Letter to Swim Parents
Below is a letter to our Bison swim parents. The letter lays out our club's philosophy and also provides some guidance on how to be an effective swim parent!
I would like to spend a few minutes sharing the performance and improvement philosophy we have at Bison Swimming. Generally, swim parents are left somewhat in the dark when it comes to their child’s training. Usually due to either insufficient communication from the coach or the typical swimmer response when asked “how was practice today?” … “good.” I can hopefully help with the former.
In the Junior, Junior Development, Youth, and Bison Racer Groups our goal is to develop a solid foundation of:
1) Technical skills (how efficient are we moving through the water?)
2) Tactical skills i.e. speed and racing skills (how efficient are we moving through a race?)
Due to the developmental stage, these athletes are in: the first category will always be the primary focus. We must use this time to establish good technical habits, it is much more difficult to make technical changes late in a swimmer’s career. Great technique is important because:
1) It allows an athlete to maximize their speed and ability
2) It prevents injury
Technical skill is the foundation of our training philosophy which means we are required to de-emphasize the swimmers' focus on time. Goal times are important, however, the message we give to the athletes is the following: goal times are a tool for guiding training habits and behaviours (i.e. work ethic, attendance, following instruction, etc.), and that is it.
Once at practice, the focus must shift to behavioural goals. Rather than spending an entire workout thinking, "I want to go under 2:40 for 200 freestyle," the thought process needs to be "I need to have a great streamline off every wall today”. The time displayed on the scoreboard at a meet is merely a reflection of past work.
Before every game, the head coach of the New England Patriots, Bill Belichick, tells his players to focus on skillfully executing their job on the field and to ignore the scoreboard. This is because the score is a distraction that offers very little feedback. Swimming is no different.
For example, here is a short list of information that cannot be extracted from a time:
• Quickness of start and turn
• Head position
• Stroke length
• Distance per stroke
• And so on and so on… I could easily fill an entire page!
The “score” is not important. The “execution” is. The resulting time of the race reveals nothing about the execution of the performance. We want our athletes to be thinking about the "how" (what can I do in practice to improve) rather than the "what" (I want to qualify for Man/Sask).
It is also worth noting that at this age times are not an ideal measure of improvement due to growth and technical changes. Growth can cause a swimmer to take off time OR add time, neither are representative of the effort the swimmer applies in practice on a daily basis. Changing a swimmer’s technique can also cause times to fluctuate until they have developed the strength and muscle memory to be able to swim properly.
As a parent, you can help us with both technical and tactical skill development!
And here’s how,
We ask for your support in our efforts to de-emphasize a time-centered focus. This will have a positive impact on your athlete’s experience in the sport. I know, if you are coming from a non-swimmer background it is tough to notice anything other than time as you most likely don't have a trained eye for technical improvement. Having said that here are a few skills we are always working on that you can watch for:
• Tight streamlining off the water, distance underwater on turns/start
• Smooth, long strokes
• Neutral head position
• Strong kick
• Quick start and turns
• Acceleration into turns and finish
• Focus behind the blocks
So instead of saying, "Hey that's a great time!", it would be best to say "hey, great job on your streamlines during that race". Again the "how" is more important than the "what". Obviously please stay away from critiquing anything from the list above, that's what they pay us for! If you don't notice any technical improvements, that's okay, "how did the race feel?" is a perfectly fine post-race question that doesn't bring time into the discussion. You might be surprised at how negative even the slightest post-race critique by a parent can be interpreted by an athlete.
Tactics relate to race preparation and effort, this eventually becomes a major part of an athlete’s success. Listed below are some entry-level ideas around racing prep and tactics that we work on with the swimmers to build good racing habits. You will start to notice your athlete applying these throughout the year. The first four items in bold are items you can help us reinforce! These habits are what make good athletes great.
• Extra sleep before competitions
• Bring healthy snacks (real food not packaged, water bottle, no sports drinks)
• Arrive early to minimize rushing race preparation
• Proper clothing for dynamic preparation (shoes, shirt, shorts)
• Check swim bag for extra goggles/suit
• Standard warm-up routine
• Focus on effort
• Swim down after every race and get ready for the next one
• Debrief with coach
• NO PHONES once race preparation starts
There is nothing exciting about a 13-year-old swimmer breaking records with poor technique because if left unchanged for too long, that scenario is almost always coupled with a premature retirement from the sport due to performance plateau, burnout, or injury.
On the other hand, there is something exceptionally exciting about a 13-year-old swimmer swimming with proper technique while simultaneously developing the behavioural habitats of an elite athlete. The latter does not have as predictable of an outcome as the former, however, it is the foundation we have chosen to build our club’s philosophy on. This is the philosophy we have used to put several swimmers on Junior and Senior National teams.
Our program is not designed to turn every swimmer into a national team member. Our program is designed to create an environment that maximizes the chance of that occurring for the swimmers who want it. Our foremost goal is to extract the maximum potential out of each athlete by allowing them to cultivate confidence by pushing themselves beyond their current skill set.
You are a Bison parent, which means you have already accepted our club’s philosophy. I want to thank you for this. The success of our club is a shared responsibility between the coaches, swimmers, and parents. As a Bison parent, you have granted the coaching staff the freedom to be creative and have trusted us with the task of developing your athlete. To say we are grateful would be an understatement and we want you to know that we take this role very seriously. Thank you again for helping promote our training
philosophy at home, this does not go unnoticed by both the coaches and your swimmers.
Please feel free to contact me anytime during the year if you have any questions about what we are working on in practice, how to handle certain situations, etc. as I can certainly provide some advice when needed. Here’s to another great season!