Archive for February, 2008

Your Poopl Does Small

Sunday, February 24th, 2008

By David

The title of this item is a quote from one of the unpublished messages received by Swimwatch. What it is supposed to say is, “Your poop does smell – just like everyone else’s”. The author’s English is as suspect as many other qualities revealed by the message. It amazes me, the personal and always anonymous bile that pours forth from some of these unfortunate souls. I don’t know why they bother. Their contribution to the sum of human knowledge is not going to be published. Perhaps they are happy just knowing the subject of their venom has read the stuff they write.

He, or she, is however not alone. For every serious, valued contribution Swimwatch receives, there is one that is an awfully sad reflection on the world inhabited by its author. It would be nice to publish unedited the comments received. Unfortunately, while there are individuals like this out there, we will continue to enable comment moderation.

The “poop does smell” comment was received in reply to my recent Arthur Lydiard article. You may recall that this article’s core point was that a wider acceptance of Lydiard principles might reduce the drop-out rate that is of such concern to the Florida Gold Coast LRC. It should be possible to make that positive suggestion without motivating a torrent of personal attacks. It appears not. I thought you might be interested in some other examples of correspondence received but not published. They too are educational; they provide a frightening insight into the way some of those involved in the sport think.

One writer took the opportunity to attack a swimmer on our team: the “only good swimmer left there is now a one trick pony that is under achieveing.” Far be it from me to criticize others spelling, however for the record, “achieveing” is spelled “achieving.” This chap makes so many spelling errors! He should start using the computer’s “spell-check” facility.

Let’s look a bit deeper into what he says: “a one trick pony.” That accusation could be leveled at almost every good swimmer. Gary Hall swims the 50 and 100 freestyle. Popov could swim pretty good backstroke but usually restricted himself to 50 and 100 freestyle. You don’t see Grant Hackett swimming much breaststroke or Hansen entering the 1500 freestyle. New Zealand’s best sprinter for a number of years, Nichola Chellingworth, only swam 50 and 100 freestyle and 50 butterfly. Amanda Beard swims a good medley but tends to focus on the 200 breaststroke. There are, of course, Phelps and Hoff who can turn their hand to a wide range of events. Most of the good ones, however, are one trick ponies. Next time this sage contributor meets Gary Hall, I wonder if he will be as liberal with the “one trick pony” label. It would do him well to remember that for most of us the alternative to a one trick pony is “jack of all trades, master of none”.

The under achieving label in this case is a bit harsh. In the last two years the swimmer being referred to has won one Florida State High School Championship and been fourth on three other occasions. His best 50 yards time has improved from 23.43 to 21.25 and his 100 yards from 49.09 to 46.36, that’s 9.3% and 5.6% in two years. I imagine there are a many of us who would welcome that sort of record and improvement even if it was considered by this swimming genius as “under achieving”.

Another comment sent to Swimwatch recently said, “For someone who has now coached in the Forida Gold Coast for OVER 2 years now – what has this the way of training produced?” You see what I mean about the standard of the critic’s English. One can only hope, “No child left behind” does better in the future.

It is a pity this critic does not read my writing about Lydiard’s training more closely. On almost every occasion I make the point that results come slowly; a minimum of four years is required to make the physiological changes required for elite performance. In “Swim to the Top” I put it like this.


“Be very aware however that results in the early seasons may take longer to show than aggressively sprint trained competitors. Build up conditioning is not the fastest way of achieving fine results. In fact it is often quite slow. It is however the best way to achieve the best results.”

The critic’s quote brilliantly illustrates the point I was trying to make in the Lydiard article. Clearly, “OVER 2 years” is considered ample time. Abject failure can be the only appropriate description of two years of modest improvement. There is little wonder that Florida has its share of teenage drop outs when idiots like this consider two years to be an extended and relevant time period in which to achieve athletic success. Thank you for the illustration.

Incidentally, in the two years he refers to, this team has grown from ten swimmers to eighty, has had two Florida State High School Champions and several other finalists, two National Masters Champions and several other finalists, three National qualifiers and a bunch of juniors who love the sport. Our critics describe this as failure but we are pleased with our steady and modest progress.

It is difficult to understand the motives and intellect that produces the mindless animosity in some of these emails. I suggest that before they press the send button in future they consider whether their efforts are making a contribution and even then, pause for one more moment and turn on the “spell-check” facility.

Lydiard and Relevance

Sunday, February 17th, 2008

By David

I’m pleased to see Lorraine Moller is doing a lecture tour of New Zealand in support of the Lydiard method of coaching. New Zealand needs it; so does the United States. Unfortunately her message will probably fall on deaf ears. There are none so deaf as those who choose not to hear.

