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.

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