Learning About Swimming from Other Sports


Often when I have asked a coach or teammate about the similarities between swimming and other sports, I have been told how different swimming is, and although I acknowledge that this is true, I also believe that we, as athletes, share some commonalities across all sports, and we can learn from each other in our training techniques.

One of the most renowned coaches in Illinois high school track coach, Tony Holler, developed a program known as “Feed the Cats” several years ago in order to draw athletes onto his track team. While Holler has coached a multitude of sports, including track, football, and basketball, he was never a swim coach, but that isn’t to say that his program can’t be valuable in the pool.

There are 10 basic principles of “Feed the Cats,” and every one of the principles is centered on the idea of fast-twitch athletes needing sprint training. The two most important of the principles are to do high quality work with maximum focus over the least amount of time possible. If we were to convert this to the pool, we would focus on sprint training. While sprint training is most often thought of as beneficial for short distance and mid-distance swimmers, the concept behind “Feed the Cats” is that the sprint training method can be applied to any type of athlete, including distance athletes. 

How can distance swimmers gain strength from practicing sprint sets? The answer is endurance. Although every athlete is different in what they need to train effectively, every swimmer can benefit from endurance training, which can often come from doing long sprint sets at practice. Building endurance through sprinting can help a distance swimmer to be able to power through a 500, 1000, or 1650 without wearing him or herself out during the first half of the race. 

The second most important principle of “Feed the Cats” is to promote your program with unrestrained enthusiasm. Hundreds of athletes get burned out from their sport due to overexertion or an extended period of time where they do not see improvement in their performance. While this principle doesn’t apply to how a swimmer would train in the pool, it certainly applies to how a coach trains his or her athletes. A swimmer never wants to be part of a monotonous program in which he or she is stuck doing the same sets every day. Not only does this make the athlete bored but it also does not train the athlete to be better. Instead, pushing the athlete to new heights with different training techniques, new practice equipment, and interesting sets lets an athlete not fall into the practice of “going through the motions” of a practice. Instead they are encouraged to push themselves and thrive in the pool. 

Another unforgettable athlete and coach that taught many athletes life lessons is Michael Jordan. A star on the basketball court and renowned athlete for his background story, Jordan was not only an inspiration to basketball players but also to young athletes of every sport. Jordan’s most famous quote is “You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take,” and while this quote can be applied to all parts of life, it can specifically apply to how we train as swimmers. Saying “It’s okay if I miss practice today. I’ll go tomorrow,” can turn into missing multiple practices, which can turn into missing a time standard or a race. As swimmers, we have to mentally toughen ourselves as well as physically toughen ourselves, and Jordan was incredible at mental toughness.

Swimming is a training specific sport in its own right, but there also is strategy in taking the time to research different ways athletes train in order to take swimming to the next level.