Sunday, December 30, 2012

Final Links of the Day w/ Jocelyn Jay of 2012

The potential to be a great read -

9 foods that hinder athlete performance - 

Is too much protein a bad thing? - 

4 Life lessons by Jerry Seinfeld, Master Craftsmen - 

Saturday, December 29, 2012


My Twitter followers sent nominees for this imaginary award that I just made up and the top nominees were  Alexa Komarnycky of VAS (Missing the Olympic Team in 400IM and making it with her last chance in 800FR) and the sisterly combo of Heather & Brittany McLean for their celebration after Heather made the Olympic Team. Please vote to the left. The winner will (hopefully agree to) appear on #coachmikepodcast in the new year to be presented with the imaginary award that I just made up. Even though the award is not tangible*, it still is pretty cool to be named the best Canadian Swimming Moment of 2012 by other swimmers. Please vote on the left side of this screen. 

*Anyone wishing to donate $ to actually have a tangible award to give out every year, please contact me right away by twitter or through this blog.

Canadian Swimming - Looking Forward...

Swimming Canada plans on increasing its medal count in future World Championships and Olympic Games. With the retirement of Brent Hayden and the natural aging of Ryan Cochrane, new talent obviously has to move to the forefront. We need to look at the future of Canadian swimming and to the man who keeps his finger on the pulse of the future; National Junior Coach - Ken McKinnon. Other than obvious youth highlights Noemie Thomas and Kierra Smith, who else can Canada look to for international medal possibilities between now and 2016?

Ken did not have enough time (he was taking a couple of days off before Christmas and then was leaving for Australia for the Youth Olympic Festival) but did issue the following statement to me:

"I would like to answer your question from the following perspective."

National Development Teams Program Goal Statement
“To provide Canada’s identified swimmers and their coaches, the development opportunities to establish the will, attitude, and skills required to race to the podium at the Senior International level."

"The following athletes have been identified through many different National Development Teams Program activities over that past 2 seasons and have shown that they have the talent, character and resilience that support our Goal statement, and thus have the potential to develop into senior International medalists for Canada".

Brittany McLean E Swim
Chantal Vanlandeghem  Manta
Erika Selten-Reich Hodgson  GO
Mariya Chekanovych SFU/SFA
Sydney Pickrem CAT/Florida
Alexandra Aitchison, Phoenix
Lili Margitai, EKSC
Emily Overholt WVOSC
Brooklyn Snodgrass Cascade

Alec Page, Island Swimming
Chad Bobrosky, Cascade
Will Brothers, Island Swimming
Luke Reilly Vancouver Dolphins
James Dergousoff CHENA
Teddy Kalp NYAC
Evan White Oakville Aquatic Club
Ali Abdel-Khalik ESWIM
Jonathon Brown NCSA

*end of statement*

Obviously Brittany MacLean (2011 World Championships & 2012 Olympics), Alec Page (2012 Olympics) & Chantal Vanlangdeghem (2011 & 2012 World Championships) have already contributed to Canadian Senior National Teams. From a Canadian perspective, there are no real surprises to this list. Seltenreich-Hodgson has been steadily improving in both BR and IM and won several medals last spring on the Mare Nostrum tour. Several of these swimmers won medals at Junior Pan Pac this summer, while some are pretty new coming into international competition. 15 year old Teddy Kelp of North York, ON is swimming up a storm and consistently improving while still at a young age. 9 of the above swimmers will compete at Australia's Youth Olympic Festival in January and most are highlighted to make the Junior World Championships (or the World Championship Team) or Canada Games. 

I think it's always interesting to look at how far young talent will go. I think its difficult to gauge what the future will hold for Canadian Swimming. There are even more University aged swimmers that are in the US that are not on this list (Omar Arafa, Jeffery & Matthew Swanston, Matt Kwatyra, Brooklyn Snodgrass, Cynthia Pammett) who have all contributed to National Junior Teams in the past. There are also athletes that are fairly new to International Competition that are too new to evaluate a future on (Kyle Haas, Bryce Kwiecien-Delaney, Daniel Kuiack, Selin Ozturk, Olivia Anderson, etc).

Ken's Statement does 2 things for me:

1.) Remind me that Canada DOES have some very strong and talented athletes in the pipeline.

2.) Remind me that those athletes are not being ignored; Ken has a plan and is trying to nurture this young talent.

At the end of 2012, I'm happy to know that a new generation of fast swimming is coming up (and is being properly prepared) to take over from Hayden & Cochrane.

Friday, December 21, 2012

5 Sports Movies To Watch During Christmas Training

Jocelyn mentioned one of my favourite sports movies yesterday in her links (The Program) and I realized that many younger readers have probably never heard of it and several other great sports movies to watch as a team during your holiday break from school. Here is a rundown of 5 great sports flicks to watch during Christmas training.

 1.) The Program (1993) - different personalities exist and must mesh in order to make a team win. This movie is exciting and gritty but VERY dated (hair styles, fashion, etc). One of my favourites  for sure.
2.) Hoosiers (1986): I think that Bob Halloran of ESPN describes this movie best - "Probably the best constructed of all sports movies. We're introduced to a team, given a chance to learn to like them, and then we root for them like they're the favorite team we grew up with. No gimmicks. No obvious attempts to pull at our heartstrings. No love story. Just a great high school basketball game with the underdog coming out on top." -- Page 2 columnist Bob Halloran

3.) Pride (2007): Sleeper movie, real life story about a swim coach Jim Ellis, who creates a swim program for troubled youth in Philidelphia. It's not often that we get to see great swimming stories on the big screen. I hope that I'm still alive to see the Bolles Swim Team movie or the Michael Phelps Story one day.

