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The Hold Back

DESCRIBE THE IMAGE This past Saturday we had one of THOSE PRACTICES. Anyone who has coached knows that THOSE PRACTICES are never good. Most practices have their fair share of ups and downs with the ups hopefully outnumbering the downs. But every once in a while you have one of THOSE PRACTICES where the downs outnumber the ups by a large majority.

The practice started innocently enough with the same warmup that we do every day. There was something in the air that was amiss right from the beginning. I understand that kids have a higher-order need to talk about anything and everything except swimming while they are at practice. Usually that chatter is a minor distraction; not so on this particular morning. Warm up, which usually takes 15 to 20 minutes, took 30.

I was mildly perturbed but looking forward to the rest of practice. I had planned some sprinting/dryland sets, which the kids and I both enjoy doing. In order to perform well on a hard and intense set, they would need to get loose and mentally prepared. So the pre-set was ten minutes to work on something that they needed to focus on. I told them that the pre-set should total around 600 yards and that they could vary their interval distances and do as much or as little drilling as they wanted. The set wasn’t too bad. There was some stopping in the middle of the pool, but nothing that completely stopped the flow.
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With the warm-up and pre-set completed, we moved on to the meat of the day’s practice. The dryland swim set was a new one for us. We had done something similar, but without as much emphasis on time. The set was pretty easy: 4 x 100 @ 2:30. The 100s had to be under 1:00 for the better swimmers. These are kids whose best times are somewhere in the mid to low 50s. This was a challenging time for them to make, but nothing that they haven’t done before. As soon as the 100 was done they had an active rest of 10 push ups, 10 sit ups, and 5 Burpees. They had to complete all of that in 2:30.

We didn’t get past #1. On the first swim, the faster kids went 1:03 on the 100. So I figured they didn’t understand that these 100s were supposed to be FOR-REAL fast. So we started #1 again with the understanding that we wouldn’t do #2 until #1 was done right. The second #1 produced the same results as the first #1. "What are you waiting for?" I asked. "We don’t want to be tired for the sets that are coming later," was the reply. Odd logic, seeing as they weren’t making the swims that would make them tired. We switched up the order, with one of the guys taking the lead for the third attempt at #1. Again the same results: 1:03 and slower. The problem was that no one was out of breath after this 100.

I asked what the problem was, to which I got the response (and this is no joke), "It is Saturday." Somehow, Saturday was perceived as a day on which it was impossible to work hard and do what you are supposed to do. Before I lost my temper, I sent everyone off on a fourth #1, letting them know that "It is Saturday" is not a legitimate excuse.

I was swimming at the end of the lane during all of these attempts, and on #4 something incomprehensible happened when I went to turn at the 50. There was a pair of legs at the wall. I stopped and was expecting some sort of injury or complaint. When I asked the swimmer why he had stopped he replied, "I wasn’t going to make it because I went out to slow." "This isn’t a mile swim," I said. "It’s a 100, and there is no reason you should go out too slow." Now I was losing my temper. I told everyone that they had a choice: Do it right or we were moving on. None of the swimmers made it; one of them even blazed a 1:07.
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So the choice was made. Rather than swim 4 x 100 all out with some dryland in between, everyone had chosen to swim 400s on the 5:00, until they were ready to swim fast. I don’t like having swimmers just pile up yardage for the purpose of swimming yardage. At every practice the swimmers have a mission to get better. If it wasn’t going to be quality than it was going to have to be quantity.

I wasn’t very happy about having to watch the 400s. It got worse. Only one of the swimmers made the sendoff. Another one stopped in the middle for no reason. So the next task became 400s with parachutes. Eventually I just stopped practice. At this point we had only 45 minutes left in a 2-hour practice. We had wasted more than half of the practice. Again I wanted them to have choices, so I asked if they wanted to go home and cut their losses. At this point we had already wasted enough time; there was no point in wasting more. The choice was unanimous in favor of working as hard as they could for the final 45 minutes.

We did a set similar to the one we had set out to do. This time they had to do the 100s with the chutes on. The last 45 minutes went great. The kids were giving their best efforts on the swims and the drylands. They weren’t saving up for what was coming because there was nothing else left.

After practice was over, I took the opportunity to talk to the swimmers about what had just happened. I let them know that I don’t hate them. A lot of times swimmers translate a coach getting mad about performance to "Coach hates me." We talked about what had just happened. I let them know that what angered me was not them, personally, it was their lack of effort. When they take it easy on one set in order not to be tired on the next set, then they aren’t doing the set they are on RIGHT. We don’t have enough time to hold back. The practices are only 2 hours long, max, and you can’t waste 75 minutes of it.

At the end they agreed that from the beginning of practice until the end they would give their best effort on whatever they were doing. This week…so far, so good. We have had an effective week of practice. Each swimmer has given what they need to give, when they need to give it. Hopefully that is the last one of THOSE PRACTICES.