Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Links Of The Day With Jocelyn Jay

Kids and....  "Three food related themes of concern for our children, and even for ourselves."

Back to Breast crossover turn - typically Canada's slowest turn!

The Disorienting nature of both Success and Failure - Elizabeth Gilbert talks about success and failure messing with our equilibrium and as athletes, the need to just get back to the sport they love, is most important for maintains the balance!!

Habits are a Choice -

If your race takes a turn for the worst, how do you handle it? Fight or give up?

Monday, May 26, 2014

Why Are OAK Swimmers So Tough?

The Oakville Aquatic Club is known for the tough and resilient athletes that come from its program. It became evident to me while traveling with the team to Calgary a few years ago (while I was the coach of another team, not OAK). OAK had literally somebody in the final of every age group and each sex of 200FLY, 400IM and distance FR. Not only are these athletes great at those events, they are proud of being better than most at the hard things.

OAK prides itself on a 1500/400IM/200FLY development system. Tonight, to close out the Sun Life Grand Prix in Thunder Bay, ON, 2 OAK swimmers, Connor Wilkins and Mack Hamill, both from Coach Sean Baker's Senior Red group, decided to race their last race, the 1500 as Fly.

Both Wilkins and Hamill are national level athletes (Wilkins was part of an OAK medal sweep in the men's 17-18 200fly at last summer's Canadian Age Group Championships in Montreal with Evan White and Gamal Assaad. Hamill was 6th in the mens 800FR at Trials back in April) and both raced 200Fly less than an hour earlier.

Many athletes are capable of this feat. The video is indicative of the toughness and heart of these 2 OAK swimmers. While most young swimmers are scared of 200FLY and 1500FR, OAK swimmers take on the challenge with gusto. I believe that most senior swimmers could finish a 1500FLY with a "survival" stroke, although to do it at the end of a 3 day meet, after a night of 2 other races (including a sub 2:10 200FLY) is something completely different. The remarkable thing is how good Conner Wilkins & Mack Hamill look the entire way - a testament to the technical teaching at OAK and the toughness of its athletes.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Links of the day with Jocelyn Jay

The Ride home -

A great video that will help you FOCUS on your goals. Tony Robbins says, make it CLEAR and COMPELLING -

3 Reasons to embrace the process of achieving your swimming goals -

Focus on what you "Can do" -

Setting Social Media rules between Adults and Kids -

Thursday, May 15, 2014

60 Min Drill (and rattling off random thoughts in my head)...

Due to some ongoing pool issues, my practice was cancelled yesterday and my Sprint Group was offered a few lanes with the 12 and under development kids (OAK DEVO A) for an hour from 7-8pm. I know that most coaches find it difficult to get any quality work done in 60min, but I love those short practices because it really challenges the coach to make the best use of the time. 

For the few years before this season, I routinely scheduled 70min practices twice/week. This was not because of my preference, but because of the pool situation that I had with my previous club. At the time, I decided that 70min was better than nothing... after all, the options actually were an additional 140min/week or no extra time/week. 

My thinking at the time was that those practices would have to be used for intense skill work and stroke "tune-ups". The issue with the condensed time frame is that there just isn't enough time to pull people out of the water and explain a set, so it forces you to have very simplistic focus and allow swimmers to work on key aspects of technique. If the situation arose where we needed to get some small quality or volume done, the explanation and prep could be done the night prior at that practice so that everyone was familiar with the parameters of the set and the expectations and could hit the water and get right to work. 

I kind of miss having those 70min practices twice/week. For whatever reason, it feels easier to spend a very solid intense hour on skill work than to run a 2 hour practice where, although I am very active, I am not running to each end of the pool and giving feedback or corrections every 25 (because the athletes are not usually stopping at every end). This could possibly be because, even though the distances are shorter and the skill work is slower, there just isn't enough time to get bored. I typically liked to do quality the night before these practices and use these practices as slow skill and drill work. True "practices" to practice technical aspects of the stroke while athletes were tired and broken down. Last night, my athletes did many slow 25s and 50s of progressive drills in order to reset their skills before we do another tough quality set tonight (it helps that last night was going to be drill and recovery anyway)

A few months ago, I went to Dr. Brent Rushall's Clinic in Brantford, ON, and learned about USRPT (Ultra Short Race Pace Training). Dr Rushall spent much of his day talking about the importance of technique and the importance of being able to do "good technique" at high speeds. His adage is to never practice anything slowly because the dynamics of a stroke change from high to low speeds. While I don't necessarily disagree with his theory, I do disagree with the context of his "teaching". 

