Welcome to the Fall, 1998 issue of the Coaches Committee Quarterly, or CCQ!
Question #1: Do you make adjustments in your workouts for triathletes who are "freestyle-only" swimmers?
We have quite a few triathletes that swim from time to time with our Masters group. They tend not to be regular swimmers who are religious about their daily swimming. As a result, we don't really need to alter our workouts for their purposes. We do have swimmers in our club who are primarily freestylers, and on days we focus on the other strokes we simply convince them that they are "cross training" for freestyle. The other aspect of our group is that during any given workout, the outside lanes are generally reserved for swimmers who go "AWOL" (Alternative Work Out Lane). Rather than discourage someone from swimming with us, we would prefer they be there in spirit and go do bobs in the end lane. We call these workouts "squeegie workouts." We all have those days I guess.
The name of my team is Tri-Master's due to the large number of triathletes in our group. All of the sets are designed to fit the freestyle-only or the IM swimmer. Lanes are based on speed and interval time, and the athletes adjust their lane "preference" based on each set. I do spend time teaching all four strokes and use this as "cross" training for the triathlete.
Wednesdays are fin-optional days. A lot of runners in particular are not kickers. I use fins to teach buoyancy, body position, ankle flexibility, and for speed. We do kicking and swimming sets to ensure leg use during practice. Before events for the triathletes, all of the freestylers swim in a wide lane and we practice swimming in mass. This has proven to be effective especially for the beginner open water swimmer.
I do not alter workouts for triathletes because they don't appear to be dedicated to my program, and they have their own training routine that seems to prevent them from participating regularly in the workouts. This situation may change from one season to the next, and I may have a false impression since I arrived during the final stages of certain athletes' preparation for the Hawaii Ironman. Also, I believe doing all of the strokes helps the swimmers achieve greater swimming efficiency and balance in the water -- so even if I had a large group of more consistent triathlete participants in workouts, I would try to encourage them to realize the value of variety.
The triathletes I have working out have very poor technique. I don't change workouts, but I do work with them on their stroke more and have them do drills to correct their strokes, drills that the other swimmers don't need.
"Yes" and "no". No, in that we don't have the triathletes do anything different or "special" compared to what the rest of the group does. Yes, in that we structure our workouts so that there are plenty of "choice" sets where those who want to do predominantly freestyle can do so while others may do more stroke work. We do technique work in all four strokes but probably half of that is freestyle. We also do occasional swims that only a triathlete could love - stuff like having a set where each "lane" of swimmers circles under/around a lane line rather than circling in their lane - or doing a snake swim where everyone starts in the corner of lane 1 and "snakes" from lane to lane to the last lane - the idea being to try to stay on the toes of the person in front of you (we'll let slower swimmers wear flippers/zoomers).
Actually, our team is comprised of a great proportion of triathletes and distance swimmers. I sometimes have to make adjustments for sprint and distance swimmers. However, I am a believer that triathletes and distance swimmers benefit from some sprint sets, and sprinters benefit from some distance workouts. All swimmers benefit from a stroke mix, and I teach all of our swimmers all of the competitive strokes, as well as starts and turns for pool competition. Learning all of the strokes is an easy sell to the triathletes because of their habit of cross training. Also learning good starts and turns helps all swimmers to develop and maintain an efficient stroke. Of course, if a race is coming up, I would change the workout for those swimmers planning to race to give them more race-specific sets in the several weeks prior.
Most triathletes prior to coming into a structured program have the swimming mentality: if they longest swim they race is one mile, they swam one mile in practice with no interval training or speed work. So, when triathletes come into our program we introduce them to aerobic and anaerobic type of workouts. I would say there are some adjustments, but not many. I think it is educating the triathlete and informing him of the benefits of a set of 20 x 50 on 1:00 at 200 pace is beneficial. The only other adjustment we might make for them, if the set calls for stroke, i.e. 4 x 100 stroke, the triathlete may swim freestyle, but we ask them to descend #s 1 to 4, since most stroke sets have a longer interval.
The biggest adjustment I make is that I highly recommend they learn at least a couple of the other strokes because I feel this will make them a stronger swimmer in the long run. I do allow them to do more free sets, and our training is mainly geared towards open water swimming anyway, so the actual workout is not varied too much.
