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Creating Quality Youth and Age Group Programs by John Atkinson
ASCA Talk #014
Creating Quality Youth and Age Group Programs by John Atkinson
ASCA Talk #014
Since the beginning of March 2013, John has served as Swimming Canada's National High-Performance Director and National Coach. He was tasked with providing worldwide success at the Olympic Games and, well, they’ve had a bunch of it, earning 6 Olympic medals at each of the last two Games.
John’s talk from the 2006 World Clinic provides a comprehensive blueprint for creating quality age group programs, from addressing individual needs to fostering a positive and progress-focused team environment.
Speaking of the World Clinic, we will be at this year’s World Clinic like we always are. We are 1 month away. It’s in Dallas, Texas from Sept. 6-9. Sign up here and make sure you stop by my booth!
Here are some of the key components you will learn about in, “Creating Quality Youth & Age Group Programs from National to Senior Team Level”:
- Individual attention: Each swimmer has diverse needs and abilities, so personal attention is essential. This also helps prepare them for receiving one-on-one attention when part of a national team.
- Issue resolution: Addressing issues as soon as they are noticed and not leaving them for others is a crucial part of effective coaching. Issues should be handled within meetings and not become a source of negative motivation for the athletes.
- Gaining fast-heat swims: Coaches need strategies for preparing swimmers for optimal performance during the heats. This can include wake-up swims and warm-ups, and requires knowing the individual needs of each swimmer.
- Relay teams: The ability to coach relay teams and work with other staff members in their preparation is beneficial.
- Positive communication: Delivering even difficult information to athletes in a positive manner is key to maintain motivation and trust.
- In-depth knowledge: Knowing the athletes well enough to help them make the most out of each situation helps streamline their transition to senior programs. Detailed race analysis and immediate post-race discussions can foster this understanding.
- Protocol adherence: Coaches and athletes must be willing to adhere to all team protocols for the functioning of the team to be optimal.
- End goal: The ultimate destination for many swimming teams and athletes is the Olympic Games. Coaches should have this ambition in mind when training younger teams and try to prepare them for this level of competition.
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Creating Quality Youth and Age Group Programs from National to Senior Team Level by John Atkinson (2006)
Introduction by Peter Daland: We are getting ready for our next presentation which is from a man who comes from a different country. He is not American and he has a most interesting background. He comes from a medium sized town – not city – in Great Britain. He spent a lot of years in Australia. He is now back in Great Britain. You will notice by the way he speaks that he is from another country. He doesn’t speak clear Aussie and he doesn’t speak like a person from England. He has a combination, but he has a very interesting background and he has got a lot to say. He is part of a new team in British swimming that has completely transformed their team at the big meets. They went to the Commonwealth Games in Australia and that is a very important competition to the Commonwealth countries and they won – in Australia. That was a shock to a lot of people around the world. They went to the European Championships this summer where they have been more or less on the fringes – and they won. There is a fantastic Australian coach who is running the British program named Bill Sweetenham from a place called Mount Isa and he has transformed British swimming. Americans had better start thinking about the Brits – as we often call them – in Beijing. The man you are going to hear from today is a very key part of this team and I think it is a great opportunity for all of us to hear from John Atkinson, who is native British, but he has now been heavily influenced in his thinking by the Australians from his visit there. In Australia he did various jobs and was influenced by what he is doing now as a part of Bill Sweetenham’s team. I am going to ask John to make sure that he explains in detail what his part is on that fantastic team effort. We have been waiting for the big results to come from Bill because he is a very well known international coach. This summer – BOOM – they were there. So I am warning all of you – if you are coaching athletes for Beijing – keep your eye on the British team.
John Atkinson: Well – where do I go after that introduction? Thank you very much Coach Daland for that introduction there and yes, I am very fortunate to be part of a great team of people that all have a drive to take forward swimming in Great Britain to a higher level. We have been working at this probably for the last six years and things are moving ahead. When I started in Great Britain in January 2001 I was asked to put together a program that would supply to the senior team better educated swimmers and coaches. That is what we started to do and part of this talk will explain how we did that and what things we implemented throughout the country to try and get things moving in the right direction.
I was very fortunate to work with Bill Sweetenham in Australia and when I had the opportunity to return to Great Britain to work within the system and work with Bill I didn’t have any hesitation whatsoever. The philosophies that we have are about moving swimmers through to world class level. As coaches, no matter what level you attained or work at, you all have a role to play towards moving forward in your national program.
