Category Archives: Uncategorized

When a Good Swimmer Leaves Your Team

If you’ve been around swimming for any length of time, then you’ve witnessed the impact of good swimmers leaving a team. It could be because the family moved, or the swimmer went to college, or even that the swimmer quit the sport (worthy of its own post – see Gary Vandermeulen’s recent post here). But this post is about when one of your top swimmers leaves for another team.

This is not all that rare an event: everybody from Olympic Champions and lesser mortals have changed clubs. I even did it myself many years ago. And while there is always a common theme in the reasons, the impact on those around them can be quite varied.

It’s almost universal that swimmers make these types of big changes because they think the move will make them faster. I still remember having complete confidence (in that typically omniscient style that only teenagers have) that it was all onwards and upwards for me. But there are a lot of other emotions as well, including frustration that this move is thought necessary, excitement at the new potential, and concern about fitting in with new teammates, a new coach, and a new environment.

From the coaches point of view, the feelings when a good swimmer leaves is similarly complex. There is definitely some frustration at all the effort that was invested in the swimmer, with the rewards to be reaped by another team. But at the same time, when a swimmer is unhappy and wants to go, it’s usually far too obvious to everyone around them. That attitude can create a negative presence on the team, and sometimes you don’t realize how destructive that is until the swimmer has gone. It’s as if everyone can breathe again. …read more

Source: Rick’s Blog

Quality versus Quantity

Qual vs Quan street sign

I know this is an age-old question, but it became fresh in my mind this week when one of my swimmers asked me why we weren’t doing the high mileage that so many other clubs are doing. As I explained to him, our philosophy is to prioritize technique and race pace over lengthy but slower sets. In effect, to emphasize speed and speed endurance over endurance.

However, and here’s where discussions start, there are many incredibly good swimmers who came out of heavy mileage programs. In fact, this old school slant towards heavy mileage has never really left us. There are legendary sets out there that amaze anyone who sees them. Sets like 200 x 100 or 50 x 400 shock us and excite us as we contemplate how incredibly tough those swimmers must be. And yet it begs the question: Does heavy mileage really improve our swimming speed? Considering that most swimmers specialize in 200s or less, it’s hard to imagine that an aerobic set lasting for hours can significantly affect an events lasting 2 minutes or less.

There don’t appear to be any definitive answers for this. So as some swimmers look at massive sets with envy, I’m faced with the task of trying to explain our emphasis on speed and speed endurance, mixed with lots of technique work. In fact, even now I think back with some sense of bizarre pride to the monster sets that I did when I was a swimmer. And then I think back to how my shoulders gave out and I had to leave the sport far too early. How do I explain this to a teenage boy who feels immortal and sees stardom in his future?

All that I could say is that in very wide range of training philosophies, ours leans towards less …read more

Source: Rick’s Blog

Reflections on the Value of an Early First Meet

Ian Thorpe start

Last week we had our first meet of the year. It may not seem that early for most teams, but it is for us. Most of our swimmers had their last meet of the year in late June, and we could only get back into the pool in mid-September. This meant we had just 5 weeks of training prior to this meet, after close to 3 months off. (We don’t have a summer league, and even if we did, I wouldn’t want my young swimmers training 12 months of the year).

So why have an early meet? Realistically the swimmers can’t expect to truly swim fast, and with the last competition 4 months ago, they can’t expect to compete well either. And that’s exactly the point. This is the one meet in the year where we can remove unrealistic expectations and focus on the process.

And here’s what we learned. These aren’t in any particular order, and I’ve probably left some out, but here were our goals for an early first meet:

  • get the swimmers re-acquainted with the competition process, including pre-race preparation, strategy setting, and post-race analysis
  • identify bad habits before they become ingrained
  • remind them of why they need to train hard (nothing reminds them of that better than getting beaten)
  • identify common problems that I need to address as a team issue

OK, so what happened at this meet?

Well, for the most part, it ran as expected. We had lots of the expected mistakes: warmups, race preparation, strategy. I attribute that mainly due to the lack of recent competition experience. There were also lots of individual bad habits that were exposed, discussed and a plan put in place to correct these in practice.

We also uncovered an uncomfortable number of common problems that I need to address right away. These included the underwater phase of …read more

Source: Rick’s Blog

Strength & Conditioning for Swimmers

underwater weights

Not too long ago I wrote about Mount Stupid (you can read it here), and how I and so many other coaches apparently. Well this year I climbed partway down from Mount Stupid and decided to ask a real strength and conditioning expert to handle what I’d been so confidently messing up for years.

Wow, what a difference!

Now, I should point out that prior to this year I thought I had the experience, first-hand knowledge and obvious intelligence to handle something as simple as S&C. I had a long swimming career, decades of being an athlete, and years of previous experience with coaching. I knew this stuff inside and out, right?

In other words, I was sitting smugly and happily at the very top of Mount Stupid.

So what has changed now that we have a real program? Just about everything.

