Week #20: Getting Lost in a Word

Jan 23, 2004
Week #20: Getting Lost in a Word

It appears as if Glenn� visit paid immediate dividends. Our men won every single swimming event on their way to winning their first league duel meet. In several events they even clinched first through third. The women continued to roll, and maintained their undefeated streak.

We are approximately five weeks out from our big shave-and-taper meet, which means I have to make the shift into tapering our athletes. I feel that the most important part of taper is perfect execution. After watching the football playoffs this past weekend, I realize the importance of execution in swimming. The game that I paid particular attention to was E-A-G-LOSS vs. the Panthers. In football, execution seems to have a large margin of error. A play can be called in from the sidelines. It can even be audibled -- set in motion -- at the line of scrimmage. But if the quarterback reads something once the ball has been snapped, he can change the execution in the midst of the play. Swimmers don�t have that luxury. Once they take off from the starting block, there are no audibles for them to revert to, or broken plays to make something out of. Swimmers have to be right on with everything, and margin of error will show up as extra seconds in the result of the race. Execution is the number-one priority in a sport where the only thing that separates being good from greatness is a fraction of a second.

This past Tuesday was the last hard, lactic practice for our athletes. Our first practice in the morning had a short-rest sprint main set. Here� what I had them swim to try to concentrate their efforts on the middle of their races:

All w/ :15 RI

1 x 25 Fast

4 x 75 (25 Fast/ 25 Focus/ 25Fast)

2 x 50 Fast

4 x 100 (25 Drill your choice/ 50 Fast/ 25 Focus)

One of the athletes, Mr. Blue, had a problem with the set, and he came to me after practice to explain. It turns out that this has been a recurring problem throughout the year. The problem was not in the design of the set, or its yardage. His problem was in the use of the word FAST.

To Mr. Blue, FAST stands for one thing and one thing only: speed as measured by the clock. He was frustrated with the set (and with many sets in the past) because he was not meeting his expectation of what fast swimming was. To take the morning set as an example, when he got to the 4 x 100 (25 Drill your choice/ 50 Fast/ 25 focus) he was frustrated that he was going :27s from a push on the middle fast 50. He feels that if he is doing fast swimming he needs to be going :22s from a push. Not meeting his expectations of FAST made him think that he was failing in the set.

When I was writing this practice (and many practices in the past) I used FAST to stand for a motivation level. When you see FAST, you need to go as fast as you can, no matter how tired, sore, sick, or lethargic you feel. I think that it is important for sprinters to be able to kick it up a notch when they are tired. I want them to be able to swim through discomfort. What if they never learn that kind of perseverance and it comes to race day? If you want to go :43 in the 100, you�d better believe it is going to hurt on the third and fourth lengths.

The conversation with Mr. Blue made me wonder how many of my messages and instructions were getting lost in semantics. The meaning that he attached to the word FAST was not the same as the meaning that I attached. This one word had created a division that affected his execution of the practice. What if each and every swimmer on my team had a different understanding of FAST? Whoa! And how many times will I need to use the word FAST as we move into the taper phase of the season? The most important thing to me as a coach is that I effectively communicate what needs to be done. I have started to define practice expectations in different and more precise terms to what I want to accomplish. Rather than writing FAST all of the time, I have started to define sets in terms of effort level. Each focus swim will have a specific goal, and fast swims will have a specific time to achieve.

This weekend we have no scheduled meet, which allows us to hold a dry-run meet. We will try to simulate the atmosphere of a meet during practice. Having a practice meet is a great tool for me as a coach. There is a lot less going on than in a regular meet and I can control the pace of the meet. I can have an athlete swim an event over again if I see something that he or she needs to do differently. That way they will have the opportunity to put their feedback to the test immediately.

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