Like many clubs, we have a rule. “No water bottle, no swimming.”
We still allow the ones without water bottles to do dryland for the whole practice (it’s hard!), with trips to the drinking fountain every 15 minutes. But they aren’t getting in the water to swim without a bottle of water or a protein/dextrose solution (8% solution or less to ensure a hydrating benefit).
But last week at practice, something was different. The majority of swimmers were fine, but during warmup my assistant coach and I immediately started to see clear signs of dehydration in a disturbing number of younger swimmers. We soon had some complaining of headaches and leg cramps. We were, of course, telling them to drink. But, I swear that some of them seem to think of drinking as a form of medieval punishment. We ended up going to the swimmers and getting them to drink while we watched.
It was when one of the swimmers complained of a bad headache that we finally found out that there was a school track meet that day, and many of our swimmers were there. It was sunny and fairly hot (for Ontario), and it seems that in all that excitement they drank little all day long. And of course, after getting back from the track meet, they didn’t drink and headed straight to the pool.
Sometimes that’s all it takes. A change in their schedule and they forget to drink. The big problem is that as the weather gets warmer, they’ll get dehydrated more easily. When it gets really hot and humid, even a long walk home from school can create problems. And it’s not just the young, inexperienced swimmers either. One of our top senior swimmers regularly has days in which he slows drastically after about an hour and complains
I know this is going to sound like new-age jargon, but I can’t emphasize enough the importance of coaching with simple concepts.
This was really brought home to me this year with my volunteer coaching of a very special group of kids. They only train 2 consecutive days a week, 1 hour per day. And only for about 4 months of the year. I had noticed in previous years that specific stroke / body position corrections weren’t being carried over from one week to the next. And that makes sense. 5 straight days of no swimming will do that to anyone.
So this year I tried something completely different. Instead of using specific stroke concepts I boiled the essence of swimming down to a few key ingredients. Flow. Narrow. Quiet. And we would typically only deal with one of those concepts per week.
The idea here is that swimming should feel like natural, like a fish moving through the water. It should involve simple movements that help the swimmer move forward. Anything jerky, or lateral, or rushed should be eliminated. Efficiencies can always be added later, once a basic and simple movement pattern is established.
While this one sounds self-explanatory, it’s often defeated by the swimmer’s body awareness. Their swimming may look like a football lineman rushing the quarterback (or here in Canada I refer to it as a hockey player on a breakaway), their body awareness has them thinking that they’re narrow. This is where video is handy. Just showing them what they look like is often enough to get them swimming more and more narrow.
This is the concept I love the most. Quiet doesn’t refer to not making any external noise. Quiet refers to keeping the stroke simple and quiet in
Every coach goes through this difficult process. A swimmer breaks their arm, or wrist, and has to wear a cast for weeks on end. The swimmer inevitably thinks their season is over. But in reality it may be one of the best things that could happen to their swimming career.
Assuming the swimmer gets a waterproof cast, and doctor’s approval to exercise, the swimmer is now faced with a choice.
1. Spend the next many weeks (4-6 is not uncommon) kicking. Underwater kicking, surface kicking, vertical kicking. Every type of kicking you can image.
With this option, the swimmer not only gets much stronger legs, but also gets much stronger mentally. At first their legs will burn and they’ll have trouble walking up stairs. It will test their resolve. But if they’re tough enough, and if they have a proper program with sufficient recovery, their mind and legs will become stronger than they’ve ever been. When the cast is finally taken off, a gradual introduction of arms can take place, while the swimmer relies on their drastically improved kicking to get them through practice. And after just a few weeks with the cast off, the swimmer will be able to finish practices. WARNING: The coach just has to adjust their practices or the back / legs can get injured. It’s not advisable to just go to the back of the lane and kick every swim set.
We’ve had an experienced national age group qualifier do multiple PBs as little as 9 weeks after getting the cast off, and that was after a full 6 weeks with the cast. It’s not just possible to do this, but I’d say that the more powerful kicking and faster, longer underwater makes it probable. In the end, it could be the best thing that could happen to
Our team is like the vast majority of swim teams in the world. We have no real access to long course training pools, and so we train short course all the time. This makes the transition to the long course season difficult, and it makes the first long course meet of the year very, very interesting.
There are a two uncomfortable aspects of the first Long Course [LC] meet.
1) Entry times are very difficult to beat.
This may just be an Ontario thing, but we use a system where entry times for a normal meet generally default to the fastest converted time. Since we’ve just finished our Short Course [SC] season, it generally means converting these times to LC for this meet. The problem is that SwimOntario mandates a 2% SC-LC conversion rate, which is absolutely ridiculous. How ridiculous? About a year ago I did an extensive analysis on SC and LC times, and determined real conversion rates for the different strokes, distances and genders (see here). These rates vary from a low of 1.5% for women’s distance Free to a high of 5.8% for men’s Back.)
So for the first LC meet of the year, we’re taking our fully tapered SC times from last month, adding 2%, and then publishing these times on the heat sheet. Most younger kids, some older ones, and virtually all parents do not understand that these entry times are unrealistic. To them, these times form a binary Good Swim/Bad Swim threshold. It’s a system that is designed to frustrate kids.
Let’s take an example from one of our younger female swimmers at our first LC meet on the weekend.
Last month PB: 200m SC Back: 2:46.46
Add 2% for SC-LC conversion: 2:49.79
Proper 4.4% conversion: