Why monitor

The end goal of any training plan is to make sure players are ready to perform at the peak of their abilities on race day.

A big part of this is trying to make sure athletes are being worked at the appropriate level without risking injury through overtraining.

Monitoring the load athletes experience during training is an effective way of doing just this.

Monitoring offers insights that inform decisions like adjusting the intensity and content of practices to make sure predetermined targets are met.

The ability feed this information back to athletes is a great tool to inform them about their effort, motivate individuals, and turn findings into immediate actions.

The little dashboard I shared in the last post allows me to monitor intensity and watch a variety of training load metrics such as Monotony, Strain, Fitness and Fatigue accumulate in real time.

The thinking behind monitoring training loads is to help me…

Track intensity

Are swimmers working hard enough during high quality sessions? Is an ‘easy’ training session having the desired effect on an individual athlete, or is it pushing them harder than anticipated?

The dashboard shows how hard each individual is being worked during each session.

Pre-game workouts

Training sessions the weeks leading up to competition are typically performed to prevent fatigue ahead of the race itself while fine tuning the skills and hone speed. This monitoring lets me see when the athletes have reached cumulative load targets planned in advance AND compare these with the 6 weeks leading into previous race preparation phases.

In hard practice

When a hard practice has been planned, you want to make sure it does what it says on the tin. Monitoring Training Effect in lets me do this. However the planning allows me to ensure that I don’t suddenly increase load to a point where injury is a potential risk


By inviting players to view the dashboard at certain times during practice, or at planning sessions, this can motivate them to kick on and improve training standards. Athletes, by their nature, are competitive. When it is appropriate, showing their data in comparison to teammates plays on this and can increase motivation.


Context is key. Data in an isolated drill/session must be appreciated in the context of wider workload and the previous data collected so that an effective and correct decision can be made.


Record Everything

“Measure what is measurable, and make measurable what is not so………….and record EVERYTHING”

Galileo Galilei

Ok so I added that last bit but I’m sure Galileo would approve.

Having been recording the basics for quite a while, last season I made a concerted effort to measure more and track more. The result was a much more comprehensive view of the effects of the training program on each athlete. the feedback I was able to provide was much more specific and targeted.

But I started thinking that I am recording so much that there has to be a way to not only look at the effects on previous training units, but also to use that information to inform future training.

Now what I have come up with for this season is in no way ground breaking and I am 100% sure that others have been doing it for years and do it better but, I’m pretty pleased with the results I have so far.

I know that there are relatively inexpensive monitoring tools available but being a little bit of a geek I wanted to see if I could build an athlete report dashboard with excel. Lots of google searches and YouTube videos later I think I have a system that I can implement.

  1. ATL, CTL & TSB

Screenshot_20180816-085549__01Acute Training Load (Fatigue) is an exponentially weighted average of training stress scores.

Chronic Training Load (Fitness) takes into account the consistency, duration and intensity of the last 6 weeks of work.

Training Stress Balance (Form) is the balance between these two.  This score is highly individual but generally should be on the positive side if you want to race at peak fitness.

What I generally try to do is keep the TSB in the green zone (not afraid of the red at various stages of season). then when tapering for competition control the recovery and try to maintain the CTL while reducing the ATL.

2. Wellness

Screenshot_20180816-085606__01The wellness score I use is a combination of Sleep, Fatigue, Mood, Soreness, Diet and Stress. These are scored out of 10 with 10 being the best score (obviously). I realise that this is entirely subjective but the athletes have been doing it for a year now so should have a fair idea what they are doing.

This graph plots the weekly training loads (bars) against the wellness score (line) and I hope to see overall wellness improving when load reduces into competition.

3. Resting Heart Rate

Screenshot_20180816-085606__02Resting Heart Rate is fairly self-explanatory, the athletes use their phones to record their HR while in bed in the morning.

Really all I am looking for is a pattern and over time it should be possible to see if they are on the verge of getting sick.


4. Strain and Monotony

Screenshot_20180816-085557__01Ok so this is a new measure for me this season. RPE is the training load of a single session, Monotony is a reflection of the training variation across the week and Strain is a reflection of the overall training stress across the week.

Training monotony is not about boredom, but is a way to measure the similarity of daily training. A lack of training variety in training stress (monotony) is a key factor in causing overtraining syndrome). Monotony is related to supercompensation and the need for adequate rest to recover from training.

I try to keep the monotony under a score of 2.

Strain is a metric of the overall of the overall stress that an athlete is undergoing and is better than simply looking at volume. The strain score that would lead to overtraining is highly individual as elite athletes will be able to train at much higher levels than beginners.

5. Planning

Screenshot_20180816-085616__01Like I was saying earlier, I figured there had to be a way to use the data gathered to inform future decisions. This graph shows a visual representation of a planning process.

