As we approach peaking season for our swimmers we want to keep the focus on process, not outcome, just as we should for the majority of the season. Below are some basic points of reference for coaches to keep in mind no matter what the level of our swimmers. Swimmers, just like any other athletes, can get a little skittish as we near the big meets of the season, and we can help them be confident in our programming by being able to explain our programming.
We should be training race speed, maintaining conditioning
We judge swimming competition by who touches the wall first, not who has the prettiest technique. That is not to say that we want to toss technique by the wayside, but to say that we want to practice our technique as best we can at race speeds. This goes for stroke technique, starts, underwaters, breakouts – everything. Full speed training also requires a rest period that is long enough to hold speed for whatever repeats you are doing for a given set. As we get closer and closer to big meets these rest periods should increase between hard efforts so that all of our swimmers can have their true fitness levels fully unmasked from their fatigue levels.
Our upper-level groups generally go by a Hi/Lo system per training week as we roll through our peaking phase. Hi intensity days have us training goal race pace (100 or 200) for short intervals (ex 6×50 @ 200 goal rp on 1:00). We focus on time, pace and tempo more than anything on these days. Lo intensity days have us maintaining our aerobic base and working on skills at speed for short distances and plenty of rest. We tend to then alternate Hi/Lo workouts, and if it looks like anyone needs more recovery, we give it to them! For instance, this week we had Sunday as a Hi intensity effort day, Monday as a Lo aerobic and skills day, Tuesday as a Hi intensity sprint/distance day, Wed as a Lo aerobic and skills day, Thursday will be a Hi intensity sprint day (with lots of rest), Friday will be Lo aerobic and skills day for pre-meet and then we have HS tournament swim competitions on Saturday.
Sharpening skills, not just doing drills
Drills have their place in training, largely early on in the season and then as a reminder of technique as we move through the season. At the end of the season we should all be helping our swimmers sharpen their skill sets so that they can perform on race day. This often requires more work at short distances, at full speed or close to it. Always remember that drills are a conduit to skills and only serve the purpose of fulfilling a need, and that the end of the season is the time to sharpen our current skill sets most importantly.
Physically strong, mentally tough
Maximal strength is the base of all other types of physical strength, and as we near our peaking phase we want to maintain maximal strength and train speed-strength. We want to maintain our strength so that we can continue to pull as much water as possible, to remain as durable (and injury-free) as possible, and to be at our strongest ever on race day. As we enter our peaking phase we also want to reinforce and train speed-strength, which we do by using fast lifts, quick dryland movements, and some reactive med ball work. Maintaining our general strength abilities while training our nervous system to become more reactive for our biggest meets is something that most teams do not do, but imo all teams should do.
Along with physical strength we must also reinforce mental strength & toughness for our swimmers. Coaches are a conduit for our swimmers mental strategies by giving solid & direct race plans, by being encouraging in regard to competition and racing, and by helping swimmers hone their skill sets, tempo and pacing so that their biggest races can come together more easily at the biggest meets. We want our swimmers to go after their races with determination(!) and to respect but never fear their competitors. Swimmers should again focus on the process (competing) rather than the outcome (times), and if a swimmer is ready and geared up for a tough race, their best times will come. Top competitors also do all that is required in regard to warm up and cool down consistently to achieve a consistently high performance level, and this is a typical habit of the mentally tough.
Pay attention to what the swimmers are telling you!
I don’t only mean what the swimmers are actually saying, but what their bodies are telling you perhaps more than their words. As mentioned above, some swimmers will need a little more rest than others and that should be accounted for at practices leading into big meets. If a swimmer’s stroke looks sluggish, maybe give them a tempo trainer, and if that does not help maybe let them do every-other rep of whatever the set may be. If their kick is looking slow and their legs are tired let them pull some or all of a set. Be willing to make individual adjustments at the end of the season to help each of our swimmers consolidate the gains from all of their hard work this season. Sometimes just a little added rest at the end of a long season of hard training can make a difference. An old saying that I have always liked is “The hay is in the barn,” which for swimming means the majority of hard efforts are through, and now it is time to hone our speed and skills so that we can compete at our highest possible level at our biggest meet(s) of the season.
We want all of our swimmers to reap the rewards from what they have earned by way of their hard, consistent efforts this season. The real magic ending to any season comes by way of these season-long, hard, consistent efforts – and it is up to us as coaches to enable this magic to happen as much as we are able to at the end of each season. Please keep the above ideas in mind as you structure your practices and speak to your swimmers, be positive at meets no matter what the outcome, and, especially at end of the season meets – just as we want our swimmers to do – please Have Fun, Learn, and Compete (well, at least be in a competitive mindset : )