There comes a time in every season when you are in uncharted waters. No matter how much you plan, or how much experience you have, things will change. Having experienced change makes adapting to it easier, but doesn’t stop change from happening. When that change happens it will run you through a series of emotions.
The first thing that happens is fear. When you get to the point in a season when you have gone too far to change course but you can’t see the finish, it is scary. Any rational human being has to have a fear of the unknown. We have no frame of reference for what we haven’t experienced. When you actually rationalize that, there is no rationale to it. No two seasons or experiences are the same. Sure, some situations and kids are similar, but they should be treated as if they are unique. As a coach you are supposed to be scared. That is a part of our profession. No matter how hard you work, it might not work. If you trust in yourself and in your kids, then your chances of failure are drastically reduced.
That leads to the next emotion of excitement. Fear of the unknown can be a crippling force if you let it. That same force can be the hand that inspires you to what you thought was impossible. So when you are filled with fear, throw yourself head long into what you have committed to. This should be the best time of the season for an athlete and a coach. As an athlete you should be at your best in every practice. You are at your most fit, your technique is on point, and now you should be able to execute like you want. As a coach this is the time when your athletes can meet your wildest expectations. You can challenge them on a physical and mental basis daily.
This time of the year also requires some concessions from both sides of the coach/swimmer equation. As a coach, just because you can beat them into the ground doesn’t mean that you should do it all the time. Keep in mind that giving a little once a week can get you more rewards in the end. While this time is great because the swimmers are at their most fit, they are also prone to burnout. Throw in a game or two to lighten things up a little. Games will often get the swimmers to work harder than they would have normally because, THEY ARE HAVING FUN! Invent a game that is as challenging as any set but where the mindset is not on training.
The other day we did a set that was inspired by my time at the dog tracks. I have never really been to a dog track, but I have seen them on cartoons. From what I remember of the cartoons, at the dog track they have an electronic rabbit the dogs chase around the track. So we made that our game. One swimmer was the rabbit and the rest of the swimmers were the greyhounds. The goal for the rabbit was to finish before getting eaten up by the dogs. If the rabbit got caught, the rabbit had to do 15 pushups. Most of the motivation to go fast was on the rabbit, so I had to make sure the dogs didn’t dog it. So in addition to trying to catch the rabbit they had to go under a certain time or they had to do 15 pushups. The set we did was with three swimmers in a lane, making sure to handicap the sendoffs based on speed. Each swimmer had to swim a 25, a 50, and a 100 as the rabbit. When they weren’t the rabbit they had to be the dogs. We did this with the last five minutes of practice. Each swimmer had to sprint 3 x 25, 3 x 50, and 3 x 100 with little to no rest.
Had I told that same group, at the end of a rather difficult practice, that they were going to swim 3 x 25, 3 x 50, and 3 x 100 with little to no rest, I would have heard the usual sighs, grunts, and AHHHHHs. Instead they had a great time chasing each other down — without knowing they were working harder than they wanted to.
This time of the unknown is when the greatest work truly gets done. There is only one choice for both coaches and swimmers at this time in the season. You are going to get there, so why not have some fun and challenge yourself along the way.