  • We got rid of swim cords. We do enough swimming as it is. More of the same movements isn’t going to make us stronger overall, and probably just increases the chance of injury.
  • We started strengthening our backs. Swimmers are notorious for hunched shoulders, and that’s a huge problem if you want to have a strong core and back.
  • We started increasing our effective Range of Motion for important joints.
  • And most importantly, we focussed on major body movements: squats, hip hinges, Romanian deadlifts, presses, etc.

Now keep in mind, that most of our athletes are performing these exercises with just body weight. Only after some monitoring and testing have we added relatively light weights – in the form of sand bells – for swimmers who have demonstrated consistent and acceptable technique. This is clearly going to be a long term process involving years of development and monitoring.

So is it worth it?

Well, we ran a small 7-week S&C camp for …read more

Source: Rick’s Blog

Athletes and Their Dislike of Stretching

phelps stretching

Having been involved in quite a few different sports, I can state that athletes generally dislike stretching after practice. Others may disagree and say that athletes don’t dislike stretching, they HATE stretching, but you get my point. (I should point out that many athletes appear to love stretching before practice, but I think that’s just because it delays the practice!)

While science is starting to point out certain stretches and routines that may be harmful, it is generally agreed that the right stretches performed after a workout go a long way towards initiating recovery through gentle relaxation of tight and fatigued muscles.

The problem is, no matter how much I educate my swimmers about the benefits of stretching, many still put in sub-par efforts at best. Some coaches have suggested I should threaten / punish them, but that’s doesn’t make the reluctant athletes change their mindset. I need to find a way to make them want to do it. Right?

Nothing has worked so far. My guess is that right after a practice the swimmers are tired and their muscles are fatigued. And it’s right at this point that we’re asking them to voluntarily subject their muscles to more discomfort. While discomfort during swimming can be directly connecting with swim performance, which they want, discomfort during stretching is at best indirectly connected with swim performance.

The More Popular Types of Stretching

When I first started competing I was aware of only 2 types of stretches: Static and Ballistic. And we would do both types before and after practice.

Static stretching is the most common type where you stretch a muscle for at least 20 seconds, and usually 30 seconds.

We were taught that about 2-3 seconds into the stretch our body protects the muscle be inhibiting the stretch, as well as adding pain signals to warn us …read more

Source: Rick’s Blog

6 Rules For Becoming a Better Swim Parent

Coach - Play - Cheer (2)

The start of a season is a good time to review some of the basics. And the first one is the role of a swim parent.

Before I start, I should point out that most swim parents are actually pretty good when it comes to interacting with their kid’s competitors, officials and coaches, at least in comparison with other sports. In fact, swimming didn’t show up in any of the top 10 list I could find for worst sports parents. And this makes sense. Swimmers can’t hear parents during competitions, when the worst behaviours come out. And we don’t have an official that controls the course of the competition the way so many other sports do.

But just because we don’t have baseball or hockey-style parents physically attacking each other in the stands, or hear vicious verbal abuse of officials, coaches and opposition, doesn’t mean that swimming parents aren’t a problem. Ask pretty much any coach and they’ll tell you that dealing with problematic parents is the worst part of their job.

Here are 6 basic rules / suggestions that can help a parent become an asset to their team, and a positive force in their child’s life. The first two are directly from USA Swimming.

1) Be your child’s biggest fan, no matter what. Be positive and supportive, and help them feel better about themselves, especially after a poor swim.

Your swimmer will feel enough pressure from their coach, their peers, and especially themselves that they don’t need more pressure from their parents. In fact, swimmers perform best when they are relaxed. The perfect scenario is when they know that they can mess up in a race, and they will still be loved, supported and encouraged afterwards.

2) Don’t coach.

Coaching involves critiquing, and that implies criticism. Your job is to support your child no …read more

Source: Rick’s Blog

A Glimpse Into the Future: Comparisons of Junior and Senior World Championships

Junior versus Senior

A few weeks ago I wrote about US dominance and international parity in swimming, and how it has changed over the years (here). For the last decade or so we’ve pretty much had status quo, with 30-35 countries typically making finals, and the US only slipping slightly in terms of percentage of swimmers making finals.

With the 2015 World Junior Swimming Championships over, it gives me the chance to compare those results with the Senior results, and perhaps see where the world is heading when these juniors reach full maturity.

International Parity

Since the Senior analysis was based on finalists, that’s where I’ll start.

Take a look at that chart, and now look at the same chart for Juniors


We can see right away that the US Juniors did much better, making finals in 75% of their races compared to 61% for their Senior compatriots. But also note that most of these top 10 numbers are higher. In fact, when I go back to the data I can see that the top 10 countries at the Senior Worlds accounted for 68% of all finalists. While at the Juniors, the top 10 countries accounted for 81% of the finalists.

In other words, there is far less parity at the Junior Worlds than there is at the Seniors.

When I broke this down by gender, and the results get even more interesting.

2015 – Top Ten Countries – Finals %


Junior: 78%

Senior: 73%


Junior: 88%

Senior: 74%

The big surprise there is that 88% of the Junior Women finalists come from only 10 countries. That is an astonishing concentration of success in a few countries. And without the 2 swimmer per country limit, that % would most likely be well into the mid-90s.

