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Chasing the Dream: The Pros and Cons of Professional Swimming

breaking bad money pool

Professional team sports are known for their incredibly high-paid stars. Just look at the money thrown at the top names in the big team sports, such as soccer, baseball, football, basketball, hockey and cycling. And not just for the top tier leagues. Many good players in lower leagues can make decent money.

There are only a few individual sports that can claim the same status – boxing, tennis and golf being the main ones. But track & field and swimming are slowly climbing the ranks. Grand Prix prize money, endorsement deals and even appearance money for the stars are starting to grab attention. In fact, quite a few of the swimming elite are estimate to be making a million or more a year.

This money isn’t just affecting those athletes either; it’s slowly transforming our sport. As the elite now have a compelling reason to stay on the top for longer, their names are in front of the public for longer. This brand awareness raises their visibility, and keeps swimming in the sports news. This in turn, helps draw more talented younger athletes into swimming when they might have pursued other professional sports. The result of all this is that swimming at all ages continues to get faster, which puts it in the news again.

After all, we have to remember that the sport of swimming competes against other sports for attention and dollars. And the more people hear about our sport, and watch our sport, the more popular it will be.

But like anything else, there are negatives as well. Recently, Patrick Murphy wrote an article in Swimming World, The Effects of Professional Swimming: Are Male Swimmers Staying in the Sport Too Long? about the some of the impacts of Professional swimming. He pointed out that as US male elite swimmers stay …read more

Source: Rick’s Blog

The View From Mount 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

Source: Rick’s Blog

Deconstructing Fly-Dive Butterfly


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

    Source: Rick’s Blog

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

Source: Rick’s Blog

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

Source: Rick’s Blog

Underwater Kicking: Some Numbers

UW kick

These days everybody knows about that underwater kicking is a fast and necessary aspect of swimming. And we all know that the fastest swimmers generally have incredible underwater kick speeds and distances. But what surprises me over and over is the general lack of numbers involved with this knowledge.

How fast is it? How long can top underwater speeds be maintained. What’s the optimal breakout point? What’s the speed difference between underwater kicking and swimming.

I’ve done some tests on my own swimmers, viewed a ridiculous number of videos, and have done some research to try to come up with some of these answers. So far, just for backstroke.

Underwater Speeds

The key to underwater kicking is that the swimmer is not generating speed, but merely trying to maintain speed. This is an important distinction, as it affects how the body should move. (For more on this, see the second half of my post, More Than You Want to Know About Underwater Kicking).

There are two other things to keep in mind with underwater kicking:

  • underwater kicking at its fastest is slightly faster than freestyle swimming
  • underwater kicking speed cannot be maintained for long

Put these two things together and we can start to understand the underwater strategy of elite swimmers. Ideally, you want to breakout of the underwater phase when the underwater kick speed slows down to swimming speed, or 15 metres, whichever comes first. There is no advantage in staying under if you’re kicking slower than you can swim. However, speed, fatigue and a need for oxygen all pay a role in the underwater phase. We’ll try to find out how much of a role they play.

First, how fast is underwater kicking?

Here are the results for average speed to 15m for the fastest underwater swimmers in the first length of the 100 backstroke at the …read more

Source: Rick’s Blog

The Lazy Way to Get Faster

lazy duck

I still remember this phrase from my university coach in my freshman year. It’s such an appealing idea. The Lazy Way to Get Faster. Who could argue with that?

I have to admit that I distrusted the idea at first. Swimming is known for fast freshmen, and of course being teenagers we already knew everything. So being casually told that we could get faster by being lazy was beyond my suspension of disbelief.

However, I can honestly say it works. As long as your definition of lazy is a bit loose.

The idea is that by the time you get to university, any increases in actual swimming speed will take a very hard work. Months and months of very hard work. However, the non-swimming part of races was a different matter. My coach confidently predicted that we could drastically improve our times just by getting better at starts and turns. (These days I’d add underwater kicking but my swim career predated that invention.)

He was right, of course. We spent a lot of time improving our starts and turns, and gained significant time reductions in the process. Far bigger time reductions than we could possibly eke out of the swim portions of our races. So while lazy may not be the correct term, it was infinitely easier to get faster through improvements to starts and turns than through swimming. Unfortunately, all of our competitors worked on this as well, but at least we were all a lot faster while we raced each other.

This all came home to me at our meet this weekend. One of our boys had broken his wrist 2 months ago (see my post on this here), and the cast only came off a couple of weeks ago. He spent the time training surprisingly hard on his kicking and …read more

Source: Rick’s Blog

Warm Weather, Dehydration and Swimmers


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 …read more

Source: Rick’s Blog

The Importance of Simple Concepts


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 …read more

Source: Rick’s Blog

So Your Swimmer Broke Their Arm…

waterproof cast

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 …read more

Source: Rick’s Blog

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