I have always been of the belief of walking before you can run... in other words, you have to be able to complete the skill slowly at first, to create the neuropathways, before you are able to fully do anything well. (I would eve argue that young athletes need to be able to do he motion of the stroke out of the water before they can be expected to do it in the water). All this is to say that doing fast best technique work is a great idea when you have a master of the skill. The problem with that is most coaches in Ontario (and most of the coaches at Rushall's clinic) were not working with mastered swimmers, but it age group swimmers (some of who have only been swimming for a few years). I don't think it is a bad idea to slow things down at least once a week and make sure that swimmers are hitting the key skills.

So even though I have already been doing this routinely in 90min or 2 hour sessions, I was given a 1 hour time slot yesterday which forced me to think a little more critically to get the most out of that hour. I think it was honestly one of the best practices my group has had in months and I would wager to say that they are going to have a great quality/speed practice tonight. I encourage more coaches to try this.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Links Of The Day With Jocelyn Jay - May 14th, 2014

7 Things Confident Coaches Do -

Found: The fountain if youth - Turns out the sought-after magic elixir has been right under our noses! -

Napping & Swimming Performance -

It's more than just practice: Coach Dave Johnson -

Cool it on the ice packs -

Attendance: How Much Do You Have In The Bank?

I remember, several years ago, listening to Coach Randy Bennett talk about his attitude towards coaching. In this speech, he talked about his feelings on attendance (video here 3:20 mark). In summary, Randy says that he doesn't worry about attendance. If they miss a session, it's not a problem... mainly because everyone is there all the time: a missed practice is very rare for those guys. Most coaches who are reading this are thinking to themselves "must be nice".

I am largely of this mindset as well. I don't stress out too much about attendance, but reenforce that in order to achieve the goals many athletes have set out, they need to be there to do the work. If someone wants to make a Senior National cut, but is missing 2 workouts/week or isn't able to achieve the proper speed in practice or is unwilling to make changes, they're going to have to change that goal. I think there is a basic disconnect between work consistency today. Let me explain:

My basic rule of thumb is, if you miss 1 day, it usually takes you at least 1 practice to get back to where you were. This rule seems to get exponential over time, although there for sure is a tipping point (ie: an extra day off isn't going to matter much if you've already been off for a year). 

Many athletes reach the mid point of the season with great attendance and swim very well through the short course season. When short course season ends, it is prime cold and flu season. Some athletes miss as much as a week at this point due to illness. There is also March Break which some athletes miss for family reasons. Potentially, an athlete has missed 2 weeks of training. Couple that with any injuries or second sickness, prom, university issues, work, "school", or any other reason to miss practices, and we're now having issues.

If you count in the fact that every consecutive practice suits to make you better and every missed practice requires a practice just to get back to the baseline ability to make you better, added absences create real problems with improvement and progression. For instance, 2 weeks of perfect attendance (8 workouts/week) will help you improve. If you then have 4 weeks where you only make 6 workouts/week due to illness and school work, not only have you missed 8 workouts (equivalent to an entire week of work), but close to 16 of those workouts over the 4 weeks were spent just trying to maintain current level fitness and get back to where you were prior to the absence - obviously you need to get back to where you were before, before you can improve. 

Coaches and athletes (and largely parents, too), need to understand this concept. Coaches, if your athletes are currently struggling to maintain current fitness levels and abilities, how are they expected to improve? How does this impact their goals? Athletes, are you thinking about this consequence to your goals when you miss a practice for any reason? Athletes need to train to improve and do something different (better) than they did before. Interruptions to training create real hiccups to this improvement. 

Sickness (especially this season) and injury have historically been big reasons for absence. How can we avoid them?

