Monday, September 10, 2012

Teaching Age Groupers to “Pace"

I selected this post to be featured on my blog’s page at Swimming Blogs.

Pace.  This can be so complicated to an 11 year old.  How many slow 500’s have you watched where the athlete says after: “I was pacing it.”.  Yeah….you were pacing it alright….

What does it even mean to an age group swimmer?  To most it means that they are pacing themselves to swim across the English Channel.
One of the things that we try to do at T2 Aquatics is get all swimmers to know their times.  When I say that I am talking about three different things.
  1. Best competition times.
  2. Best practice times/set times.
  3. All practice repeats. 

Best competition times.  I think that occasionally swimmers can go overboard thinking about times and put too much pressure on themselves to achieve that certain number.  In most cases I find that athletes do not put enough of themselves into KNOWING their times and WANTING to go faster on a CONSISTENT basis.  The first step is knowing your best times – then you have to want to go faster – then you have to consistently think about being better.

Best practice times/set times.  Going a 100 Breaststroke from a dive in practice is a lot different than doing a 100 Breaststroke in a set that is a 200 Free on 2:30, 4x50 Breaststroke Drill on :50, 1x100 Breaststroke fast on 1:30 (4 rounds).  A swimmer who can dive a 1:05 in the 100 Breaststroke cant expect to go a 1:05 on the end of each round of that longer set.  Some may be able to get really close.  Others may not….  Swimmers have to be in tune with what is good for them and what isn’t for different sets.  What is my best practice time?  What is a good time to repeat?  What have I done on similar sets in the past?  What can I do differently to get to the next level?  Coaches can help with this but the athletes should be holding themselves accountable to a degree.

All practice repeats.  At T2, we get all of our times.  Athletes are encouraged constantly to get their repeat times.  On easier, moderate or faster swims and kicks – it doesn’t matter.  Swimmers who do not look at the clock and try to figure out their time are missing the boat.  I tell swimmers who come into the wall without looking at the clock “If you don’t look, you don’t care.”  If they do get their times they need to know when things are going well and when things need to be adjusted in a big way.  For example, if we do a set of 10x100’s Freestyle on 1:30 and a swimmer who goes 5:00 in the 500 Freestyle is holding 1:12’s, they should know that they are holding 6:00 pace and that it is too far away to do much good.  I strongly believe that the time component in practice is incredibly valuable.  The clock is instant gratification to the athlete.  I don’t care if you are doing kicking or drilling or swimming.  It helps with motivation as well as a knowledge of what you are doing in your training.  It will take more focus, but the confidence bump is huge.

Ways to make it happen:

Go this time:  For our youngest athletes (8&Unders) this is the main way that we teaching pacing – but we use this for all ages.  The coach picks a time to swim a 25, 50, 75, 100 (whatever distance you would like) and the swimmer has to go that EXACT time.  Make the time 30.00, 36.50, 1:20.34 – whatever you would like.  Most of the time I like to pick a number that everyone in the practice can do.  Sometimes I will do a set of 10x50’s or something like that and have the first few heats of swimmers try to get 33.00 and the last few heats try to get 36.00.  We may go in groups and try a few repeats at the same time, then switch times.  This gets the swimmers excited to know what their own times were.  It also seems to make kids think “Wow.  I can go 33.00 over and over and over without a problem.”  This also teaches them to “know” what 33.00 feels like.  Swimmers also seem to always go too fast which gives me the rare opportunity to “yell” at someone for being too fast!  Always a funny thing to yell at swim practice.  Their bodies start to understand what that pace really is.  One of the best parts about this game is that even the swimmers in the back of the pack can win this one!

Ranges:  If we are doing a set of something like….15x100’s backstroke – swimmers should be grouped into 1, 2, or 3 groups.  Maybe the fastest group would hold 5 between 1:30-1:35, the next 5 between 1:25-1:30, the last 5 between 1:20-1:25.  The other groups can do similar things, just a bit slower.  Bigger ranges are easier to do, but as they get better at the “game”, you can make the ranges 2-3 seconds for 100’s.  This takes some planning on the coaches part to figure out which athletes should do which paces.  The most difficult part may be getting kids used to getting their times after every repeat.  Once you do it right though - it is awesome!

Race Paces:  This takes some planning as well but you can figure out paces for each swimmer on a certain event and then design your workout using that as your guide.  You can do a set of 100’s freestyle making sure each swimmer can do certain repeats at pace.  Maybe you do 20x100’s on 1:20 and 2 are moderate, then 3 are right on their 500 pace?  Maybe you just do all of them at your 1,000 pace?  Maybe you do them at the pace of your last 100 in your 400 IM?  The funny thing is with age group swimmers is a lot of the time if you can motivate them to do a set like this well and they beat their pace, it motivates them to really go for it when racing.  This training helps them know their best competition times as well.

Tell a friend:  Sometimes I stop everyone on the wall and say "What are you trying to hold on this set?" or "What are you going to go on the next one?"  I give them a few seconds to think and then I have them tell a friend.  Sometimes they have to tell the entire lane.  Then I can go around and check to make sure it actually happened.  Sometimes during sets I have them get their own times then they have to tell the person behind them what they went.  The last person in each lane tells me.  This all reinforces that they need to get their times and also holds them accountable.  Most kids what their times to get better and better.  Especially if they are telling their friends!

With all of these little games it is easier to start with kicking because the swimmers heads are out of the water and they can see the clock while they are kicking.  They can listen to instruction/motivation easier as well.  These games are great confidence builders for age group swimmers.  If you have a pace game that you play feel free to share-

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