But first, who is Lorraine Moller? Well she was a pretty good runner. She represented New Zealand in four Olympic Games and won a Bronze Medal in the Marathon in the 1992 Barcelona Games. She also won the prestigious Osaka Marathon three times and the London Marathon once. Today she lives and coaches in Boulder, Colorado.

This is how Athletics New Zealand described the purpose of Lorraine’s lecture tour:

“Moller’s visit will be especially pertinent as she has recently expressed concern about a decline in interest in New Zealand in the coaching principles of legendary New Zealand athletics coach Arthur Lydiard. Moller, the co-founder of the Lydiard Foundation in the United States, wishes to renew affirmation of Lydiard’s methods and demonstrate a fresh 21st century application of them. She will call on her own extensive coaching experiences of the Lydiard way.”

The highly regarded American “Runner” magazine described Lorraine’s message like this.

“Lydiard disagreed that in order to get faster the runner must tackle interval training from the early stages. He saw this as more of a quick-fix strategy that, in the long haul, only results in injury. Instead, Lydiard emphasized easy miles first, combined with aerobic threshold training runs, to increase the body’s ability to access and metabolize oxygen. The stronger a runner becomes, the higher the aerobic threshold. Reaching anaerobic states at this phase in training is counterproductive to producing speed. As Moller comically illustrates, interval training early on is “like putting fast wheels on a Volkswagen. You’re better off with slow tires on a Mercedes. With the Lydiard system you can have both.”

Her message is a valid one. In both New Zealand and the United States, swimming is full of interval training junkies and coaches who value the quick fix. The casualty rate is horrendous. Twelve year olds are battered by the burden of a dozen 400 IMs for time and bruised by a score of descending 100s. The Florida Gold Coast Swimming region recently spent a valuable portion of its Annual Meeting discussing the vast numbers dropping out of the sport in their teenage years. Perhaps Lorraine could swing through Florida on her way home. Her message would be relevant to their concern.

The United States gets away with it because it has a limitless number of young people it can throw at the problem. Eventually, a Phelps survives and beats the world. It’s been called the broken egg method of coaching. If a million eggs are throw at a wall most will break and fall to the ground. One, however, will survive. That one will be an Olympic Champion. New Zealand, however, does not have the resource (or the eggs) of the United States. It’s the same in track & field. I see that the Women’s 800 meters at the Sylvia Potts track meet in New Zealand last week was won in 2.13. Alison Wright and Lorraine Moller were ten seconds faster than that thirty years ago. But then, they trained the Lydiard way.

All this is relevant just now to our small team in Delray Beach, Florida. Last week was the tenth and last week of the Lydiard aerobic conditioning build-up in preparation for the 2008 summer season. It has been a long haul, ten weeks of seven days, ten weeks of 100,000 meters, ten weeks of long steady swims, ten weeks of health benefits that will last a lifetime, ten weeks of making sure swimmer’s careers are long and prosperous.

Here is what Lydiard wrote in his Introduction to my first book on swimming, “Swim to the Top”.

“As in many sports several years are needed to gain the top possible results in swimming. David has patiently followed my advice. It has been both a challenge and a pleasure to me to have to have been part of that winning development”

Thank you, Arthur. Your message is a tough one, but the challenge, education and pleasure has been ours as well.

Do You Google? (Or Facebook, Flickr and Myspace)

Sunday, February 10th, 2008

By Jane

What do you hide from your coaches? Everyone hides some things. You pretend that you’re tired from Friday’s practice when you’re struggling on Saturday morning, even though you were really out until late the night before. The mild case of food poisoning was actually induced by vodka. In most cases, you’d never tell you coach a thing. I may have, back my day. My club coach, with whom many of you are quite familiar, would have laughed, told me my ills were entirely of my own making and would have stuck with whatever fun schedule he’d composed. He would have teased me about my self-imposed suffering during intervals. Honestly, I’d rather be teased and be honest. Humour always makes training go by faster.

However, most of you hide things. There’s nothing surprising about that, but I have to ask you: do you hide things well?

If you’re into swimming and have a presence on the Internet, you probably don’t. There is no reason why you should feel safe in the knowledge that you privatised your Facebook profile or MySpace page. Security-obsessed Facebook is more full of more privacy holes than the eternally-broken MySpace. I will demonstrate what I mean by this in a moment.

Do you have a blog or an online journal? Do your friends? What about a Flickr account? Do you know what ends up on the Internet, tagged with your name, featuring your face? And can your coach work a search engine?