  • Hydration: Keeping hydrated can help you avoid injury but also help your body recover and avoid sickness.
  • Don't share water bottles: Cold and flu knock people out for days. Why would you share a bottle (and therefore bacteria and viruses) with other people you swim with? It's like you're asking to get sick.
  • Wash your hands: Although NLS will tell you otherwise, dipping anything in chlorinated water will not kill bacteria and viruses - it takes several minutes of submersion to kill things on your skin, water bottles, whistles, pullbouys, etc. You know what kills things quicker? Soap & water. Wash your hands after every practice and when you get home!
  • Flexibility, recovery, nutrition and sleep: How often do you actually stretch when you're supposed to be... how often do you fake it and socialize? How often do you actually rest and recover on a day off and how often do you go out too late with your friends? When was the last time you turned off your phone, laptop and TV and went to bed early to get 8 hours of sleep? Mmhmm... what was that goal again..?

Friday, May 9, 2014

Developments and Changes In Canadian Swimming

Back in December, I posted this article in regards to the lack of scoring and relays at Canadian Swimming Trials in April. At the time, I was calling for a real Canadian Club Championship. When I was writing this post, I had reached SNC for comment. The following is an excerpt from that quote: 

"Swimming Canada designated meets that feature team titles, scoring and relays are the Speedo Eastern and Western Canadian Swimming Championships, Canadian Swimming Championships (Summer Nationals) and Canadian Age Group Swimming Championships.”

In an email received Tuesday, SNC has addressed their review of the Canadian Eastern and Western Championships and have decided the following: 
  • The meet will now be LC in order to create a positive ‘step-wise’ LC preparation progression towards Trials and Summer competition.
  • The meets will only offer Olympic Distance Events.
  • There will be no championship categorization and therefore no championship banners.
I do not disagree with the reasons to change this to a long course meet (I actually really like the idea and think it is overdue), I am baffled by removing off Olympic Distance events (Stroke 50s and off distance). Clearly Ryan Cochrane has the 800FR on lock so I guess we're okay not offering that one, but I feel that this is a missed opportunity to encourage speed and racing. 

In a phone conversation with an SNC employee earlier today, it was highlighted that Easterns and Westerns were being used as a preparation and development for future racing. Given that statement and John Atkinson's request for no resting or shaving until Trials, I would think that coaches would like the opportunity to race in 50s to develop and train some speed. The final decision, however, is that stroke 50s and off distance FR events will no longer be offered at Eastern and Western Canadian Championships. Coaches need to take note of this, as I was told in the previously mentioned conversation that there are no plans to revise the existing standards until 2016. This means that the times will still exist on the National Times grid, but will not be eligible for entry into the meet. The confusing thing here is that they seem to be available events at Canadian Age Group Championships and Senior Nationals. I do not understand the inconsistency.

It should also be noted that Canadian Sprinters are not that fast compared to the rest of the world. This is clearly something that we could be working on and fostering if, for no other reason, to make for FASTER athletes. When Ben Titley arrived in Canada last season, SNC posted a story on their site which states his hope for Canada to be able to improve on these shorter events: "He also hopes to focus on specializing athletes for shorter distances, noting that the bulk of medals at international competitions come in 50-metre, 100-metre and 200-metre events." I feel that by eliminating the stroke 50s and off distance, especially at this time of year, is a missed opportunity to have these swimmers race and swim fast - to work on speed. It certainly doesn't help while working towards the 50-metre distances referenced above.

I am also concerned by the removal of another SNC Championship meet. As it stands right now, Canada is left with 2 Championship meets - Age Group Championships and Summer Nationals. My simple point here is that they removed one earlier in the year and said not to worry because there were 4 others... 5 months later and there are only 2 others.  I was advised by SNC that having a championship meet around a time that they are requesting preparation for better swimming later in the season (Easterns and Westerns) sends a mixed message. This statement makes sense and I do not disagree - however, it is worth noting that the disappearing championship meets are not being replaced.

It is clear that change is needed in Canadian Swimming and John Atkinson surely is delivering on his promise of organization and change. It will be interesting to see how this impacts summer racing, as there will surely be University swimmers who will shave and taper for NCAAs or CIS only weeks before Trials. Understanding that you can't control everything is essential when planning forward and creating coaches and swimmers at a younger age that are used to this type of periodization may be the key to our success. 

