Monday, July 11, 2016

How Your Swimmer is Talented

Recently I've had the pleasure of re-connecting with some old classmates from my graduate school days. One of them, a woman who has been tremendously kind to me over these past few weeks named Sherri Fisher, recommended a book for me.

"How Your Child is Smart: A Life-Changing Approach to Learning" was published in 1992, a fact that becomes quiet evident once you begin reading the references to various political leaders of the time. The discussion within, which is primarily about young people and their ability to learn, might as well have been written today.

The book is tangential to some popularized notions of how people learn. Namely that some people are "auditory" learners or "visual" learners or even "kinesthetic". Some constructs invent even more categories and descriptions for the way people learn. This book asserts that everyone learns using auditory,visual and kinesthetic sources, but that each individual tends to process these sources either consciously, subconsciously or unconsciously.

For example, someone could be classified in this system as "AVK". That would mean that they are processing the auditory world around them consciously, while visual information is processed on a subconscious level, with kinesthetic information in the unconscious.

Conversely, someone could be the opposite, KVA. They learn consciously through manipulating and touching the physical world, while processing it visually on a subconscious level, and listening unconsciously.

The construct is interesting, and has it's strengths and weaknesses as all do. That was not the interesting part of this book for me. While I was reading, all I could think about was swimming and the way we ascribe talent to different swimmers, in much the same way we describe people as smart or not.

I have for a long time despised the world "talented". Because it implies that swimmers have something intrinsic within them that propels them to swim fast, something that you cannot grow or improve or change. Even if it was true, it wouldn't be worth it to focus on with individuals. The closest analogy I can think of is height, something of which we have some evidence helps you swim faster- is it worth focusing on a swimmer getting taller?

Likewise, I think that there are far more swimmers out there that could compete at very high levels than we are seeing right now. Many are being thrown of a pile as either "not talented" or "doesn't want to do the work" when neither of those designations are correct. When I was coaching teams, almost to a fault I would take on coaching swimmers that other coaches deemed either untalented or impossible to coach because I was always optimistic that they could improve a lot. Many times they did.

One of the most successful swimmers I ever coached was one who many of his teammates deemed did not want to "work hard". Conversely, I found that he did given the right coaching, and after the fact when he swam very fast, he was slapped with the label of "talented".

This is one aspect of what I would like to offer through Chris DeSantis coaching- so if there is anyone out there who loves swimming but is thinking of stopping because they have maxed out their potential or have not yet had their talent realized by a coach. Let's go to a pool (and beyond) and find a way to get way closer to what your actual potential is.

Friday, May 27, 2016

How I Learned About Starts: Or Who The Heck is Marty Hamburger?

One day, I was taking showing a foreign recruit around Georgia Tech's campus. In between showing off the beautiful new buildings and pretty quads, I made an offhand comment about one of our other coaches: Marty Hamburger.

The recruit looked stunned. "Is that his real name?" he asked. Yes, Marty Hamburger is a real person and I wouldn't know what I now know about starts without him.

Today on Swimswam I started a series of posts about common start flaws and how to fix them. Just a short seven years ago, I probably would have read my own post and gone "huh?". I was 25 years old and felt like I knew a lot- but I had no idea how to coach a start.

I started coaching at Georgia Tech in the summer of 2009. Marty Hamburger was the "sprint" coach. and coming off the best year of his coaching career. The Georgia Tech men had set an ACC record to win the 200 freestyle relay, along with finishing 1-2 in the 50 free at the ACC Championships.

Marty was and still is a bit of a coach philosopher, the kind of man who names sets after bands and songs he likes. I still remember the first time I saw him coach kids on starts- I realized almost instantly that I was in completely over my head.

The swimmers would dive off, and Marty would give them some piece of feedback. "Stay tall, you're shortening your line when you drive off" or "you're pushing from the blocks too soon". The feedback was simple, but I was perplexed. I simply couldn't see what he saw.

