Category Archives: Uncategorized

The First Long Course Meet of the Year

LC pool

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: …read more

Source: Rick’s Blog

The Slowly Evolving Nature of the Breaststroke Pullout


In December I published a post about the Death of the Breaststroke Pullout (here) right after FINA changed the SW 7.1 rule. While the title was intentionally provocative, my feeling was that the breaststroke pullout was about to change in a big way.

Almost four months later I can honestly say that it kinda, sorta has changed – for some swimmers.

In the men’s breaststroke races we’re starting to see more of a distinct separation of the dolphin kick and the pullout. This video of Andrew Seliskar of the US doing a 1:51 for 200 yard breaststroke in March very clearly shows the incredible distance and speed of this split pullout system. However, relative few swimmers are using this.

In fact, I’ve spent the last few days looking at as many videos as I could of recent top-level breaststroke and 400 IMs races, including the ongoing Canadian National Team trials. In general, far more male swimmers are using split kick and pullouts than female swimmers.

Here are my rough observations.

Men (200 BR and 400 IM): A little less than half the swimmers clearly split the kick and pullout. The underwater phase generally ranged from 8-10m off a pushoff. The longest I saw was Abraham McLeod at the Canadian Trials go a full 18m off the dive, and 12-13m off a pushoff. Interestingly he used a slow dolphin kick, quite different than most of the other swimmers, but without any apparent loss of speed.

Women (200 BR): The majority of women did a combined kick and pullout, or a kick and immediate pullout. Probably less than 25% clearly split the two. The underwater phase was typically 7-9m off a pushoff.

Women (400 IM): This was the surprise for me. Very few swimmers separated the kick and …read more

Source: Rick’s Blog

The Value of a Good Coach

This is a different sport, I know, but the lessons are the same. I was at a national wrestling championship over the weekend, and saw a stunning example of the value of a good coach.

One of the wrestlers on my son’s team was having a good day, wrestling the freestyle event with great focus and fought his way into the bronze medal match. Incredibly tired and banged up, he wrestled that match well but ending up losing the match on a highly controversial call with just 2 seconds left. He was devastated, exhausted and beaten up both emotionally and physically. And to make matters more interesting, he was scheduled to wrestle Greco-Roman style the next day.

Apparently, when he got up the next morning he had trouble getting out of bed, and really didn’t want to wrestle. Didn’t think he COULD wrestle at the level required. But one of the coaches quietly listened, talked to him, and eventually convinced him that he had to give it a shot. That he owed himself that much.

The whole coaching staff got behind him that morning, and the wrestler won his first match. You could see him gain confidence throughout the day, even as his body got worn down. And he won. His first National Greco-Roman style championship. Sure, his training and drive and commitment played a big role. But so did that coach who quietly motivated him when he was at his lowest. And who taught him a lesson that will benefit him his whole life. Determination and perseverance pays off.

“It ain’t how hard you hit…It’s how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward. It’s about how much you can take and keep moving forward!” – Rocky Balboa

…read more

Source: Rick’s Blog

The Roles and Responsibilities of a Head Coach

swimmer coach

There’s not much that gets a head coach more animated or frustrated than asking them about their responsibilities as head coach. And this is probably because the job involves so much more than just coaching. After researching a lot of different sports, and asking swim coaches on an excellent Facebook swim coaches discussion group, I found a surprising array of opinions, lists of responsibilities and philosophical answers. Summarizing the general feeling, a head coach is responsible for just about everything, and far too often has to actually do just about everything.

The one response that summed it up the best, in my opinion, was provided on Facebook.

“The buck stops here.” Seriously – final decision on all wet side matters and at least a seat at the table on all dry side items.”

The only problem with this response is that it clarifies the obvious (head coach is responsible for the design and coaching of practices and competitions), but doesn’t clarify the less obvious. Such as:

  • Who should be responsible for hiring and firing of assistant coaches, and how much to pay them? This decision has a massive impact on the wet side, but certainly seems like a dry side issue.
  • Dealing with parents. I don’t think any coach has a problem with the normal parent/coach discourse, but we all know that sooner or later a parent comes by who crosses the line. That sounds like a dry side issue, but one that can seriously affect the morale of the coaches, swimmers, and ultimately the whole team.
  • Dealing with the swim team board is by definition a dry side issue. But what about when there is a disconnect between the coach and the board. I’ve seen a board try to tell the coach how many competitions to attend, and the coach responding by threatening to quit. …read more

    Source: Rick’s Blog

6 Things I Don’t Miss About Swimming in the 1970s


There is no doubt that swimming in the 1970s was exciting. Goggles had just been introduced in the late 1960s, and this allowed swimmers to train as hard as their bodies would allow, instead of training as hard as their eyes would let them. As a result, swimming records of every kind were broken on a regular basis. But along with the records came a flurry of previously unknown or rare overuse injuries, including swimmer’s shoulder, breaststroker’s knees, burnout, overtraining, etc. It was a very dynamic time.