One of the very pleasing things that has happened is that swimmers who we identified as part of our age group programs and part of our youth programs within Great Britain are now moving forwards onto the national team. At the Olympic games in 2004, 80% of the team had competed at the European championships. This last year – well, last year in Montréal and this next year in Melbourne, between 50 and 60% of the team have come through since 2001. We think this isshowing that we are getting people transferring through to the team, but transferring through to the team is only one part of what we are aiming to do. We don’t just want people transferring through onto the team. We want swimmers transferring through at a much higher, better prepared level, able to compete on the world scene and win medals for Great Britain; certainly with medals by 2012 when we have at home Olympic games. So, that was the task and we will hopefully go through some things this morning which will give you an idea as to how we do that.
So basically, we have moving from club expectations to the National Program and what that means – international expectations are very important and we should all strive for world class. The programs in Great Britain are called world class programs. Which is saying to our swimmers and to our coaches is that national is fine, but world class is what we want. You have to be a world class coach every day. It is a lifestyle. You have to be a World Class swimmer every day when you are in the program and it is having these expectations of your athletes on a daily basis, sectional basis and on a set that can make the difference.
So, as it says on the board, everything is a stepping stone to the Olympic Games. That is what is important – the Olympics is where it is at and 2012 will provide that added incentive to the things that we have spent six years setting up, so that we can have an even better Olympic Games in 2012 than what we have in 2008. I want you just to think at the moment – wherever you coach – whether it is a club, school, college program – wherever it is – that you consider the national team goals. If you are preparing swimmers who you want to see fulfill their dream – their potential and to make it through to the highest level – do you consider that in your own program? Because if you don’t, and you have a swimmer that is going to make it through, you are not preparing them to take the step and that is what our program is being about. It is preparing the swimmers to take the step through to international level and through to the senior team. I think that everybody in the whole swimming community has to focus on the national team goal and what they are trying to achieve. Then we can be much stronger in whatever country that might be.
Coaches have to prepare the athletes to make a smooth transition to the teams. I have been heavily involved in the Junior team program and the junior team training camps and on a lot of our training camps and teams. What we have actually tried to do is make it more demanding than what it would be on a senior team. Now, what do we mean by more demanding? There are a lot of areas that that can cover – that might be within their time management skills, having a lot of things on during the day so that they are very busy. There are a lot of expectations on where they have to be – why they have to be there and education within the team. Now, that is something that you can all do with your athletes in your own program. You can all prepare them for the next step within what you are doing at your club, at your school or at your college. It is the same as when I get them on the junior team my job is to say – “when you move to the senior team we don’t actually want it to be a giant leap.” We want it just to be a step across so that when they are there they can cope with it and you can get your athletes used to those things.
I think that that is very important. Swimmers struggle with time management today. We try to get them into a situation where being on time is to be liked. We want them to be there early. The bus goes at this time – the bus goes. Get them used to having to do that when they are away on a team. Within Great Britain at the moment, one of my next challenges is to work with the club programs when they take their teams away so that they are starting to put into place the sort of expectations in a flip program when a team goes to nationals that they are going to face when they come away on a national team. Otherwise, when they make the national team with different expectations around them they probably are not going to cope with it as well as they should and it becomes a distraction to their competitive performance.
I think that most of the issues that I will face when we are away on a team is probably because people are not used to the expectations in their home programs. For example: when we go away on the junior team we have the morning heat sessions which we always call with a staff meeting. Then, before we go back into finals we have a full team meeting, then we swim the finals. There is a process and a protocol that we have in place. If that is not practiced within the club program and then they go away and we expect that on the national team – it is something that they have to learn to deal with. So we are trying to get the programs to do that so we have some of the moves in a swimmer’s career – from Junior to Senior National Swimming and what that entails.
We have set up a system over the last six years where we have national age group championships where the swimmers compete in single age bands. We have a youth championship where they compete in dual age bands. Then there is the stepping stone to senior swimming where everybody is in and racing against each other as open swimmers. We have to get our young swimmers coming through who are then not afraid to actually stand it when they get on that senior environment and race people in different situations.
