Now, 1st of all let me just say that this is my opinion and is a reflection on myself as much as anything else. (I accept that it is possible that my opinion may well be slightly skewed)
As coaches we talk about Long Term Athlete Development (L.T.A.D.) and the 10,000 hours of practice needed to reach your full potential. We sat things like ‘Practice makes perfect‘ to our athletes all the time, but do we really actually buy into it? and do our actions as coaches show that we do? Are we really committed to the journey? Are we strong enough in our belief in ‘the right way’ to stick to it when other clubs seem to be having more success at a junior level? Or do we actually only pay lip service to the L.T.A.D. and accept that the majority of swimmers will quit by the time they reach 18 so train them to get as much out of them before they do.
In Irish swimming I am starting to come to the conclusion that this is a self perpetuation problem. We push senior training models on our junior athletes and they excel as age group competitors while they grow and become stronger, then they stop improving as their growth slows and their skill level is exposed. At this point they become disillusioned with all the hours of training and their lack of improvement that they stop swimming. We see this as proof that we are right to push them for age group titles as, after all, they are going to quit before they become seniors.
Dont get me wrong, I have been as guilty of this approach in the past, and I am sure that there are any number of coaches reading this who don’t fall into this trap and who enjoy great success with athletes right through to senior level. I can only talk about what I have seen and the experiences I have had in swimming. As a country/region Ulster has very few ‘senior’ age group swimmers and even fewer senior athletes and every 4 years we bemoan the lack of success in Commonwealth Games etc. seriously though, how can we expect to compete at a senior international events when we come from a country made up, almost exclusively, of age group athletes?
I have in the last year read a number of books that have, for me, reaffirmed my Nurture over Nature stand point. Both ‘The Talent Code’ by Daniel Coyle and ‘Bounce’ by Matthew Syed convince me that ‘we are that which we repeatedly do, excellence,therefore is not an accident but rather a habit’.
With that in mind I am searching for a method to implement ‘deep practice’
At Larne SC this year I resolved that we would start to do things a different way, hopefully a better way. I don’t know if i am a trail blazer (I seriously doubt it) I just know that i am tired of being ok with being ok. I realised fairly quickly that it would not be possible to change the entire club in 1 go without losing a large percentage of our membership so I had to make a decision about where to start.
The beginning seemed like a very good place so……
FUNdamentals – at this stage of a swimmers development (as I’m sure you all know) participation in general sports is encouraged and a structured, fun approach is advocated to learning the basic swim specifics skills, such as stroke technique. This is done through what the ASA terms the ‘ABCs of athleticism’, which refers to Agility, Coordination, Power, Endurance and speed.
This sounds great, but, what does it mean ‘on the ground’ for us , in Larne? Well we are fortunate enough to have a small swim school that we staff and run beside our competitive club. Here we focus on swimming technique working through the ASA swim stages 1-6. we are looking for all 4 competitive strokes by the time pupils graduate from the swim school and get offered a place in our Academy.
The Academy is where we finish the FUNdamental stage of the L.T.A.D. we have a 3 tiered system which runs on a very basic premise. We want to instil the foundations we can build on.
In Academy 1 we work purely on balance on 4 strokes, head and hand lead. a flat body position limiting drag.
In Academy 2 we add an ‘arm drill’ looking to maintain body position and drag reduction.
In Academy 3 we add a hesitation drill while still maintaining the drag reduction and the effective propulsive phase from earlier.
Obviously the skills of starting, turning and streamlining are a constant throughout.
We are also doing a few HVO type sets with each group, asking them to swim fast (but with good skills) for 10-15 meters.
All work is currently being done on 25m repeats with no turnover times but rather teacher led insisting on good technique at all times.
The level of work appears, to some of the parents, to have reduced and very rarely does a week go past that I don’t get told that they are not doing enough. I am hoping that by making these younger athletes better swimmers I can start them on a path to a longer involvement in this sport. I will however confess to being slightly worried that we may not swim very fast in the junior duel meets but I am telling myself that the important thing is that they will all be able to swim and that can only be a good thing.
Anyway I think that is probably enuf from me for now.