Question #2: Give one or more examples of unique ways that you educate yourself to be a better Masters coach.
I consider myself a professional swim coach and, with that in mind, I feel it is my responsibility to stay informed. I try to attend quality clinics in my area (Nike Clinic at Rutgers) and to attend the USAS convention. At these convocations, great ideas are often shared among the different coaches who attend. As the national librarian for USMS, I get to peruse many different book topics with varied pertinence to Masters Swimming. To be a well-educated coach, many different subjects must be addressed and understood. I consider it my responsibility to disseminate the latest information in a format that is understood by all. I try not to talk down to my swimmers but AT them and to keep their interest high...who doesn't want to improve or stay healthy and strong? I also obtain what I consider to be interesting and informative videos, whether they cover the "nuts and bolts" of swimming or ancillary topics such as proper nutrition for competition and weight-lifting for strength, endurance, and injury-prevention. I then try to incorporate this information into my "armamentarium" of practicing the coaching profession.
I am constantly reading the latest literature, viewing films, and going to coaches clinics, but I am also always looking for ways to help swimmer's get a feel for the water in whatever stroke they are doing. One example, I have invented what I call the Breaststroke Stick! It is a stick approximately 4 1/2' long, with two velcro straps, one around the neck and the other around the chest, the stick goes across your chest. One of the main faults of swimming breaststroke is the tendency for the swimmer to bring his arms and elbows to far back under his chest. The Breaststroke Stick! allows the swimmer to use the breaststroke kick, but keeps the arms and elbows forward. Will be on the market next year.
I read about coaching. My present favorite is "Swimming into the 21st Century" by Cecil Colwin. I wore out my dictionary on a couple of chapters. I then try out different drills and ideas I've read about on myself while I'm swimming laps. With the new stroke & turn rules, I've been trying out ideas for faster fly & breast turns. I also try to get to other coaches' workouts and check out their coaching ideas. This helps me spot my weaknesses and strengths.
I like to contact other coaches directly. Last summer, I visited the Bruin Masters at UCLA and observed Mike Collins on deck. I also swam in several of his workouts and even coached a couple. It was particularly enlightening to have these different perspectives from the experience. In my new situation at Tualatin Hills, I am making an effort to visit other Masters workouts in the area and invite the Coaches to visit our workouts. If I see Coaches or athletes from other programs doing anything that interests me, I simply ask about it.
I'm an avid web surfer, and if I notice something on the internet I send an e-mail. I have gathered a ton of information in this way. The internet gives me direct access to some of the greatest coaches in the world. I also post questions and participate in discussions on the Discussion Forums of the USMS web site.
I try to take advantage of any other opportunities to learn about swimming, training, fitness, safety and health issues concerning adults and senior citizens. Recently, I attended a medical discussion about postmenopausal osteoporosis.
Run clinics. I find that whenever I have to get a large amount of info across in a short amount of time, I find ways to streamline the teaching process that I don't seem to find when they'll always "be back tomorrow."
Write about swimming. I find that whenever I force myself to fully express my thoughts on a topic I think I know, I find that there are "holes" in my understanding that I need to fill through asking questions, reading, watching, listening, etc.
Be open minded. Cuz, hell, all of "my" ideas originated with someone else - I am not an original thinker. I have achieved some success in sifting through others ideas to find a goodly quantity of "keepers."
Be closed minded and opinionated. Or, more accurately, appear to be sometimes. It often starts really good, lively, educational discussions/arguments/fights. Example - see some of my posts on the USMS Coaches Forum.
Learn about other sports, especially those requiring the precise coordination of complex motions - like martial arts, golf, etc.
Listen to my swimmers. They know more than us coaches ever give them credit for.
Do something different. Getting out of my "comfort zone," defined by the known/usual/sameoldsameold and doing something, anything, different/challenging/risky is always a learning experience and nearly always a very gratifying and motivating one as well.
Among many other ways, I educate myself by attending the Louisiana State University (LSU) home swimming meets. At these highly competitive meets, I have the opportunity to watch some of the best swimmers and coaches in the world in action. It's not unusual to see a swimmer break 20 seconds in a 50 free or see a 54+ 100 breast.
