Should You Read My Book?

A book I have titled “How to Survive Junior Swimming – and how to prosper” will be published shortly. The book has the same publisher as my two previous books on swimming. It will be for sale in book shops and on amazon.com. My intention is to offer a practical guide to navigating the difficulties that can affect the transition years between promising junior and successful adult swimmer; difficulties that if left unresolved can result in early drop-out from the sport.

Prior to the publication date we will post a series of short extracts from the book. The purpose is to let you know the problems that the book seeks to address and, of course, to encourage you buy a copy. As a start here is a summary of the book’s second chapter.

Is There An Individual Problem?

Swimmer drop-out comes with symptoms. It is important to identify them quickly. Left unaddressed and it is 99% certain to be too late. Teenage drop-out can be prevented but it can seldom be cured.

Arthur Lydiard is quoted as saying, “There are champions everywhere. Every street has got them. All we need to do is train them properly.” Lydiard stressed the importance of building an aerobic base. He accepted that the emphasis on aerobic training would probably mean early results would not be as spectacular as swimmers in sprint trained teams. However long term success meant doing the right thing. It meant accepting that swimmers could be lost when parents saw juniors in other teams swimming faster times.

Like many Lydiard predictions this one proved to be accurate. I don’t know how many times I have watched swimmers travel from balanced aerobic, to exploitation, to struggle and drop-out. Two swimmers illustrate the point.

First a swimmer from Delray Beach in Florida. We will call her Mary. She came to the team at 10 years of age and swam with me doing a balanced programme through to 13 when her parent’s, hungry for instant results, took her to a sprint programme. Three years later she changed clubs again and two years after that, after just one year of college swimming, she retired. Her mother made no secret of the fact that her goal for Mary’s swimming was to secure a good university swimming scholarship. I am sure that for two years after changing to the sprint based programme both parents were congratulating themselves on making a great choice. Sadly they were completely oblivious to the cost of their decision; unaware that the aerobic conditioning established in Mary’s early training was being exploited far too soon. Mary’s talent was easily capable of seeing her complete a successful university swimming career and much more. Her parent’s greed ensured that Mary’s talent was never realised.

I find a career like Mary’s really upsetting. Here was a swimmer who at 12 years of age was ranked in the top ten of her age group in the United States. She was capable of swimming well under 0.55 seconds for 100 meters and under 1:57 for 200 meters and it just did not happen.

The table below shows Mary’s best long course times each year for 100 meters freestyle and 200 meters freestyle.

Phase Year Age Time Time Discussion
Balanced Aerobic 2006 10 1:33 - A period of aerobic training and steady but not spectacular improvement. Mary improved by  an average of 7% per annum in the 100 and 4% in the 200 – both ahead of the goal of 3% per annum
2007 11 1:16 2.45
2008 12 1:11 2.35
2009 13 1:06 2.23
Exploitation 2010 14 1:03 2.14 Mary changed clubs and quickly dropped to 1:01 and 2:10. Both an average of about 5% per annum.
2011 15 1.01 2.10
Struggle and Drop-out 2012 16 1:02 2.12 For three years Mary struggled to improve. Her average improvement in both events was less than 1%. At the end of 2014 she dropped out
2013 17 1:00 2.10
2014 18 1:00 2.09

My second example is a swimmer in Auckland, New Zealand. We will call her Emily. Emily began modest aerobic type training when she was 9 years of age. She swam with me through to 12 and then moved to a sprint based programme. She made spectacular progress for two years. I know her mother was beside herself with joy. On several occasions she approached other swimmers in my team recommending the same change. “Just look at how much Emily has improved,” she said: completely unaware of the price her daughter was paying for that improvement. Emily is now 15 years of age and is one year into the “Struggle” period. Emily’s mother had high ambitions of United States university scholarships and international success. The figures suggest this is now unlikely. The symptoms have been left unaddressed for too long. In one more year it will all be over.

EMILY’S CAREER OVER 50 METERS AND 100 METERS BACKSTROKE

Phase Year Age Time Time Discussion
Balanced Aerobic 2011 9 54 - A period of aerobic training and steady progress. Emily improved by  an average of 7% per annum in the 50 backstroke and 4% in the 100 – both ahead of the goal of 3% per annum
2012 10 44 1:33
2013 11 40 1:25
2014 12 38 1:22
Exploitation 2015 13 33 1:12 Emily changed clubs and quickly dropped to 33 and 1:10. Both an average of about 7% per annum.
2016 14 33 1:10
Struggle and Drop-out 2017 15 34 1.10 After two years exploiting her aerobic conditioning Emily’s progress has stalled. The most likely conclusion? Drop-out is probably one year away.

The number of races swum further demonstrates the transition from care to exploitation. In the early stages of Emily’s career I kept her racing load down to around 40 races a year. Emily then left for a sprint based programme. Overnight her racing load doubled to close to 80 races. Coaches and parents should know better. You cannot just double someone’s workload without consequences. The result is that Emily has entered the struggle stage and will soon be another teenage drop-out.

 

Mary was the other example of a swimmer whose career moved from balanced aerobic to exploitation to struggle and drop-out. Her racing programme further illustrates the point. In her early career I entered Mary in about 30 races a year. She then left to swim in a sprint based programme. The number of races immediately more than doubled to 70 and then doubled again to 137. For Mary’s swimming career it was to prove lethal. I imagine her parents just could not understand why Mary’s career began to struggle. Three years later she gave the whole thing away.

In both cases the exploitation characteristic of Emily and Mary’s training was reflected in their competition programmes. Competition hurts. When a person gets hurt often enough they eventually go off to do something else. The rule of thumb for a senior swimmer is a maximum of 100 races a year and for junior swimmers a lot less. Stick to that rule. Your swimmer’s future probably depends on it.

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