4.) The Karate Kid (1984): Screw you, Will Smith, for making all of our youth think that Jayden Smith is the "Karate Kid"... Ralph Machio will always be the Karate Kid to me and this movie was a staple of my youth. Despite the rather silly plot holes, I still love this movie.

5.) Murderball (2005): I addressed Murderball before in my blog, but I still contest that you'll be hard pressed to find a greater sports documentary (possibly Hoop Dreams... thats for another day). In this film, USA squares off against Canada in the ultra violent game of wheelchair rugby which leads up to the 2004 Paralympics in Greece. I have embedded the entire film below. Please note that there is strong language and some adult themes (athletes recovering from near death and dealing with their feelings, etc). This one is better suited for a more mature crowd. Enjoy.


Thursday, December 20, 2012

Links of the day with Jocelyn Jay

Links of the Day With +Jocelyn Jay

Q - by Vern Gambetta -

Bedtime snacking...

Hurt vs. Injured - 
"Are you hurt, or are you injured?" - a scene during the 1993 movie The Program, the coach of a fictional college football team struggling through a litany of moral dilemmas confronts one of his star players during a game. The star player is wincing in pain from a tackle he endured on the previous play that required him to be carried to the sideline. As the player grips his injured leg, the coach asks him in simple terms, "Are you injured or are you hurt?" The player offers only a quizzical look in response. The coach then states in a cool demeanor: "Well, if you're injured, I cannot let you go back in, but if you are hurt you can play." The player quickly responds that he is only hurt and runs back into the game on the next play, albeit with a labored gallop. 

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

I'm A General Swimming Source Now...

After my Canada Cup write up on, a Jamaican reporter contacted me to speak more about Jamaican, Alia Atkinson, going into World Championships. While he wanted me to be a guest on the show, (I obviously couldn't be there in person) a Skype call was arranged, but due to technical difficulties, it had to be changed to a phone call. I have not been successful in embedding this video yet, but I'm working on it. You can view the video HERE. Although I am not an "expert" by any means, its still pretty cool to be considered one by the "international sports journalism" community.

PS. Alia won 2 silver medals at World Championships in 50BR and 100BR and was under the meet record for both less than a month after killing it at Canada Cup. Hopefully a lot of Canadian kids got her autograph in Etobicoke.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Links of the day with Jocelyn Jay

What we can learn from a freshman Heisman Trophy winner...

The Most Powerful 3-Letter Word a Parent or Teacher Can Use -

Why swimmers are smarter than you -

Friday, December 7, 2012

Links of the day with Jocelyn Jay

Sorry guys, Jocelyn sent this to me earlier in the week, I've just been slow posting it... better late than never I suppose...

Vitamin D for Swimmers - 

Excellence, not Perfection - 

Fruit vs fruit juice? 

Are you susceptible to swimmer's ear?  Here is something that might help... 

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Use Your Resources

Yesterday I spent some time working with one of the younger groups in my club (I always try to work with each age group at least once/month) and did quite a bit of work and video feedback with turns. It was a lot of fun! Before the practice started, a 10 year old girl came onto the deck early to watch some of my older swimmers to backstroke turns and learn (I love the initiative!). I pulled out my phone and was able to show her some clips from the episode of "OFF THE DECK" (below) that was filmed about a year ago. This episode contains (what I believe to be) some of the best information on starts and turns that you could possibly want and its all free. One of my biggest disappointments with the "OFF THE DECK" video series is that very few people have viewed this free video, but they'll pay extra money to have this type of consultation done... or worse; continue to do the easiest things incorrectly. There are a lot of free resources I make available to the community including Twitter links, this blog, my podcast and the OFF THE DECK series; all in the hopes of making Ontario and Canadian swimming better. A reminder that you don't have to be wet in order to improve your swimming - just use your resources.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

2012 AT&T USA National Winter Championships

Very fast meet, although it is in yards. Check it out this weekend, from Austin TX.

Live Results
Live Stream of Finals Here (finals start 5pm CST) - bottom of screen, click on the session you want to watch.
Psych Sheets

Links of the day with Jocelyn Jay

9 Tips to drinking your 8+ cups a day -

A humorous article by Mike Gustafson on What swimmers are thankful for -

Optimizing feedback in the pool -

This has been on Facebook for awhile, but it just popped up again today. NOTHING is impossible!  As Muhammad Ali said "Impossible is just a big word thrown around by small men who find it easier to live in the world they've been given than to explore the power they have to change it. Impossible is not a fact. It's an opinion. Impossible is not a declaration. It's a dare. Impossible is potential. Impossible is temporary. Impossible is nothing." -

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Are You Likely To Swim Fast?

I had lunch with my financial advisor yesterday in Newmarket, ON and he showed me an interesting statistic: something like 80% of people who use financial consultants are much more financially comfortable post retirement and are able to retire earlier than people who do not. Therefore, you are made to think that using a financial advisor causes you to be more financially stable. This statistic was not rocket science to me and I believe the statistic is used to reassure customers that they are doing the right thing (using a consultant) during an unstable financial period. 