I watch every aspect of the swimmer's races, from pre-race preparation, the psyche-up process, how they interact with their coaches and teammates, their starts, strokes, turns and finishes along with pacing (checking splits). I watch as many of the swimmers as possible, but particularly the faster ones.
Also, I watch the various coaching styles and personalities in action. I'm a pretty low-key coach, so I like getting validation on being low-key from successful low-key college coaches.
Question #3: Do any of your swimmers use a stroke rate monitor? If so, how is it used, and how are you involved in its use? Do you use stroke rate measurements in your coaching?
I have a number of swimmers who use the Speedo Stroke Rate Monitor. We don't do anything with it as a team but those who have them find them quite useful in a variety of our sets. I have been considering making it a "required equipment" item (the only other required equipment we have is FistGloves and fins) so that we could make use of it in the team setting.
We don't do anything that is strictly SR oriented but we do a lot of Swimming Golf (Strokes + Seconds = Score) where the swimmer indirectly monitors and adjusts SR in trying to lower scores. We also do sets where we ask the swimmer to hold a specific stroke count and vary the speed. This is, in effect an SR set. I'm always looking for the swimmer to work with the tradeoff between stroke length and stroke rate.
I have used the Stroke Monitor, but I don't think the product has been developed as well as it could be. Seems like they haven't gotten all the bugs out. I tried it, but I'm not convinced it's accurate.
A few of my swimmers bought the new gadget and have used it at practice. It took some getting used to, especially with all the possible read-outs and interpretations. I have tried the monitor but have felt it more trouble than it was worth. But I do use stroke count quite a bit, especially in breaststroke, where stroke rate and glide distance have an intimate relationship with the distance to be raced.
I obtained a Speedo Stroke Monitor and was first very excited to own one. I put in on my desk, thinking I would eventually bring it to the pool and ask several swimmers to try it. And, I would use it myself in the water. Well, the watch moved once - from my desk to my desk drawer, where it now sits.
While I do claim to possess a very general or basic knowledge of swimming science, I tend to stay away from such an approach to swimming. It's just not my preference. I teach efficiency by other means such as drills, explanations, sculling, feel, videotaping, etc. I'm not one to complicate the sport. I've see too many nine-year olds who hardly know their multiplication tables swim very, very fast.
We have several swimmers who have a stroke monitor watch. We constantly teach distance per stroke, so for these swimmers we set up a test set. Warm-up 400, then swim 6 x 100's x 1:30. The watch monitors stroke count and we record them. After a short rest, maybe 300-400 easy swimming, we have the swimmer swim 6 x 100's on 2:00. The watch monitors stroke count. What we learn from this as the swimmer gets fatigued in the first set his stroke count goes up. With more rest in the second set his stroke count goes down. The goal for the swimmer is to get the stroke count of the 2nd set on the first set.
Our swimmers do not use a stroke rate monitor. However I require all of them to have and to use chrono and timer watches. At least part of each workout is stroke rate and stroke count drills. At the beginning of the season I have them work on reducing stroke count per length, not paying particular attention to the time it takes. I have the swimmers sometimes do it at the beginning of the workout when they are rested.
Then I have the swimmers sometimes do it after a hard set, so they can see the correlation. I also have the swimmers experiment with different rates of stroke turnover, and how the different stroke rates affect their stroke count. I then add the "golf" drill, and continue to experiment with both stroke rate and stroke turnover. The goal is for each swimmer to find the best combination of stroke rate and stroke turnover for an efficient, fast stroke.
I have tried a Speedo watch. So far I use it on deck and touch the electrodes on every stroke cycle as the swimmer is swimming. Then I don't have to do the math. I have them swim 3 x 50 at same effort. The first swim I ask for a longer than normal stroke, the second a normal stroke, and finally a faster than normal turnover. Of the 11 swimmers who have done this, five had a better SEI = [distance/(time+ # of stroke cycles)] x 100 (stroke efficiency index) at longer strokes, while six were better at normal strokes.
I occasionally have sets of 100s with max DPS. First I have them swim a 50 at max DPS and count strokes. Then ask them to swim 10 x 100 with the same SPL as the 50.
