Planning for competitive swimmers

As a coach you ought to ask yourself the following when it comes to planning for competitive swimmers.

Do you keep records of the following?

Sessions plans
Weekly (Microcycle) plans
Monthly (Mesocycle) plans
Annual (Marcrocycle) plans?

You’ll find mine here. Preparation is important, we know that, but it is assessment and reflection of what you did afterwards that will build your knowledge. Better still if you share it with others, those who can set you right, those who are learning from you too, as well as colleagues. Learning is all about collaboration, deliberation and gradual aggregation of experience, beliefs and applied knowledge blended with theory.

By habit I‘ve always kept a journal, I’ve been blogging since 1999. I learnt to type as a teenager and often say that a week doing a touch typing course at Oxford’s College of Further Education has proved more valuable than the three years I did as an undergraduate at the university.

Some people get into the habit of keeping handwritten session plans and these various cycle in an academic page per day diary. Bill Furniss who coaches Olympic Champion Rebecca Addlington keeps such a hard back Collins diary/journal. A bunch of us trainee Level 3 coaches had the wonder of being shown the pages running up to Rebecca’s Olympic swims. It was touching to see Bill’s notes, doodles and clear delight when she won. (I think he made a note to himself regarding how to deal with the media).

Assesments – assignments and written exams for ASA Level 2 and Level 3 Coaching

Paper Assignments

I have in-front of me an Amateur Swimming Associations (ASA) paper for the Level III Senior Club Coach certificate. There are 12 sheets, facing side only. The paper is waxed, copyrighted and stamped with the ASA logo. Having attended a day long workshop on the topic, done some reading and from my own experience I complete these assignment and submit. It ought to be submitted as is; this is in part a test of authenticity. I have handwritten my responses. My habit and way of doing things is to have it in a word document, so I load the text and tables, complete the required questions/tasks, print off and submit both parts. Invariably I get a note about the typed up/printed off version being so much better … it takes skills that even I lack to write something in some of the minuscule boxes.

I was discussing on Monday with the ASA how to avoid plagiarism with e-assessments.

I mentioned Nottingham University medical students attening a computer-based assessment. I mentioned software that can spot plagiarism. I struggled however with the kind of forms the ASA uses as these tests seem to be have written with the EXAMINER in mind … i.e. to make them easy to mark. Which also makes it easy to cheat. The answer is the same, not open to interpretation. More or less. This isn’t strictly fair … papers are returned covered in red ink – I have redone one paper.

There has to be a sign in process that is used to identify a person.

How many people cheat? Is it such a problem?

Apparently so. Even with certificates and qualifications it appears easy to falsify documents. And often, these determined people are excellent teachers/coaches who have learn their trade as competitive swimmers and/or on the job, so they know what they are doing, they simply don’t have the piece of paper.

Memory Cards

I also have in front of me a set of handwritten cards given to me by a colleague who has just taken her Level II Coaching certificate. She failed the written paper. She used these cards to test herself. My intention is to put these into Spaced-Ed, as an exercise, possibly to create or to begin to create a useful learning tool.

I like the way Space-Ed prompts you over the week, tests you on a few things, then leaves you alone. You have time to assimilate the information. Is it easy learning? It is easier learning … nothing beats a period of concerted effort and self-testing to verify that you know something or not.

Whether electronic, or paper … or the spoken word, there is always a bridge to gap, a translation, as it were, of the information a person wants or needs to assimilate and this assimilation process.

Common to all is EFFORT.

Do you work hard at it for longer periods of time … or divide the task up into smaller chunks? Which works best? For you, or anyone? Is there a definitive answer? No. It will vary for you, as with anyone else. It will vary by motivation, inclination, time available, the nature and importance of the topic, the degree to which this topic is covered in print or online, or in workshops and in the workplace. In deed, my contention, would be that the greater the variety of ways to engage with the information the better it will be retained and the more useful it will be when required in a myriad of ways to be applied or is called upon.

