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.

 

 

Tapering for competitions – things to think about

Tapering isn’t a science it’s a process. How do you get it right?

Response to Taper Effect

Musculo-Skeletal

 

Resting the physical part of the body allows muscle growth to occur. Tapering results in more than just recovery and repairs, it gives the body a chance to improve and build.

 

Neurological

 

Mitochondrial connections between neurones in the brain are reinforced through repeated actions i.e. repetitions and practice. A period of tapering that comes too early or lasts too long or fails to recognise the need to maintain some skills levels could lead to a diminution of a skill. Thinking through an action or activity, without engaging the body in the action, may help maintain, even improve the way in which the body responds come competition time.

 

Psychological

 

By doing something different to the regular slog of training the athlete feels as if they are preparing for something big and therefore get keyed up for it. However, depending on their experience and self-awareness they may feel the taper is too long or too much, or that it is leaving them feeling weak, or out of sorts. They key is for the coach to ‘play it by ear,’ and to tailor the taper to the athlete not the athlete to a prescriptive taper.

 

Carbohydrate Intake

 

Weight gain would result if the same carbohydrate quantities are consumed during a taper as during the intensive training. Advice of a nutritionist should be taken.
Intensity of Training

 

Will vary from swimmer to swimmer, based on their biological age, gender, levels of fitness, the event/s they are entered for and specialisation (or not), as well as their response to the taper and any other factors that may come into play simultaneously such as injury, illness, bereavement, the pool being closed … your name it!

 

Duration of Training

 

As above, though it is reasonable bearing in mind the physiological capacities & abilities of swimmers, that age groups swimmers only need a short taper (if any), while senior/mature heavily muscled sprint swimmers tend to benefit from more.

 

Tapering, Super-compensation and all that jazz

‘Super-Compensation’

‘Compensation’ also known as ‘adaptation’ occurs through-out training for a swimmer’s performance to improve. This is when after a period of intense training fatigue occurs followed by rest & recovery which produces an overall improvement in performance. Effort followed by recovery that results in adaptation occurs daily, even twice daily if an athlete swims/exercises more than once and during the week if there is rest or period out of the water/not exercising (desired or otherwise). Super-compensation is simply a heightened, lengthened or extreme version of other minor or regular periods of compensation. In other words, after many weeks or months of intense training a longer period of rest and recovery occurs that is designed to produce ‘super-compensation,’ or compensation that goes beyond the usual degree of adaptation, so that the resulting performance in an important competition is greatly enhanced.

How long should a taper be for a swimmer?

The duration and timing of a tape will vary from swimmer to swimmer and depend to some degree on the importance of this event to this swimmer and the team for whom they swim, as well as the event or events or specialisation … as well as their age, levels of fitness and expectations. Age group swimmers need little tapering as they haven’t the muscle bulk that would benefit from the adaptation process of the taper, whereas as Senior swimmers competing in a sprint event may benefit greatly from a longer, deeper period of tapering. If a swimmer is keeping a logbook and they, perhaps their parent and/or team manager, and especially their coach and/or assistant coach, know and understand this swimmer’s make up, physical & psychological, as well as other factors that may impact on their training and the nature and need of a taper such as school trips &/or national exams, then between them a taper, that is to a degree bespoke, cane be planned for.

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.

Things to monitor, measure, weigh, count and assess during a competition

Things I monitor during competition and why

Everything and anything.

Finish time, splits, stroke rates & stroke count, quality of starts, turns and handover (videoed).

Heart Rate.

(Weight).

Intake of food & drink.

Medications (if they have any).

Competition Data

Type of Data

Purpose
  Everything can be measured, assessed and improved … and then compared like for like until the athlete executes a skill, such as their turn, at a speed that is equivalent to good club, county, regional, national or international standards. Measured in the reasonably repeatable and similar conditions of a competition, i.e. in quasi-scientific conditions. This pre-amble applies to each of the following responses.

 

Race Pace Does this achieve what the swimmer and coach planned for. If so, well done, if not, why not? And what bearing did this have on the way the race played out and its outcome?

 

Critical Speed Was it achieved? If so when, too early or too late. What bearing did it have on the outcome of the race. How did it compare to previous competition races swimming the same stroke in the same or a different event. Why is it right, wrong or the desired figure? What bearing will this have on training and the next time this event is raced by this competitor?