One of the things that I also see is that age group swimmers go to what we call open meets – kind of a week-end competition – a flip meet – where they are swimming 4-9 events. Then they go to Nationals where they may have a swim every second day. Then they go on the national team and they may have only made one event. There is a very different approach to each one of those different circumstances that we try to prepare swimmers for when they make those teams. If you are swimming in a meet where you do 8 different events and you have one that doesn’t go to plan – you can justify your performance at the meet by saying well, I have got another event – I am going to put it right.
When you then go to senior nationals where you have an event every two days – you may or may not have the same sort of spirit because it is more focused on one swim – then you have to wait a day and then you swim again. When you go on the senior team or the junior team – for your first trip – you might have a swim on day 1 and a swim on day 6. They have to be able to focus between those two swims and keep themselves ready to perform at the end of the meet. So, one of the things that we have talked to coaches about is trying different things at different meets. Rather than going to club open meet and swimming in eight individual events. Go and swim in one event, because there are a lot of different pressures on them. There is a place for the eight swims – there is a place for the one swim. We have to move them from national swimming to international swimming and the differences that are part of that. We have to move them from international swimming to podium success. Within Great Britain, most of the club coaches are responsible for the steps all the way through the system. So part of the role we have tried to work on over the six years is also working with the coaches within the club programs, at camps, and targeting different competitions with our teams that we go to do different things.
So the goal, as I see it, for most of what we have been trying to do in Great Britain is bridging the gap between participation and high performance. The big, big difference – they are involved in a flip program – they are participating in a flip program and bridging the gap between what they need to do to be successful at an international level and about high performance and understanding what that difference is. It is about getting the athlete to take responsibility for where they want to go, and the coach is responsible for making sure that that happens and guiding the swimmers through that process.
At the top – if we have a swimmer doing 8 hours a week at maturation – so not a senior swimmer – not a real young swimmer, but somebody who is 12-13-14-15 years old – if they are doing eight hours a week I would say to a coach it’s fun. It is health benefits. It is involvement. It is participation, but it doesn’t produce a competitive result for the highest level. That is quite a simple statement. In the middle, if we have swimmers doing 10-12 hours a week it becomes a point where it is probably too much to be fun any more because they are putting in a few more hours on it, so it is not as fun. They are not doing enough to get a competitive result and they fall into what we term the twilight zone. It is too much to be fun, but not quite enough to get the competitive results. It is how we bridge swimmers through this to get them doing what we look at when we want them coming through on the national team. That is, to be able to do 18 – 24 hours a week and getting them involved in competitive swimming.
Some of the things that I talked about in my first presentation was getting them into the lifestyle of doing the 18 – 24 hours a week with ten swimming sessions a week, that we want them to do. I think the things that I have taught to some of the senior coaches over here and a lot of the issues that I think face Great Britain appear in the US – they are also there in Australia. In today’s society where swimmers and parents have a lot of different things available to be a part of, we have to make sure that we are selling what the benefits are and finding different ways to do the meat and potatoes, but not shying away from doing the work. Not shying away from doing the hours, but making sure that we, as coaches, can get that message out to young people to stay in school.
The difference I think in the US – compared to Great Britain - is that between 16-17-18, in this country, they are trying to get college scholarships, there are incentives to keep them in the program – incentives to keep then swimming. But what we have to do in Great Britain is see them through that period because we do not have as many opportunities with college programs and University programs to get through. So there is a subtle difference there. Certainly if it is too little – it is fun – it is health benefits and do not expect a competitive result and that is fine if swimmers want to do that. If they are in the twilight zone they have to make a choice; do they want fun participation, health benefits or do they want a competitive result at the international level?
And this is one of the things that we have looked at again in Great Britain over the last few years is kind of recognizing the limitations of the programs that people are in. If you have great young age group swimmers who are 13 – 14 years old who are performing at a certain level and you feel that they have the ability to transfer that through to international levels, but you do not have the hours, the space or the time to take them where they need to be on the journey, do they pass on the talent? We both try and get coaches in the situations that we work in to be able to recognize if they need to get more pool space. The need to get more time that that is what they have to try and do. The coach is ultimately responsible for keeping an athlete in the twilight zone if they choose to keep him within the program.