My mind raced to two possibilities:

1. This is all BS, he is making it up so that he looks smart and get some superiority over the swimmers

2. I am terrible at coaching starts and I need to learn what he knows.

With #1 burbling in the back of my head, I followed my gut to #2. I spent an entire year whenever I could just observing Marty when he coached starts. By the end of a year, I finally saw what he saw.

I spent the next three years in conversation with Marty. We could get lost talking about starts. We watched videos of our swimmers and traded theories. We looked at still photos. We coached starts like it was just as important as everything else.

For the past swimming year, I have been employed by Farum Swimming Club in Denmark as a consultant. The vast majority of my work has been to coach the swimmers on the team to be more skilled at starts. It has been great fun and I've learned a tremendous amount about what makes a good start, a process that continues every day.

I believe that the start is an incredibly important and often overlooked swimming skill that is completely unique in swimming. It is the one pure "dryland" movement we make in a swimming, until we enter the water of course. A good start can influence the rest of a race, from tactics to technique.

So thanks Marty, and everyone else who has taught me something along the way.

Friday, January 29, 2016

The Viking Training Method Can Handle Speedbumps

In case you hadn't heard, the Viking swam pretty well at the KMSC Pro-Am in December.  I was actually only .11 away from my lifetime best from 1996 in the 100 breast with 57.13.  My 200 was also my best since college at 2:06.4, although that is still about 2.5 seconds away from my college PR of 2:03.8.  I made three A-finals and got to march out in my new costume so it was worth the trip to Texas for sure.  Yup, that's made from a full body mountain goat and a little bear.  The necklace has wolf teeth as well.  It don't get much more viking than that.
The meet director said "it looks downright satanic."

My swimming was a little spotty leading up to the meet, but honestly I just don't even pay much attention to that anymore.  Like I tell the kids, "it's all mental."

After the pro-am I made it a point to get back in the water as often as possible, which is always hard considering my insane work schedule.  This time though, I had a little help.  We recently started a Masters program through my club, and in an effort to promote it I offered a discount to a local triathlon group called Rufus Racing.  Rufus has a mileage contest that goes from January to March in which they have a spreadsheet set up online.  As you complete miles, you log them on the sheet to earn points for your team.  The entire Rufus crew is divided into several teams, with over 100 adults participating, and every biking mile is worth one point, compared to running miles at three points and swimming miles at ten points.  They have a lot of fun trash talking each other on the facebook and stuff, and it has really been a cool contest.

Since January 1st I have not had a single day without some kind of exercise.  Normally it is an awesome week if I get in a third workout.  This streak is by far the longest I have consistently got work in, even though some of it is pretty low quality just to log the points for Rufus.  I have been running with my wife to help her get past IT band issues, and some of the days are easy runs rather than swims.  I have also not been able to do as much USRPT as I would like, partly due to time constraints since if I only have 15 minutes I sometimes just jump in and do a warm up so I don't have a zero day on the Rufus spreadsheet.  The lack of USRPT is also due to the broken hand.  Some of you might have seen my tweet.  For reals-- I duct taped it and went a 59.7 and 2:09.0 breaststrokes unshaved.  Gotta set a good example for the kids, right?

The worst part about having a finger that plays dead like this is that it becomes a lot harder to cut into a steak.

My hand is still swollen after almost two weeks, the finger still hangs limp, and it is still really sore. It kind of flaps around when I swim so I sometimes tape it if I think I am gonna try to swim with any intensity at all.  It is hard to concentrate on technique when you have a rogue finger.  The x-rays made it look like I chipped a small piece from my knuckle, but I am starting to think I partially severed a tendon since it doesn't seem to be getting any better.  I thought I got off free with no surgery or cast, but that may change if I make a follow-up appointment.  I am debating waiting until after spring break but that may be too long depending on the true nature of the injury.

Breaking my hand finishing a relay lead-off 50 free is a great way to transition my team through the name change from Jasper County Killer Whales to BERZERKER Swimming.  You can't get more 'berserkergang' than that.

