This past week, I had the privilege of working with Coach Black and the team he helps coach.
I arrived at the pool half way through the afternoon practice, and was able to evaluate the ability level of the team and start to think about what I was going to work on. The first thing I noticed was how smooth they were. Here was an entire pool of talented athletes. I watched their push-offs, their streamlines, their head positions, and the raw, core aspect of how they moved through the water. I was impressed with how wonderful the group looked, as a whole, and I started to get a little nervous. Would I be able to help these kids with ANYTHING? Coach Black and the coaches he works with had spent a lot of time fine tuning these swimmers and making their strokes sharp.
What could I offer to a group of kids that accomplished? What could I work on with swimmers so talented that it’s hard to find something wrong with their strokes?
It’s details that make good swimmers great. It’s details that move a swimmer just a little bit further to that next level. It’s persistent, daily focus and concentration on a particular aspect of their stroke that actually shifts the attention from where they naturally think, to another part of their stroke.
One trouble spot that I did notice with Coach Black’s group (and this a common problem with many swimmers) was their desire for POWER. As swimmers get faster and faster, it gets tougher and tougher to improve. As age-groupers, Coach Black’s swimmers were probably used to dropping 5 or 10 seconds a season. Now they measure improvement in tenths of seconds. Very often, swimmers feel that the best way to find these extra bits of speed, is to add more power — or muscle. I noticed that this was the case with many of Coach Black’s swimmers. I decided to try and get them to focus on where their bodies were slowing down. I wanted to help them become more aware of how their bodies were interacting with the water — to internalize their swimming and focus on where they were feeling the most resistance. We even did a couple sets where I asked them to not talk, but to really think about what THEY were doing, and not worry about what was going on next to them.
With some of the other swimmers, I worked on getting them to focus on a different aspect of their pull. For example, in freestyle, I asked them to think about extending the arm as fast as they could during the rotation of the body. By doing this, they started to press back harder with the pulling hand, but they weren’t thinking about that; the focus was out front. We worked on the same focus for backstroke, using some of the drills from the Go Swim Freestyle and Backstroke Drills DVD.
The breaststrokers and butterfliers mostly worked on keeping their heads from moving up and down too much, and on staying lower through their turns. The IMers worked through a couple fine points on their transitions, and how to take advantage of their competition on the underwater pull for breaststroke.
For the most part, I don’t think I did anything earth shattering with this group, simply because they didn’t have that much to learn from a swimming perspective. What they needed most, I thought, was a break from the hard winter training trip. Some of them just needed a wake-up call about staying focused during training.
This was such a great group, and I had a wonderful time. As a coach and teacher, however, I can’t help but focus on the ones that got away. By that I mean that there are certain extremely talented swimmer who take their youth and energy and talent for granted. I only hope they got the message this past week of just HOW talented I think they are, and that they have a responsibility to take their talent seriously. I don’t want them to wake up ten or twenty years from now and be filled with regret for what might have been. It’s the lament I hear from so many athletes: I could have done, I should have done, I WISH I’d done. The message I wanted to get across to these swimmers is…You can still DO IT! Now is the time. No regrets, and no questions when it’s all over with.
It just takes focus.
I’ve not seen Coach Black’s take on this week, so I have no idea what he’s going to write. I’m only hoping he and the coaches he works with (a great group, as well, but they all look the same) feel it was valuable to have me work along side of them for a few days.