visionThey say that “success is a moving target”.

This is so true in swimming where new ideas, information and innovations are constantly being thrown up to challenge, inspire and stimulate the thinking of swimmers and coaches.

Recently a wave of exciting and challenging new scientific research has come forward which has sparked some new ideas and forced the swimming world to sit up and take notice.

Here are five new ideas that will change our swimming world…………..forever!

1. Stop Stretching in warm up before training and racing.

Some great new research has really challenged the way we look at stretching in warm ups before training and racing.

Seems that long hold static stretches are actually counterproductive to producing speed and power. Long hold (i.e. 10 seconds or more) static stretches switch off some of the mechanisms within muscles and tendons that help the body performance fast, powerful, explosive movements.

(Note: The exception to the rule is around swimming injuries. If you are injured but continuing to train and race follow the guidelines of your doctor or physical therapist).

The research also says that stretching is still really important for increasing the range of motion around joints and in injury prevention but that stretching should be done as a separate training session away from warm up pre training and competition – at least four hours prior to training or competition!

Another great option is to schedule a team stretching session immediately after workouts when muscles are warmed up and receptive to flexibility improvement training.

Far better options pre-competition are the more dynamic forms of stretching and warm up like jumping, skipping, walking, jogging, using long “drill type” strokes in warm up etc.

So incorporate regular stretching into your overall program but schedule flexibility training at times when it will not impact on swimming performance.

2. It’s not all about technique, technique, technique.

We have all read it or said it over the years: swimming is all about technique, technique, technique.

Researchers have discovered that the old excellence by excess system – that is – repeat a simple skill in training ad finitum until it is mastered is not the best way to improve skills performance in competition.

The idea is that learning skills is a continuum. On one end of the continuum is what is called Stability and at the other end Instability or Chaos.

Where the training environment is reasonably Stable (i.e. constant, unchanging, consistent, the same), the racing environment is Chaotic with swimmers having to execute skills and make tactical decisions in a very Unstable (i.e. rapidly changing, inconsistent, variable) setting.

The research suggests that doing more skills work in an Unstable environment in training, i.e. one that is changing, different and variable, stimulates a swimmer’s brain to learn how to execute those skills more effectively in racing.

With the Internet and the way we know kids are using it and seeking information, the presentation of skills and drills work the same way over and over and over again is counter productive to the learning process.

In practice this means getting rid of the old 40 x 25 one arm freestyle drills etc and instead focusing on achieving a higher standard of quality in each repeat and continuously changing the learning environment to stimulate the swimmer’s thinking.

Chaos drill theory means varying how drills are presented to swimmers to teach them to think and learn more effectively.

For example:

Old Way of doing Drill A, then Drill B, the Drill C:

AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA followed by BBBBBBBBBBBBBBBBBB then CCCCCCCCCCCCCCCCCC

Chaos Drill Concept:

ABCBBAACCCAAABBBABABABCBCBCAABCAACCCCAAABB etc.

Try it – use your imagination to vary the presentation of drills.

You need to follow a 5x5x5 philosophy – can you teach the same lesson using five different drills, presented five different ways in five minutes?

3. Physical talent is a poor indicator of long term success.

There is no doubt that swimming is a tough sport physically. But a lot of research across several sports tells us that athletes who succeed in the long term and at the highest level are not just physically gifted and talented.

Just as important are characteristics like:

  • Self esteem and self respect;
  • Independence;
  • Ability to maintain satisfying relationships, e.g. family and friends;
  • Ability to adapt and solve problems;
  • Ability to deal with stress and difficult times;
  • Being happy and optimistic – even in adverse situations.

What this tells us is that working hard in the pool and in the gym is important but no more important than working on mental skills development, emotional intelligence and self confidence.

Yet, in spite of this most swimming programs based their talent identification and development on finding physically gifted and talented athletes, preferring muscles to motivation and strength to stress management ability.

Coaches need to focus on developing the total athlete– and spend time each day building the personality and character of swimmers (in partnership with parents, families and the swimmer them-self).

4. Tapering to swim fast is a fallacy.

Tapering has been around as a concept for a long, long time. However, its importance in swimming has been overstated for almost as long.

The original concept of tapering was developed primarily for adult athletes in weight bearing sports like running and ski-ing. The majority of athletes in swimming are young and more importantly involved in a non weight bearing activity.

The concept is pretty simple. Athletes work hard in training. Just prior to competition they decrease an element of training – usually volume (i.e. the amount of training) they are doing to reduce fatigue and perform at their best.

The record books are full of stories about swimmers who broke records and won titles while still in full training. Swimmers have swum PB times at all phases of their training.

More importantly – many, many swimmers who have had an outstanding taper, often do not swim PB times in competition or win titles!

Have a look at the NCAAs or the World Champs or even the Olympics. Every swimmer would have gone through a taper of some kind – yet very few do PB times at those competitions.

The main reason this occurs is that tapering may make the body ready to swim fast but it does nothing to get the mind ready to swim fast. Tapering does not improve a swimmer’s perception about their own ability. It does not improve their self confidence. It does not improve their resilience to pressure. It does not teach them to manage the stress of competition. It does not teach emotional control or composure in race conditions.

All it does is reduce fatigue levels – and people can race fast even when tired.

Tapering in swimming is over rated, over emphasised and just plain over as a performance enhancement strategy.

Bottom line: DE-emphasise the importance of the taper on performance and work hard to develop a balanced, total preparation– one that incorporates mental, technical, tactical and of course physical elements.

5. Squad Training is Dead.

Now this is a scary one. Squad training is dead.

Let me re-phrase that, Squad training to optimise individual  performance is dead.

In the “old days” back in the 50s and 60s, coaches trained their teams as whole. Everyone did more or less the same program regardless of their stroke speciality.

In the 70’s we moved to training specialists – flyers did fly, breaststrokers did breaststroke and sprinters sprinted.

In the 80’s and 90’s we specialised even more – sprint specialists, 50 metre specialists, short course specialists, middle distance specialists etc.

Now we are in the age of the individual – and swimmers are demanding more and more individualised training and preparation.

Competition at all levels is getting tougher and the need for attention to detail with each individual is greater than ever meaning that the old “one size fits all” way of preparing swimmers is outdated and inappropriate.

What do we know about individuals in this century?

  • They are unique;
  • They learn differently;
  • They have different preferences for taking in information;
  • They prefer to take in little bits of information in a variety of forms rather than a lot of information presented the same way;
  • They want to have some ownership and engagement in the things they are doing;
  • They are motivated by different things.

So, given this, how does writing a single workout on a white board and presenting it to 100 unique individuals, with different needs, different learning styles and different learning preferences work? The answer is “it did work – but it is no longer good enough”.

In terms of producing great swimmers, the squad model has to change. Champions are unique. They are different They are special. They are typically A- typical. That’s why they are champions.

How can we treat all swimmers the same way and call it quality coaching?

Times have changed…and they will continue to change

Times have changed. It is no longer a coach driven sport – it is a partnership program: Coach, swimmer and family – working together to achieve success.

We have to change the old squad model and increase the attention to detail with each individual. We need to find ways to inspire young swimmers to take increasing responsibility for their own preparation and performance – and thereby helping the coach to coach.

This is THE greatest challenge to coaches and the sport everywhere. It’s not finding heart rate monitors or lactate analysers or video analysis equipment or copying the latest drill sets from successful programs – it’s finding new ways to inspire the hearts and minds of young swimmers to commit to the sport and realise their full potential.

And how will we do this? By treating every swimmer as an individual and providing them with the preparation environment that gives them the opportunity to succeed.

Wayne Goldsmith