Thanks to our contributors who have made this publication possible: Emmett Hines, Ed Nessel, Dan Perz, Anne Sumser, Joel Stager, Janet Renner, Scott Rabalais, Bill Volckening, Mel Goldstein, Robert Zeitner. All coaches are encouraged to respond to questions for future issues.
Each issue is formulated by e-mailing three questions to all coaches on the national database e-mail list. If you have not been receiving Coaches Committee e-mail and would like to offer your insights on these questions, please send your name and e-mail address to email@example.com. Also, feel free to submit a topic for discussion. In other words, what would you like to ask a large panel of Masters coaches? Also, we'd appreciate it if you would notify us via firstname.lastname@example.org if you have a change of mailing or e-mail address and/or phone.
The Coaches Committee met in Cincinnati on Thursday, October 1, with these committee members in attendance: Bonnie Adair, Rob Berry, Lee Carlson, Melanie Dullea, Lori Gibson-Rick, David Grilli, Doug Huestis, Leslie Laing-Cooper, Don Mehl, Tom Mester, Ed Nessel, Tina Talbot and Robert Zeitner. The meeting was conducted by Chairman Scott Rabalais.
In addition to reviewing all programs of the committee, it was agreed that two USMS open water clinics will be added in 1999. The clinics will be similar in structure to the Mentor Coach and Swimmer Clinics, with a host cost brought in to run a session on training, technique and tricks in open water swimming. If interested in applying for an open water clinic, contact Scott Rabalais at email@example.com or at (225) 766-5937.
Mentor Coach and Swimmer Clinics
Two Mentor Coach and Swimmer Clinics were held on October 25. Seventy swimmers and 20 coaches met in Long Island, NY, at the site of the Goodwill Games for a clinic hosted by Empire State Masters and Bob Kolonkowski. Scott Rabalais of Crawfish Masters served as the mentor coach.
Tina Talbot and the Oakland Manatees in Oakland, CA, hosted a clinic at Mills College, attended by 20 swimmers and 10 coaches. Mentor coaches were Kerry O'Brien of Walnut Creek Masters and Brian Stack of Manatee Masters.
If you are interested in applying to host a Mentor Coach and Swimmer Clinic, contact Lorie Gibson-Rick at firstname.lastname@example.org or (716) 338-3209.
Nike Champions Clinics
The first two Nike Champions Clinics were held in September. The first was at Rutgers University in New Jersey, conducted by Jeff Rouse. On the west coast, a Nike Clinic was run by Kurt Grote in Long Beach, CA. A third Nike Clinic, featuring Anita Nall, will be held in Beaverton, OR, on December 13. If interested in applying for a Nike Clinic for 1999, contact Rob Berry at RobBerry@usms.org or (617) 547-7667.
Olympic Training Camp
The Coaches Committee will be sending two coaches to the USMS/Olympic Training Center Masters Camp from February 4-7, 1999, in Colorado Springs, CO. Coaches will be selected on merit and will be required to serve on deck and participate in all scheduled activities. If interested in applying as a coach for the camp, contact Leslie Laing-Cooper at email@example.com or (781) 659-4031. Coaching applications are due December 1, 1998.
Coach of the Year
Ed Nessel of Garden State Masters in New Jersey has been named the 1998 USMS Coach of the Year. The award is presented annually by the Coaches Committee to the coach who has done the most to further the objectives of Masters swimming.
For the past 18 years, Nessel has been instrumental in the establishment and maintenance of Master swimming programs in New Jersey. On a national level, he established and currently runs the USMS Book Lending Library and has served on the Coaches and Sports Medicine Committees.
Bill Volckening, recently named coach of the Tualatin Hills Barracudas in Beaverton, Oregon, has been named to the Coaches Committee. He will be directing the On-deck Coaching program at both national championships and the annual convention. To assist on deck, contact Bill at BillVolckening@usms.org or (503) 533-5567.
The USMS web site (www.usms.org) has information on the Book and Video Lending Libraries. Check out the "Coaching" section to rent these educational tools. Or, contact book librarian Ed Nessel at firstname.lastname@example.org or (908) 561-5339 and/or video librarian Melanie Dullea at (303) 791-0309.
Send any suggestions and topic ideas to Scott Rabalais at email@example.com.