 

Critical Stroke Rates Were they achieved? If so when, too early or too late. From break-out then held, dropping off during the middle of the race, then picking up for the last 25m or 50m. As planned or not? What bearing did it have on the outcome of the race? How was stroke rate affected by other competitors? And the lane swum in. How did stroke rates compare to previous competition races swimming the same stroke in the same or a different event. What worked and what didn’t? What bearing will this have on training and the next time this event is raced by this competitor?

 

Start Reaction Times Good, better or worse than usual. If so why so? How did this competitor compare to the rest of the field? How will this affect skills training poolside and land-based exercises? Does the swimmer compare well or badly with his or her peers? At what stage are they risking DQ?

 

Turn Times The turn times produced will tell the coach, the coaching team and the swimmer a great deal: are they performing as planned, or not? If not why not? Is their a component of the turn that is letting them down and needs to be improved? What bearing does their turn have on the outcome of their race?

 

 

Stroke Counts Up, down, spot on. Paced during the race. If not as planned what influenced a change and what effect did this have on the outcome of the race?

 

Heart Rates Degree to which Max HRT is reached and speed of recovery to suggest fitness.

 

Split Times Strategy during the race – how it was raced and whether it achieved the desire result. i.e. Did the swimmer set off too fast and have nothing left for the end of the race, or vice-versa? Or did they show no control at all speeding up and slowing down through-out. The aim is for the swimmer to feel in control because the race they give, evidenced by the split times, was that planned for.

 

Finish Times PB or better … or not. Short course or long (outdoors or indoors). Period in the training cycle, health, fitness & psychological wellbeing of the athlete … they can all impact on the finish time.

 

RPE Their perception and individual response to effort which will vary by personality, level of fitness, mood & state of health. Just as a doctor find out most by asking the patient what they consider to be wrong with them so a coach can find out from an athlete how they are coping simply by asking them. Doctors ask you to rate pain between 0 & 10; here the common practice is to ask the swimmer on a scale of 0 to 20 where 20 is outright effort.

 

Blood Lactate Levels Ability of the body to remove (or not produce) lactate when under sporting stress, and the ability to train this in … or to exploit a genetic advantage.

 

 

When it goes wrong. Dealing with competitions upsets :(

Stressful situations that you to deal with effectively at competition.

From experience!.

Stressful Situation

Remedy and Outcome

Rumour that a swimmer who was competing in a national triathlon event the next day wanted the other swimmers in this national schools relay competition to swim badly so that they would fail to get through to the final and could therefore leave the event early.

Spoke with the swimmer’s mother who turned out to be the cause of the problem. Spoke with all the swimmers, two who would be competing the next day and it was agreed that the level of exertion required, even swimming at race pace, could not effect their event the following day. Splits show that all but one swimmer put in a maximum effort. In this instance those responsible for swimming at this school must decide whether its current policy on competitors competing in school events is sustainable or appropriate with young athletes who are competing successfully at the national level. Talking it through with all concerned, coaches, parents & athletes is the way forward. A compromise being found where events don’t clash and/or don’t impact in other ways. I have learnt to keep my ear to the ground, to try to be sympathetic to what is going on and alert to the environment and people. Answers, especially once poolside, need to come from the athletes and in this case without the intrinsic motivation to do well, they or one of them, was going go slow. Given the circumstances the one swimmer who posted an abysmal time looked like she had even contemplated committing a DQ. It’s hard to feel positive about this individual’s future sporting career – the real problem here may be a child kicking against a pushy parent.

Injury and in one case a swimmer being mugged left a relay team in doubt about their ability to retain their national title in an event from the year before. Whilst THREE out of the four were ‘up for it,’ the FOURTH, and the fastest swimmer with National Qualifying Times to prove his ability, was in a decidedly down mood.

