When I was first starting out in swimming, I remember doing lap after lap of drill work. My coaches were always hounding perfect technique. They would stop me constantly during each lap to point out and help me correct a bad habit. As I continued to get older, practices changed. They began to provide more balance between technical work and speed/endurance work. I believe this is still the way to be great at this sport, but I'm discovering through talking to swimmers coming into the MySwim program that this is no longer the case.
When asked, parents are telling my team and I that the coaches of their kids aren't working on any technique during practice. All the coaches focus on is speed through sprint sets. In investigating this further with some of these coaches, I discovered that they believe that the kid will figure out the right technique to go fast.
As you can imagine my jaw regularly drops to statements like this.
The coaches expect the kids to figure it out. How the heck are they suppose to do that without having any foundation to base their decisions off of?
I think this is a laziness on the coaches part. I think teams have gotten very relaxed on hiring their coaches for younger ages or summer leagues. I know there are a lot of coaches who get hired not because of taking any training or certification courses, but because they were fast swimmers themselves when they were younger. These coaches don't have the experience or knowledge to properly coach these kids to faster times. I constantly argue that not every fast swimmer makes a great coach. In fact, I firmly believe that swimmers who struggled a bit more for every second they took off make better coaches. The reason for this is that they know how important small technical changes can be to achieving speed goals in swimming.
I find this lack of technical coaching extremely frustrating. I know that as these kids get older and want to reach even higher goals like the Olympics, they will have to face relearning all their strokes with proper technique to have that competitive advantage over their colleagues.
As swimmers get older, technique becomes the most important part of continuing to improve. If they don't have a properly foundation of knowledge to pull from then they won't know where to start. Younger swimmers are like sponges. Their younger years are the best time to teach them new things. They have a willingness to learn and their ability to adjust their strokes This will make any changes and further coaching much more difficult for the swimmer and the coach.
We, as coaches, mentors, and teachers, need to do better.
We need to get out of this lazy cycle of coaching and start providing effective continuous feedback to our swimmers. If a group that you coach is too large, then talk to your head coach about splitting it up. During each practice, every child should get some sort of feedback about their swimming. We need to go back to putting an emphasis on drill work with our swimmers, even if that means we reduce the amount of distance they cover during each session. If drill work is done correctly, it can actually be a greater workout, both mentally and physically, for young swimmers.
We are teaching the next generation of Olympians and helping people be water safe, but if take our foot off the the gas pedal of stroke efficiency how safe will someone be when all they know how to do is sprint wildly down the pool? I question our motivates here. Sure the recognition of having a fast athlete is great for helping you build your reputation, which brings in money and even better swimmers, but are we really willing to sacrifice technique and our obligations to do so. I'm not.
We have certifications and standards within our sport for a reason. We need to be more disciplined and accountable for how we are teaching these young swimmers. If you have a coach that isn't performing at the level that should be expected by each club then tell them. In the same way, you expect your swimmers to get better, help your staff get better too. They may not know how to teach drills or organize practices that balance all the aspects of swimming properly. Sign them up for ASCA courses and keep them and yourself accountable for providing the best experiences to your swimmers.
Let's put an end to laziness in coaching. There's enough laziness in all other aspects of life that we don't need it around the pool. Focus on technique with your swimmers. Help them become more efficient, stronger and better by working on the technical side of swimming.