Thursday, August 23, 2012

Bag Tags and 8&Under Time Standards

When I first came to T2 Aquatics in December of 2010 not many swimmers knew what an A time was.  Or B.  Much less AAAA….  Many areas of the country use the USA Motivational Time Standards as meet qualifying times (A&Faster Meet, BB&Under Meet), but in South Florida, that just doesn’t happen.  Many of the T2 swimmers were rookies and trying to find their way through the sport.  Motivating a team of rookies to keep reaching for higher performance was a big challenge!  The only meet to qualify for was our LSC Championship Meet.  Most kids either had qualifying times for that and were not looking past it or they didn't have the times and didn't ever see themselves getting to that level.

The USA Time Standards are great for ranking and rating swims.  It has been around for a long time and it is an easy system for swimmers to understand.  There is always another step for them to reach.  (Unless you get to the AAAA level, but once you are there you can think about being ranked in the Top 10 Nationally.)  

In order to generate some excitement for performance and improvement we started awarding swimmers with Bag Tags when they reach a new level.  This season we will award 10&U swimmers when they reach the BB, A, AA, AAA, and AAAA levels for that stroke.  We will award 11-14 year olds in our age group program when they reach the A, AA, AAA, and AAAA levels for that stroke.  It has really helped the swimmers feel some pride in their accomplishments and they can wear their tags on their bags to show them off!  They look like this:

Shortly after the Bag Tag idea took off we started a similar program with our 8&Unders because they wanted some tags as well!  We “made up” some standards for 8&Under swimmers.  We have B, BB, and A levels.  This gives even our youngest athletes something to shoot for.  They were designed so that the A level would be right about a 10&Under B time.  We award Bag Tags to 8&U swimmers who have achieved the BB and A levels for that stroke.  When we race in practice we can try to motivate the younger ones by saying "who thinks they can get an A time in this 25 Freestyle?".  The hands shoot up and they really go for it!

If you are interested in looking, they are posted here:  T2 Aquatics 8&Under Time Standards

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Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Telephone Swimming

Yesterday some T2 age groupers played some "Telephone Swimming".  Two groups had very similar sets (20x25's on :35 and 20x25's on :40).  Before each lap I told the lane leaders what to do on the next 25 and they had to tell the second swimmer in the lane.  The second swimmer in the lane then told the third swimmer and so on.  The instructions had to be quick - and the swimmers had to focus.  It was a great listening game and I was able to sneak in a few challenges in there (which a few 25's of "FAST FLY" in a row will do!).  Besides, it was a fun way to do a little 500 yard warm up set!

Here are some examples of what we did:  Freestyle with 12 strokes.  Fast free with soft entry.  Kick, Kick, Pull Breaststroke.  Backstroke with a race finish.  Lane leaders choice.  Favorite stroke. Second favorite stroke.  3rd favorite stroke. 4th favorite stroke.  Fast Fly.  Soft entry backstroke.  5 free strokes then flip.

If we play this game a little further into the season the instructions will still be short but the swimmers will be expected to do more detailed things once they pick up all of the "cue words" that I use at practice.  "Shooter breaststroke", "3-2-1 breaststroke", or "NDL10Y"

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Sunday, August 19, 2012

Underwater Kicking Work/Fun

 This morning we worked on a few skills in a fun way.  I have a few "toys" that we use at practices from time to time - these two I can used in many different ways.  First we have a length of stretch cord that goes across a few lanes with a large carabiner on the end of it.  You can also use a small one - or just tie a knot!  The carabiner is easier for the kids to hook and unhook themselves.
The other "toy" that we used were these orange hockey pucks.  I think I got them for a dollar or two online somewhere.  I have 12 of them and I have certainly gotten lots of use out of them.  You could use heavy cones as well - but those are big and bulky and difficult to store.  These pucks you can be seen easily and they fit nicely in a drawer in the pool office.  -Plus even the youngest swimmer is strong enough to bring them to the surface for me!
I coached two groups today and we did a few things with these together.  First, we put the rope under the flags (5 yards from the wall).  Then I threw the hockey pucks in the water about 6-7 yards from the wall.  You can see the rope and a hockey puck a little to the right in the picture below.
We can do many different things with the rope and hockey pucks.  In one group we did some 25's where the odd ones were Freestyle with a awesome streamline and breakout.  You have to go under the rope!  Once you make it to the hockey pucks, you know that you have gone far enough.  On the even ones we had the really fun ones.  Today we did a 25 choice where you had to dive under the rope and swim underwater the last 5 yards.  I encouraged our more experienced swimmers to do a streamline kick the last 5 yards.  Generally everyone would have to do that - but since we are in the first week of the season I am a little more relaxed with some of our activities.  Here is a picture of the set up and a swimmer going under the rope:
In another group that I had we did some 50's where we did a 25 Freestyle and then a 25 Butterfly.  We generally do them this way (or going 25 Free/25 Breaststroke with Fly Kick).  The distance from the wall the flags is the FAST STREAMLINE KICKING ZONE.  When you are in that zone, you are kicking fast! Below is a video of that.  
The possibilities of drills like these are endless.  You can make a game out of it if you want.  It takes a minute to set things up, but hey, it is something different and it is either fun or challenging for swimmers (or both!).  

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Saturday, August 18, 2012

Now Go Warm Down

When I am coaching at swim meets there are always a million things going on.  Kids are racing, others are wanting to talk before their races, and others are wanting to talk after their races are over.  Often times there is a line!  How many times have I instructed "now go warm down" or "now go do a 400 easy"? With all the other swimmers in the pool hanging on the wall it can be difficult for younger swimmers to stay focused on the task at hand.

This year the groups that I am working with will have an "Official Meet Warm Down".  For one of my groups this is the warm down:
3x100 IM Drill continuous
3x50 "get ready" with :10-:15 rest
100 Choice

They jump right in and have a plan to execute.  The 300 should be a great start to the warm down - mixing the strokes and allowing all of the muscles to be involved.  Then they can move to something that will help them prepare for their next event.  They can work on some turns, finishes, breakouts, pacing, timing of race stroke - anything that will help them get ready.  They can finish it off with a 100 of their choice.  There is some structure in there - but also some room for personalization.

This is 550 yards and will be a great distance of warm down for swimmers ages 11-14.  It should take less than 9 minutes.  Swimmers should have time to do this warm down 95% of the time at meets.  Only rarely are their events so close together that they can not.  If so, they can shorten it how they need to.

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Thursday, August 9, 2012

How to teach age groupers to work hard in a positive atmosphere?

In a recent discussion with a 9 year old boy I asked about his extremely subpar performance on a fast 25 Freestyle in the middle of practice.  His response:  “I didn’t want to waste all my energy”.  In my head I thought, “Waste? It isn’t wasting.  What is the problem anyway?  Do you have to plow the fields after practice?”.
As the saying goes, there is no fun like swimming fast.  Some think of that feeling, when you know that you have pushed it to your limit, given it all that you have, as the best feeling in the sport.  How can we teach our younger athletes to not only enjoy that feeling but to access it and enjoy accessing it more often?  Hopefully on a daily basis!

The first way is to praise positive actions and habits instead of talent and high performance.  Actions that are hard work.  Talent and times are important, but praising the athlete’s inner drive will result in it coming out more often.  If you have a swimmer who is talented and everyone says “you are so amazing” they will say to themselves “I am amazing and I was born this way.  I am just so amazing….” and go about their day.  If you have a swimmer who is obviously working hard or improving on their work ethic you can say “you are working so hard.  That will really pay off – you will see!”  Or “you are working harder than you were last practice – that’s awesome to see.  If you can keep this up until the next meet you will see it pay off!”

If you have an inexperienced younger group of athletes start small with a single challenge set.  A set where it will be easier to measure their success, determination and fortitude (which I realize can be very subjective).  I love kicking sets for this because you can encourage them verbally the entire way.  If they are swimming you can still encourage them prior to the send off or by waving your arms as you walk around the side of the pool, but with kicking they can always see and hear you.  There is not much technique happening with a 200 or 500 or 1000 Freestyle kick.  It is pretty much you, your kickboard and your “guts”.

By isolating a set you can recognize improved performance.  A kicking example:  For 8&Unders I like the 200 Freestyle kick.  For 9-10’s I like the 500 Freestyle kick.  For 11-12’s I like the 1000 Freestyle kick.  I keep results from year to year and I also have fake “time standards” made up.  The 8&Under time standards are colors (blue/red/yellow/green…) and are set at 15 or 30 second intervals.  Both 9-10 and 11-12’s have fake standards that are B, BB, A, AA, AAA, AAAA, and Top 10.  These are set at 30 second intervals.  The last time we did this I told the group that they needed these things to have a successful 1,000 kick (not a fast one, a successful one):  Toughness, Endurance, Power, Determination, and Guts.  Not one of the things is a good Freestyle kick.  These are things that a kicking test can measure in my opinion. 

For real motivation use intervals less and repeat average more.  Swimmers like to succeed in things.  Of course there is something awesome about making a set like 10x100’s on 1:10 for an age group swimmer.  I think there is a big place for things like that in age group swimming, but not everyone in the group can make that.  Sure they need to strive to get themselves into position to do that – but in the mean time, if you do that each session they will fail and fail and fail and fail at it.  A better strategy would be to do something that everyone in the group can do.  This is a slippery slope however.  If you do 10x100’s on 1:30 you do not want your top swimmers holding 1:20 (when they could be doing the 1:10 set I was talking about).  We need to teach and motivate each swimmer to hold what THEY need to hold.  Each swimmer can be successful this way.  Some swimmers need to hold 1:05.  Others need to hold 1:20.  Everyone can do this and succeed together.  Everyone can push themselves to another level.  This type of set and training will be much easier if you teach them this as a 9&Under.  Once swimmers settle into their ways…it can be difficult to get them to switch directions!

Make your training measurable.  Keeping good records on what swimmers can do will help you motivate them.  One great thing to do is to write on a dry erase board everyone’s set goal.  This could be something that the coach makes up.  It could be your 500 pace.  It could be the second 100 of your 200 Freestyle.  It could be results from the exact set done previously.  You held :45’s last time.  See if you can hold 44’s today by making your pullouts sharper..  Whatever it is put it in writing so that the athlete can see it.  This takes time and effort on the coaches part but the athletes will respond.  When they accomplish the set, they will have worked hard and they will feel good about their accomplishment.  If a swimmer is having a difficult time getting to their goal times it should be easy for the coach to recognize and then you can jump in there and try to help them out.  “Streamline tighter off your first wall.”  “Concentrate on exploding off the walls on this one.”  “Bring back the last 50 with a little better rhythm.” 

“Tell them that they can do it.  You have to raise the bar, get their imaginations going.  You do not have to be manipulative to do it, just tell them to flip a little faster, push off a little harder, be a little tighter.”  -T2 Aquatics Head Coach Paul Yetter

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