The coming weeks planned load (blue) can be directly compared to the previous 6 weeks loadings. The Chronic Load (heavy dashed line) is plotted and I can see if the plan falls within + or – 50% of it. This will, I hope allow me to avoid unplanned over loading (or unplanned adaptation weeks).

The other cool feature here is the ability to track the 6 week leading into previous rested meets (red squares) allowing me to compare the planned rest period with what has (or has not) worked previously)

Screenshot_20180816-085620__01These are a further comparison to the previous 6 weeks work loads. I try to not suddenly increase load from week to week but rather build over time.





Coaching is a balancing act between science and art.

Any tools that I can use to help direct my thoughts,  and back up what I believe I see on a daily basis on poolside, has got to be a good thing.

This is just a little snap shot of some of the (what I think are) cool features I am adding to training program this year.

Fingers crossed this will allow me to provide individualised training programs for each athlete within a training squad and (hopefully) produce better results more consistently.


I will keep you posted



Mindfulness & the Christian Coach

You simply cannot live in todays world and not have heard of mindfulness. It has become a bit of a buzzword these days.

an article in the Sunday New York Times pointed out

…Mindfulness has come to comprise a dizzying range of meanings for popular audiences. It’s an intimately attentive frame of mind. It’s a relaxing, alert frame of mind. It’s equanimity. It’s a form of rigorous Buddhist meditation called vipassana (insight), or a form of another kind of Buddhist meditation called asanapanasmrti (awareness of the Heart). It’s M.B.S.R. therapy (mindfulness based stress reduction). It’s just kind of stopping to smell the roses. And last, it’s a lifestyle trend, a social movement and – as a Time magazine cover had it last year – a revolution.

Like, I’m Sure, many Christians, I struggle with the concept of mindfulness, largely due to its Buddhist roots, and yet at first glance, there is something attractive about it. In the midst of an overworked, consumerist culture or a culture of relentless competition and pushing for the next level performance, couldn’t mindfulness off us something true and good?

There are a couple of concerns 

#1 – “as a Christian, mindfulness goes against my theology, as its a Buddhist practice”

It is true that mindfulness has its roots in Buddhism, However the type of practice that is employed by athletes and coaches is totally westernised, it is devoid of any spiritual or religious connotations and simply focuses on the act of awareness. at its very core It is stress reduction. 

Stress damages our emotional, mental and physical bodies, costs billions every year, it has a negative impact on our children as well as the athletes ability to operate at their very best. Mindfulness is an incredibly inexpensive, powerful and easy tool in dealing with challenging and often overwhelming issues.

#2 – “As a Christian, mindfulness is about ‘clearing the mind.’ This opens a gateway to demonic/evil forces, thoughts or actions”

Mindfulness is not about clearing, In fact, its pretty much the opposite of that.

Mindfulness, on every level regardless of which exercise you practice (mindful breathing, walking, hearing etc), is about bringing awareness to thought. What is ‘cleared’ is the overwhelming majority of thoughts – it teaching you how to quiet the incessant dialogue that ravages our brain to bring forth quiet, clarity and clam.

It is my belief that mindfulness offers Christian a way to deepen their faith in, and to develop a deeper connection to, God. By learning to ‘tune out’ distractions and focusing on the moment, listening to that still small voice offers a way to learn, grow and focus completely on what God wants for our lives.

As a coach, I have debated the use of mindfulness with my athletes, it is something that I should encourage, is it something that we should utilise? it has undeniable benefits for race preparation and readiness.

Should a Christian coach encourage their athletes to practice mindfulness?

the mind is the athlete

My answer, at the moment, is a resounding yes, (Once again let me stress that I am referring to the completely westernised, non religious form of mindfulness). It is my belief that the calm focus on the immediate, the ability to calm the doubts and just act in the moment is a huge benefit to the athlete.


I know that not everyone will agree with me and that is fine, debate is healthy and this post barely scrapes the surface of a huge subject.

Until next time



Finish the Race

Now, when I started this blog I had grand ambitions, I was going to post thought-provoking coaching insights on a daily basis, I was going to challenge the status quo (not the band), I was going to be a pioneer in my field. 

That was the plan, then I realised, I don’t have that many thought-provoking thoughts!

I started posting on a semi regular basis on some stuff, did a few series on teaching, started one on building a program, I’m a third of the way through an A – Z (if H is a third distance I didn’t actually count). things other than swimming started to creep into my posts on occasion but again, only occasionally. 

As a coach there are a number of things that I ‘preach’ to the guys in the squad. one of these things is 

  • race ’til the end, finish the race.

Why put in all that training, time and effort to drift along at the end and throw away a PB or medal? It makes no sense!

It occurred to me, on more than one occasion, that quite a few of these idioms we coaches use, the hashtags we thing make us cooler, can be (and should be) applied to other areas of our lives.

