All 4 Years Part VI
Previous articles in this series are linked below.
We’re getting into it now. We’ve identified the individual needs and grouped those individuals into manageable buckets, as well as designed progressions that allow for appropriate stimuli to be delivered over time. With a sense of what needs to get done, it’s time to get down to it and get it done.
The next step is all about implementation.
As with the prior steps, it requires reflection, foresight, planning, and most importantly, a lot of communication.
Make It Happen
Obviously, this is a lot of work. Simply identifying individual needs is a daunting task. Creating progressions is a further challenge as it requires significant long-term planning and organization. Beyond these challenges, we have to actually execute these plans in the form of practice under time, pool space, other logistical constraints such as the number of available coaches.
Because of these constraints, some compromise is expected. However, it’s important to understand that a compromise is being made, and we need to continually looking for new ways to find a solution, or simply how to skip the problem. When you know a compromise is being made, you can often find a way to overcome it, eventually.
Use Your Buckets and Spread the Work
As discussed earlier, buckets exist that almost every swimmer will fall into. Creating buckets was not simply a theoretical exercise; it has practical applications. Once you’ve designated a bucket, it’s easy to place swimmers into those buckets, design training sessions appropriate for those buckets, and then implement the sessions. You’ve created a system for ensuring that swimmers get the right type of work with the right frequency.
Within each practice session for a specific bucket group, further individualization is possible by creating scalable workouts. These sessions can be scaled by modified any parameter you’d like (i.e. volume, intensity, etc…). A simple example would be performed 2 rounds of a set as opposed to 4 rounds of a set, effectively reducing the total volume by half. These differentiations would then be applied based to specific swimmers based upon where they are in their 4-year plan.
Fill in The Gaps
Using the example above, you may have swimmers performing half of the volume of an intensive training session. It’s probably not culturally appropriate to simply have them sit and watch the remainder of the practice, so what do you do? Always have remedial or alternative work for swimmers to do.
If they’re relatively newer swimmers to the program, they probably have large gaps in their physical readiness in terms of mobility and strength in underused muscles and joints. They also likely have limitations in skills, whether starts, turns, or stroking mechanics. This a perfect time to address these gaps. Not only is this work of lower physical stress, it is preparing them to better handle more intensive loading in the future.
In the NCAA context, 20 hours is a lot of time to train, but it’s also not much at all. From fitness development to strength training to technical development, there is a lot to get done, especially if we are going to do it in a careful progressive manner. We need to make sure every minute is used wisely.
Mix and Match Bucket Groups
All swimmers will have needs that overlap with other swimmers, but each specific need will overlap with different swimmers. Johnny might have the same strength needs as Mikey, the same technical needs as Stevie, and the same swim training needs as Jimmy. They all are in the same bucket for one aspect of training, but they are all in different buckets for different aspects of training.
This allows coaches to retain the bucketing approach, limit the number of different types of practice sessions occurring at any one time, all while still allowing each swimmer to receive the training they need. It makes sense for every swimmer that needs to perform a certain type of training to perform that training at the same time, as much as possible. This ensures an individual approach within a group setting.
Design Workouts to Address Each Bucket
Once you’ve identified a need for a bucket, simply design a training session for that bucket. As coaches, we already do that. We have a theme for the day, and we write a training session in line with that theme. Once we have those scaled training sessions created, we can use them throughout the training week.
Offer the Same Practice Multiple Times
The same training elements will need to be performed by most swimmers over the course of a week. However, they may not need and want to perform that same type at the same time. This issue can be resolved by re-using the same practices within a given week, with or without slight modifications, to reduce workload for coaches while still providing the required training.
Move Swimmers Around
While distinct training groups is a great first step towards individualization, a potential problem arises in the rigidity that these groups create. It’s also possible that once training sessions are scaled and individual needs are met, the number of variations that are required can spiral out of control. It becomes logistically challenging from the dual perspectives of pool space and coaching supervision.
Further, as most swimmers within a training group will have similar needs to swimmers in other training groups at some point, a lot of redundancy may emerge in the practices that are offered. In addition, limiting swimmers to one training groups can limit their exposure to training partners in other groups.
The solution is to move swimmers around between groups based upon the training that is on offer for that practice. If multiple individuals need to perform a given type of training on a given day, they should perform that training together. As these workouts are already scaled based upon needs, swimmers with different ability levels for a given training component should be able to train together.
Moving swimmers around maximizes the efficiency of coaches while minimizing redundancy between training sessions, both on the day and across the week. It enhances group dynamics by allowing swimmers to train with as many of their teammates as possible, as well as interacting with multiple coaches. Some swimmers may need to move around frequently for their needs to be met. Other swimmers may not move around much at all.
Have One Point Person
While moving swimmers around can create greater flexibility, it can also create a problem where too many coaches (more than 1) are directing an athlete’s program. For each individual, there should be one coach directing the training. That individual would be responsible for creating a weekly and monthly training plan for each swimmer.
The lead coach is also responsible for ensuring that training is scaled appropriately, an issue which was addressed above. As this individual is most closely aware of how their swimmers are progressing, they are most capable of adjusting the training ahead of time, even if they do not have direct oversight of the practice that is being performed.
Create a Weekly Plan
While there only be 2-4 different types of training on offer for any given practice, when this is expanded over the course of the week, there are A LOT of potential combinations that any one swimmer could perform. Based upon what is on offer and what is needed by each individual, a plan can be created for each swimmer to meet their training needs for the week.
It would be the responsibility of the swimmer’s primary coach to point designate when the swimmer will be performing what types of training, based upon when that training is offered. Each swimmer could have their own training plan in terms of what gets done when during a week, this will only require offering 2-4 different practices for any one practice session.
This allows for a very individual approach without the requiring individual practices. As one individual would be directing the training, that coach can make corrections and modifications based upon what they are seeing as the season progresses.
As you can see, there are potentially a lot of moving pieces, involving multiple swimmers and multiple coaches. For this to work, there needs to be solid planning and communication on the part of the entire coaching staff. The head coach needs to be running the show, delegating individual decisions to each swimmer’s point person, while resolving any scheduling conflicts that occur.
Coaches need to know what to expect when a they send a swimmer for a given training session, and they need to communicate what that swimmer’s particular needs are. Further, they need to communicate how each session went for each swimmer, with it ultimately being the responsibility of the point person to acquire the information they need to make effective decisions.
There also needs to be clear communication about how progression is to be implemented, while also allowing coaches the freedom and flexibility to act and modify as they see fit. It really doesn’t matter how this gets done, as long as coaches are on the same page about what is going to happen and how it will be executed.
There are any number of ways that this system could be set up. Regardless of what is implemented, effective communication is going to be what allows for the process to work. Again, this is a lot of work. However, if we’re going to ensure consistent and reliable progress over a 4-year period, it’s not going to be easy. Otherwise, it would be happening all the time.