Here are 10 things I really don’t miss about those good ole days.

  1. Pocket Drag Shirts

These shirts became popular in the 1970s for a short time. They’re similar to the occasionally seen drag suits that have pockets held wide open to increase the drag (ex. Finis Ultimate Drag Suit here). However, while drag suits are partially hidden by the body, the pockets on the drag shirts were positioned to maximize the amount of increased drag. And it did it to a scary degree. Swim speeds slowed down to a crawl, while putting huge stress on the shoulders. As such, it didn’t last long in the marketplace. Using it for one year probably hastened the end of my swimming career by a year or two.

  1. Introduction of Doping

Doping on a large scale started in the 1970s. The East Germans and their state-sponsored doping program lead the way, but there were plenty of signs that many individuals in many countries and many sports were doping as well. The results were just too tempting, and the testing was too primitive to be effective. The devastating health repercussions we later saw in the East Germans athletes is heart breaking (see my post here).

  1. Going Underwater for Distance

shallow water blackout

With the new awareness of …read more

Source: Rick’s Blog

More Than You Want to Know About Shaving and Swim Performance


If you’ve been involved in swimming for any period of time, you know about the shaving tradition. This is where swimmer at big meets often shave virtually all available skin not covered by a bathing suit, with the exception of the eyebrows. Normally this includes arms, legs, torso, and sometimes even the head. The loss of the hair should result in some amount of improved hydrodynamics.

But one of the realities of shaving is the incredible feeling in the water. And this comes from the fact that shaving doesn’t just get rid of just the hair. It also gets rid of a layer or 2 of dead skin cells from the epidermis. The exposes newer and far more sensitive skin cells, and this is responsible for that incredible sensation and feeling of speed when racing. The added sensitivity literally has the swimmer feeling like they are moving much faster through the water.

Of course, non-swimmers don’t understand any of this, and male swimmers usually take some ribbing from their non-swimming friends. But with performance improvements of However, shaving has been reported to improve swimming performance by up to 3-4%. That’s a huge amount.

A Little History

Although historical records about swimmers shaving are sketchy, the first mention I could find was of Jon Henricks of Australia at a meet in 1955.

At the Melbourne Olympics the next year, at least one other Aussie, Murray Rose, also shaved. At those games they not only gained a lot of attention with their shaved bodies, but the Australians also won 5 of the 7 events.

Murray Rose

Interestingly, the Americans didn’t think the shaving had anything to do with the Australian success, believing they were just being strange.

The two Australian Olympic stars, Rose and Henricks, then brought the practice of shaving with them when …read more

Source: Rick’s Blog

The Team Philosophy / Coaching Mismatch

team philosophy

If you haven’t been on many swim teams, it may be hard to imagine that every swim team is fundamentally different. And this largely comes from two aspects of the team: team philosophy, and the coaches. Ideally, the team philosophy guides everything that the team does, how its members interact with each other, and it sets the expectations for each person involved with the team, including the coaches.

Broadly speaking, there are three types of swim clubs:

  • Community teams typically serve the widest range of swimmers, and include developing swimmers, those interested only in fitness or the social aspect, and right up to the most serious swimmers who can compete at the highest levels. Team philosophies usually include something along the line of providing swim teaching, training and competition opportunities for all.
  • Serious Swim Clubs are more competition oriented, and include from developing swimmers to the most serious swimmers. Team philosophies usually include a goal to let every swimmer reach their competitive potential.
  • University type teams typically expect their swimmers to already have good strokes and a solid base. These teams expect that their swimmers will do whatever it takes to reach the top. Team philosophies are usually pretty sparse, and generally limit themselves to a drive for excellence as a person and as a swimmer

Team philosophies always sound great. Swimming must be an incredible sport where young kids are nurtured and they all eventually reach their potential as older swimmers……

Obviously, that’s not happening. But why?

Let’s look at a typical Serious Swim Club as an example. If the club is really serious about allowing each swimmer to reach their potential, then the younger swimmers should be nurtured, given the fundamentals, and developed carefully in order to ensure that they are still improving, and still passionate about swimming when they are 20 and older. In …read more

Source: Rick’s Blog

Our Unhealthy Obsession with Race Times

Pace Clock

Last year I wrote about how the swimming world has an unhealthy obsession with Personal Bests [PBs]. And since then I’ve seen countless more examples of swimmers treating non-personal bests as if it meant they were a failure. But I’ve also seen swimmers get unhealthily obsessed with their race times in general.

