The Art of Events

Guest commentary by Jim Lutz

In the ongoing quest for excellence, coaches need to find creative ways to challenge their athletes, while still maintaining a productive methodology for fast swimming. The question arises, “How do I get Johnny or Susan to go faster?”

In training, various methods are used to train the different energy systems and abbreviations: En 1, En 2, EN 3, SP 1, SP 2 SP 3, ATP, CP…E, I, E, I, O, Old McDonald had a farm. So, listen up kids, those boring science and biology classes may be just what you need to be a swim coach.

How do we train all of these energy systems without resembling a bowl of alphabet soup?

Some coaches will have a weekly rotation and the athletes know which sets are test sets, and which sets are basic conditioning sets…Notice I did not say swim-through? Even on those sets that are less intense, you need 100% of your focus on fundamentals. At the age group level, some sets are designed, or intended to be, “social” which focus on the “fun” in fundamentals.

In my current situation coaching 11-14 year-olds, I have a five-day emphasis that rotates each week. Some of the swimmers have scouts every Monday so they would always miss a certain focus if we did the same energy or stroke focus if I did not rotate these days. Others attend church services on Wednesday night so they too, would miss a certain set if I did not rotate days.

So…I can tell you are waiting with elevated anticipation what are these five-day rotations, (if I may be so bold), the complete secret to swimming faster…Distance, Kicking, IM/Stroke (depending on time of the season), middle distance, and speed/race pace. Tah Dah!!!! I have used this system the past three seasons. The order how I rotate has changed each of these seasons and see no difference in the results other than, they keep going faster.

Saturdays are always fast either a dive set or broken race pace sets followed by a game. I never have a problem getting swimmers to come to Saturday practice nor do I take attendance. I tell the swimmers, “You may go fast while missing practices, but the likelihood of going faster diminishes with each OPPORTUNITY missed.”

We now move to the discussion of using swim meets for training all of the energy systems. I love to use cross-event training for variety and to simulate the effect on the body without always swimming the same event. The philosophy of Viper Aquatics is EVERY swimmer through high school trains for the IM.
Towards the latter high school years, they may become specialized.

The high school events allow for event specific racing. For those who excel at non-high school events, periodic club meets or post high school season championships supply the race opportunities but daily training is their opportunity for “their events” during the season.

Some example of cross-event training:
– Swim the 200 breast, to simulate what the legs will feel like on the breaststroke portion of the 400 IM.
– Swim the final 200 of the 500 free done using a six or eight beat kick to aid the end of the 400 IM.
– Swim the 200 free focusing on the middle 100 (50 to 150) to set up a good 500.
– Swim the 200 fly using eight to 10 dolphin kicks off of each wall (even though you should anyway) to help your streamline for your free or back events.
– During practice, do fast sets at various times to simulate meet race setting.
– If possible, swim three to four back-to-back events with limited breaks in the early season to benefit the training phase of the season.

I could go on and the only limitations are the creativeness of the coach and swimmer. This is the “art” of coaching.

Now for the fun “art” of our sport

To the outside observer attending an age group meet for the first time, their initial reaction may be, “Looks like an explosion at the Sharpie plant.” From the smallest swimmer to those in high school, their bodies are creatively, decorated to remind them of their events or we are kids and kids like to have fun.
Some prefer the forearm region, some the upper arm, while others prefer the entire upper leg.

Each has its’ own variation to abbreviate, event number, stroke, heat and lane. Multi-day meets create havoc for school teachers wondering what sort of bizarre ritual do these kids participate on the weekends as the students raise their hands to ask questions on Monday morning following a meet.

On their back, the location of choice for teammates aspiring to display their artistic talents, we find a multitude of pictures and artwork. The always-intimidating fish blowing bubbles with the written gauntlet of “Eat my bubbles” being thrown down. “Like my feet cause that’s all you will see when we race.” “California oranges, Texas cactus, we swim your team just for practice.” “Your sister’s ugly, you must be twins”…Oh wait, maybe that was something I heard as a kid. Anyway, you get the idea.

We need to allow the kids to be kids especially in a competitive environment. They have the rest of their lives to be serious.

As the swimmers progress, and (hopefully) mature, they no longer need these reminders for their events. That does not mean they do not enjoy using the Sharpie pens to decorate their bodies.

We have the standard Windsor knot tie. For those who prefer a more-classic look, the bow tie. Those who like a bit of the southwest, the Bolo tie I find the handle bar mustache making a comeback with the 12-16 age groups. We even have those paying tribute to the 40’s and 50’s pin up girls for their 72-hour tattoo subtly bringing focus on their developing bicep. Oh, and who needs the “Ab Blaster” when a simple few lines can give you that desired six or even eight pack stomach?

Contrary to my light-hearted disposition, I do take each aspect of swimming very seriously. I am blessed, beyond my wildest dreams each day, with a great group of Viper swimmers who understand the proper time and place for humor and for focus. We do not smile because we have success…we have success because we allow the smile.

See you on the podium

Coach Jim

Jim Lutz is the Head Age Group Coach for Viper Aquatics in Westfield, Ind. Lutz has coached at the club and college levels for more than 30 years, with stints as head coach at Illinois and Michigan State as well as serving as an assistant at Arizona. He’s also served as a head coach for several club teams.

Lutz also is a published author with several books available on Amazon.

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