mixed in there over the next few weeks is key. At T2 we will be doing that! We WILL be doing that! Many of you have surprised yourself over the last couple of weeks. Let's keep that going!

Some Examples From AGD 2:

In AGD 2, where some of our 9-11 year olds train, we have been making some great strides as well. A few months ago very few members of the group could swim a set of 100 Freestyles on 1:45. I think we had one swimmer that could make 10x100 FR on 1:30 at the end of the Summer. Now, most of the group is doing BACKSTROKE on 1:45 without issue. We did this set on Feb 8th:

8- 75 FR, 25 BA on 1:35
8- 50 FR, 50 BA on 1:40
8- 100 Back on 1:45
      *(Some of our 10&Unders did the same set but with 75's instead of 100's.)

We were building some confidence with our backstroke turns/finishes. Something that everyone can get a little better with. Sets like this (with repeat backstroke) really help age groupers get familiar with the walls. Speed and confidence with this in races can really be an advantage, especially at the age group level. Most swimmers just do not have it!

The next practice we followed up with an entire practice of FRIM:

8x50 easy
8x50 easy
8x50 easy
8x50 easy

Swimmers were able to comfortably work down their times while doing a few other things like streamlining to the flags. At the end, we were able to maintain our stroke, maintain our attitude, maintain our speed and swim very fast. It was great. The set took the entire practice basically and it was awesome! It makes me look back at where you guys were 12 months ago and LAUGH! One set we did in January (when I was just getting to know you guys) was 10x100's FR on 2:30. And most of you could not do that!

The next practice we did some kicking 5x200 IM Kick Descend 1-5 on 4:30. Working on our descending skills and just our overall general kicking ability. It worked out well. We haven't been doing much of this type of kicking - but we are starting to get into it. It was great to have your heads out of the water for a bit as we were able to work on how to read the clock and have it help you stay on track. Key. Lot's of swimmers overlook it. The attention to detail can really help young swimmers! The interval will certainly come down as we get stronger and better at controlling our speed - so get ready!!

After that set we did some drills and then worked on our speed and underwater kicking/breakouts with some Fast 25's. Just a 75 easy then a fast 25 in groups. We got our racing on. (Racing our guts out!)

Mixing those longer ladders and aerobic sets with the kicking with the speed stuff is our plan for AGD 2. You will see huge changes in yourself and your swimming. Doing it with a great positive attitude and drive to be better is key. Let's get going!

Just some more awesome things happening at T2 Aquatics...... What strides will we make in the next few weeks? Where will you be able to do then that you are working towards today?

GO T2 !

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Open Turn Skills/Drills

We have a great video for you about Open Turns. (Special shout out to my man Paolo for being a good demonstrator for the video.)

Open turns are one of those things that age group swimmers just do not generally do very well. It is one of those "forgotten skills" that we talk about. Those are the skills that coaches generally know what swimmers need to do, but for some reason (especially at the age group level) they forget about. Maybe they go over them at practice but they just do not demand that the athlete do them in the competition. Swimmers forget to do them. Coaches forget to look for them. It is all about best times. It is becoming a lost art at the younger end of our swimmers journey.

Sit back and watch at a meet. They MAKE A DIFFERENCE. At every single meet you can find a few swimmers who are very polished. When you watch a meet those swimmers POP. Things (especially approaches into the walls, turns, and breakouts) start stand out to you. These athletes seem to do things with greater ease. Less motion. They are smooooooooth. They are fast! They make up ground and they increase leads on their competitors in these areas.

Put down the ipods/ipads/iphones and watch a few heats one meet. You will see.

Imagine if you demanded great turns from yourself on every wall at tonight's practice? Tomorrows? All week? All month? How much better would you be? A lot.

Now, for the video:

One of the awesome (and unintentional) things about this video is looking at Paolo's hands. He likes to have his left hand on the wall when he does an open turn. Everyone has a favorite! This is fine for Breaststroke, Butterfly, Fly/Back, and Breast/Free turns. When you do a Back/Breast turn - you may touch with your right, you may touch with your left. Being good with both arms is awesome. When Paolo does his Back/Breast turn he actually touches with his non-dominant hand. His right! Could you tell? I couldn't at first. Watch it again-

He did an awesome job with his non-dominant arm. Now, if he could just throw a 95 mph fastball with both arms.....THEN we really have something!

**One more note about the Fly/Back turn which we did not cover in the video. It is the Exact same as the Fly turn demonstrated with one exception: When leaving the wall you look at the wall and then you continue to keep your nose up as you push off. You still drive your knees up and slide under the water for your streamline. Keeping your nose up will leave you on your "side/back" as you push off for backstroke.

Let's get a little better with these turns!

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Racing Your Guts Out

One of the things that we are always doing at T2 is sharpening our racing skills and racing attitudes. Saturday morning the AGD 2 group was working on one thing.

Racing. Our. Guts. Out.

A few rounds through of this set:
50 Back
100 Free (heads to tails send off)
then a 50 Freestyle RACING OUR GUTS OUT!

