In the original Nintendo video game console, there were two buttons. There was a power button and a reset button. When it wasn’t going well, you just hit reset and started over. Unfortunately, we don’t have that opportunity too often in life. When it goes bad, we have to keep going.
In coaching, we often take this same approach when a given swimmer or swimmers are struggling to improve. We just keep moving, adjusting, and hoping there will be improvement. Yet coaching swimmers seems to me to be the perfect opportunity to hit the reset button, especially when the season is not going as planned, or swimmers have failed to improve over successive seasons.
Rather than trying to modify a process that clearly isn’t working, it might be best to start over.
The Problem with Tinkering
Wouldn’t it make more sense to try to problem-solve an established process rather than blowing it all up?
As coaches and humans, when we’re presented with a problem, we typically try to intervene with a solution. When the problem is simple like you need to sleep or eat, the solution is usually pretty straightforward. You know the cause of the problem, and the cause of the problem clearly informs the solution.
In contrast, complex problems like managing the economy or helping a struggling swimmer often don’t have clear causes, let alone clear solutions, despite what some might have us believe. It’s difficult to know what’s going on, and if you intervene improperly, the problem is going to get worse. The more significant the intervention, the more likely the outcome will be poor.
This often prompts a second attempt to solve the problem and then the situation starts to spiral out of control. It just gets worse and worse.
We’ve all done it.
In situations where you’ve made several attempts to adjust the path the swimmer is already on, and been met with continued frustration, it’s time to consider a different approach.
It’s time to reset.
In many ways, is an option of last resort. It’s also the antithesis of problem-solving. By hitting reset, you’re not directly solving any problems. You’re admitting that you still don’t know what the problem is, and by resetting, you’re hoping to skip the problem. Resetting it about going back the beginning with a very simple, ‘clean’ program that greatly reduces the complexity.
Because this program is very simple, it’s much easier to manage. If there is a problem that emerges, you have a lot less variables to work through to determine what has caused the problem. When there are too many training components, and how those training components are incorporated is constantly changing, it is really hard to know what is what.
Beyond the management process, one of the critical advantages is the ability to take a step back and establish momentum in training. Establishing momentum in training is fundamental to improving performance. When you’re constantly tinkering, there isn’t enough stability in the training to see consistent and comparable progress. When training is repeated, it allows swimmers to set appropriate goals and KNOW whether they’re achieving them.
The decision has been made to hit reset. What do you actually do? What does it actually look like?
Create 3 workouts. One is speed based, one is fitness based, and one is based on race relevancy. These are all relative terms based upon the individual needs of the swimmer, their training history, and the races they swim. It’s important to keep the number of workouts SMALL so that swimmers can adapt to the training. Too much variety makes this a challenge.
Keep it pure. As much as possible try to be consistent with the themes of each of the 3 workouts. Keep the targets for that practice to two, three at the most. If possible, ensure that these targets are compatible. It should be clear to the swimmer what the purpose of the workout is, as well as enhances the ability to adapt. A clear question often yields a clear response.
Keep it simple. Make these workouts relatively simple, so you KNOW what’s changing and can easily evaluate what is happening. If there are too many variables, we’re back to the situation we described earlier- we’re stuck blindly tinkering. One of the primary benefits of hitting reset is a return to simplicity. It only works if we choose to take advantage of that opportunity.
Rotate. Rotate through the workouts with some slight changes as necessary to reduce monotony and keep engagement. By being consistent with how training is presented, it gives the swimmers a chance to adapt to it. When swimmers are struggling to adapt to training, it can often be because too much change prevents them from getting into a training rhythm. The rotation also ensures that all of the relevant training is completed within a given time frame.
Start slow. Start slow with performance expectations and let those expectations and performances build organically based upon what the swimmer is showing you. This is all about building momentum. A wonderful way to derail any training process is to move too fast. Fatigue accumulates faster than performance can improve, and the process starts to fall apart. This certainly doesn’t help with confidence. The ‘talented’ swimmers are the ones that improve at a rate faster than they accumulate fatigue. If you’re hitting reset, you’re likely not working with one of these athletes.
Create success. Set low expectations and ensure that swimmers are met with success. Design the training and create performance expectations that they can achieve. Once they achieve them, you can increase the demands slowly. This builds confidence and this builds competence. Confidence and perceived competence is often compromised for those individuals that we hit reset for.
Work the process. By following the guidelines above, we hopefully create an optimal scenario for swimmers to improve. We’ve given them the best chance to see progress, and we’ve given ourselves the best chance to effectively manage the process by keeping it simple and patient.
Many of these ideas were originally inspired by some of the concepts developed by Anatoli Bondarchuk. Training is about simple, repeated consistently. More HERE.
Oops- A Warning
One of the most frustrating aspects of the original Nintendo system was when you ACCIDENTLY hit the reset button, and all of your hard work was gone instantly. An analogous situation can arise in coaching. While this tool is powerful, it needs to be used appropriately.
Hitting reset at the first sign of problems is not a good idea. Sometimes, swimmers get into a bad groove that lasts a week or two, or even three. It could be related to life stress, sleeping problems, adjusting to training, or any number of factors. Sometimes waiting it out makes a lot more sense for these individuals, which has been covered HERE. Hitting reset is starting over, and that is simply not necessary in many cases.
Use with caution!
It’s when there have been prolonged challenges, or repeated patterns across multiple seasons, that resetting becomes a more attractive option. It’s when you’ve already tried the obvious, and you don’t know what else to do, that resetting becomes a strategy that makes sense.
Humans love to solve problems and they love to be useful. When the season spirals out of control, our first instinct is to make big changes. Unfortunately, this often makes the problem worse. Do this one or five times, and we find ourselves with a real mess at hand.
Rather than continually working to adjust, it may be easier to just reset the process. Start over, get really simple, and patiently build from there. This strategy is particularly useful for individuals that have struggled for a long time. The novelty, simplicity, and consistency seem to be just what these swimmers need, particularly as they so rarely get it with the traditional approach to training.
*We’re assuming here that there are no major life stressors that are significantly derailing the training program. This could very well be the case. In that event, those issues need to be figured out if training is to improve. However, the resetting process could still be a huge part of that change to make navigating out of that challenge much simpler.*