Recently, a coach put out a request on a Facebook Swim Coaches Forum for the top features coaches want from a stopwatch application, presumably on a smart phone or tablet. Which got me thinking about how I learned to properly use a stopwatch.
Now, experienced coaches will already know all of this stuff below. But basically, our role as a coach is to watch our swimmers. This isn’t to say that race or practice timing is unimportant. Timing is very important. It’s just that we have other means to time a swimmer, and we only have our eyes to watch a swimmer.
I first learned of this concept early in my coaching career when my head coach started asking me uncomfortable questions during races. How was her turn? How far did he go underwater? How was the breakout? Of course, I had no idea because during those moments I was staring at my watch and writing down a split. That’s when he explained what became obvious. I needed to use my watch without looking at it, record the splits and final time after the race was over. And spend the race watching the swimmer!
This applies to practice also. We have big pace clocks on deck, and it’s much easier to check the pace clock than to check my stop watch, especially those big, circular, analog pace clocks. I only need a quick glance to see where the red hand is at. In fact, it’s so convenient that I rarely use a stop watch to time swimmers at practices. And for a similar reason, I really don’t like digital pace clocks as a quick glance tells me nothing unless I actually read the digits. (Yes, I’m old school on this!)
I must admit I do have one exception to this ‘Watch, don’t time’ rule. And that is monitoring stroke rate. For most races I want to know the stroke rate simply because that’s part of our race strategies, and part of our practice goals. I’ve been taught to measure the stroke rate in the middle of the pool, where the stroke isn’t likely to suddenly change. And that gives me time to glance at the stroke rate result well before the swimmer gets to the wall.
So in answer to the FB forum question, I agree with many of the coaches that it is very difficult to use smart phones or tablets for timing, as most applications require pressing a virtual button on a small portion of the screen. And if I’m looking at the screen to find the right spot to press, I’m not looking at the swimmer. In other words, a stop watch app would only be a poor imitation of a real stop watch.
One more thing. I’ve tried, but I just cannot video a swim and watch the swim at the same time. I see many people appearing to do both. I remember trying to video my son’s wrestling matches. Every time the action got intense I got excited and ended up getting very good images of the ceiling. Maybe it’s a generational thing.