I think that there is a growing feeling in Great Britain now where more coaches are willing to pass swimmers on – to try and get more pool space if that is possible so that they can keep producing them to get through maturation, and to be there as a senior international swimmer on the British team. If a coach asks me what do you do if you have an athlete at maturation who is doing ten hours a week “what should I do in the water with them?” My answer is quite simple – “anything that you want because it really is not going to make a difference.” Technique – because they can still come through later, but in general terms they need to consider what the athlete needs in order to take the steps through and make it on the senior team. And what will make the difference in helping these athletes transfer through to the senior team? It is time at task – a point that Bill Sweetenham has used and that I feel is right on the mark – time at task. A quote that Bill Sweetenham has used and that I feel is right on the mark. Time at task is coaches working on the things that will make a difference with the talented athlete. You have to think – what does this athlete need? What will make the difference? And you have to work on those as a coach, with those athletes. And for different athletes, it will not be the same things. You might have swimmers doing the same time, the same age in the same events, but one athlete needs something else or one athlete would need something more. And you, as coaches, have got to work with those athletes on addressing those things.
So, this is a look at how the national body, the team of people that I work with at British Swimming and I would work in trying to influence these changes in order to improve the swimmers transferring through to the Senior team. These are some of the things that we have done over the last few years. We have had training camps at all levels and that is not saying that all of the athletes are not doing the work that they need to in the home program – many are doing the work that they need. When you go away on the national team you may be in a situation where you are not going to have your own coach there so the athlete has to become open minded to working with different coaches in different situations and not letting that then affect them. So, we have had sessions with coaches where they would put the workouts up, where we talk about the work that they are doing with the athletes. So it is not just about working with the athlete on the deck. It’s getting them used to working with other coaches, and it is also getting the coaches used to working with different athletes.
So the camps that we have had we have integrated our age and youth swimmers on senior team counts so that the younger swimmers have to live up to the expectations of the seniors, rather than always having been on junior team counts. We felt that that has worked very, very well and we have done that in different ways. There have been camps where we would have all our butterfly swimmers, our backstrokers, or breaststrokers, our medley swimmers – our distance swimmers so that swimmers of like mind for the same events could work together on those events. It gets the coaches to work together when they have been on those event camp programs.
We have had senior racing simulations and as they swim each event they are awarded a number of points and females try and do that as well and we found that racing simulation experience worked very well where we would try to have them live the competition.
We have also spent a lot of time traveling around with them from visiting with coaches and the athletes in their home environment. Because – as you can probably appreciate – if you are trying to direct the national team in a national program and if you don’t actually know what the locals have done and the circumstances under which some athletes are training, it is harder to say this is what we need to do to improve.
These are some of the things again that we have talked to the coaches about and are real important, in my opinion, for bringing swimmers through. You cannot work from year to year. You have to work and have a four year plan. We mentioned a little bit of this the other day. That is about looking at the swimmer that you have now – the swimmers that you have in your core program – thinking – what will they need next year? Think ahead of time of what you need, like if you have only so many lanes now. We had one club program that I went to visit that trained in a 25 meter pool at a University and they were given three lanes. When the swimmers were 11, 12, and 13 years old they could fit more swimmers in the lanes. Suddenly, they had a really good age group squad. When those swimmers go through maturation and you now have 6 foot 4 guys training in those lanes it is just simple to know that you cannot fit as many of those sort of guys in the lane as you could when were 12 or 13. So it is about looking at those situations.
Sometimes the coach, because you are working really hard in the environment that you are in don’t see over here. You have tunnel vision on what you are doing and trying to get athletes to swim fast – trying to get the technique right – trying to do all of the things that great coaches do. But, we need to look ahead and think what will the athlete need next year or the year after and plan for it. And try to get what we need – whatever you have to do to try and get that.
You have to make the swimmer independent to do things on their own. If your swimmer cannot cope without you as their coach when they go to a swim meet without you, you haven’t prepared them. If you want to keep them close and for you to be involved with it all the way - which is good and it is great for coaches to do that - you have to let them do things on their own. They have to be able to be responsible to do the things that they need to do. They have to learn that they do the warm-up, the swim down, the race plan, the strategies of when they are going to bed, when they are going to hydrate, when they are going to get their nutrition back on board when they have raced. You have to prepare them to do that for themselves. When you have an athlete that can do that – that is when you have done a great job as a coach. That is what the goal has to be – independence – that they can do the right things and choose to do the right things when others around them might not necessarily be doing that.
