Every Thursday like clockwork I get my copy of Sports Illustrated to give me reading material for the week. While their coverage of Olympic sports is sad, to say the least, they occasionally publish articles that really catch my attention, like the one on the rapid growth of lacrosse. And even more recently, the AND 1 team graced the cover of SI.
The lacrosse boom is hard to miss if you live in Maryland. And if you live near the US Naval Academy, as I do, you can watch the sport played at its highest level. I recently watched the contest between University of Maryland and USNA. The game was fast paced the whole way through, with goals on both sides. With 14 seconds left in the game, Navy netted the winning goal. It was one of the best games I had ever seen…until the finals. Johns Hopkins University, another Maryland school, finished their undefeated season in the same exciting fashion. They forced overtime against the University of Virginia with one second left in the game. Then they won the championship in a great final against Duke University.
In the SI article, Warrior Lacrosse was profiled as an innovator in the sport. This equipment and apparel company was given credit for rejuvenating the sport, which had always been seen as a country-club sort of activity. Warrior Lacrosse has brought a rock-and-roll flavor to the sport and turned it on its ear. They have made the status of lacrosse player, for better or for worse, more current and in line with what kids want.
The cover of this past week’s SI featured the AND 1 team, a squad of street ballers who have spawned a Globetrotter-esque tour. At the heart of the tour is the innovative company AND 1, a sneaker and apparel company specializing in street ball. The company has released seven "mix tapes," which feature street ballers performing acrobatic dribbles, no-look passes, alley oops, and of course dunks. The tapes have become so popular that AND 1 now is the second leading sponsor of NBA players behind only Nike.
Both of these companies — Warrior Lacrosse and AND 1 — have changed the face of their sports. With all change comes detractors, or "player haters," as AND 1 puts it. Many of the established coaches and governing bodies see the new style as fad and not helping the game. There are also coaches who have praised the invigorating moves and style of the new wave of athletes. Some coaches are trying to implement the change into their practices. In the case of basketball, the new style has put an emphasis on ball handling skills, and passing.
If these new styles have helped to get kids interested in the sports of lacrosse and basketball, why not Swimming? The number of kids taking up lacrosse and basketball is booming. Why not swimming? Kids have not changed; the world around them has. Kids, like always, want to enjoy sports. When we ask the kids at our swim camps "why do you swim?’ the #1 answer is because it is FUN. While kids haven’t necessarily changed, the way they have fun HAS changed.
One of the things that we have been trying to do is make practices FUN while still making them as challenging as possible. To be challenging, practice doesn’t always have to be about how many yards you swim. The good thing is that, as a coach, I don’t have to look too hard to find companies that make swimming toys and tools. There are companies that do for swimming what Warrior Lacrosse and AND 1 are doing for their respective sports.
When we do double practices here at GoSwim (and when we do our second practice of the day at summer camp), we like to use a variety of equipment from various companies that have helped our cause. Two of these "toys" are the grudge belt and the stretch cord, both of which are made by Stretch Cordz. These are great inventions for making practice as much about competing as swimming. We have been doing sets with resistance…and assistance from the cords, and we have been holding grudge matches. The benefit of using these toys is that you can make practice about swimming fast without it being a standard 50, 100, 200, or 500.
During the second practice of the day, we try do al lot of swimming at or above race pace. This is something that I got last year from reading Dave’s posts about his practices at NOVA. You can actually hear one of swimming’s most innovative coaches, Dr. Dave Salo, talk about writing a more interesting practice for age-group swimmers on the USA Swimming website.
To help swim above race pace, we use two common pieces of equipment. For fins we use Zura Alpha Fins, which are great fins for kids. They are softer so they won’t cut your feet, and they provide great propulsion. Also we use paddles a lot. I use TYR catalyst paddles and we have been using Star Paddles. Another good paddle is the Zura Team Paddle.
Last, we have been using a medicine ball to work on kicking. The medicine ball that we use is the Backit Ball from tomdrum.com. One of the things we do with the medicine ball is dolphin kick off the wall. This was the drill of the week a few weeks ago. Also we do vertical kicking and blast-offs with the medicine ball. This past week we did 30 seconds of vertical kicking holding the ball out of the water, straight into 15 seconds with the ball out of the water up to your wrists, then 15 seconds with the ball over your head, followed by 5 bottom blast offs.
Keep in mind that I am saying second practice. I am not saying that using toys and tools is the only thing that you should do. There is no substitute for getting in and swimming lots of lengths at various paces. Any swimmer who uses these tools will tell you that they are in no way easy to use or master. All I’m saying is that there are ways to break up the training and shift to having fun while training. And it’s OK to do this on a regular basis. A little change of pace goes a long way.