I am a pretty skeptical person, though. I'm not sure that this statistic speaks to the capability of financial advisors and I do not believe that this correlation points to causation. In other words, I'm not sure that these people are better off because they use financial advisors (Thank you very much, Freakonomics). Perhaps the correlation points more towards this: The type of people that are more inclined to use financial advisors are the types of people that are going to be okay in retirement anyway (they're clearly interested in their money and security... at least enough to contract an advisor).

That statistical thinking came back to me while driving home and reflecting on this past weekend's Canada Cup. It came back to me again, later in the day while watching some of my group go through their activation and dry land routines; in particular, the push up caught my eye. No matter how many times we discuss the importance of doing this exercise properly, I see a never ending rotation of people doing really poor pushups across the swimming community. I do not believe coincidently, many of the same athletes are also radically inconsistent in their racing and performance times. The same would likely be true for someone who does not pay attention to stroke count, body position, drill form, etc.

Does this mean that doing pushup improperly makes you swim slowly? No, of course not. But it could imply that the type of person who is not interested in doing a push up well (especially when it is part of an activation routine - getting you ready so that you can train well) may also be disinterested in putting that same level of interest into their racing and racing preparation.

What can we do with this thought? 
If you're in a good program with a good coach, everything that you do in your program is geared towards making better athletes. All the swimming, all of the drills, all of the dry land and all of the talking is meant to make you "the type of person that will swim fast". A running theme in this blog seems to be that swimming fast is a result of doing EVERYTHING well, not just performing. My challenge to you is to pay attention to what you're doing! If you are the type of person who does not pay attention to the details, you are not doomed; you can change. Make a conscious effort to plan how you're going to make something better, then focus on making it better (here's the tough part) daily

By the above logic, it's the type of people that focus on doing everything properly that are more likely to swim consistently fast, it doesn't mean that only the people that are good at those things are going to succeed. While something as boring and as uncomfortable as push ups may not feel like it's worth the effort, guess again. Its not necessarily the physical work of the push up that is going to make you better; it could be the mental toughness and focus you'll gain from forcing yourself to do it right that translates into your swimming. I know that it's hard to pay attention to everything all the time... but thats kind of the point... isn't it? 

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Canada Cup 2012 - Etobicoke Olympium

Welcome to racing season, everyone. What if I told you that you could drive down to Toronto to see many of our Canadian Olympians from this past summer racing this weekend? Come down to Etobicoke and catch Friday or Saturday night finals; see some fast racing, see some of your favorite Canadian athletes and get a few autographs while you're at it. HHBF's own Kyle Haas and Matthew Fox will be competing this weekend against some of the country's best and your support is much appreciated.

Finals for both nights Start at 6:00pm. Arrive around 5pm to ensure that you can get seating.

Read my wrap ups over at
Day 1
Day 2

Psych Sheets
Heat Sheets (Saturday AM)
Live Results

Ticket Information

All Session Passes (Heat Sheets included) $20.00 CAN

Preliminaries only $ 5.00 CAN

Finals only $10.00 CAN

VIP Lounge All Sessions

$40.00 CAN

Preliminaries $10.00 CAN

Finals $20.00 CAN

Please email all ticket requests to
Pick-up and payment for tickets will be at the door.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Links of the day w/ Jocelyn Jay

Dr. Allan Wrigley on underwater kicking and the "pause" ~

25 Ridiculously healthy foods -

What is Mental Toughness and why is it important?

#coachmikepodcast with Dr. Greg Wells on staying healthy in cold & flu
season, and when to pay the most attention to being susceptible to
getting sick: 

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Central Region Championship Qualifying Times

Even though I was informed on September 26th that the Central Region Qualifying Standards were going to be set as "D" standards - using the new Swim Ontario Age Group Standards - there was some debate from coaches whether this was a good idea. 

2 seasons ago, the Region held a meeting with coaches, where we decided the purpose of the meet and the standards. Since then, coaches voices seem to have taken a back seat to Central Region Board members, meet managers and Ontario Officials (after all, what do we know? We're just the paid professionals). Coaches wanted a higher quality meet and a true "championship" .  The people running the meet decided that there would be too much "unused pool time"and that the meet should be opened up to more athletes in order to generate more revenue and use more pool time. Coaches (led by former Olympian, Oakville's Laura Nicholls) pointed out that the drop to a "D" standard would create much longer sessions and worse swimming (waiting 3-5 hours to race a 400 or 1500, for example). 

A meeting was held this past Thursday (unfortunately, I was unable to attend personally). The final decision was that the Central Region Championships Qualifying Times would be set at a "C" standard + 2.5%. What does this mean?? Allow me to explain:

All of Ontario Age Group Championship standards are set using a formula. "B-E" times are set by adding 5% to the previous standard. IE: "B" time is the Age Group Standard + 5%. "C" Time is the "B" standard + 5% and so on. Adding 2.5% to the C standard puts the new qualifying times about halfway between a "C' time and a "D" time. Distance events (400 and longer) are set at "C" times to control the length of sessions.

Although it is unfortunate that many athletes figured that the times were going to be "D" times, the qualifying standards are still significantly slower than last season's times; which will result in many more athletes qualifying (I think, anyway). I'm not sure if these changes will have the desired effects, but thats a "wait and see" sort of thing. In the mean time, an explanation of what was happening is the best I can do - as far as I'm aware, no publicity has gone out about this decision. A little understanding and communication goes a long way*.

