Category Archives: youth sports
“Purpose and Measurement of a Swim Meet”
by John Leonard
In the first part of this series, we identified that there are specific skills to develop in coaching at a swim meet as opposed to “practice coaching”. In this article, we’ll begin to explore those skills. We’ll begin with thinking about the swim meet experience conceptually.
Lets first answer the question, “What Do You Think The Purpose Of A Swim Meet Is?”
To begin, lets make an assumption, and that is, that we are purpose driven human beings attempting to teach purpose to young people. If that is the case, then there are several possible purposes of packing up the family and going to a swim meet.
It is an opportunity to test the quality and durability of what you have learned in practice. Why practice if not to compete and test it? This is a universal, regardless of summer league meet, USA Swimming meet, or high school/collegiate competition.
It is an opportunity to enjoy racing with other swimmers. In most meets, athletes are grouped according to relative abilities, so you’ll be competing with people relatively similar to yourself in ability. While this is likely true in highly organized competition like YMCA, USA-S age group meets, the grouping of athletes is likely to be less homogeneous in high school or summer league competition. You may be in over your head, or you may not have sufficient competitive challenge in your event.
It is a quality opportunity to see if you are a better swimmer today than you were the last time you competed. Universally true. Test yourself. Don’t depend on the competition. Test Yourself.
It is an opportunity to grow to a new level in our sport. If you are an age grouper, a chance to get a new B time, new A time, new AAA time. If a senior swimmer, a chance for a new Sectional cut, Junior or Senior National cut, or, if a high school swimmer, advance to your district or state meet.
It is FUN! Go enjoy it. Make the experience exciting, positive and fun. Learn and appreciate.
The point here is, every swim meet, every swim at every swim meet, should have one or more of the above purposes in mind. The athlete needs coach leadership to understand and put in context, the purpose of the meet and the swim. Don’t let athletes get into the “same old, same old” rut. Set appropriate purposes for each swim in front of each swimmer.
Sometimes its as simple as scoring points for your team in a dual meet. Sometimes it can be pretty complicated. But Purpose is everything!
And the backside of purpose of course, is evaluation. Once the purpose is set, then the coach and athlete need to work together to analyze the result and prepare for the next race, next meet, next season. The good coach becomes skilled at evaluation.
Evaluation may come in various time frames. First, is when the athlete walks back from the blocks. There is an art to good communication with the athlete immediately following the swim, and in this series of articles, we’ll explore the nature and content of those communications.
Second, is more in-depth post meet evaluation to look carefully at the entire meet and performances in context. Third, is the sort of end of season analysis that looking back at each meet in the season can provide.
Good evaluation comes from data. Facts. “Feelings” and “opinions’ are certainly to be respected, and considered. But over time, most coaches have come to the conclusion that facts help form solid opinions and therefore, facts are important to assemble in as much depth as possible.
So, how do you measure results at a swim meet? Here are some ways.
- Did you have a lifetime best time?
- Did you have a seasonal best time?
- Did you swim the race with the effort pattern that you had planned?
- Did you swim the race with the technical elements that you had planned? (Stroke, turn, start, etc.)
- Did you get the competitive result you sought? (Placing)
And of course, you can add others!
While certainly it is important to select ONE of the above as a primary objective of each swim, the fact is that sometimes swimmers, regardless of experience level, play “mix and match” (“I want to swim a best time and win the race.”) This makes it significantly more difficult to evaluate the race competently.
Now, as the coach, what do you measure?
Here are some ideas:
Measure percent of best times. (lifetime or seasonal) “We swam 100 races this weekend. We had 42 best times. Our best time percentage for the weekend is 42%.”
Measure the number of new B, A, AA, etc. times on the team. “We had 14 new B times, 3 new A times and 2 new AAAA times, great job!”
Measure the number of new Sectional, JR, Sr. National qualifying times. Celebrate those!
Measure the percentage of best times in prelims. In finals. Track these. Compare over time.
Measure the total number of seconds improved by the entire team added together. This is a great “team incentive” that everyone can contribute to.
Measure the percent of best times by stroke. (“We had 22% best season times in backstroke.”)
Measure the percent of best times by distance. (“We had 46% best times in events 400 and longer, and 58% best times in teh 100’s”)
Measure best times by age group. (“the 10 and under girls swam 75% best ever times this past weekend! Congratulations!”)
Measure best times by gender. Then Gender and age group.
The more you measure, the more you have to think about. And you are thinking about FACTS. (Having facts also help in discussion with parents, who typically begin a conversation with “I think…” or “I feel…” You have the facts.)
Having the facts allows you to have intelligent post meet conversations with athletes.
“How do you think you did?”
“What was good? What was not so good? What can you improve on?”
“What can we do about it? What do you think we should work on in practice with you?” What can you do to get better?”
Facts also allow you to have intelligent conversations with the team as a whole. “Here is how we did. These are the facts. What do you think? What common traits do you see? What do we need to concentrate on? What simple things can we do as a group in practice to improve?”
