Reflections on the Value of an Early First Meet

Ian Thorpe startLast 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 starts and turns, breakouts, and breathing issues and strategies (during the race and in the last 5 metres). A lot to work on, but that’s what the meet was for.

On the positive side, the surface strokes were generally quite good, and our revamped breaststroke training and drills lead to some fantastic results and a few team records for the younger kids.

However, there were also lots of surprises.

  • Although I see it all the time, it never ceases to amaze me how seemingly easily 12&unders can do Personal Bests. Just their physical growth over the summer was enough to have them swimming faster.
  • A few older swimmers went into the races with truly unrealistic expectations (see post about expectations here), that were realistically impossible, and then they had trouble managing their emotions and disappointment. Hopefully a learning experience for them.
  • The best performances came from the swimmers who participated in the summer strength and conditioning camp (just 2 one-hour sessions a week for 8 weeks). I was really surprised by this, as the camp primarily involved basic movement patterns with body weight only: squats, hinges, and range of motion exercises. And some of these performances involved significant PBs. It’s astonishing what this program is achieving.
  • We had far more Personal Bests than I expected, and even broke 12 team records (we’re a young team so its not as difficult as it sounds).

All-in-all, a fun first meet. Now the hard work starts.



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