I still think that having this info available prior to many athletes doing their goal setting would have been more beneficial. I also think that if SNC can release their new standards before our Region can, there is something wrong. 

A PDF file of the Central Region Qualifying Times can be found HERE. Thank you Laura Nicholls for all your help!

*Irony - the big mark in swimming right now is "customer satisfaction" but SNC (for example) wouldn't communicate new standards until they were ready, even though they were well after the season started and later than they told coaches that they would be released - complete silence for a week and a bit. Lack of communication usually turns off customers quicker and more effectively than not giving them what they want. Conversely, Swim Ontario did a great job notifying membership of coming changes well in advance; members, coaches and parents had ample time to ask questions and get up to speed on all changes - regardless of how they felt about the changes.

Friday, November 16, 2012

5 Common Misconceptions In Swimming

I am sick and had to sit down (which I hate doing) for most of this morning's practice. As I was sitting and thinking, I wrote down some of the things that have been rattling around in my head for the last few weeks. What resulted was a very rough draft of the following post (it grew to 1200 words in the last few hours):  5 common misconceptions in our sport.

I'm Hard on Myself
   Are you, or do you just feel badly when the result isn't that you hoped for? I often see athletes upset after a disappointing performance (for them or their parents) but how many of those athletes feel the same way when they skip part of a set or short cut a drill or swim into the walls on kick sets? How many of those athletes got their goal sheets back to their coaches on time, keep a log of what they're doing and have attendance above 95%? How many of those athletes ask do do something in practice again because they didn't get it right the first time? How many of those athletes consistently swim fast and how many are alright blowing off a race when it "doesn't matter"? In my books, you only earn the right to say "I'm hard on myself" if your answer to the questions I just asked was "ME" several times. Being hard on yourself after a race that went poorly can mean "I'm hard on myself" I guess... but more likely it means "I'm more interested in the result than the process" or "I'm not being fair to myself".

Finished Product
   NO ONE is a finished product in this sport, yet it is not uncommon for a swimmer to get bored practicing a skill or a parent to demand that the athlete do more "work" and less skills. I have been in close touch with Ben Titley since he arrived in Canada and one of my favourite things that he has pointed out is that no one that it top in the world has poor technique. Can we apply that to an age group base? Of course we can. Are the people that are top in the province have good technique? If not, are they the top anywhere outside of the province? How about internationally? My point is that everyone needs to work on technique routinely. Until that is perfected, no one is a finished product! Ryan Lochte isn not even a finished product - he worked HARD for 4 years to win a Gold Medal at the Olympics (and presumably perfecting chewing gum and walking at the same time - kidding Ryan, you're  a good guy despite all of the fun I have at your expense). Remember when skill work gets tedious - working hard doesn't mean that your heart rate has to be at max all the time; sometimes it means working hard and focusing on doing stuff properly and getting better technically.

"My Coach Hates Me"
   I cannot speak for other coaches, but I don't hate swimmers. I think this misconception comes from the "bad cop" relationship most coaches have with their athletes. One thing that I do not feel is explained well (especially to emotional teenagers) it's that feedback on a race or on work or a stroke is not feedback on you as a person. Doing something incorrectly or having your coach call you out on putting forth a poor effort does not mean that you're a bad person; always remember that it is your coach's responsibility to point out when something is not going right and to hold you to a high standard; it does not mean that they do not like you as a person - they just may not like whats happening in the water.

Nutrients vs. Calories:
I blame the media for this (ironically, as I am clearly one of them) because of the cultural focus on low calorie, low fat, 100% of your daily intake of ____ marketing. Here is what you need to know:
Nutrients: A substance that provides nourishment essential for growth and the maintenance of life. These include carbohydratesfatsproteins (or their building blocks, amino acids), vitamins and inorganic chemical compounds such as dietary mineralswater, and oxygen.
Calories: The energy needed to raise the temperature of 1 gram of water through 1 °C.

Although you're probably not interested in raising the temperature of water, calories are vital to an athlete because they need to replenish the calories (energy) that they used in a practice or a race. If they do not, the body gets energy by breaking down parts of the body (fat, muscle, bone) which is not usually ideal for an athlete. If you think of this in terms of a bank account, its a little easier to understand; if you get $100/week allowance from your parents and it costs $70/week to swim, that leaves you with $30/week for "other things". You need to buy food and shoes and other stuff so you spend about $40 on that and now you have -$10 in your account until you get you're allowance again... but since you have -$10 to start, you only have $90 in your account... and it costs $70 to swim so now you have $20 for other stuff... before long, this pattern will leave you in debt. And you can declare bankruptcy to an athlete's body; thats called injury or sickness... sometimes very seriously.

Athletes usually need to build, not breakdown which is why a diet rich in both nutrients and calories is crucial. Although you may have a diet rich in nutrients, you may not have one rich in calories (a simple salad, for example)... and if you eat Doritos and Ice Cream everyday after practice, you'll have one very rich in calories but very weak in nutrients. Although things like carbohydrates ARE nutrients, you need to make sure that you replenish what you use to avoid breaking down your body and stalling your development. Swimmers will use approx. 1000-1500 calories / 2 hour practice (depending on the intensity of the workout)... to put this into perspective, a banana is about 90 calories and a PB&J sandwich is about 160 calories (if it's made the way I make them).

Google is a wonderful invention; in my day, I had to go to a library or buy a book. Type the food you eat into Google and search the calories. Get an idea if you are eating enough.