We grouped everyone into great racing heats and had some awesome results. Two of the best times were done by swimmers less commonly known as: "Bubba" and more commonly known as: "Turkey". These girls were battling it out all morning and then we had a little show down to find out once and for all if someone would actually "race their guts out". Below is that video:

These athletes were digging deep - just like we talked about a few posts before. Where would we be if we could do this on a daily basis? Oh where would we be......

Here are some other racing games we played at practice this morning. Swim out to the yellow laneline rings, swim back. Any stroke. Any style. Any way. Just get there and back. No rules.

Keep racing your guts out T2. At practice. At prelims. At finals. In Freestyle. In Breaststroke. In Relays.

Race. Your. Guts. Out.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Meet Rules

At T2 Aquatics we are quickly shaping the way that we want T2 athletes to act at meets. This is not only important for our youngest and newest swimmers, but also for our swimmers who have a little bit of experience. What can you change that will make you just a little bit more prepared? That will make you just a little bit better?

When we tap into these things we will be better performers.

Some of the things we do may seem odd to a few of you. Others are not very odd when you think about it. Why doesn't everyone do this? I have no idea....

Be Aware:
One of the first things that we teach the youngest swimmers at T2 is how to read the heat sheet (or meet program). This is where you find out which heat and lane you are in. This is where you find out when you should start your race preparation. When you should talk to your coach. When you should go behind the blocks. Even the youngest swimmers on T2 can read this program. There will surely be mistakes made in this process - but we will all learn. With a caring support system the swimmers will gain more and more confidence with understanding what goes on at a swim meet. Our youngest athletes can be proud of yet another new skill improved or mastered.

Over the years at swim meets I have heard coaches barking commands "Johnny - Go up NOW!" or coaches taking swimmers by the hand and leading them behind the blocks and placing them in line by the timers. Obviously those swimmers are not being put in empowering situations. Are they losing confidence? Or just not gaining any? I am not sure....

I have seen swimmers with writing scribbled on the back of their hands - or on their arm - or on their leg.... and I just have never gotten it. Why? If it says that I am in event 4, heat 1, lane 6 - great. What event is before event 4? Is it 3? Not always! What if the events skip around? What if no one entered event 3? What if there is only one heat of event 3? What if there are 100 heats of event 3? The only way to find out how long until your event is looking at the meet program!

A wise T2 swimmer once told me that when you have the event/heat/lane on your arm that it actually causes more stress and more anxiety because you are constantly looking at it. They were totally right! It's staring you in the face. You can't get away from it. What should you do? You should read the program, be confident, and go behind the blocks.

Be Supportive:
T2 Aquatics has had amazing team spirit at meets. Teammates are often found lining the edge of the pool screaming and waving for their teammates in the water or behind the blocks. This shows support for the swimmer in the water. This shows that we are behind them. This sometimes helps them get that little extra that they may need to win a race, or swim a great time. We have all seen it happen. Cheering also makes the swim meet more fun as a spectator. How many times have we been cheering and laughing about something? Good times making a "bridge" for the younger swimmers. Putting our arms up and yelling "WOOOSH!" when the starter goes off. Yelling out funny nicknames of the swimmers on the blocks....

Let's continue to put down the itouches, ipods, ipads, iphones for a few seconds and enjoy your teammates racing. Maybe you will learn something. Maybe you can support them - and they will return the favor.

Be Ready:
What does it mean to be ready as a T2 swimmer?
What did you pack? You do not need to pack a suitcase, but you do need a few things.
  • Drink - Water/Gatorade
  • Snacks- Fruit, Crackers, Bagel, Granola Bar
  • Towels - You probably need two
  • Clothes - Even at indoor meets we should be totally clothed. (more on this later)
  • Shoes - Flipflops are not shoes
  • Cap/Goggles - You probably need a back up
  • Suit - You probably need a warm up suit (also your back up) and a racing suit
  • Bag - ALL of your stuff goes in here!
Be Warm:
While teaching many of our younger swimmers in Clearwater about what to wear at a meet it was awesome to be able to turn around and see many of the older T2 swimmers fully clothed. Socks and shoes on. Pants, T shirts, Sweatshirts AND parkas on! This was INSIDE! Behind the blocks, all of that stuff is still on! Why would you stay warm and then 5 minutes prior to your race take it all off and get cold again? Who knows.... The best swimmers stay warm the entire meet. Don't believe me? Pay attention and watch. Ever see swimmers on TV (or in person) at bigger meets parade out prior to the event. They are always fully clothed aren't they?

Be Flexible:
There are many things that we can control. There are many things that we can not control. Throughout the season we will go through many different situations at practices and meets. These experiences will help us be prepared for ANYTHING. Swim meets can be chaotic at times. Coaches can be yelling. Spectators can be cheering. There can be delays in the meet - sometimes at the most inopportune times. Being flexible will help us stay cool in seemingly stressful times.

Be Relaxed:
Being aware, being ready, being warm, being flexible - these will help you be relaxed at a swim meet. Stay away from stressful situations. Roll with the punches and deal with what you were dealt. We will all be better for it in the end. This is a process of learning over weeks, months, and years. It takes practice. Let's get better.

Let's be self reliant. Let's be prepared. Let's eliminate distractions. Let's swim fast.