The View From Mount Stupid

mt-stupid

As coaches we are often expected to act as mentors, technical experts, motivators, physical diagnosticians, nutritionists, strength trainers, statistical analysts, etc. There are an incredible number of roles we play, and there is no conceivable way we can be experts in all of them. And yet, we have to take on these roles to do our job.

Ideally, we would have an Integrated Support Team that has all those experts at our disposal… But that’s not going to happen. So we get whatever experts are available and affordable, and we muddle through with everything else.

I wasn’t too concerned with this state of affairs until my son showed me the following picture, which seems to be from the Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal web comic.

Unfortunately, I immediately recognized myself (and many other coaches I know) perched happily on the summit of Mount Stupid. Only we’re not just talking as if we know all that stuff, we’re coaching as if we know all that stuff.

But in reality, how could it possibly be different? I doubt that there are many coaches in the world who are experts in designing training programs, sports psychologists, motivational speakers, sports doctors, technique masters, strength and conditioning experts, operational managers, and a host of other roles. And I doubt there are many programs in the world that have all (or even most) of those experts standing behind the coach, ready to help at a moment’s notice.

So what should we do?

I shouldn’t tell you what I think you should do. That would just be another sermon from Mount Stupid. But I can tell you what I’m going to do.

I’m going to try to move into the valley to the right. Let’s call it the Valley of Awareness. I’m no more knowledgeable there, but at least I know that I’m not …read more

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Deconstructing Fly-Dive Butterfly

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The FISU Men’s 200m Butterfly video from a few weeks ago quickly make the rounds for a quite surprising reason. The 2nd place finisher from Japan, Yuya Yajima, basically swam a legal version of the Fly Dive drill. If you haven’t seen it, it’s best if you view it (here) before reading ahead. Yajima is in lane 2, second from the bottom in a black cap.

His stroke rate ranged from 36 (1st length) to 30-32 (next 3 lengths). The winner, Koptelov, ranged from 43 to 50, while most other swimmers in that race had stroke rates in the low 50s. Yajima is basically taking about 2 strokes for every 3 taken by the more traditional butterflyers, and he still only does 2 kicks for every pull. For those of you who are interested in these things, his distance per stroke is up around 3.3 m/stroke! It’s quite an astonishing swim.

Some may be surprised that this is actually not a new way of doing butterfly. A few people have been using this technique, but not many. Check out this video that quickly surfaced right after Yajima’s video (here).

As well, a version of this stroke with 3 kicks as a drill has existed for decades. I first learned it back in the 70s. There are at least 2 versions:

  • 3-Kick Fly Slow in which the swimmer’s arms enter the water and the swimmer submerges, does one unhurried kick while keeping the hands out front, and then when ready, initiates the next stroke. This is a good drill for focusing on the initial pull phase.
  • 3-Kick Fly Fast, which is just the above drill, but done with a great sense of urgency. Useful for teaching flyers who start their pull too soon to extend their hands and stretch the stroke out a …read more
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Team Culture: How Do You Handle Mistakes?

Head in Sand

In the last few weeks I’ve read two excellent pieces about how organizations handle mistakes, and they came from two complete different worlds.

The first is a fascinating book, Creativity, Inc., by Ed Catmull, President of Pixar Animation and Disney Animation. He talks a lot about company culture, and how it’s critically important to the success of your organization to establish the right culture. One of his main points, and one that he says makes Pixar a special place to work, is that they openly acknowledge that they will have problems. When they discover a problem, instead of hiding it, everyone works hard to solve that problem. It doesn’t matter if it makes people uncomfortable, it’s the right response for that company.

julie foudyThe other piece was a by Julie Foudy, a Positive Coaching Alliance National Advisory Board Member. In her article and video (here), Julie talks about how emphasizing winning over development makes for an impossible environment for kids to learn and grow. She fully recognizes that paid coaches, “have to win to keep their jobs.” But she also points out that, “Making mistakes is a part of mastering any skill, and a young athlete will be fearful of failing when taking on a new challenge if a coach can’t concentrate more on development than the outcome on the scoreboard.”

So here we have people in fields as far apart from each other as possible: kids playing a sport and trained adults in a company. And they both come to the same conclusion. Accept mistakes as a natural part of growth.

I thought back to the many organizations that I’ve worked for, and how some environments were dysfunctional and uncomfortable. I once had the owner of the company I work for regularly yell at the people …read more

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Elite 50 Freestyle: Are We Swimming This Wrong?

Kara Lynn Joyce, from left, Dara Torres and Jessica Hardy compete in the women's 50-meter freestyle final at the U.S. Olympic swimming trials, Monday, July 2, 2012, in Omaha, Neb. Hardy won the final. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)

I have to admit, it took me a long time to figure out how to analyze the Long Course 50 Freestyle. After all, it’s basically a maximum effort sprint with no turns. That’s not a lot to work with. I actually got my break while I was analyzing underwater speeds (Underwater Kicking: Some Numbers) and I looked at Hill Taylor’s famous 50 Backstroke done completely underwater. I expected his underwater speed to only drop slightly once the effect of the start had passed. But instead I found that his underwater speed started at 2.4 m/s and finished at 1.7 m/s. That’s not a minor drop.

That got me thinking. Do elite 50 Freestylers also drop off significantly over the course of the length? So I started looking at Olympic champions and how they swam their 50s. The results sure surprised me.

(For those that are interesting in these things, I measured all splits and stroke rates on YouTube race videos, and adjusted for the actual frame rates of the videos. All times were measured at the head, except the 50m time. In order to take into account the hand touch at the end, I shortened the last leg of the 50 by 0.7m for men, and 0.6m for women.)

Men’s 50 Free

The figure below shows the race speeds of 5 men’s winning Olympic races. I measured times at the 15m mark, 25m mark, 35m mark and at the end. Note that Gary Hall Jr and Anthony Ervin tied for the win in 2000, but the view of Ervin was slightly better on the video so I used his race.

The thing that stands out to me is how the first 15 m are getting increasingly fast over the years. The range of speeds over the first 15m are from 2.8 m/s (2000) …read more

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