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

Follow me: @t2aquatics


  1. A very interesting information. Nice to learn its behavior as well.

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