Critical Thinking
Critical thinking is crucial for success; this is opposed to routine. Athletes are very good with routine, but it never fails to amaze me when athletes don't know what to do if something doesn't go to plan. For example; there isn't a lane rope in every lane or someone is sitting where they usually sit. Although some of this is confidence, I like to make my athletes think and figure things out as much as possible (which is funny to write because my math on a set is sometimes wrong or I've written something that doesn't make sense on the whiteboard in a hurry). Upsidedown-underwater breaststroke, breaststroke with eggbeater kick instead of whip kick, backwards freestyle all take the athlete away from the usual and force them to think. Although swimmers are usually amongst the smartest athletes (Ryan Lochte is the exception that proves this rule... sorry Ryan) I find that their comfort in routine can sometimes hurt their critical thinking skills. Mix it up and challenge them to use their brains.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Preparing To Swim Fast

Preparation is key to fast performance... so how many of you are preparing to swim fast and how many of you are crossing your fingers and hoping you swim fast? 

I had the pleasure of working with an athlete that was not from my team recently who didn't quite understand this concept. This swimmer was very disappointed with their performance but could not answer a single question I asked about the performance. They could not tell me how many strokes, how many breaths, how many kicks off of any walls and had no idea of how many they were supposed to be doing in the race. Unfortunately, this was not a unique occasion, as I find many athletes unclear on race preparation.

Q. When does race preparation begin?
A. Usually the first day of practice. Preparation takes a very long time, it is not done 5min before your race; it is done daily by rehearsing your race plan. How many strokes are you supposed to take in your first 25, 2nd, etc. How many breaths are acceptable in 50FR and where do you take them. Do you practice doing the same amount of dolphin kicks off of walls in practice as you do in your race? Are they practiced at the same speed and intensity? Do you practice going the speed you want to be at regularly? Are you honest about the effort level it takes to go that speed? Do you wait for your coach to get on your case about not being at the right speed, or do you take accountability for it? All these things are important for preparation. As teenagers, it becomes much harder to swim fast and best times; it won't happen by wishing much anymore. Plan to be fast.

Q. Are you consistent?
A.  Do you know enough about being fast to be able to be fast all the time? Can you be within 2-3% of your best times all the time, or are you fluctuating 5-10 seconds away from your best sometimes? Do you practice being fast enough?

Q. At a meet, are you preparing to race, or waiting for your turn to swim?
A. I am often surprised at meets how many athletes are playing video games, reading or just generally passing time. Many of those athletes go from 2 hours of reading a book and then go directly to the blocks to swim. Is that planning to swim fast? Don't get me wrong, everyone mentally prepares differently, but it seems to me that sitting for hours deactivates the body and can undo your warm-up. How many athletes have a pre-race activation routine? What are you thinking behind the blocks (what types of thoughts do you need to have in order to swim fast)? What are you doing (What do you need to do in order to swim fast)? How are you feeling (how do you need to feel in order to swim fast)?  Are you paying attention to any of these factors? Do you know the answer to any of the questions above.

Imagine how ill-conceived it would be to enter a boxing ring, arrive for an exam, drive to a new location or to perform surgery without a plan. Racing is the swimmer's fight/test/drive/surgery; lets be honest. It's what all swimmers do on a regular basis. Fill your toolbox and use your tools... just don't try to use a new tool for the first time on the job.

I spoke to one of my athletes this past weekend at Swim International (in Brantford, ON) before a race and reminded him of his strength and how we had been training. "Not using [specific practiced skill] is like being a marksman fighting zombies with a gun... only you're choosing to swing it like a club rather than fire it. FIRE THE GUN! It's what you're best at!"

(Editors note: Please note that, in the example above, I wanted to get home in time to catch The Walking Dead).

Links of the Day with Jocelyn Jay

It only takes 5 minutes! - 

What makes a great coach? Someone who isn't afraid to try something new...envelop change! - 

What makes a great coach - Part 2. This includes 16 goals that can apply to any sport, and carry into life itself! - 

A great article on "Belief" - 

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Great Article

I came across this today (Thanks to my Facebook friend and fellow coach, Kristy Lyon) and felt that it really hit home with me. I believe I covered the same theme back in June with an article called "Goals Vs. Tasks: Why We Mustn't Eliminate The Possibility of Failure" but this article is much more applicable to parenting. Please read!

Growing a Generation Who Doesn't know How to Fail

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Links of the Day w/ Jocelyn Jay

This is an excellent lesson on using what you have, regardless of your misfortunes! You never know what can happen!!
Hurricane Sandy & Swimming Life Lessons - "One of the primary principles for the existence of sports is to prepare for life. Legendary swimming coach Peter Daland likes to simply say, “Competitive swimming is preparation for life.”"

A blog by softball player - her perception of parents -
4 ways to manage your time better.  Suggestions on making the time you do have as productive as possible -

Ben Titley's "Fast"

I made a very clear point of being one of the first coaches to contact Mr. Titley prior to his arrival in Canada. Like many coaches and athletes, I was curious about what he was going to bring into the Canadian System, especially since the Canadian Swim Centre - Ontario only had about 5 athletes, none of which were the calibre that he was used to (Ben used to coach 8 athletes, all within the top 10 in the world in their events). Could he bring change to the typical Centre perception, or would this just be more of the same?