So, for me this is a very important point. Do you have a situation where you can offer different types of training workouts for the swimmers or is it “one size fits all”? Again, when you are coming through as an age group and a youth swimmer do you use the philosophy that is quite close to my heart the development of middle distance and distance freestyle events and 400 medley and developing the four strokes? It sometimes can fit everybody, if that is your sort of philosophy. But, as they develop and go through maturation, they start to develop into where their main events are. Do you have a situation where you can offer them what they need? Sprinters versus an IM swimmer versus a stroke swimmer versus a distance freestyler – males versus females. Can you take on board all of these variables that you need to consider as a coach in order to get the athlete to make that transition through from being an age group youth swimmer through to the senior ranks? This is something that I really believe you have to take onboard.
We talked about this just a minute ago, but I will reiterate it – Does your program have progression year on year – i.e. sections, hours, intensity in the pool, core strength, core work, weight strength work, stacks, two on one? Are you establishing now what you need in two year’s time? This is very important. Do you consider within your total volume of the program what is aerobic; what we call race pace, the anaerobic component; your race speed, your sprint part training? Do you consider what percentages of that you are using through your weekly programs, and what type of work you are doing within that section? Is the percentage of aerobic – the percentage of your anaerobic race pace and your percentage of your race speed – does it change per event? Does it change within the total volume? And I could put up there 70-80% of aerobic, 15% of race pace, 5% speed. as a general rule of thumb, but you will know within your own athletes what percentages you should be looking at there.
When Frank Busch did his lecture the other night and talked about kicking and somebody asked the question at the end, “well, what percentage of your program is kicking”? Well, do you know that? Have you looked at where your kicking fits in with the type of work that you are doing here? I am not going to give you the answers to this, I just want to give you the things that you need to think about and need to consider within your program. Those are some of the things that we talk to the coaches about when we visit them and ask them to evaluate their programs – the placement of work within the weekly cycle.
Relay teams: I think that within our national team program we have really tried to develop the relay team concepts from our junior teams through to our senior teams. One of the things that we were saying to the club coaches is that the athletes that you work with have got to be able to come away and swim in the relay teams as well as their individual attempts. They have to be able to do a heat of an individual, a heat of a relay and come back in that night for the semi-final, do the relay, do the heat the next day, and do the final the next night of the semifinal. They have to be able to do that and cope with that.
One of the things that we changed with our national age and youth championships is that we used to swim 4 X 50 relays. We took them out and put in their place a 4 X 100 medley team, a 4 X 100 freestyle team, a 4 X 200 freestyle team. We brought those events in, probably about four years ago at our age and youth championships. Everybody was quite skeptical about how this would work when we brought this into the age group program because everybody loves a 4 X 50 relay. They shout the roof off the pool and everybody felt that if it was a 4 X 200 it wouldn’t be quite the same. The way that they qualify to swim the relays at our nationals is that back in our Districts they all swim those events and they take the top 20 teams from the Districts in the 4 X 2, 4 X 1, 4 X 100 medley relay and they go to Nationals. I think that it was a very, very positive introduction when we brought it in and people still shout the roof off the pool for those relay teams.
From the philosophy that I come from, if we have 40 teams within nine regions, all having to put together a 4 X 200 meter freestyle team to swim the district championships, that is a hell of a lot more people that are now swimming in my way of 200 down for age group youth swimming. So, that was a really good thing that we did.
This is just an example of when we talked about the training classifications of aerobic, race pace and race speed In the first column we have aerobic where we looked heart rates of 40 beats below max and lower in that zone of training. The race pace – what we call anaerobic type work – heart rate type sets, quality training in the middle for the 15-20% of the training. Then the final column would be the race speed type work where we want what we call mini-max where it is minimum effort for maximum speed type work, and again, that fits in. I have given all these overheads and notes to Guy so that they can hopefully be put into the yearbook and all the lecture notes are available and that is in there to give you an idea as to the type of work that the kids do.
One of the things that I thought about this summer – I have been working to prepare their athletes – they have to understand that some things are controllable and other things are uncontrollable. They have to approach it from the controllable and then work backwards and forwards the whole time I think it becomes an issue when they are on the team. Have a Plan B. Focus on the control, focus on what you can do with your athlete in the water. – You do not know what your opposition is going to do so focus on the controllable issues and not on the uncontrollable. Contact all swimmers and coaches to talk about their preparation for the meet. What we are saying here is preparing your swimmer. We want the coach to contact the other coaches of the athletes that they are going to look after on the team so that they get the best chance to prepare when they go on the national team.