Most of my swimming friends use various online services and they disclose a lot of information about their lives. Many of them are smart about what they post, making sure that nothing untoward is exposed to anyone, strangers and search engines included. However, some of them part with an incredible amount of sensitive information in full view of the public, Google, Yahoo, Live Search, Technorati, and a multitude of other services.

Facebook is, and always has been, a walled garden. If you have never used the site, here is what I mean: you cannot view the majority of the site’s content unless you have a Facebook account and are signed into the service. Even if I wanted to show the world my profile, I couldn’t. This is my public profile. You have to be signed into the site and either be a person’s friend or be in their network in order to see more information about them. In my case, you have to be my “friend.”

When you’re signed into your Facebook account, you can specify privacy settings that disallow anyone but your designated friends from viewing the profile. If you choose to make your profile public to people within the same “networks” at you on Facebook, you can prevent people who aren’t you friends from seeing certain parts of your profile. Additionally, you can even block some of your friends from seeing things within your profile as well. This is a sweet feature if your boss, coach, parent, ex-boyfriend, etc, becomes your online friend and yet you don’t want to show them absolutely everything.

But what you can’t account for is the privacy settings of other people. I’m focusing on Facebook here because that’s my online hangout of choice. I have profiles at Bebo and MySpace that I rarely use. Facebook, on the other hand, acts as my social network, my event planner, my photo album, my bookmarking service (StumbleUpon aside. Hi Stumblers!), my instant messenger and my socially-focused email inbox. Suffice to say, I have a Facebook problem and need help. But I digress: Being an early adopter of Facebook, I know what I’m talking about when I say that your privacy settings at Facebook mean less than you think.

While I doubt that most swim coaches know their way around social networks yet, it won’t take long before coaches can do more than just “Google” your name. (Warning: if Yahoo is their search engine of choice and dodgy pictures of you have turned up on Flickr, you’re in trouble.) Since Facebook opened its doors to people who do not have university-affiliated email addresses in September 2006, there is nothing stopping your swim coaches from creating a profile there and potentially accessing your information.

“But,” you say. “I know how to use Facebook. I went to my privacy page and I specified that no one aside from my friends can see my profile. I also disallowed search engines from finding my public profile, like the one you’ve linked to above. In fact, just to be on the safe side, I blocked people from even searching for my name or seeing my listing in my friends’ profiles! You’re wrong: Facebook’s privacy settings are impenetrable.”

Not so. It’s true that Facebook is bloody fantastic at letting you control what you show people of your information. However, what of your friends whose profiles are open like 24 Hour Fitness? All of their pictures, including pictures of you, are available to anyone who wishes to see them. Not only that, but if one of your friends comments on one of your pictures, anyone who visits their profile can look through all the pictures in the album which they made a comment about, even if your profile and information is set to the highest level of security. Yeah. That bit was in bold. It doesn’t matter how many privacy features you’ve enabled, this holds true.

Do you know who can see these pictures? Potentially: everyone

So take this situation: Your friend is a Freshman at the college you’re desperate to attend. She is on the swim team and is Facebook-friends with the coach. This isn’t as uncommon as you’d think: I was Facebook-friends with one of my coaches during college.

You upload pictures that the college coach wouldn’t approve of, but you’re okay! Your profile isn’t visible to anyone but your friends. Your Freshman friend comments on some of your pictures and her college coach visits her profile. He or she sees your friend’s comments and clicks through to the pictures. Due to this particular Facebook security hole, the coach can click through all the pictures in your album, which could number as many as sixty. That is the maximum number of pictures that Facebook will allow in one album.

Personally, I find it unfortunate that swimmers have to hide their social lives. If I were a coach, I’d like to think that my swimmers know how to have a good time, but I’m weird like that and I’ll never be a coach. However, the status quo is that college coaches don’t like it when college swimmers engage in college-esque activities, like drinking, partying, dressing up in silly clothes and generally making arses of themselves. They find it even more unappetising when high schoolers engage in similar activities. And don’t preach “the drinking age” at me. I have a doctrine of bile to spew about that which you really don’t want to hear.

Basically, we’re stuck in a situation where people have to hide their activities from their elders. It’s kind of fun to to be in my position, where I don’t have to worry about what a potential coach may think anymore. I’m also now a member of an industry where the consumption of alcohol isn’t exactly frowned upon. But I do remember deliberately censoring the pictures I put up on Facebook for fear only of coaches and college athletics administrators coming across the pictures and disapproving of my conduct. That I was over 21 (and, of course, 18) and not breaking the law in any way didn’t matter: I had to be careful. And many of my peers are not nearly as careful as I was.

