Having just completed our first meet of the year, feedback has been a theme of interest among coaches and parents alike.
For me, a swim meet is the time to show off the hard work of weeks of training. Our swimmers spend many hours in the pool each week working on skills to help them with their races. Each time they race, this is exactly what we should be focusing on. How have they improved?
That’s where the challenge begins. When they swim, we all see their time. Their time is published as the outcome and by doing so becomes the only focus of a swim meet, usually to the detriment of every swimmers who has ever has a ‘bad day’ or ‘plateau’ in the progress.
So what should we be looking for?
As a coach, I stand on poolside, watching swimmers and how the complete the race. Stage by stage. Start, into underwater work, into breakout strokes, into pacing, into technique, into turns, into stroke rate, into finish. All of these things add up to make a race. These are the individual aspects that make up FEEDBACK. These are the PROCESSES behind the outcome.
This is what I am thinking about when I watch our swimmers. They will not get all of these things right, but I am looking for improvements, at what they have got better at since their last meet.
What should the parents be saying?
This is an easy one. “I love watching you swim”, “All that training is really paying off, well done”. Then if necessary, “what did coach say you did well?” and “did he/she give you any tips for the next race”.
Finally, change the subject and talk about other things. Children do not want to think about swimming 24 hours per day, and they will quickly get bored of it if they are. This is the same after training, swimming is an intense sport. It’s vital that swimmers switch off as soon as they leave the pool, it will help them keep motivated for longer.
What should the coach be saying?
Coaches at most meets will be watching the swimmers and trying to gage what they are doing and how they can support with improving it further.
My talks with swimmers usually follow a pattern: “how did you think the race went?” I want to know that the swimmers understand their racing. Then some key points from the race, for example (swimmers aged 9-12) “your entry at the start is getting much better and you are carrying more speed from it, and starting your kicks later which is great. Also you are using your legs much better throughout, with a strong continuous kick- all that kicking in training is paying off”. Then something to improve on, an area to help them execute the race even better the next time. And finishing with (for older swimmers) their swim down. This may also involve some focus on hydration/nutrition and general post-race procedure.
As we look towards NIST next weekend, try and work on these principles and we will begin to change the culture to one of PROCESS focused development, rather than OUTCOME focused. Positive for everyone.