Week #13: The “Group W” Bench

I watched Alice�s Restaurant for the first time this week. I have known the song lyrics for as long as I can remember. There�s one part that talks about the Group W bench — place where the immoral litterer Arlo Guthrie is sent to wait for his draft review. We have opened our own version of the Group W bench in the sprint group. The sprint group swims in 4 1/2 lanes between two bulkheads. The half lane is just wide enough to accommodate one swimmer. Until last week I would allow one swimmer to have the lane to him or herself.

This week we have changed the use of the half lane, or �Group W� lane. The lane remains open throughout practice. We chose to do this for a number of reasons. First, the person who swims there is isolated from the rest of the group and doesn�t have to worry about running into anyone or having anyone touch his toes. He can go straight into and out of every turn, which is quite a luxury. Those nuisances are also good for people who train together, because it teaches them to be considerate and act like a team. Right now it is incredibly important for our team to come together as a team. Last week I mentioned that we had our worst loss in a decade, largely because we weren�t swimming as a team. Last season we won championships as a team, yet had only two individual winners at the meet. Depth and team unity allowed for our success and that is what we are trying to regain this season. Not to mention that it�s a lot more fun to be around swimmers who function as a group rather than as a collection of individuals concerned for only themselves.

The second reason that we keep the lane open is for instruction. In our practices we emphasize doing everything right, then doing it as fast as possible without changing anything or losing form. Having an open lane allows us to pull aside an individual to work on a specific aspect, while maintaining the flow of the practice. This has been a win-win setup. Having the flexibility allows us to give individual attention while not interrupting the good of the whole.

Third, the open lane is a motivator. On occasion, everyone needs to be reminded that swimming is a privilege, not a right. The expectation is that everyone should give all he can give in every practice. When I want to remind everyone to give maximum effort on a set, I mention the Group W lane. I tell them what I want them to achieve in a given set, then suggest that if anyone wants to swim in the Group W lane, he or she is welcome to do so. They can do whatever they want while they are in that lane, and I won�t hold it against them or yell at them. This is to ensure that everyone in the pool is giving their best effort. If they aren�t, they can go waste their time in the Group W lane. To date, not a single athlete has opted to use the lane, and I haven�t had to PUT anyone there. Sometimes just the threat of having to �sit out� is enough to keep any athlete true.

A large part of what makes our group run like a well-oiled machine is our volunteer assistant. He was an NCAA Division I swimmer at an excellent university, as well as a high school state champion. He has an excellent eye for the details that make for fast swimming. Surrounding yourself with good and knowledgeable people is the best thing you can do in any program. Having another set of eyes on deck allows us to give attention to each and every athlete. If I need to work on someone�s technique in the Group W lane, he keeps the practice going. He was responsible for the focus of this week�s practice.

During our early season practices we noticed that many of our sprinters were breathing too much. Air is a good thing for sprinters, but so is breath control, and they just needed to concentrate on this a bit more. Our volunteer assistant designed an appropriate set.

Putt Putt

Swim 2 rounds of the following:

10 X 50 @ :50

5 X 100 @ 1:40

We equated golf strokes with breaths. We determined that �par� for the 10 X 50 would be 29 total breaths for the set, and that �par for the 5 X 100 would be 40 total breaths for the set. The goal was to swim the first round at �par� and the second round at below par. We asked the swimmers to achieve their scores by taking the following number of breaths on the first round of 50s:

3-3-2-4-3-3-2-3-4-2 = 29

2 = 90% effort

3 = 85% effort

4 + 75% effort

And the following number of breaths on the first round of 100s:

7-10-6-9-8 = 40

For the second round, they were instructed to follow the same basic pattern, but to knock off one or more breaths SOMEWHERE in the set to go below par.

The purpose of the set was to stay relaxed while disciplining yourself not to breathe every 3rd stroke. The more struggle a swimmer put into the swim, the more trouble he had holding his breath. The athletes responded very well to the set and looked very good in the water. One swimmer in particular stood out. On the 2s, she was taking one breath per 50 while holding :35 or under. She was not flailing or struggling; she just got it in her head that she could do it.

We are taking the remainder of the week off to enjoy Thanksgiving Break. This is the season to be thankful, so I would like to take this opportunity to thank the people who have made this possible. First I would like to thank the athletes whom I coach. They give me great pleasure and challenge me in the best of ways every day. I thank the coaching staff that surrounds me and allows me to do what I feel is right. I would like to thank Glenn, for giving me the opportunity to write this column, and Barbara, for making me sound smart. I also want to thank Bobo the wonder swimmer, who provides inspiration and challenges to everyone out there. Last but not least I want to thank my family. Their love and support have allowed me to be the person that I am today, for better or for worse. I think that the break will do everyone good; being back in the comfort of home always helps. Let’s hope they don’t eat too much turkey and pie.

Happy Thanksgiving Everyone!