Recently, I saw a friend of mine express to another friend that she “hated” their coach. (This is not on a team of which I was ever a member.) The girl in question also stated that she was going to quit come the end of the swim season and hoped other swimmers would do the same. She also said that she hadn’t yet told the coach that she was going to quit.

I was dumbstruck. Out of curiosity, I signed out of the social network I was using (not Facebook) and went to see if this conversation was available if one was not “friends” with either party. Let’s just say that if this coach knows how to use the Internet and is at all interested in the online dealings of his (her? Not telling) swimmers, (s)he already knows this information, plus a whole lot more.

Abstinence-only isn’t going to help here, so even if I were a fan of such education (which I’m not), I’d not endorse it here. I’m not going to tell you to behave like a saint and stay off the Internet as a guarantee that everything will be all right. You’re allowed to have a good time every now and then, and you can’t help what your friends upload to the Internet. Aside from making sure you’re not involved in any truly scandalous stories or photos that might end up online, the only thing you can do is protect yourself as well as you can.

Find out if your friends privatise their profiles. On Facebook, “untag” yourself in pictures of which you aren’t proud. Don’t upload pictures that you’d not want others to see. If you must share the pictures on Facebook, delete friends’ comments on pictures, due to the aforementioned security hole. Remeber that when it comes to services like Flickr, you can’t control what friends upload, and that you can’t control whether or not they assign your name to certain photographs. Again, Flickr pictures rank very well at Yahoo because Yahoo owns Flickr. If Microsoft ends up acquiring Yahoo (despite today’s rejection of Microsoft’s bid), Flickr pictures may well end up ranking well at MSN / Live, too.

In the coming years, coaches will increasingly use the Internet to research potential team members and scholarship recipients. Take advantage of the online attention you may receive by managing your reputation through services like BeRecruited.com (although you might want to check out some of the problems I found with that service as well).

Be careful about what you upload to social networking sites.

And take action, as opposed to being defensive! Start a blog. Create a website. How would you like to dominate the search results pages for a search for your name? Take a page out of high school softball player Lauren Boser‘s book and be proactive about your online identity. Neglecting to take care of yourself in the Internet may cost you an education, but this is almost completely within your control. In my industry, we call it reputation management. I suggest you give it a a Google :)

Master Swimming Is Fantastic

Sunday, February 10th, 2008

By David

Isn’t master’s swimming a great part of the sport? Our team has a prosperous and growing section. There are about forty swimmers, which isn’t too bad considering there were none three years ago. I enjoy coaching them. Swimming gets mixed up with healthy debates about politics: they know I support the US having its first woman President. We talk about NFL results and we all agree the Giants did well.

Our group is an interesting assortment. There’s Darcy of course. Swimwatch have already written about her. You may remember she was the one who went off to holiday in the Greek Isles the year she finished High School and fell in love with the heir to a Greek shipping empire. Darcy called her understanding mother and pleaded successfully for the holiday to be extended by a week. And things have never been the same since. This year Darcy has qualified as an Assistant Coach. It means both our Assistant Coaches are current national champions or record holders. I’m beginning to feel vastly under-qualified. Darcy is preparing for the summer’s open water championships and is shaping up well. She swam 10×400 on 7.00 minutes last night and was under 6.00 minutes for the lot. In 2007 she was second in that “distance-swum-in-training contest” run by the US Master’s Swimming organization. For those of you who want to beat her this year, you will need to plan on swimming more than 1700 miles.

Then there is Bob and Bonnie. They are husband and wife. Bob’s a retired doctor and has a lethal sense of humor. Bonny is very understanding. Bob’s a national champion. He won the 100 breaststroke at the Seattle Nationals in 2007. Bonnie was third in the 50, 100 and 200 backstroke at the same meet. Both of them are forever laughing at my effort to stay fit by walking the five miles home from the pool in the morning. Bob believes the walk would be best interrupted by breakfast at a local pancake bar. Any of you who have experienced American pancake breakfasts will understand the negative health effect of that idea; and from a doctor too.

Steve is an interesting and surprising master’s swimmer. He’s a very quiet sort of guy and could barely swim a length when he arrived a year ago. Now he swims confidently through 4000 meter sessions. It turns out this quiet, unassuming chap has a PhD in some form of chemistry and lower degree qualifications in all those similar and difficult subjects. His training is being interrupted all the time with trips to Washington DC to give advice to the nation’s law makers on what we should all eat. His IQ must be double the number of most mere mortals. He supports Hillary and Obama and is in love with a sporty rotary engine Mazda that he races at a local track on a Thursday night. The story of Steve’s very first airplane ride is interesting. It was the ride he did up to 2800 feet to jump out of the plane for his first parachute jump; unbelievable.

