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All 4 Years Part III

Previous articles in this series are linked below.

Having explored what training potential is, and how it can be preserved, we’re back to the real issue. How do we create the best opportunity for swimmers to continue to improve over their 4 year career? In this article, we’ll start the process of examining what needs to be considered to assess training potential, and what needs to be considered when implementing a process to maintain training potential. In future articles, we’ll get into the details of making it all happen.

What Do We Do?

Of the 6 causes, we’re left with two real options to facilitate continued improvements that we have control over.

1. Improve technical skill

2. Impose novel training stimuli

While maintaining health is absolutely critical for continued improvement, it’s more an outcome of carefully managing training potential, as injury follows the introduction of training with too much training potential. The swimmers are simply unprepared to handle the increased loads.

Improve Technical Skill

I’m not going to spend too much time in this area as it has been addressed in many articles on this website. While not the topic of this series, it’s important to reiterate that I believe that continuing to facilitate skill development is the best strategy to continue to improve performance. Skills can ALWAYS be improved if coaches and swimmers are engaged in the process. On the other hand, as swimmers develop, improving skills also becomes harder and harder as the major inefficiencies have been removed. For this reason, many of the more nuanced strategies described HERE, become more and more appropriate for facilitating changes that matter.

Maintaining Training Potential

Maintaining training potential was the focus of part II. I explored the 3 major options for maintaining training potential-

1. Novel exercises.

2. Novel methods of performing those exercises.

3. Novel organization of training in time.

Maintaining training potential is relatively straightforward. You simply provide the required stimulus for improvement when it becomes necessary, without using training options that are unnecessarily advanced.


However, what is simple conceptually, is not necessarily simple practically. There is no chart that says X has lower training potential then Y. There is no chart that says X approach is the next step. This is all very vague and nuanced. It ultimately comes down to common sense and a coach’s intuition.

What is the Next Logical Step?

This is a good heuristic for determining how to design appropriate training. Doubling training volume is probably not the next logical step. Increasing training volume by 500 yards might make sense for a lot of developing swimmers. Use experience, be patient, and observe the outcomes of your interventions.

The process of maintaining training potential is relatively straight forward from a conceptual basis. The difficulty resides in the logistical challenge of maintaining training potential for each individual on the team. This is HARD. Each individual is going to present a unique case for the following reasons.

Individuals Have Different Training Histories

Every swimmer entering your program will have a different training history. While this is true for club coaches, it is definitely true for college coaches. You always see the entire spectrum. Some swimmers have never trained for an entire year. Others have been doing so for 8 years. Some swimmers have never done doubles. Some swimmers have been training 20 hours per week for 5 years, while others have never trained more than 10 hours per week.

An individual’s training history determines what type of training will be most effective for improving performance AND maintaining training potential moving forward. It gives you a sense of which ‘bullets’ have been used, and which ‘bullets’ may need to be used next.

Individuals Have Different Training Histories for Different Training Types

Even if swimmers have a similar training history in terms of time commitment, they may have vastly different experiences in terms of what was done. Some swimmers will have performed high volume, aerobic-based training. Others will have performed training consisting primarily of low volume, high intensity training. Others will be in between.

Some have never lifted weights. Some have used a personal trainer for years, or been part of a comprehensive strength and conditioning programs. Some swimmers have never performed dryland beyond sit-ups.

Some swimmers will have trained in environments with very high technical and performance standards. Others will have trained in environments with zero expectations.

If you are a coach that inherits swimmers, there must be an understanding of what they did previously, and how that will affect your decisions as to what they need to NOW and what they need to do 3 YEARS from now.

Individuals Adapt Differently

We’ve all seen it. Give everyone the same training program and it works great for some, okay for others, and not all for the remainder. For a given training stimulus of any type, different individuals will adapt at different rates and to different magnitudes.

So even if swimmers have the same training history, which we know isn’t the case, what they GOT out of that training could be vastly different. Further, for those individuals that have been a part of your team for more than a year, they may have handled the training you performed very differently than any or all of their teammates.

We’re basically left with a big jigsaw puzzle trying to figure out where swimmers are, what they’ve done, and what they need to get better for the next four years. We’ll take a look at some strategies to make that process simpler later on.


Assume you’ve figured out each individual’s training background, and you KNOW what the appropriate stimulus will be for all of the swimmer you coach. You may be looking at VERY different training programs requiring very different needs. Even with unlimited time and pool space, which no one has, this becomes a logistical nightmare to administer. From lane space to simple oversight of the practice, it’s a real challenge.

We’ll have to manage different training groups, different needs within training groups, and find a way to make the entire circus run effectively at the same time. No small feat.

While the instinct is to just say ‘forget it’ and give everyone the same program, I feel that this is not a real option if we are going to best serve the swimmers we coach. With creativity, hard work, and simple strategies, I believe coaches can find a way to give every swimmer in their program the opportunity to consistently improve for all four years of their college swimming career. With this as the standard, it provides a benchmark that we can evaluate our effectiveness against.


Hopefully, you’re convinced that continued progress over 4 years is possible. It shouldn’t be the exception, but the norm. While it’s certainly not going to be an easy task to facilitate this continued improvement, it’s possible to realize these outcomes. While a technical improvement plan and program is going to be a huge part of continued progress, the focus here is on maintaining and preserving training potential.

First, we need to consider the characteristics of the individuals we are coaching; where they’ve been, what they’ve done, and where they’re going. Once we have a good understanding of each individuals profile, we can start to assess the types and amounts of work that will best facilitate their long-term development. With those needs understood, the logistics of making it all happen can be examined.

We’ll undertake that process in subsequent articles.


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