Having said that, I still do admire the racing and championship atmosphere that exists elsewhere in the world and would like to see more short sprint events (sprint coach bias) and opportunities for clubs to compete for championships. I agree that having a championship meet during prep time does send a mixed message, but I don't think the timing of Easterns and Westerns is in stone. Wouldn't it also make sense to change the timing of those meets and hold a different LC racing opportunity during prep time?

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Links Of The Day With Jocelyn Jay

Coach like a Jedi Master, not like a Sith Lord -

Snack smarter -

The swimmer walk -

Effective Communication within Successful teams -

The power of positive coaching -

How important is core strength to swimmers -

Monday, May 5, 2014

5 Things Swimmers Can Learn From NBA's "Game 7 Mania"

This season has marked the most exciting first round of NBA playoff history. Out of a total of 8 combined match ups, 5/8 ended up going to a game 7. Game 7s are pretty spectacular, and say what you will about any series, mental toughness is key in game 7, especially in close contests. 

Swimmers do not really ever get a game 7 - maybe the closest they'll get will be a swim off. However, mental toughness is something that can be learned and developed and possibly brushed aside more than any other athletic trait. By watching these games (as a biased Spurs and Raptors fan), it occurred to me that swimmers can learn a lot from these situations... hopefully they were paying attention.

1.)  Sometimes the odds are against you: The Toronto Raptors were the higher seed against the Brooklyn Nets, however the Nets were the favourite and were an under achieving team throughout the regular season. The Nets were built to win in the playoffs; the Raptors overachieved and exceeded expectations. The Raptors were the underdogs in this series. Their options were to play scared to the favourites or fight to the end (which they did in a 1pt loss in game 7). Also, sometimes life isn't fair - the officiating was TOTALLY skewed to favour the team with the veterans (the Nets) with several insane foul calls and lack of foul calls in favour of the Nets. The Raptors did not give up! 

How is this relevant? Think back to the Central Region Championships in February. How many athletes and parents complained that it was a bad competition because their watches didn't match up with the final times. How many people failed to show up for finals because they didn't feel it was worth their time? How many people found a reason to not race because the odds were not in your favour? As a coach, I've heard it a lot - "this is a slow pool," "There is no one to race", "I'm not feeling it today". Bottom line is, even if the odds are not in your favour, your job is to race. You cannot achieve if you do not compete. You miss 100% of the shots you don't take. The Raptors were GREAT role models for that.

2.)   Sometimes it all comes down to 1 shot: How many times in your career have you had be a clutch performer? Last chance to qualify for a meet? Had to perform to get your team points? Had to swim well in your only swim at provincials to avoid missing finals? How often do you capitalize on that opportunity in that moment? The great part about those moments is that they're prep moments for the rest of your life. Sometimes life comes down to 1 shot. An exam. A job interview. A split second decision. It's not those who necessarily capitalize on those opportunities that do better later in life (I would argue that those who learn how to eventually capitalize are far more prepared for later life), but failure in these sports moments does not mean certain doom and doesn't mean that you're going nowhere in the sport. Kyle Lowry, who put the Raptors on his back and carried them for most of this series, just couldn't get the last shot yesterday. He is NOT considering quitting and I know that his mom didn't call Dwane Casey yesterday asking why her son can't seem to win a title. The great thing about sports is simple: sometimes you don't make that shot and have that opportunity to prepare to get it next time. 

3.) People still love you when you fail: Ultimately, the Raptors failed in their goal of making it past the first round in the NBA playoffs, but they lost no fans in the process. In fact, they did miraculous things for the NBA in Canada and for the Raptors in general as a franchise.  Expect this to be the begining of something HUGE - a step in the right direction for domination of the EAST in the future. The public support of these guys has been huge and it is for you as well, regardless of obtaining your goals or not. Your team mate doesn't kick you off the team; your coach will still coach you; your parents will still love you. The world moves on,  your competition goes back to work, so should you.