Then there’s Jeremy. He must be in his mid twenties and is already a deep sea captain for anything that floats and is under one hundred tons. Oh, and he’s also a commercial airplane pilot. His dad flew for Delta. Once again, he’s quiet. Isn’t it true? The really talented never seem to feel the need to tell you about their achievements.

I’d better not forget to mention Sherrill. She’d be the life and soul of any party. She was married to one of America’s largest dealers in exotic cars. In those days her Chevy was spelled Lamborghini, her Dodge was red and had a black stallion badge. Her sister has just been to New Zealand with one of the Cabot-Lodges. They visited native tree places down in New Zealand’s South Island. From what I’ve heard New Zealand is all the better for their sort of foreign investment; thank you from one of the natives. However, there is a problem with Sherrill’s swimming. She’s one of those very delicate lady-like swimmers; nice to look at but not all that effective. I’ve suggested everything, nothing seems to work!

That tells you a little bit about six of our forty masters. They are a great bunch. They make it fun to go to the pool in the morning. I’ll let you know about some of the others another time.

Kathy Jackson’s Comment

Sunday, February 3rd, 2008

By David

A couple of days ago, Swimwatch received an comment from Kathy Jackson. Her thoughts were in response to the Swimwatch article, “Show us the Rule”. You may remember it. We argued that swimmers were being disqualified for starting block movements that were not false starts. Swimmers were being disqualified wrongly. When that happens it is a blight on a young athlete’s swimming career.

Here is Kathy Jackson’s comment, originally posted on our article titles, “Where is the Rule.”

“My name is Kathy Jackson, I have been a Texas UIL certified official for 5 years, I am also a USA certified as a starter and stroke/turn official, and I am NCAA certified. I am the Central Regional Director for the College Swimming’s Officials Association. We have had a similar problem at our District meets involving a particular starter. I contacted the National office this morning to see how to go about requesting a rule change. I was informed that the request had to come from the state board. I have sent the following request to our state president.

I was the meet referee this weekend at the District 13 Championship meet here in College Station. We had an incident during the meet in which a swimmer was disqualified by the starter and deck referee (not me) for false start due to a foot twitch after the swimmers had been told to “take your mark” but before the starting horn sounded. We had a similar incidence with this same starter, 2 years ago.

In every event where I was the starter, if there was any movement, I would either stand the swimmers or slightly hold off on the horn until all movement had ceased. I do this at all meets, both high school, USA and College. Both USA and NCAA rules do not use the word “motionless” in their rules regarding starts instead the word “stationary” is used. I would like to request a rule change in high school swimming of Rules 8.1.1; 8.1.3 to reflect consistency with NCAA and USA rules. If there is a certain form that needs to be completed, I would be happy to fill it out.

If there are any questions that you have, please feel free to contact me.

Kathy Jackson

Cell 979-777-4217”

You will not be surprised to see that Kathy’s arguments are more reasoned and less strident than those made by Swimwatch. However there is a commonality of purpose. In the United States right now, swimmers are being disqualified for starting block movements which do not constitute false starts. Swimmers who could stand on their marks until next Christmas are being disqualified, simply because they moved their leg, their head, their arm or the pinky toe on their left foot. And that is not reason enough for a disqualification.

It is comparable to the disastrous judging that used to go on in New Zealand when the backstroke turn was first changed to a non-hand touch turn. There was no uniformity; swimmers were being disqualified in one place for exactly the same turn that was fine somewhere else. It was a shambles. Officials held seminar after seminar and still couldn’t get it right. Getting through a backstroke race was less a matter of good swimming than good luck.

Shortly after the backstroke turn rules were changed, Toni Jeffs placed second in the New Zealand Short Course Championships in the 50m backstroke. During the race, she did the worst, non-continuous, kick-like-mad-into-the-wall turn you’d ever have the misfortune of seeing. And do you know what: not a thing was done about it. She bloody well got away with it. To this day I’m not sure whether the official was scared to disqualify Toni Jeffs, or was confused after attending her fifth backstroke turn seminar.

The Toni story illustrates the inconsistencies of the time. Toni benefited, but hundreds of others got the rough end of the judging stick.

Yesterday’s backstroke turn is today’s start. Officials have a bee-in-their-bonnets about minor movements and are disqualifying swimmers when they shouldn’t. A movement does not mean a false start and should not be judged as such. It is obviously time for another seminar.