On reflection

I learn from writing somethign out by hand. I learn again when I type it up. I may not be engaging with it ‘in the workpale;’ but there is engagement non the less through my eyes, hands and fingers. Similarly the person who wrote out this pack of 71 cards (both sides written up) was preparng themselves, afterall, for a written exam. She knows her stuff poolside, her struggle (as I know is the case for many) is translating this into exam-like responses in a highly false setting, away from a pool, from swimmers, having to read words to respond in text, rather than reading an athlete (observation) and responding with a fixing drill or exercise.

Is it OK to change your mind over a session you had planned?

How I involve swimmers in the planning process? What’s the benefit of this?

Get them to complete a goal sheet or assessment sheet and from this consider personalising the plan, either adapting what they would do as part of a squad or think about a individual set and scheme of work. They buy into something if they feel responsible for it – this kind of intrinsic motivation is more powerful than extrinsic motivation.

When I change my mind.

I hadn’t appreciated that most of my swimmers would be taking part in a massive internal gala the following weekend and they naturally wished to practice starts and turns rather than drilling on specific strokes. I was more than happy to accommodate so after a warm up we worked on starts, turns, streamlining and transitions for all strokes from the deep end and shallow end.

Expecting a group of seven swimmers to turn up for a session that was earmarked for BK I found I had only one swimmer. Looking at his notes I knew this would be a great chance to work on his dive and BR so that is what we did.

Working with a group of young adolescent swimmers who were having problems with the rigid sessions being delivered by the former coach and knowing that fins would engage them we did a programme geared around dolphin kick and drills into FLY.

The aim is not always to get the planned result from the session, but to get a result or the best result from the session you end up taking. This might change because of the mix of swimmers or additional info: such as a event coming up or once in a while the need to shut close the pool for emergency repairs resulting in a need to do something else.

Content to push the training group hard whenever I took them to cover for someone else I was surprised to learn that half of them had just come from an hour long land based training session so were not only warmed up … but actually pretty tired out too! The session I had for them that included an 800m warm up then 1600m VO.

Swimmers have goal sheets that invited them to assess their strengths, weaknesses and goals.

They discuss this with me and this will then be reflected in the kind of sessions they do. They are asked to remind their coach of their individual ambitions/plans which may simply mean a swimmer ding more arms only work, or working on a combination of strokes or specific drills with a set that all can follow.

 

What can go wrong before or during a competition … and how to deal with it

Some factors that affect a swimmer’s ability to perform in competition and what to do about it

Factors Affecting Swimmers

Why These Need to be Planned for
1. Illness

 

It is hard to prevent a swimmer from picking up an illness short of advising them to take sensible precautions as anyone would against the common cold & tummy bugs (basic hygiene, i.e. wash your hands) Depending on the illness and when it occurs advice may be sought from a doctor and the swimmer rested. Depending on when this needs to occur it could be dropped into an impromptu ‘taper’ and their return to training measured out accordingly.

 

2. Injury

 

Whilst actions should be in place to prevent sports related injuries from to from occurring there are a number of reasons why a swimmer may be injured, such as taking part in other sports recreationally e.g.  a swimmer breaking their big toe mountain biking the weekend before a national event  and another being mugged. The swimmer who went mountain biking the weekend before an event ought to have understood that he risked putting in jeopardy his team’s opportunity to race. In a relay team where we have no realistic substitutes the athletes need to be advised not to take risks leading up to an event.

 

A group of boys mugged a swimmer for his mobile phone – hitting him then threatening him with a knife. His compliance to their demands was commendable … and interestingly his return to training, which had to be gradual, saw him uncharacteristically in a fighting mood.