I had dinner with Ben in October and (after giving him some advice from my insignificant viewpoint) I invited him out to see my program. I offered to pick him up from his home downtown and drive him up to Georgetown because I was really interested in what I could learn from him. I figured that the invitation was well intentioned and expected that Ben would get too busy to actually visit. But last week, Ben texted me to ask if I could come get him on Tuesday November 6th so he could see some of my athletes. I jumped at the opportunity and made sure that my assistants were aware that he was coming in because I didn't want them to miss the learning opportunity either. 

I picked up Ben from Yorkdale mall around 3 and made it back to my pool before the start of my workout. I designed the workout so that the first 15min belonged to Ben. I wanted him to talk to my athletes about his experiences in Britain and in Canadian Swimming this far. 2 things were immediately evident: 
i.) Ben was not giving any messages that I don't already harp on on a daily basis: technique, discipline and respect. Its always good to hear it from someone else, especially someone with his clout. 
ii.) Ben always infused me into the conversation, praised me and made reference to me and my program about every 90 seconds. Ben did not have any interest in changing anyone's mind about anything; he wanted them to buy into what he was doing by reinforcing what I was already doing. I believe that this will work out in his favour in the Canadian system, particularly in the Ontario system!

Knowing that Ben was amongst the best sprint coaches in the world, I wanted to work on speed last night. Although I had a basic idea of what I wanted to do, Ben and I discussed what I should do and hammered out a solid workout plan on the drive up my pool. While he was looking at the plan on the whiteboard, he asked me a pretty simple question: "What are you trying to do achieve here?" I explained that we were going for maximum speed. Ben suggested that my terminology of "Speed" was possibly confused. He gave me a new suggestion (which challenged everything that I was taught in the past 3 years of NCCP's Senior Coach training) and drafted a set that would better achieve the speed that we were after. I then handed the keys to him and let him run the workout while I was content to sit in the student's chair for the rest of the practice.

Ben worked with my athletes in a series of 25s, 50s and activation activities in order to achieve faster than race pace speed (a number of those athletes had best times in 50s last night... go figure). Ben spent a lot of time talking to both the group of athletes as well as individuals. It was interesting to see the athletes react to the same feedback that they usually get in a different voice from a "V.I.P.". Many of them were able to correct (if not only for the night) MAJOR issues that we had been working on for a long time. The experience was fantastic!

Ben left my group with great words about commitment to doing difficult things and the understanding that being fast is hard... something that needs to be practiced honestly. He also made them promise that they would ALWAYS shake their coaches hand and say "Thank you" after each practice to show that they are responsible for their own training and that they appreciate that work of the coach who "Sweated his bits off for the last 2 hours to help you achieve your goals". 

Ben and I discussed more of his observations and goals on the way back to his apartment. Ben has some lofty goals and hard work ahead of him in order to achieve what he plans on achieving. I believe that his toughest goal is going to be a culture change. Historically, the Toronto Training Centre has been viewed as a recruiting ground for U of T and TSC and many athletes have left their home teams to swim there. While I do not want to get into debating if this viewpoint has merit; the reality is that the Centre is viewed that way, rightly or wrongly. I think the thing that many coaches need to understand is that Ben had nothing to do with any of that and is a fresh start at the concept. I think that rather than viewing this as a Centre initiative, look at it as a new world class coach coming in to help. While the "Centre" currently exists, it just barely exists - it is 3 or 4 lanes at U of T and has 6 athletes in it. Until the new pool is available in Scarborough in 2014, it is no more tangible than the concept of having a world class coach trying to make Ontario and Canadian Swimming better. Ignoring world class help is quite silly. We coaches should put this into perspective and accept the help of an expert!

It would be highly hypocritical of me to NOT push this agenda, but one of the biggest things that Ben Titley wants is the sharing of info between clubs and coaches. For 2 years now, I have been trying to share all of the info I have been able to get through this blog, my podcast and the Off The Deck web-series. I think this is a great initiative and that it is very counter productive to hide info. "I've never seen a system get worse from sharing, only better," he said as he explained it to me. Ben has tried to work in some sharing initiatives into his Own The Podium applications which stands to benefit everyone. I, for one, am loving this idea simply because it adds legacy to his work in Toronto. Previous coaches legacies are long gone with them.

The last thing Ben suggested was that Canadian Swim Centres need to stop hoarding athletes and clambering after them. Breaststrokers should go to see Jozsef Nagy in BC. Distance Freestylers should go see Randy in BC. He is interested in the athletes that best suit his program as a sprint and speed coach; not necessarily YOUR athletes. He is, however, interested in helping you figure out how to best train your athletes.

I must say that I really like what Ben Titley has to add to Canadian Swimming. I think that he adds some much needed fresh ideas and is willing to do facilitate the necessary education that younger coaches (such as myself... although I am rapidly aging) need. Ben's message to me that is echoing in my head since last night is: "Are we doing things because its the way its always been done, or because its the best way to do it?" This, appropriately enough, is the same message and attitude that I brought to my club when I took over 5 seasons ago. 

Do I like what Ben is doing because its great stuff or because he reminds me of myself in some weird narcissistic way? Check him out and decide for yourself. Email Dean Boles if you are interested in getting in touch with Ben Titley.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Chill Out, Man!

With the meet season here, many athletes are feeling the stress of performance and axiety that comes with racing. Although the following files are to be used by my club swimmers, I will allow anyone who needs these exercises to go ahead and stream them from my Dropbox account.