4.) Don't fear personas: The Toronto Raptors are a young team with no true All Stars. They did not go into a series against veterans & future hall of famers like Paul Pierce (16 years), Kevin Garnett (19 years), Joe Johnson (13 years) & Deron Williams (9 years) with respect and admiration. Despite the fact that, when Garnett & Pierce won their first NBA championship with the Boston Celtics in 2008, most of the Raptors team were fans of the Celtics and playing in High School. Despite the fact that the referees were clearly fans of these players, the Raptors were not. Not only were they not fans, they were not afraid of the Nets. They willingly accepted the challenge of more experienced and arguably better athletes and put themselves in position to win. Never once did they say "I can't beat Kevin Garnett". How often do you have the opportunity to race a faster, more experienced athlete in training or competition? How often to you accept that challenge?

5.) Perfect athletes do everything they can to achieve: It can be frustrating to hear an athlete come back after a race and say "I feel like I could have gone harder." That means that they were protecting themselves from doing everything they could have to be better. Being the best means getting yourself into a mental state where you are willing to fight to the end; accepting the "final shot" and deciding to go for it. Being honest with your coach, your team, your parents and yourself that you did everything you could have means that they can't expect anymore from you, and therefore, you were perfect.

BONUS for parents:

6.) Athletes learn your exceptions by observing your "fan" tendencies: Quite simply, good fans make good athletes. How many times have your children/athletes watched a game with you? How often have you called your team names or not backed them because they were losing? What is your child/athlete supposed to learn from that? Does that attitude translate into their sport? You'd be surprised by how often those same parents gives the athlete or their coach a hard time about their kid "not being successful". Be a good fan to professional teams and to your child/athlete and back them no matter what! This is obviously more important for your child/athlete than your professional team because in the long term, you're responsible for what type of child/athlete you have. Be supportive; it's only sports. 

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Under Water Kick

As a "Sprint Coach" one of my duties is to teach how to maximize speed over shorter distances, but also to teach how to avoid slowing down more than everyone else. One of the easiest ways to drop time in a shorter event (especially in a short course race) is to make sure that you can dolphin kick and streamline well. Of course, many swimmers will tell you that they're reasonably good at it... from my experience, many many Canadian Age Groupers have a lot of room for improvement but do not capitalize on the opportunities to improve. Here is what I have been doing to make it better (and I can confidently say that a group of self proclaimed "non kickers" has improved insurmountably in this area, but still has lots of room for improvement).

Below is a video showing some of my swimmers doing fly kick on their sides. This is a drill intended to balance the fly kick (not too hard on the down beat or the up beat).

For a few seasons now,  I have been trying to implement some ideas brought to me by Ontario Mentor Coach, Dean Boles, years ago. Vertical FLY kick  can help swimmers develop a more effective dolphin kick by trying to tighten the motion and avoid unnecessary motions. The swimmers will kick for 5 seconds with their hands above water, then 5 seconds with their hands in a streamline position, then do 10 seconds of each, then do 15 seconds of each until a minute is up They key is to avoid unnecessary movements (hand flutter, arm swaying, knee bending, having their feet way outside of their body line, etc). The second step to this is to show them what they look like, because many times, they have no idea that they are making these unnecessary movements (or need to see how obvious their cheating is).

Below is a video of the underwater view of this drill. The thing to watch is how much the kick rate should increase when their hands go into a streamline position. By entering a streamline position, they centralize their weight and sinking is much more likely... therefore if they don't kick faster, they need to readjust their body position (wrong) or kick smaller and faster (correct).

What we should be imagining is that they are kicking on a different angle. Imagine that the swimmers' hands are pointed towards the other end of the pool instead of the ceiling. The goal would be to move in that direction. Helping these swimmers understand that they need to kick hard to the ceiling is crucial for this to work properly... and even then, this needs to be practiced. Doing this once will not achieve much.

Lets take a look at the same drill from above water.

Again, we're looking to eliminate unnecessary movement but also proper streamline position and posture (straight up and down). Doing this properly takes a lot of practice, endurance and core strength (it doesn't hurt to be a good kicker to start with). The key is to give as much feedback as possible. This is an uncomfortable drill for swimmers and an awkward position; they likely have no idea whether they are doing it well or not. Showing them what they look like is pretty important.

Thank you, OHPSI and Swim Ontario, for equipping me with some video gear, but this can be done with a vey small budget. I got a "Go Pro" camera super cheap on-line and OHPSI provided me with an iPad. Ubbersense is FREE for iPad users (link above). Set your own up and get busy.