One of the things that I know the senior team did this year and with the European Junior, we had all the coaches prepare individual athlete plans prior to the championships by contacting the home coach and working out what they wanted them to do, where it would fit in – how they would taper into the meet. Then the coaches would get that information, come along on the national team, Bill would look at that, I would look at that, we would review it. Then we would talk to the coaches about that swimmer’s plan into the championships. and these are all the sort of things that you can be doing in your home program as well. We think that this one is a key part of when we have coaches and swimmers who transfer through onto the national team. Find out – understand and accept team protocols, okay?
When I first started, almost six years ago now, working with the junior team, the first meeting that I went to I let them warm up how they wanted. I let them swim down how they wanted and we just watched it. Then what we said is, well, we want to know what everybody’s warm-up is. You know, kind of a standard warm-up might be a thousand meters and if you are doing a hundred we will do 2 - 50’s. If you are doing a 200 we try a 50 pace, this is after the same thousand. If you are doing a distance event you might do a couple of hundreds at the pace we want to hold, but I wanted to know why they wanted to do that sort of work. So what I brought in was a swim down protocol, a warm-up protocol and said to the athletes and to the coach “Tell me what you are going to do when you come onto the team? And why you are going to do it? If you can justify what you want to do that is great – that is what we will go with. If you can’t – this is what we are going to do.” So, understanding why we do certain things like that on the team and having your athletes who you are trying to prepare for that step to the international level – have all these skills in their keep bag. These are all important so that they can then cope when they go away and you might not necessarily be there and you could all work on in your club programs.
Be positive and accept team staff positions as a united group for the team, same as within your club programs. You can accept those decisions that US coaches make, then support each other within the team. We try to get people to leave their personal and club team issues at home when they join the team because what we want to be able to do is focus on the job that we are there to do. That is part of the national team and it is the same when you go away with your club team. You would like the swimmers to leave everything behind and just focus on the meet. You need your staff to focus on the meet with you when you go to national championships or whatever meet that you go to.
Know the whereabouts of the athletes that you are preparing on the team at all times. What we try to do here is get the coach and the athlete working closely together, but the home coach is part of that when their athlete is away, but the home coach directs the athlete’s preparation. Again, there were some things when we go back to the controllables and uncontrollables. If this is what part of a team means that everybody is there at the final session supporting each other. That is what we are doing. When your athlete goes away on a team there will be maybe a top third that will be achievers of the team, there will maybe be some at the bottom third which will actually decline when they are on the team. And it is the middle section that can swing either way. As coaches, what you have to prepare your athletes for is being able to go away and do it themselves, and swing those people into achievers. And how you do that is making them independent and able to work with other people.
Give each swimmer in your group the individual attention that they require. I think we heard it in one of the lectures yesterday where they talked about working with swimmers one on one and making that swimmer feel great, but if they work with them one on one they got that individual attention. The same when you can go away on a team so your swimmers have got to be used to working with somebody one on one. So you have to prepare them for that. Then, if you are on the team, make sure that you can actually deliver to a group of people in different ways – staggering the warm-up for example. One of the things that we try to get our coaches to do is to coach the swimmers, be active on deck, moving around. If they have finished their job of coaching the athletes that they have at that particular moment I would like them to get off deck and do something else rather than be hanging around at the end of the day having a chat.
If you see an issue, address it. Don’t leave it for someone else and I think that that is a key point for all of you in your home programs. If you see an issue – address it – don’t leave it. If you are on the national team and if you see an issue – address it – do not leave it for someone else. Because if everybody leaves it for somebody else nothing will ever get done and at some point you have to try and address those issues. Issues at meetings stay in the meetings and some issues are just for meetings. Don’t use negative motivation. If you have an athlete that is notorious at not swimming well in the mornings and it is discussed at the staff meeting – you do not want that going outside the meeting and getting back to the athlete that somebody said this, this and this.
When you are on the national team you are the national body, and the vast majority of you are all USA Swimming. If you go away on the team, you are USA Swimming because you are on their team. So when we take a team away on the British team we say “You are British Swimming.” I might work for British Swimming, you may work for somebody else, but when we are on that team we are the British Swimming Team.
