Boring Practices

Originally published on June2, 2006.  I have to admit, I feel differently about this nearly 10 years later.  Yes, it is my job to create practices that interest the swimmers.  Good to see how I felt back then though.  Hopefully this means I’m still growing as an instructor.

Yep, it happens to the best of us (and me). The other day, I was giving some kids a practice, and about half-way through, one looks up to me and says, “Are we doing this again?” I said, “Sure, a couple more times through, but with different goals… why?” He says, “Cause it’s boring.”

DESCRIBE THE IMAGE At first I just laughed, because I thought it was pretty cool stuff. So much to think about — at least, I thought so. To the swimmers, however, it just came out like more junk. I felt bad that I wasn’t intriguing them more, but then I started to think about whose responsibility it is to keep things interesting ALL the time.

I know that MANY coaches (me included) struggle every day to create, shape, and write practices that will intrigue, motivate, excite, and get a swimmer to smile. We all believe that EACH set we write will be the ONE that IGNITES that swimmer to greatness — the set that shows the swimmer just what’s inside of them. While writing the practices, we sit back, like proud parents, day-dreaming about the looks on our swimmers’ faces when they make that breakthrough. ‘They’ll thank me for this one,’ we say. ‘Maybe someday they’ll thinking I’m some kind of hero.’

Reality quickly sets in during the actual training. “Oh… this again.”  “Is this a fast interval?”  “I’m not sure I can make that.”  “FOUR TIMES THROUGH?”  “Do I really have to do fly on that.?”  Finally… the ever-present question… “What’s after this?”

AHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!! It’s enough to make you SCREAM. 🙂

I tell my swimmers, LIVE IN THE PRESENT. Swim each length like it MEANS something — and every set like you could actually LEARN something from it. If you look at this website, many of us have put in years of work, coming up with drill after drill, focal point after focal point, and still there’s so much more to try — so much more to learn. How else could Barbara and I come up with new drills week after week for nearly four years? We’ve found that the more you start to look, the more opportunities you see for improvement or experimentation. We actually get EXCITED when we both discover something new in an old drill…or something fundamental in a new drill.

What puzzles me is how some swimmers don’t share this excitement for learning. Instead, they rely on the coach to make things entertaining. They look to the coach to create some amazing set that will challenge their minds and bodies.

When I first started coaching, I used to tell my swimmers (and I was exposing my own weakness), that, “A monkey could WRITE the practice. A committed athlete will get something out of it.” What I meant by that was simple. As a swimmer, you can’t depend on anyone else to do your job for you. YOU must find the intrigue in each length, in each set. YOU are responsible for taking those long, “boring” sets, and turning them into something that means something to you.

DESCRIBE THE IMAGE While the coaches will continue to try to make things very interesting, or at least SOMEWHAT interesting, you are still responsible for keeping things fresh. Here are some ideas on things you can do.

1.  Vary your stroke count, and see if you can still make the interval taking more or fewer strokes. YEEEEEEE HAAAAAAAA… see… I told you this could be fun.

 Work on a particular part of your stroke. Need some ideas? Try your catch, your release, your pull pattern, head position, kick, rotation, how you approach the wall, leave the wall, execute the turn, etc….

 Descend the set to a REALLY fast time.

4.  How much rest can you get? If the interval is 1:20, can you hold 1:05s? Don’t just get by in each set… challenge yourself to go faster.

5. Play games. Try to beat long-course records while swimming short course. Beat your best meters times while swimming yards. This is tougher than it sounds.

RACE, RACE RACE… on EVERYTHING… kicking, pulling, swimming, getting in the pool, getting off the walls. This sport is still about racing, so get LOTS of practice doing it.

7. Think up a joke you can tell the coach through the set. If it’s a short-rest set, tell coach just a bit of the joke between each interval… with the goal being to reveal the entire joke by the end of the set. Come on… make it fun for US too. 🙂

8.  Encourage your team mates. Teach, inspire, cheer, and get your lane mates excited about being there. Enthusiasm is contagious.

9.  Sing. Get a good song in your head, and SCREAM it under water while you’re training. Builds up the lungs, too.

10.  Take out your frustration. Get MEAN in the water… WORK WORK WORK, and see if you feel better after beating up the pool.

Now, the rest is up to you. Figure it out. Thank your coaches after your practice for at least TRYING to come up with something FUN. However, if it wasn’t FUN… it’s ultimately your own fault as a swimmer. Sorry. 🙂

Finally, one last bit of understanding and sticking up for the coaches. This sport is about repetition. If you train several thousands yards a day, every day, the same drills and sets are bound to show up again and again. Your coach will do his/her best to keep things fresh, but it’s ultimately up to you — the person behind the goggles, listening to the water splash past — to search out something more in yourself or in the task to keep you engaged. You can swim 20,000 meters a day and you’re going to end up in the exact same spot that you started in. What will you have learned when you get there? Or will you finish and say, “the scenery was boring.”

DESCRIBE THE IMAGE With that said… I think I owe it to my swimmers to post the set so you can see why they MAY have been justified in their critism. At least here’s the set:
8 x 100 freestyle on 1:20 breathing every 5th.
What I thought: Working on length, rotation, lungs. With the extra time between breaths, the swimmers would be able to really develop and equal degree of rotation on EACH stroke.
What they thought:  Yawn

8 x 100 free pull on 1:20
What I thought: Paddles and pull-buoys, slowing the stroke rate down a bit and working a bit more power. A bit more challenging on the interval, so the swimmers will be involved by watching the clock on every turn, making sure they’re on pace.
What they thought:  Yawn Yawn

8 x 100 freestyle on 1:15 breathing every 5th
What I thought:  Same as the first set… BUT… with the addition of the anxiety of making the interval… MAN… this is getting GOOD.
What they thought:  I bet we’re gonna pull after this.

8 x 100 free pull on 1:15
What I thought:
 Oh yeah… come on… gotta step up now! Hold that stroke together, don’t go TOO hard… WAIT ‘TIL YOU SEE WHAT’S COMING NEXT!!!!
What they thought: Sheesh… I wonder who will win next year’s American Idol. I bet we go this set on 1:10s next.

8 x 100 freestyle on 1:10 breathing every 5th
What I thought:  
Yeah… this is what we’ve REALLY been building to. Now you can REALLY turn it on and tie together everything you’ve learned up to this point. I’ll be here, watching the clock, making sure you know when to go… you can count on me.
What they thought: Yeah, figured, 1:10. Like we couldn’t see THAT coming. I’ve got like… 6 days left in school ’til summer.

8 x 100 free pull on 1:10
What I thought: 
 Yep, I’ve done it. Inspired a couple young swimmers to make the set. Holding their strokes together through the entire thing, building strength, rate. Continued to demand more speed from them through the set, making sure they didn’t just MAKE the interval, but got REST on it as well. Hmmmmm. I wonder if they’ll thank me when they make Seniors?
What they thought: This has GOT to be the last set. Look at the clock. There’s only gonna be like 10 minutes left when we get done with this. We’ll probably finish with those 25 no breathers like we always do. Like we don’t know THOSE are coming.