Below is an interview carried out with myself following our second meet of the season.
Q. How have the first two meets gone?
A. If you look at the results, they’ve been pretty spectacular. Our Personal Best rate [PB] in our first meet in Hamilton was an impressive 87%. The second meet in Guelph has just finished and it looks to be about the same. But these meets are not really about results.
Q. No? What else could they be about? The races are all about times, aren’t they?
A. Not really. Don’t get me wrong, our coaching staff is very pleased with the times. But for early season meets we pay far less attention to the times than we do to the race preparation and technical details of the swim. You see, competition racing is a complex skill all by itself that requires preparation, focus and practice. Not unlike trying to master butterfly, or a dive, or a flip turn. None of our swimmers have competed for many months, and so our competition skills are understandably rusty. As coaches our job is to review what went well in these races, what didn’t go well, and how we can improve things.
Q, Are you saying that PBs and times are not important?
A. PBs and time are always important. It’s the primary measure of a race. When you see the coaches talking to a swimmer after a race, the first thing we do is to congratulate them on the race. But then we talk to the swimmer about how we can go even faster next time. We may move our arms wildly through the air in ways that the swimmer understands but nobody else does. We’re trying to get the swimmer to understand how they can improve their technique next time.
What you can’t see from the stands is when we’re asking them about their focus before the race, their effort levels during the race, how well they thought they did their turns. We want them to start thinking for themselves about how to go faster.
Q. PB or not, all that a swimmer can do is try their best. Isn’t that right?
A. The short answer is, not always. Coach Mike Thompson has a wonderful podcast where he talks about this very issue. I’m going to shamelessly borrow his thoughts. (Coach Mike’s blog)
A swimmer should always try their best in the race – that much is true. But the race itself is just the final stage of a long series of preparatory steps. Do they try their best at practice. Do they get to all the practices? Do they eat right and sleep enough? At the meet, are they getting to the pool on time. Are they doing a proper warmup, focusing on the race?
Claiming you tried your best if you prepared poorly isn’t really an adequate response.
Q. So what do our swimmers need to work on? What did they do well?
A. This largely depends on the swimmer and their experience level. In general the swimmers look very good during these meets. Great racing instincts, good stroke rates, and pretty good body position. Those are key. But we did notice a few issues. The younger swimmers need to work on the front part of the Free catch, backstroke rotation and breaststroke squeeze and shoot. Also turns could be faster.
The older swimmers were much better with their starts and turns than before. But we need to work on underwater streamline position and hip movements, as well as breath control. They shouldn’t breathe off the wall, and they shouldn’t breath in the last 5 meters of a race.
Q. My swimmer got disqualified. Why don’t you teach them how to do things properly so they don’t get disqualified?
A. Yes, sometimes we don’t prepare the swimmers well enough. But the reality is, mistakes happen.
My favourite story about DQs deals with the famous Ian Thorpe of Australia. In 2004, Ian Thorpe was the reigning world champion in the 400 Free, unbeaten for 6 years. At their Olympic trials, Ian false started and was disqualified. He could have started 5 seconds after everybody and still have made the Olympics, but he lost his concentration. As quickly as that, the world champion was out of the race.
My second favourite story about DQs is from a developmental meet I was at years ago. In order to soften the blow of being DQd, one team offered a Dairy Queen coupon to every swimmer who got DQd. As you can imagine, just about every child on their team got DQd in their first race….
Overall, an excellent set of early season meets, and not just because of the times. We’re off to a great start.