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Shower Thoughts- Why Free Will Is the Real Secret Behind American Swimming Dominance

Welcome to Shower thoughts, a who knows if I will keep it up series in which I post my swimming thoughts in a free flowing manner that is possibly best understood while medicated.

It seems like one of the biggest general fears of Americans these days in the post cold war era is China. Specifically, thinking of China as a monolith of massive proportions that will take over everything. In swimming, the fear is that China will somehow figure out how to harness their massive population and wrest the swimming dominance that the US has had in hand for the past few decades.

I'm here to tell you why that won't happen in the near future. Now you might say "WAIT, it already HAS happened" and point to this past summers World Aquatics Championship in Kazan where China led the overall medal count. However, in swimming China is still sitting well back in third, even at a World Championship where team USA submitted perhaps their worst performance ever.

Somehow, Australia, with not even 1/20th of China's population and quite frankly massive dysfunction in their swimming organization, also bested China. Why? Well I'm finally going to get to that.

Once you get to a certain level in elite swimming, it's a really big, fat, enormous advantage to have chosen that path. Both the United States and Australia have really high level athletes well past the age when their parents or a university is going to make it "easy" for them to continue in swimming. Better yet, they chose the sport at a young age and weren't forced to do it by some totalitarian talent selection procedure.

In fact, it appears China missed it's window all together while it was completely isolating itself from the world. They would have a had a much better chance at dominance in the 1970 or earlier, when the mean age for top international swimming stars was under 20 years old. At least at the younger ages some sort of "forced" program could have produced better results.

Another result of China's insular approach is that despite now having some elite international swimmers, they haven't been able to develop a single elite level coach within their own country. They've done a smart thing in farming out their best swimmers to Australia to get top level coaching, but it has to also be a huge cultural challenge for those athletes to see how different life is for top athletes in the free world.

Of course, the counter to all this is that China could just as well sponsor doping as fellow "non-free" nation Russia did/does. That would make up for the disadvantage of having athletes forced into performing rather than making the choice.

In the meantime, take a bet that despite all the challenges that come with not being able to "make" our best do whatever it takes, Rio will show that a nice big helping of freedom is still America's biggest advantage of all.

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

BREAKING: Gregg Troy's Mustache Named Italian Olympic Coach

In a startling and unprecedented development in swimming history, the Federazione Italiana Nuoto (Italian Swimming Federation) has named Gregg Troy's mustache their Olympic Team head coach in advance of the 2016 Rio games.

It is unclear how Troy's mustache, arguably the top mustache in swimming, will be able to carry out those coaching duties should Troy be selected to another Olympic staff. Given that Troy was selected to both the 2008 and 2012 American teams, that scenario is likely.

Still, FIN president Paolo Berelli was undeterred. In an official statement, he cited Troy's mustache's role in the "breathtaking development of Italian swimming star Mitch D'Arrigo". Berelli also referenced the Mark Spitz' mustache fueled domination of the 1972 Munich games: "History has shown that having the top mustache on your squad is a key indicator of Olympic success".

The move is considered risky by many, given Troy's promise to shave said mustache should Florida Gator's star sprinter Caeleb Dressel swim crazy fast this year.

With the news of a famed coaches body part making it's way into the Olympics, some smaller federations are rumored to be considering Mike Bottom's chin or Jacco Verhaeren's hair for a position on their staffs.

Monday, July 20, 2015

Blair Bish is Trying Something New to Get Race Ready

it somestimes goes straight to his butt, which helps keep his hips up.. haha.

Friday, July 17, 2015

Meet Carri Cook from TYR

In my last post I gushed about the TYR Avictor and now I want to gush a little more about the girl who let me give it a try.  Carri Cook covers a large part of the USA for TYR and hopefully after getting to know her a little in this interview you will want to seek her out to see what TYR can do for you and your team.