 

3. Growth Spurt

 

Depending on the age of the young male or female swimmer a significant growth spurt could profoundly effect the way they swim, either because they haven’t fully adapted to the new size/shape of their body or because there are muscular or bone injury considerations to be taken in relation to training and competition, the degree of anaerobic training they might do, even whether or not they dive in off the blocks or whether they swim specific strokes such as Breaststroke and/or Butterfly if they are having issues with their backs or knees. Aware of the swimmers biological age and by keeping abreast of their development advice can be sought and sensible decisions made by the swimmer and his or her coach.

 

4. Poor response to tapering

 

Each person responds differently to tapering, when to start and for how long and what exercise they do leading up to an event. A coach and the athlete should respond intuitively to the physiological and psychological needs & desires of the athlete and the importance of the event for which a taper is being done … and what worked one time may not work the next when the swimmer is older, fitter, a different shape, in a different mood and preparing for the same or a different event!

 

5.  Not used to Long Course events

 

Regular or programmed training in a 50m pool, or both. i.e. visits to  a 50m people every week or every month with THREE periods or more in a 50m over a week during a camp. Training sets at longer distances to replicate the additional effort required in the long course swim i.e. racing over 75m 125m 225m 425m.

 

 

How to bring about optimal performance in relation to factors at a competition that can affect an individual’s performance

How to bring about optimal performance in relation to factors at a competition that can affect an individual’s performance

Factor Your Strategies

Hydration

 

Educate athletes to understand why the need to be hydrated during training and at competitions is important. This ‘education’ ought to include a classroom/conference style presentation, with supporting literature and perhaps drink samples provided by a sponsor. As well as publicity for the event going onto the club website, in the club newsletter, on the club notice-boards and in swimmer’s log books, a sheet outlining hydration principles would be used to make the information readily available to swimmers, coaches, parents & team managers. Ensure that swimmers have drinks poolside and that these are suitable to their needs – some energy drinks containing too much glucose for example.

 

Team Spirit and Unity

 

How swimmers get on with their ‘colleagues’ is vital, the lane dynamic can go wrong, as can the mood of the squad or certain swimmers in it, even affecting the entire team depending on who is involved/responsible. From the outset club members, squad or not, need to understand the need to abide by certain club rules, but more than that to participate in some of the charity & social events the club puts on that creates a sense of belonging and combined pride and commitment.  Attitude of parents, committee, coaches & teachers all counts her … even the presence of Club Flyers & Posters around the ‘home’ facility, as well as the wearing of club swimming caps, costumes, tops, hoodies, t-bags & so on. This team ‘spirit’ is also enhance through internal & external PR, posting of results, writing up of event reports, appearances in local papers and putting laminated cuttings up on notice-boards and linking to news on the club website and sharing stories in the club newsletter. All this creates ‘unity’ at an event, as does sharing a coach, and staying at the same location, eating together …  and staying together in a poolside ‘corral.’

 

Environmental Issues

 

Travel distance to the location. Outdoor, v.humid poolside, poor seating, nature of warm-up arrangements – is there a separate pool for warm ups & swim downs? 25m or 50m. Local weather and time zone, time of year (hot, cold, wet, snow etc) Changing rooms/cubicles, team changing, quality and cleanliness of toilets/showers. Access to appropriate food & drinks. Lighting, distance from changing rooms to pool. Temperature away from the pool. Crowding. Bins.  Ease of reading electronic boards. Ease of greeting parents/friends. Sound.

 

Length of Competition

 

Over a day or days, how long during the day between warm up and heats and events. Heat declared winners or finals. Award ceremonies during or after events. Electronic timing or officials … or both.

 

Format of Competition

 

Suitability or otherwise of running order and the events chosen by individual swimmers who may or may not feel good or otherwise about the choices they originally made and the competition they now face … or don’t face. Some events become a non-event if there are few entries …

 

Level of Competition

 

Just as swimmers competing in events where they could appear to do so badly they are humiliated so swimmers that run away with the events won’t gain anything if they are just swimming against the clock and if they mock the event by swimming slowly it does them and the club harm.