The problem is simple. The vast majority of swimmers, and virtually all parents, believe that the time is the only measure of a race. A good time means a good race. A bad time means a bad race. We’ve all heard swimmers come back from a race, upset at the time, and promptly declare that the race was crap. It was all crap. But racing is never that simple.

Race Conditions

Somehow swimmers never remember the conditions of the race. You can’t really compare a race held roughly one hour after warmups in a fast pool with lots of competition in other lanes, with a race in a slow pool held 15 minutes after you just did a 200, and where you are half a length ahead of, or behind, everyone else in the heat. Drastically different conditions will lead to drastically different times, and yet that becomes ancient history in the hunt for a PB in every race.

Remember that not all meets are about times. Most clubs use the idea that swimmers should compete once every 3-4 weeks in order to fine tune their racing skills.

Meet Preparation

There are training meets, and there are big meets. And the key here is that times done at big meets, where the swimmer is tapered and sometimes shaved down, are VERY hard to replicate at training meets.

Here’s an example. In December we had a fully tapered, shaved down meet. One of our older swimmers did a big PB in a very close race in …read more

Source: Rick’s Blog

The Troubled Life of a Drop-Dead Sprinter

drop dead sprinter 2

If you’ve spent any time in swimming, you’ve probably known a drop-dead sprinter or two.

Now, I’m not talking about a normal sprinter who can do a fast 50 or 100, but trains pretty much like everyone else. I’m talking about a sprinter who can do a blazing fast 50 or 100 in a meet or in a practice, and that’s about it. They can’t do main sets properly because there are just too many lengths involved, and their muscles just can’t keep on working like that. (Gary Hall Jr. springs to mind.)

The issue is that drop-dead sprinters are not physically like the rest of us, and the difference occurs within the muscles. The average person typically has a little less than 50% fast-twitch and the rest slow-twitch muscle fibres. Fast-twitch fibres [FT] can contract in less than half the time of slow-twitch muscle fibres [ST], allowing for far more explosive strength. The problem is that this also means that athletes with a high FT percentage go through energy far faster than other athletes. Meanwhile ST contract slowly, require little energy, and drop-dead sprinters don’t have a lot of that.

Not surprisingly, different sports attract athletes with extremes in FT. Elite running sprinters have up 85% FT, which makes sense as they have purely anaerobic races, while elite marathon runners typically have about 25% FT. Swimmers, with no purely anaerobic events and lots of very aerobic events, tend to have a range of FT from just over 50% to down to 33% according to one study.


And this brings us back to swimming’s drop-dead sprinters. Their FT will probably be 60%-75% FT, meaning they can go fast, but don’t have a lot of ST to enable them to go slow. Basically, in a typical swim practice, they …read more

Source: Rick’s Blog

Disqualifications: Fight Them or Accept Them?

Red Card

Disqualifications. They’re a common and necessary part of swimming. They lurk behind every start, turn and stroke. They can generate tears, anger, outrage, swearing and sometimes even acceptance. And they occur at local developmental meets, the Olympics, and everything in between. But what amazes me about them it the incredible diversity of attitudes towards them.

I’ve seen coaches from large, respected clubs at small unimportant meets aggressively defend swimmers against DQs, using all of their tricks and influence to get the DQ overturned. I even heard one coach later saying he didn’t even see the swim in question. I’ve seen other coaches accept a DQ at a national championship without an argument.

I think what intrigues me the most is how differently people view a DQ:

  • a punishment for breaking stupid rules (common with parents and rebellious teenagers)
  • a symbol of their unworthiness as a swimmer (common with younger swimmers and their parents)
  • legitimate feedback, similar to getting a question wrong in a test (common with more experienced swimmers)
  • it’s personal / political (common at very big meets)

So let’s get back to my title question: Should we fight DQs, or accept them?

My Approach

My personal response to DQs is that I use cautious acceptance.

If I personally saw the infraction, then I’ll accept the DQ without a hassle. I generally treat DQs as a learning experience, and if swimmer messed up, they need to learn.

If I didn’t see the infraction, but its one the swimmer does on a regular basis in practice, then I’ll treat it as the above situation.

If I have a reason to doubt the DQ though, its a different matter. Other than the political arena of large swim meets, coaches have very few tools to use in this case. But the primary tool is to check the wording of the DQ. Officials do get things …read more

Source: Rick’s Blog

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