Sit somewhere where you can be undisturbed for a while and sit with both feet on the floor. Click on the following links, listen and follow the relaxation exercises. Hopefully these will help.

Relaxation: This is a good one to listen to when you need to get your mind off of everything.
Mindful Breathing: Helping you calm down.
Acceptance of Anxiety: Dealing with your anxious feelings.

Remember: relaxation is a skill and needs to be practiced like other skills. Bookmark this post and visit regularly.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

10 More Things Coaching Has Taught Me

I think I am going to keep a running list that I'll add to from time to time. I've always vowed that I will never stop wanting to learn until I've written 3 operas (at least 2 in Italian) and solved the energy crisis... and since I haven't written my 3rd opera yet, it doesn't make sense to leave my list of 10 Things Coaching Has Taught Me at 10, or else it implies that I've stopped learning. Here are my most recent additions:

11.) "You can't make everyone happy, but you sure can piss off the vast majority by trying to make everyone happy."

12.)  Just when you think you have it all figured out, human nature of the athletes and parents you deal with will always throw you a curve.

13.)  You can't take credit for an athlete's success because it's their success. If you credit yourself for their success, be prepared to be equally responsible for their failures.

14.) "Fairness does not mean equality; it means treating people the way they deserve to be treated" (More on this in my next post).

15.)  It's okay to not know the answer sometimes. "I don't know" is not an offensive phrase. Coaches are expected to be the know it all professionals, but the the physical, emotional, psychological, tactical and personality uniqueness with every individual, it's honestly impossible to always know.

16.) Ignorance is bliss. Few parents choose to be ignorant. Therefore: parents are often not blissful.

17.)  You know those training montages from Rocky, The Karate Kid and Cool Runnings? They don't exist in real life. Training takes Years/Months/Weeks and there isn't very much inspirational music tying it all together. The soundtrack is usually "I hate my coach, why is he/she doing this to me..?"

18.) Sleep cannot be made up with naps. Everyone needs a good, solid, uninterrupted sleep cycle. Too few hours makes me grumpy (my family can attest). 

19.) A coach cannot live on coffee alone.

20.) Don Burton (Coach, University of Guelph) always caries breath mints in his pocket. When I asked him why his answer was to make the swimmer's encounter with him less awful. "No one wants to listen to bad stuff from their coach; they want to listen even less if my breath smells bad." 

To check out my original 10 lessons, click HERE.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Links of the day w/ Jocelyn Jay

Glenn Mills head up butterfly kick - taxing the abs -

3 tips to help parents fight the urge to "fix" everything - 

With the weather all over the place, workouts getting harder, make sure you stay on your nutrition!!! -

Thursday, October 25, 2012

#coachmikepodcast episode 29

In this episode, Chris Wilson (Swimming Canada's Marketing & Events Coordinator) stops by to talk about The Big Splash 2012. Check out the website for the latest news and vote for Swim of the Year.
Zack Chetrat (TSC) shares his experience of missing his goal with the Halton Hills Blue Fins. Talks about missing the Olympic Team by .02 seconds. It is not often that we get to hear this perspective and how one moves on with life. Thank you, Zack, for sharing this experince with the Blue Fins. It takes a very strong person to be able to get up after a hit like Zack took and an even stronger person to be able to talk about it and use that experience to help others. This is a great speech and definitly worth the 17min of your time.
As always, you should check out my blog and follow me on Twitter(@coachmikeswim). Check out my archived past episodes as well.

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Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Links of the day with Jocelyn Jay

(Editors's Note: This is a great read for both parents and swimmers! Life Lesson!)

Foot placement in turns -
This is a great article emphasizing the "strive for progress, not perfection" thought.  It is about "shifting from a time mindset to a task mindset".  In order to do this, we need to "stop focusing on what the end will look like and start focusing on what the next move will look like" -
How can you practice looking like an elite athlete?  How about starting with the way you get in and out of the pool.  Another great Glenn Mills video.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Discipline to Swim


The practice of training people to obey rules or a code of behaviour, using punishment to correct disobedience.
Train (someone) to obey rules or a code of behavior, using punishment to correct disobedience.
noun.  order - punishment
verb.  punish - school - castigate - train - correct - chastise

I want to make sure that everyone understands what I mean by discipline in this post because the definition above is very literal. In swimming, the term "punishment" makes me cringe. As coaches, we're trying to foster the love of swimming in our athletes. However, corrections must be made to technique, habits or group behaviour. In this post I want to delve a little bit into the reality of group coaching, the necessity of teaching discipline, and the  onus of self discipline.

Group Coaching:

Swimming is a lot like electricity because naturally, everyone (everything) involved wants to follow the path of least resistance. 

Due to the nature of aquatics, the National Lifeguarding Society's hold over safety and townships and cities efforts towards "Risk Assessment", pool time is extremely expensive in most communities. Therefore training groups are required to share the cost (otherwise parents would be paying at least $100/session). Every group, starting with the most novice swimmer has guidelines and expectations to meet which are taught and enforced by the coach. The importance of a graduation system is paramount here, because these athletes must demonstrate understanding or mastery (depending on the level) of key skills before moving on. Coaches must coach to a group rather than individuals. Drills, explanations and feedback are used to help these athletes understand these skills in the following ways:
Drills: used to force an athlete to do a stroke, kick or movement a certain way in order to feel a certain aspect of that stroke kick or movement. 
Explanation: key words or phrases used to describe what you're doing how and what to expect during execution. In my Senior Group, I often link what we're doing back to the context of racing or swimming at top speed to help the athletes understand why this is important.
Feedback: anything used to let the athletes know how they are doing. Many drills and explanations contain all the feedback the swimmer needs in order to understand if they are doing things propperly. I.E. during a breathing drill, your parameters are so narrow that if you're sucking in water, you're head is not in the right position. During a kicking drill, if your feet are not clearing the water, you are not doing that drill properly, etc.

