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How to Spice Up Practice for Big Events

Coaches can change their workouts to give their swimmers something different

Molly Hoover | November 13, 2017

The first time I tried changing practice for a holiday, I filled plastic Easter eggs with swim sets and walked into the pool thinking, “They may really just hate this.” They didn’t.

If they’re swimming and together and breaking up monotony of the everyday grind, Masters swimmers can get excited about almost anything. So, it’s become almost expected that when there’s something big going on, our practice around that day will reflect it.

Here are a few of the things we do with the Joliet Park (Ill.) District Blue Tides.

Birthdays

Birthdays are the easiest thing to celebrate, and those can range anywhere from just acknowledgement to a social gathering to letting the birthday swimmer write (and even coach) the whole practice.

One thing I like to do if the celebrity doesn’t want to write the practice is to write some part of the set having to do with the age of the person. For example, we may do 5 x 50s after our warm-up, and if the swimmer is turning 41, everyone is trying to hit 41 seconds. For some, this could be a sprint. For others, they need to control or even swim an off stroke slowly. It doesn’t take long and is a fun way to work the birthday into the practice.

For some of our older swimmers, we have also done 5 x 50s, but after each one they must answer a question before we start the next one. What has been your favorite age and why? What advice would you give to a 25-year-old? What is a goal you have right now? There is a lot to be learned from our veteran swimmers, and I love to tap into their wisdom. Then we can be on our way with the rest of the practice.

Thanksgiving and Christmas

Thanksgiving is centered around the food, and Christmas is based on some carols.

We’re Thankful for Swimming

Appetizer (none of the good stuff)

  • 8 x 25s on :40 (no free)

Turkey (the main thing)

  • 10 x 100s on solid interval (settle in and get it done)

Potatoes (can't have turkey without it)

  • 200 kick (easy/fast by 25)
  • 200 kick (build up each 50)

Stuffing (everyone's favorite)

  • 6 x 50s paddle pull

Green bean casserole (something's missing if it's not there)

  • 8 x 25s (odds burst+cruise, evens sprint)

Pumpkin Pie (even if you just can’t, you must do it!)

  • High 5 cool-down

Holiday Breakfast Practice

O Come All Ye Faithful

  • Warm-up: 200 swim/kick/pull

Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer

  • Eight-minute swim. Lane leader swims fast for a 50 while others follow at regular pace. At the wall, lane leader waits for all to pass and goes to the end of the line. Now you have a new "Rudolph" for the next 50. Repeat for eight minutes.

We Three Kings

  • 8 x 75s on 1:20/1:30/1:40 (free/back/free by 25 with three dolphin kicks off each wall)

Do You Hear What I Hear?

  • 8 x 50s on 1:00/1:10 (in your lane, someone new calls out what each 50 will be; could be various strokes/pull/kick/favorite drills/breath control/etc.)

Walkin' in a Winter Wonderland

  • Five-minute vertical kick (coach's choice)

Silent Night

  • 10 x 25s on :45 (fins optional; odds underwater/re-submerge after breath, evens no splash/no bubbles freestyle)

We Wish You a Merry Christmas!

  • Let's eat! (Holiday breakfast treats after practice)

Easter

On Easter, I’ve used plastic eggs in a variety of ways but this year was my favorite.

Our “purple” set was 12 x 25s on :40. Swimmers picked a purple egg that told them which ones were sprint. Some said every other, every third, or every fourth, and two said all 12. This allowed us to keep the workout together, but have a little fun and luck of the draw involved. The rest of the sets were as follows:

  • Four rounds of 200 free steady, rest :20, 100 stroke (a pink egg determines your stroke)
  • 300 pull (pick a blue egg to determine breathing pattern)
  • 8 x 50s kick (pick a yellow egg to determine fins or no fins)

Fourth of July

We have also compared our swimming to fireworks around the Fourth of July. Last year our workout looked like this:

Sparklers

  • 12 x 25s kick with fins on :35 (5 small/easy kicks, continue with fast kicks until flags, then fizzle out to wall)

Fireworks

  • 8 x 150s on 20 seconds rest (25 streamlined kick, 100 build to fast, 25 perfect stroke, a 25 that’ll make your coach "ooooh" and "ahhhh")