Think of strategies to help swimmers attain fast heat swims: wake up swims, warm-ups, showers; think of how you are going to get them ready. As we move into a situation where we may be looking at finals in the mornings it becomes even more of a pressing issue for people to consider. When you are on your club team, how do you prepare your swimmers? How do you prepare your swimmers to get fast heat swims? If you have somebody who you know is sluggish in the morning, what do you do with them? Do you get them up and tell them to have a shower? Do you get them into the pool a little bit early and just do 25 meters and get out? And you have to think of how you can get them to do that when they are away on the team. Know what they need to do about themselves in order to be successful when they compete and represent the swim team.
Be prepared to coach relay teams and work with other staff on their preparation, as well as preparing individuals. As we said earlier, relay team scores are very important now and we want all of our swimmers wanting to be on the relays. As coach, you should want to be able to coach those, as well as working with the individual events. You can build relay practice sessions when you are away. Again, if we have another group of coaches, we are saying that is what is going to happen on the national team. We want clubs now doing that as well, and we could, in an ideal world. It should be a miniature version of what we try to do on the national team so that everybody who makes the transition through to the senior team or to the junior national team is practicing the expectations of the national team when they go away every time with their club.
We try to get coaches to deliver team information to the athletes they are responsible for in a positive manner. The same is true with your own athletes. Sometimes they are not easy messages that have got to be delivered, but we as coaches cannot shy away from delivering that information, but we have to do it in a positive manner. And understand, the feedback that you receive about your coaching is a gift, even if you don’t always like it. I think that is a really important point, but sometimes you don’t want to hear some things. When you are on the national team, sometimes you have to hear it and use that to move yourself on as a coach.
A couple of more overheads to go – know everything you can about your athletes that you are working with. And if you are preparing swimmers for the national team, maybe you have got to talk to them about what they have to do in order to get something out of a situation. The coach may contact them, but the swimmer should have information that they can take and pass on to the team staff so that their transition through to that senior program or junior team is smooth, rather than their not being able to cope with it when they are there.
Get the race analysis of the athletes. Get your splits, get your stroke rates, get your stroke counts, go through and analyze that with your athletes when you are at the meets. Getting the athlete used to how that information is used is then another thing that will help their transition through to be very smooth as they go through to the senior team. Monitor the athletes on the swim downs, make them responsible for doing what they need to do. Talk to the athletes following the race with three or four quick questions before justification is set in for performance. All that means is that as they hit the wall you have got to be there as a coach with them. How did it feel? What did you do on your first 25? Tell me how you used your arms on the second 50. Tell me what about what you tried to do on this turn so that you get the answers straight away, rather than going through the splits immediately with them and then them swimming down and by the time that they have gotten out after the swim down they have justified how they did things. So, we try to get them used to that and prepare them for that sort of approach when they come on the team.
I think this is the final slide. Communication with the athlete is all important. They will decide in three sessions whether they want, like and respect the coach – which is ideal. Respect the coach, but don’t really like them, most coaches can handle this. Whether they like, but don’t respect the coach, which is not good at all. And don’t like or respect – there is not much that you can say to them. And that is what tends to happen when you have an athlete come through on the team and over time. There will be certain coaches and athletes that work very, very well together and who they fit in with, but that is generally the start of a process that happens on a team with the athletes when they go away.
Are you prepared to buy into all team protocols? And finally – junior teams are about preparing for the senior team and the only end destination is the Olympic Games. So, a lot of the things that I think I have talked about here today are about how you can get that athlete to transfer through to the senior team program. Some of the things that we do in Great Britain are to try to get the athletes to consider and work on. I just really have to say that when you are bringing athletes through you have to aim high so that they are going to reach the end destination, whether or not they fulfill their whole potential. That might be just swimming at nationals, or that might be just swimming on a junior team, whatever it might be. But having the same sort of protocols and issues, things built into the club programs that you get at national level is all important. And that is what I try to do in my job in Great Britain – getting the athletes and coaches ready to transfer through from being a national level swimmer through to a junior international, through to a senior international swimmer.
As Coach Daland said right at the very beginning – I am part of a team in doing that. Bill Pilser and Bill Sweetenham have massive influences within that team and are very supportive of how we run the program. We have other people in there that work very closely together. But more importantly than what we are trying to do as a team are the club coaches and the swimmers and how they prepare their athletes as they come through to being able to cope with the expectations of when they make the national team. So, hopefully, that has given you some sort of an insight as to what we are doing and how we feel about moving swimmers through the system and making the senior team. So, ladies and gentlemen, thank you very much.