All 3 of the above aspects will vary from novice to older athletes due to physical and mental maturity. For example, the bio-chemistry explanation I use with high schoolers about what happens to your body during high demand sets would be inappropriate for 8 year olds, as would any set requiring kinaesthetic awareness or maximum strength. Younger athletes simply do not possess the mental or physical abilities to do these things and so practice of key skills is the most important thing - often without explanation at first, just "tricking" them into doing the motions while thinking of something else.

Feedback is a very important aspect of any type of coaching because it enhances the athlete's understanding, awareness of what they are doing, but the key difference in the development of an athlete is the self discipline to implement that type of feedback. In novice groups, this is pretty easy because the athletes usually crave the coach's attention and will do next to anything to show off what they have learned for that coach. I have always found that in older or more experienced groups, this is less and less the case. 

Despite different types of coach intervention, due to repetitive nature and physical demand of swimming, some athletes simply are not ready for some skills. Some others, however, choose not to swim properly. Here are a few reasons why:
  • The athlete learned to do something improperly years ago, but grew quickly and was therefore bigger and faster than other athletes in the age group. They refuse to change what their doing because they're faster doing it their way and it's also easier.
  • They loose focus quickly and their focus is on something other than their technique.
  • They are too physically exhausted to do it properly.
  • Bodies allow their limbs to follow the path of least resistance. Since there is often a lot of resistance in moving your body in a straight line, it is tempting to allow deviations in stroke path in order to spare some energy. Ironically, the swimmer ends up using more energy this way because they are far less efficient. 
  • They are bored or don't care.
Regardless of the reasons for not getting a skill done (ability or desire), the coach must find a balance between "stroke correction" (which could be group or individually geared and be in line with the group expectation) and the appropriate aerobic/swimming base that will continue physical development towards the ability to meet the physical demand of the sport. My Senior group does a lot of self-feedback drill development work (especially early in the season) to prepare for the cycling of work that follows. After that cycle, the athletes will refocus on skills and stroke development in order to maintain an appropriate balance.

Teaching Discipline & The Importance of Self Discipline:

Combining what we now know about group coaching and applying it so far we know this: group size requires that certain stroke standards be enforced to a group but not everyone can (or will) do them. Therefore, not everyone in any given group is necessarily swimming properly. There are are few key reasons why swimming properly is important:

  • Avoid repetitive injury
  • Maximize Speed
  • Minimize resistance
  • Greater success
While it is the responsibility of the coach to figure out a solution to stroke problems (which vary from club to club and group to group) a strategy for correction is not often something they can figure out in an instant. This type of correction is not likely included in their season plan and requires figuring out the reason for the problem before actually solving it, which can require time and a trial and error approach. It is worth noting that every athletes is very unique so their are literally thousands of reasons and thousands of solutions depending on the combination of reasons. Parents - while bringing this to a coach's attention is often helpful, please note that the coach is very likely already hyper aware of the situation. Don't expect an immediate answer or solution due to the reasons above; trust that the coach is working their best to figure out the best solution. Remember - not every swimmer is the same.

To be general, the solution to all difficulties is practice. Forcing practice is important and remembering that at the beginning, nothing is easy. Giving up because something is too hard is the easiest thing to do - the path of least resistance. Successful coaches are able to build excitement around doing things very well and the advantages that come with dedication, persistence and discipline to do things properly. It should still be understood that the onus is on the swimmer to put that work into what their doing in the water. In a group setting, the "path of least resistance" works as a 2 way street - coaches are more likely to gear practices and group expectations to the ones who routinely do what is asked. "We only swim so much and it matters so much when someone doesn't get what they want and what we want for them... so lets make EVERY stoke count and lets do EVERYTHING right. It just makes sense." ~ Ben Titley, Head Coach of Canadian Swim Centre Ontario.


Mature swimmers need to understand the importance of doing things well and that they have ample opportunities to practice doing things the way they want need them to be done in a race - rehearsal. Racing is very physically, mentally and emotionally demanding and unless you're training to meet those demands... success is relative.

Swimmers - do you often get the same feedback or find yourself working on the same concepts or drills? Start implementing the principles of those sets into your swimming sets and see the difference. I feel like many swimmers and coaches (and parents) get wrapped up in the number of hours or KMs swam in a week, but I'm not optimistic that the same swimmers coaches (and parents) put the same emphasis on whats being done in those KMs and hours. The onus of THAT work is on the swimmers; they need the self discipline to practice doing things right, not just "workout". If you're going to be better at 1 thing this season, make it "quality control"; control the quality in each stroke you do!

I know that I am a very demanding coach, but not for the KM and Hours reason above; I demand that things be done very well. The reason I Tweeted this earlier in the week was the genuine surprise on swimmers faces when I wouldn't allow them to get away with sub par work and made them start again. A gentle reminder that being great is not as easy as showing up and saying you want to be great.