It’s Never Your Fault

By David

I wonder who is the most successful living swim coach? Don Talbot must be right up there. He has coached a “who’s who” of great Australian swimmers – John and Ilsa Konrads, Ian O’Brien, Bob Windle, Kevin Berry, Beverley Whitfield and Gail Neall. For a couple of summers he even struggled with the lesser talents of the author of Swimwatch. Forbes Carlile’s nine world record holders would also make him hard to beat. But the best American swim coach probably does sneak ahead of these Australian super coaches. Certainly an American coach would be my pick as the world’s best. And his name? Why, Mark Schubert of course.

He has coached twenty-two Olympic swimmers. Ten of them returned home as Olympic Champions. Add to that six world record holders, nineteen World Championship swimmers and sixty-five US national championship teams and Mark Schubert’s record is without peer. At least I think it is. Mind you I might be a touch biased. I’ve met Mark Schubert a couple of times and like the guy.

I met him first at the US National Championships in New York and then again in Indianapolis when I was coaching National swimmers, John Foster (200 and 400 freestyle), Rhi Jeffrey (50 and 100 freestyle), Joe Skuba (50 and 100 freestyle), Ozzie Quevedo (50 and 100 fly) and Andrew Meeder (50 and 100 freestyle). Mark was the US National Coach and wanted to discuss the training program I was following. On both occasions he unstintingly offered valuable constructive advice. He clearly understood, approved and enjoyed the Lydiard principles that form the backbone of all my training plans. We once swapped stories on our toughest daily programs – you know the ones, 100×100, 8000 straight medley, 20x400IM, 10,000 straight swim for time; all that sort of stuff. Anyone who won medals swimming for Mark Schubert knows the meaning of hard work.

The quality I enjoyed most was his disarming, frank honesty. It was hugely comforting to have access to Schubert’s huge fund of swimming knowledge. On several occasions I called him for advice on training matters. Every time I found a willing listener and a direct answer. And he provided answers that helped. “David, you are pushing too hard.” “David, you need to work your swimmers harder. Here is what I would do.” In New Zealand swimming I have never had access to that sort of help. For a couple of years I tried to communicate with Brett Naylor when he was New Zealand’s National Coach. But he didn’t seem interested. So, instead I rely on master track coaches like Arch Jelley or (when he was around) Arthur Lydiard. No coach and certainly not this one has the answer to every swimming problem. To have access to the knowledge of Arch, Arthur and Mark has been of huge benefit to me and the swimmers I have helped.

Not that the swimmers you help always listen. The position I take on a variety of subjects is seldom all my own work. Usually my views are the result of hours of debate with people whose opinions I respect. When I was involved in coaching athletics in the United Kingdom I would call Arch Jelley in New Zealand every week to discuss the results on last week’s training and prepare for the coming seven days. My phone bill was huge but every penny was well spent as Arch patiently moulded my coaching views. For several years I also spoke frequently to Arthur Lydiard. My phone bill for toll calls between Wellington and Auckland was often $600 a month. Again, not a penny was regretted or wasted. And it was the same with Mark Schubert. I did not call him as frequently and fortunately telephone communications between Florida and Colorado had moved on from toll calls to mobile phones and toll free numbers.

In all sorts of ways these three principals together with input from Duncan Laing, Lincoln Hurring, Dave Salo, Mike Regner, Ross Anderson, Gennadi Touretski, Beth Meade, Don Talbot and the American Swim Coaches Association have shaped the views contained in “Swim to the Top” and “Swimming, A Training Program”. None of the coaches that have contributed to my education would agree with all the views contained in my books. Arthur Lydiard had very different views from those used by Dave Salo. However, I suspect even Arthur, during his Trials and Coordination Period of training, would see value in many of the techniques employed by Salo.

Here are a few training principles some may find strange, perhaps even controversial, but are worthwhile keeping in mind if you want to have a successful career in swimming.

  1. Always, especially if you are female, take an iron supplement. Miss that and train an international swimming program, and at some stage you will become anaemic and will lose a season’s racing.
  2. Lift heavy weights in the gym. Swimming is a sport of many repetitions of a light weight. Do not go into the gym and badly exercise the same energy systems that a pool workout does better.
  3. Use big paddles. Don’t believe the stories of sore arms and shoulders. Paddles are used to improve power and feel of the water. Big paddles do it better.
  4. Use big fins. Swimmers kick with fins to provide more resistance and, when they swim with fins, to increase the size of their stroke. Big fins do both better. The best small fins you can get were provided by God.

It has never worried me too much when this sort of advice is challenged or even ignored. It’s true; I’ve never seen a swimmer succeed in those circumstances. The program is a unified package that does need to be followed close to its entirety. However it is each swimmer’s journey to a destination of their choosing. It is not my journey or my destination. I am their assistant, their coach – not some sort of autocrat with sole and absolute power. Besides an expression I have comforted myself with on several occasions was used first by Mark Schubert when I called him to discuss a wayward, possibly even unruly, swimmer.

“David,” he said, “Whenever it comes to Jane Doe it’s never your fault.”

I have found that to be good advice, from an impeccable source. The fictitious name Jane Doe has been used to protect the guilty.