Thunder Boomers

  • Vertical kick for 15 seconds, drop straight to bottom, push off and do one vertical fly stroke

Grand Finale

  • 100 or 200 IM for time

Super Bowl

This year we had a Super Bowl Stat practice. In the team email during the weekend before the game, I let them know the workout on Monday morning would look like this:

  • Number of penalties x 50 on 1:00/1:10 (odds free, evens no free; work on technique!)
  • Number of touchdowns x 100, rest :15-20 seconds (25 connect with two-beat kick—keep right arm and left leg synced and left arm and right leg synced—25 connect with six-beat kick, 50 build)
  • Number of interceptions x 200, rest :20-30 seconds (1. pull, 2. paddle pull, 3. swim at solid pace; repeat as necessary)
  • Eight-minute vertical kick (number of field goals = how many total minutes of hands out)
  • Number of fumbles x 25 on :40 (odds technique, evens fast)
  • Number of passing yards = cool-down

It made it fun to watch the game, and there was some friendly banter on our Facebook page as the numbers crept up. As it turns out, the final workout looked like this:

  • 13 x 50s technique
  • 9 x 100s
  • 1 x 200 pull
  • 2 minutes of hands out on the vertical kick (we only went four minutes total)
  • 2 fast 25s
  • 240 yards cool down

Halloween

I’ve learned that on our team, holidays are as much for the adults as for the kids. Don’t underestimate dollar-store trinkets and their power for adult swimming motivation. At Halloween, a small bag of Skittles is all we need to play “disappearing limbs,” a set of 8 x 25s where someone picks a Skittle out of a cup and the color determines which limbs aren’t available for that swim.

  • Red: No right arm
  • Green: No right leg
  • Purple: No left arm
  • Orange: No left leg
  • Yellow: Coach picks two limbs

We also practiced some backstroke with a plastic spider on the forehead, and we always finish things up with a monster mask relay. The mask must be transferred before the next swimmer can leave the wall.

Of course, in between all the fun can be some more challenging sets or more standbys such as zombie kick (laying on back with arms straight up in the air; moaning “Brains! Brains!” is optional but highly encouraged) or a corpse push where it’s a race to see who can push his or her partner down the pool the fastest.

The Olympics

My favorite special practice has only happened twice in my time here—unfortunately it comes around only once every four years—but it’s awesome! We call it “Race the Olympians.” After the Olympic Games are over, I pick a bunch of different swims from the games with varying strokes and distances and we race them.

In 2016 when Katie Ledecky’s 200 free was 1:53.73, I wrote her name, place, and time on the board. The swimmers took off swimming free as fast as they could, and I stopped them at 1:53, no matter where they were, to see how far they went. Not only was it super humbling to realize how fast those Olympians were going (especially when we train in a yard pool and these times are in long course meters), but they just swam for almost two minutes all-out.

I pick a variety of events and we swim easy back to the wall and rest a bit in between (usually while we talk about how awesome the Olympics were). One of the events is the 400 IM, but I let them leave off an entire 100 of whichever stroke they wish (almost always fly) and they’re still amazed at how they can’t get that 300 done in the same time as the Olympian does the 400.

We’ve ended this special workout with one of the swimmers from a developing country (last year was Bunturabie Jalloh’s 50 free) who was invited to compete in the Olympics. The purpose wasn’t to prove we could win if only we moved to Sierra Leone, but rather to learn the inspiring story behind the swimmer and be motivated by the fact that we’re all capable of great things when we put our minds to it.

Our “Race the Olympians” workout is exhausting and fun, and it puts the amazing speed of the elites in our sport into perspective.

All these workouts require some effort on the coach’s part, but it is so worth it and such a nice break for the swimmers who are showing up for the camaraderie and friendship that Masters Swimming brings as much as for a workout.

USMS Wave Seperator

About the Author—Molly Hoover

Molly Hoover started swimming 35 years ago. She enjoys coaching as much as swimming and has learned to find a balance of the two, being awarded Illinois Coach of the Year in 2016 and State High Point Winner for the women's 40-44 age group in 2017. She is the head coach of the Joliet Blue Tides in Joliet, Ill.; is a USMS-certified Level 3 Masters coach; and currently serves as the ILMSA Coaches Chair.

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