Successful swimming is typically referred to as, the long game. There are no overnight successes, there is no luck, there isn’t some magical dust that sprinkled over specific athletes to make them successful, it’s just a long, patient, step-by-step process to the ultimate goal… your potential.
We’ll be talking about the importance of “times” here.
Starting with the youngest swimmers, do the times really matter? For as long as possible, if we completely removed the idea of TIME from swim meets, we’d be back to two major factors; 1) the ability to complete an assigned task in a race (to LEARN how to swim in competitions), and 2) the ability to race effectively.
While making sure the youngest swimmers understand the most basic techniques and skills, and consistently apply them in races, will create habits that will be used for their entire swimming career. Short, un-effective, non-streamline, pushoffs that get the swimmer into spinning their arms faster, heads bobbing back and forth, will ALL need to be changed IF the swimmer has any desire to reach their “potential”. There is NO reason to practice, or to allow someone to race with form that won’t be something that will be incorporated into their long term development.
Can a swimmer swim faster today with poor form? Absolutely. High rate, with even un-effective strokes can produce a higher velocity when the better form can not be performed to an effective rate. However, when looking at the hydrodynamic shape of that high-rate form, compare that to any elite athlete and see if you see any resemblance. Even the fastest sprinters at the Olympics carry incredible stability to their head as they sprint to the wall. Allowing young swimmers to perform with poor form for the sake of a “faster time”, only means, someone down the road, will eventually have to fix those habits. Again, IF the goal is reaching the swimmer’s potential.
So, at the youngest age, it’s more important to teach and assign tasks to be accomplished during a race that the swimmer has the mental and physical capacity to achieve. For the youngest swimmers, the tasks can simply be “STREAMLINE”, and nothing else. Build from there. When the swimmers start to develop more, the tasks can expand to not breathing into the wall, not breathing out of the wall, sighting the wall from farther out for faster turns, breathing patterns for races, and even race strategy.
When the swimmer starts to master the skills, we HAVE to start focusing on times. The joy of our sport is that everyone can succeed when they improve. The goal of a coach is that the improvement is spread across a long duration. Too much success too soon can lead to plateau’s that occur too young in a swimmer’s career, leading to discouragement, disinterest, and burn out.
In the middle part of a swimmer’s career, times are what become the most important. The athlete should question if the training I’m doing going to help me get to my ultimate goal? Is the technique I’m using effective in getting me there? Is the complex equation of swim training, dryland training, flexibility focus, nutrition, rest, school and social balance, allowing me to continue to discover ways to get faster? You see, reaching someone’s potential isn’t simply about training more. Reaching an athlete’s potential is complete life balance. Athletes need to be completely engaged in the process, which means they need to have enthusiasm for the process.
After many years of planned, patient, and involved preparation that covers many coaches, different schools, variations in training philosophies which require adaptation by the athlete, which require a knowledge base FOR the athlete to be able to make manipulations to their training habits, technique, and philosophy… only THEN is there the possibility for an athlete to have the potential to reach their potential.
The hope for many coaches is that the swimmers reach a point in their career, where, like the start of their career, time simply doesn’t matter. The only thing that matters is, the race. The only thing that matters is, what place did you get?
This is very easy to explain if we look at the Olympics. How many of you can name all the events in Michael Phelps historic 8-Gold medal winning juggernaut in Beijing? Yeah… I knew you could do that. Now, how many of you (without looking anything up), recall all his times? See, time doesn’t matter at that level. It’s only what place did you get?
Anyone can have that, what place did you get experience. Whether it’s at the Olympic Games, World Championships, NCAA Championships (any division), or even your most important high school dual meet… where the one point you could score end up being JUST as important as the person who won all their events.
I don’t want to diminish the impact or importance of TIMES on our sport, I only want to diminish and delay focus on times for our youngest of swimmers. The only question that should be asked is, ARE the techniques and skills that are being taught, and showcased at swim meets, skills and techniques that we want to see when that athlete is 16, or 20, or at the elite level… 26.
The swimming circle of life is, TIME doesn’t matter, TIMES become very important, TIME doesn’t matter.
The goal for coaches is to help swimmers get back to the core of the sport, THE RACE! When the RACE becomes the most important aspect of the sport, then you’ve really experienced the pure meaning of sport.