We sell our sport, in many ways, on the back of the life lessons and invaluable skills that the athletes can learn to carry into the rest of their ‘post-swimming’ lives. But how many of us actually apply the same life lessons to our own lives.

Swimming takes discipline, you have to apply yourself to it. In the Bible, on more than one occasion the Christian life is likened to running (we will use swimming cos….it’s a swimming coach blog)

Paul lets us in 1 Corinthians 9:24-25 – Everyone runs in a race, but only one person wins the prize, run like you want to win. everyone who races goes through tough training, they do it to get a prize that will no last but we do it to get a prize that will last forever (paraphrased)


how do we finish this race well?

1 – Get rid of the extra weight – its a good idea to periodically evaluate what we are doing and ask is this thing speeding me on my Christian journey or slowing me down, is it a help or hindrance?

2 – The right motive – it’s not an Olympic medal we crave as Christians, our reward is in heaven waiting for us

3 – Clear objectives – the best way to move a tired horse (I’m reliably informed) is to turn it towards home. if we want our life’s to move in the right direction we must turn our focus to God and move in the direction He wants us to 

4 – Don’t look back – One thing that drives me mad is swimmers looking around them while they race, more than one race has been lost by a swimmer looking to see where everyone else was. If you want to win you have to accelerate towards that finish line, work harder towards the end. Not looking back in our Christian walk  does not mean we don’t remember, we need to learn from mistakes, it means that we no longer allow those mistakes to control us. 

It’s not enough to simply start the race, we have to finish!!

The only way to finish strong is to give our everything to God, we can’t hold back.

’til next time



Worried for the future…..

I was never a particularly good swimmer, I was ok i guess. Not that different from the vast majority of youth athletes who walk through the doors of our swimming clubs every day.

I disliked training and I disliked what, at the time, felt like constant nagging hindsight shows it was simply the insistence on good skills by a good coach who wanted me to achieve my full potential).

Even though I wasn’t a fan of these things I kept going to training every day – why? Because I liked racing! I rarely won, but i liked diving in and swimming as hard as I could. That competitive spirit is not that different from the vast majority of swimmers who walk through the doors of our swimming clubs every day.

Racing! It’s what keeps the fun and enjoyment factor in training. It’s what keeps youth athletes enthusiastic enough to keep training ling enough to mature and develop the skills their coach hopes will help them achieve their full potential.

More and more I worry about the future of swimming here.


I worry that we are getting drawn down a more and more prescriptive pathway.

A pathway that is depriving our young athletes of the opportunity to actually race – the result? It’s no longer fun

I understand the need for skills, I understand that in order to achieve at any level skills are preeminent and, more than that I 100% agree with a skills/process driven approach to coaching.

The problem is that we are being dragged down an approach that is far removed from the holistic approach to coaching a pathway that forgets what initially keeps our young aspiring athletes actually in our sport – diving in and swimming as fast as they can.


I’ll say it again – I 100% support the need for a skills/process approach to coaching. But whose skills do you work on if your athletes all leave to take part in a sport where they are allowed to compete and have fun?

Coaching is definitely a science, I love graphs and charts, buts also an art form. Above everything else though coaching is about people.

Our governing body must surely realise that the best way to raise the standard of swimmers within our sport is to improve the standard of our coaches not reduce the quality of education and courses.

I worry for the future of our sport.

H is for……..

Ok so I know I have skipped a few letters there but I will go back to them next I promise.

in the meantime

His for……………

Characterized by the belief that the parts of something are intimately interconnected and explicable only by reference to the whole, the treatment of the whole person, taking into account mental and social factors, rather than just the athlete.
Some of the decisions we make as coaches are hard.
It would be very easy to simply look at names and numbers on a page, come up with systems and apply them to those numbers and names. We may even get some results doing things that way but what is the long-term effect?
Holistic approach
If our job as coaches is simply to produce the fastest swimmers we can then maybe we can afford to simply push the physical side as hard as we can as often as we can. If they break down then we learn and maybe the next wave of athletes will be better from what we learn from our mistakes.
But as coaches we are responsible for much, much, more than this.
I recognise the fact that 90% of the athletes I coach will stop swimming before they achieve their physical potential. I work every day to try to ensure that each and every one of them has the option to continue to swim for as long as they wish. However, the benefits gained from a physically active lifestyle are huge. the physical, emotional, intellectual and lifestyle benefits are immeasurable.
Our job as coaches is to ensure the development of the whole person. We owe it to the athletes in our care to get to know them, to understand what makes them tick. we owe it to each and every one of them to care about them.
Something, it seems, that can easily be overlooked in pursuit of success.
Don’t get me wrong, I want to coach an Olympian, I want to coach multiple Olympians.
But is that the most important part of my job? Not really.
The treatment of the whole person IS the most important part of our job.
Til next time

Adventures in Swimming

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