Facts allow you to discuss performances with your coaches from a common ground. (if you have a staff.)
Facts allow you to give real information on athlete performance and improvement to your Athletic Director and Principal (whether he wants them or not!) and to your Board of Directors.
Having facts, means that you can be evaluated with facts. Most of us prefer this. (Though, sadly, not all….some want to get by on their charm and good looks…if you are not so blessed, facts can help.)
Summary: think about and have a PURPOSE. Develop and have FACTS!
- Hansen makes return in star field at Santa Clara (seattletimes.nwsource.com)
- Swimming Set of the Week – June 17, 2011 (Set of the Week) (goswim.tv)
Focus on “Get to” instead of “Have to” – While driving to the office focus on what you “get to” do instead of what you “have to” do. With gratitude realize that you don’t have to do anything. You get to go to coach while so many are unemployed. Coaching is a job you love. A job you are passionate about. Gratitude floods your body and brain with emotions that uplift you and energize you rather than stress hormones that drain you.
Don’t Expect your Board, Coaching Staff and Swim Parents to Make you Happy – Realize that happiness is an inside job. Our happiness has less to do with forces outside of us and more to do with what’s inside of us. The way we think about work, feel about work and approach our work influences our happiness at work. For instance, just by making yourself smile you produce more serotonin in the brain-which makes you feel happier. You’ll also be happier when you focus on what you are giving instead of what you are getting. Again, remember to smile…it releases happy enzymes to the brain.
Don’t Seek Happiness – Ironically if you want to be happier don’t seek happiness. Instead share your strengths and decide to work with passion and purpose and happiness will find you. The research shows that people are most energized when they are using their strengths for a bigger purpose beyond themselves. Whatever your job, decide to bring passion to it and find purpose in it. I’ve met bus drivers, administrative assistants, janitors and fast-food employees who are more passionate about their jobs and happier than some professional athletes making millions of dollars. Every job will get mundane and “old” if you let it but purpose and passion keep it fresh and make you happier.
Focus on Excellence instead of Success – When you focus on success you can easily fall into the trap of comparing yourself to others, looking over your shoulder, feeling envious, playing office politics, and competing against your fellow staff members instead of collaborating. However, when you focus on excellence you measure yourself against your own growth and potential. You strive to be the best you can be. You simply focus on getting better every day and this makes work more meaningful and rewarding.
Celebrate Together – While we shouldn’t depend on others to make us happy, by building a positive team or support group at work we will be happier. So instead of expecting others to make you happy, you proactively create the positive relationships that enhance your engagement, productivity and happiness. One great way to do this to huddle with your staff at the end of the week and have each person share their accomplishments, victories, and great moments of the week. This will produce great feelings on each week that inspire you and your team to come back to each day, keep up the great work, and make a difference daily.
Every practice, as children leave, and say goodbye, I say “Study hard, get smart, become an intellectual!”. Its done in a light-hearted way to remind them that after practice, that’s “what’s next” in their life, or should be.
Now we’re closing in on the end of school year, with upcoming tests and related “due dates”.
At the same time, we’re at the beginning of the long course season. The work we put in in the pool NOW, is paid off in July at various championships. Without consistency NOW, there is no payoff later on.
For the 60 years that Age Group Swimming has existed, it has been proven for literally millions of swimmers that they can uphold their commitment to training AND study well and get good grades. Its an exception in swimming when a child does NOT get good grades. Partially because there is real URGENCY to study when you can when a few hours each afternoon are taken up in training. When swimmers are NOT training, they get the attitude of “oh, i have all this free time now..i can goof around for awhile and get to studying later”. That never works out very well.
Everyday I ask children about their homework. Sometimes I hear, “I don’t have any.” My response is always the same “YES, YOU DO.” Get your books out and WORK AHEAD…even if you only comprehend 10-20% of what you are reading, that’s a 10-20% jump ahead rather than seeing/hearing it in class for the first time. When you’re in school, you ALWAYS have homework…open the book and “get ahead.” Study is like any other habit….do it 2 hours a night EVERY night, and you’ll avoid having to be up and working at 11 PM or later on some of those nights……steady, consistent work is the key, in school and in swimming.
Homework EVERY DAY for all ages. Study Everyday. Swimming practice consistently as well. Studying ahead removes anxiety and keeps the student on the leading edge of the class, not the trailing edge.
“Study Hard, Get Smart, Become an Intellectual!” DAILY. Lets be equally consistent with both practice attendance and daily study. It’s hard work…but it’s so much better than being unprepared, anxious and upset later.
Parents, please share this with your children.
All the Best, Coach John
Speak Softly and Carry a Big Stick? Or maybe some better advice…”Working Successfully with Swim Parents”
And, some related parent education:
Ten Ways for the Swim Parent to Sabotage Their Child’s Swimming Career (written with tongue firmly in cheek) — From John Leonard, American Swimming Coaches Association
A Few Suggestions on How to Be a Better Swimming Parent — From Michael Brooks, York YMCA Swimming