Tuesday, August 30, 2011
Why Season Planning is For Dopes
Hopefully by now you've realized that the title's of my posts are far more inflammatory then what's inside. I'm going to argue in this space against what seems to be a universally accepted part of coaching swimming: the season plan. I was reminded to write this yesterday as I listened to the president of Georgia Tech discuss his 25 year plan for the University. He asked us to look into the past 25 years, and in doing so inadvertently pointed out the folly in such long term planning. The future is just too unpredictable.
After all, 25 years ago, personal computers were just barely catching on. They were bulky, impractical and far more expensive then they were today. I'm sure that there were individuals who at the time predicted certain ways in which the world would change to be what it is now. Retroactively they are hailed as visionaries and genius. But the truth of the matter is that the world is highly unpredictable. None of us know what is going to happen and we should accept it to a certain degree.
Take recent swimming history. Who could have predicted that in 2008 suit technology would appear that was far better than its predecessors, that the world record in the men's 100 free would drop almost a full second in one year, and then in a flash they would be gone again, all while Craig Lord broke his keyboard complaining about it. Ok that last part was eminently predictable, but the rest?
The problem with planning is that as soon as you have built your beautiful sand castle, the world can easily conjure up a tidal wave and smashes it to pieces. Nothing ever goes to plan! Having a plan can make you extremely slow to react to change and inflexible. Or maybe you are flexible and deviate from your plan often- what was the point of all that work you put into the plan again? Let me go through a couple of common objections I here when I say I don't believe in season planning:
1. "I don't work that way, I need to have something organized before the season/practice or it will drive me crazy"
This is probably the most frequent objection. It's frequent because so many people have been raised within the swimming system, which is typically heavily structured and organized. In contrast, they have not been trained to work with no prior organization. Imagine a person with a left arm twice the size of their right. They're going to want to do all the heavy lifting with their left arm. Thinking on your feet and reacting rather than sticking to a plan requires purposeful training. It drives me crazy to have something planned because everything that follows deviates so strongly from what the plan was made for that I can literally watch my plan's effectiveness deteriorate
2. "Swimmers need a plan to be successful and know where they're going"
Again, some of the same arguments as above apply. But also think about what you are preparing for. How many coaches reading this have coached swimmers that are great in practice and not so great at meets? Swimmers get labeled as "head cases" often in this circumstance. I disagree. Most often I see a swimmer who has mastered operating within structure while being unprepared for random chance. Think of the weak right arm analogy again. Practice is far more predictable than a meet. Swimmers can learn to control practice. However, the tighter you try and control a race in a meet, the more it slips through your fingers. So again, I would argue that swimmers' training needs to prepare them for the dynamic environment they will encounter in meets. Their training needs to strengthen their ability to remain composed in an uncontrolled environment, rather than preparing them for a controlled one that doesn't exist.
3. "Aren't you just lazy?"
I've heard this often when I come to practice with absolutely nothing written down or prepared for the workout. The truth is, coaching a workout without a plan is the opposite of lazy. It demands a tremendous amount of attention. Since I during one set I don't have the next layed out, I have to be very attentive to what is happening in the water and know instinctively what to do next, repeatedly. The results aren't perfect of course, but no method is, and only by doing do I feel like I can better for the next time.
If you've read all the way through, are a planner, and still don't want to kill me, I'm glad. If you want some advice on where to start, I might suggest leaving little pieces of what you do unplanned and build from there. Just enough to get that right arm sore a little, but not so much that you can't move it for a few days.
Posted by Chris DeSantis at 6:04 AM