To determine if the 2015 World Junior Championship was an anomaly, I also looked at the 2013 …read more

Source: Rick’s Blog

Deconstructing Lochte’s Underwater, and FINA’s Rush To Disallow It

Screenshot 2015-08-30 17.14.01

Although it’s not officially called the Lochte Rule, it might as well be. Ryan Lochte’s now famous dolphin kicking on his back on the freestyle leg of the 200 IM final at the World Championships is the only possible reason for FINA’s announcement that it will soon disallow it. You can see the race HERE as well as video highlights the underwater portion from a few angles.

What is unprecedented is the speed of this ruling. It took roughly 3 weeks from the time of Lochte’s gold medal 200 IM swim to the time FINA announced that they will soon be making dolphin kicking on the back illegal for the freestyle leg on individual medley races (and presumably medley relay races).

All of this raises a key question. What bothered FINA about this swim?

On the surface, it didn’t seem illegal. After all, according to FINA, during an IM the freestyle leg cannot involve any breaststroke, backstroke or butterfly.

FINA SW 5 Freestyle
SW 5.1 Freestyle means that in an event so designated the swimmer may swim in any style, except that in individual medley or medley relay events, freestyle means any style other than backstroke, breaststroke or butterfly.

And since he hadn’t broken the surface on his back, it’s a real stretch to suggest that merely kicking while on your back underwater is synonymous with the stroke. And yet that is exactly what FINA seems to want.

But why?

If we look at past rule changes, there is some consistency and rationality in the reasons for the new rules.

The many breaststroke underwater rule changes have typically been about the inability to catch cheaters. The 2004-5 Kitajima rule was created simply because officials couldn’t adequately observe dolphin kicking by swimmers in the middle of the pool. Similarly the recent Dec. ’14 ruling was about …read more

Source: Rick’s Blog

My Favourite Swim Race Videos of 2014-2015 (and Some Earlier Years)

2014-2015 road sign

The 2014-2015 season is basically behind us now. Below are some of my favourite racing videos from the year. Since this is my first time doing this annual review, I’ve also added some of my favourites from the past as well.

Unfortunately, some of the races I watched during the World Championships feed are not available outside of the US any more, including any videos from SwimSwam partner Universal Sports Network. Which means I can’t get all of the World Championship videos that I wanted. Also, note that quite a few of the videos are not in English. But since I usually ignore the announcers anyway, it doesn’t bother me.

If you have any other videos you’d like to add to this list, just put a description and the link in the comments. Just be aware that some sources may not be available outside of your region.

One other note. If you haven’t seen it, go to near the bottom of the list and watch the 1976 Olympic Women’s 4×100 Free Relay video. It’s hard now to describe the East German women’s dominance of that time, but they were unbeatable in almost every race. Almost.

2015 World Championships

I really wish I had more links for this meet. Hopefully some more races will get uploaded soon.

50 BR Women – insanely close race between 5 women

50 BR Men – Adam Peaty WR in Semi-final

50 Fly Women – Sarah Sjostrom

100 Free Men Semi-final – Ning Zetao – 1st time China wins this one

Couldn’t find an internationally available video of the final.

100 FR women (Incredible Campbell sisters)

100 BK Men – Mitchell Larkin

100 BK Women – Emily Seebohm

100 Fly Women – Sarah Sjostrum – World Record

200 Free women – Katie Ledecky

200 IM men – Ryan Lochte

I watched …read more

Source: Rick’s Blog

Is the Swimming World Catching Up to the US?

Digital Composite

Those of you who watched the recent World Championships results were probably as shocked as I was with the Day 1 news that both the US and Australian Men’s teams missed making finals in the 4×100 Freestyle relays. Both did as they always do – swam 4 slower swimmers in the heats to rest up the 4 fastest for finals. But unlike other years, neither made finals. In fact, they weren’t that close, with the US team finishing tied for 11th, and the Australian team finishing 13th.

On the surface, it looked like both countries badly miscalculated how fast the other countries would swim. Another alternative is that both countries had unanticipated substandard swims by their B teams. A third alternative is simply that no thinking was involved, and both countries just carried out their usual practice . After all, it had always worked in the past.

I suspect that it was all of the above. Certainly, the morning swims weren’t fantastic by either country. In fact, you have to go back to 2007 to find a world championship when where those times would make finals. But the problem is also that the margin for poor swims is now so small that this practice is inherently risky.

So what does this mean for the swimming world? Is the rest of the world catching up to the swimming powerhouses? Is the US losing their dominance?

The World

We’ll start by determining if the rest of the world is catching up.

There are a few ways to test this. After every World Championships, FINA releases a thorough analysis of all Championships since they started in 1973 (here), including how many countries won events, and how many countries won medals. (The latest release including the recently concluded 2015 Championships won’t be released for a while.)

However, I …read more

Source: Rick’s Blog

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