Having met a parent from a competing team who happened to be the parent of an old friend of our stressed out swimmer from a club they both shared six years earlier I got the swimmers together – their meeting provide highly positive for the swimmer in question who suddenly found pride and purpose again and wished to prove to himself and his friends that he was just as good as he used to be. He took nearly 2 seconds of his previous PB and as the first swimmer had his splits up on the electronic board – 53.4 for 100m at the age of 16 being a great result for an athlete whose training at best could have been described as ‘part-time.’ After a year of self-doubt this swimmer has returned to full-club competitive swimming. This has taught me the role of serendipity and having an intuitive response to circumstances, in this case knowing the psychology of the swimmer who can be switched out of a ‘down mood’ with the right triggers … usually being able to share his love for swimming with others of a similar mindset and background, so who could be better than a mate from his old club.

At a day long event with the warm up followed by heats well before the event a number of swimmers were prone to the various deleterious effects including: cooling down, getting dehydrated in the heat/humidity or getting flustered/wound up by the times being posted by other teams and their coaches reading too much into this! Not helped by poor trial times they had posted this week which suggested all might be 2 seconds or more of PBs.

They played one-on-one game of basketball that kept them ready for their heats and drank energy drinks. Still warm up and ready to go they all achieved PB -2 and went on to come second in the final by 2/100ths of a second. If I don’t know the venue it makes sense if someone from the coaching team turns up early, even ahead of the team, so that they can get the lay of the land, find the best seats and spot any other opportunities!

Things I monitor during competition and why

Everything and anything.

Finish time, splits, stroke rates & stroke count, quality of starts, turns and handover (videoed).

Heart Rate.

(Weight).

Intake of food & drink.

Medications (if they have any).

Competition Data

Type of Data

Purpose

Everything can be measured, assessed and improved … and then compared like for like until the athlete executes a skill, such as their turn, at a speed that is equivalent to good club, county, regional, national or international standards. Measured in the reasonably repeatable and similar conditions of a competition, i.e. in quasi-scientific conditions. This pre-amble applies to each of the following responses.

Race Pace

Does this achieve what the swimmer and coach planned for. If so, well done, if not, why not? And what bearing did this have on the way the race played out and its outcome?

Critical Speed

Was it achieved? If so when, too early or too late. What bearing did it have on the outcome of the race. How did it compare to previous competition races swimming the same stroke in the same or a different event. Why is it right, wrong or the desired figure? What bearing will this have on training and the next time this event is raced by this competitor?

Critical Stroke Rates

Were they achieved? If so when, too early or too late. From break-out then held, dropping off during the middle of the race, then picking up for the last 25m or 50m. As planned or not? What bearing did it have on the outcome of the race? How was stroke rate affected by other competitors? And the lane swum in. How did stroke rates compare to previous competition races swimming the same stroke in the same or a different event. What worked and what didn’t? What bearing will this have on training and the next time this event is raced by this competitor?

Start Reaction Times

Good, better or worse than usual. If so why so? How did this competitor compare to the rest of the field? How will this affect skills training poolside and land-based exercises? Does the swimmer compare well or badly with his or her peers? At what stage are they risking DQ?

Turn Times

The turn times produced will tell the coach, the coaching team and the swimmer a great deal: are they performing as planned, or not? If not why not? Is their a component of the turn that is letting them down and needs to be improved? What bearing does their turn have on the outcome of their race?

Stroke Counts

Up, down, spot on. Paced during the race. If not as planned what influenced a change and what effect did this have on the outcome of the race?

Heart Rates

Degree to which Max HRT is reached and speed of recovery to suggest fitness.

Split Times

Strategy during the race – how it was raced and whether it achieved the desire result. i.e. Did the swimmer set off too fast and have nothing left for the end of the race, or vice-versa? Or did they show no control at all speeding up and slowing down through-out. The aim is for the swimmer to feel in control because the race they give, evidenced by the split times, was that planned for.

Finish Times

PB or better … or not. Short course or long (outdoors or indoors). Period in the training cycle, health, fitness & psychological wellbeing of the athlete … they can all impact on the finish time.

RPE

Their perception and individual response to effort which will vary by personality, level of fitness, mood & state of health. Just as a doctor find out most by asking the patient what they consider to be wrong with them so a coach can find out from an athlete how they are coping simply by asking them. Doctors ask you to rate pain between 0 & 10; here the common practice is to ask the swimmer on a scale of 0 to 20 where 20 is outright effort.

Blood Lactate Levels

Ability of the body to remove (or not produce) lactate when under sporting stress, and the ability to train this in … or to exploit a genetic advantage.