Friday, November 16, 2012

5 Common Misconceptions In Swimming

I am sick and had to sit down (which I hate doing) for most of this morning's practice. As I was sitting and thinking, I wrote down some of the things that have been rattling around in my head for the last few weeks. What resulted was a very rough draft of the following post (it grew to 1200 words in the last few hours):  5 common misconceptions in our sport.

I'm Hard on Myself
   Are you, or do you just feel badly when the result isn't that you hoped for? I often see athletes upset after a disappointing performance (for them or their parents) but how many of those athletes feel the same way when they skip part of a set or short cut a drill or swim into the walls on kick sets? How many of those athletes got their goal sheets back to their coaches on time, keep a log of what they're doing and have attendance above 95%? How many of those athletes ask do do something in practice again because they didn't get it right the first time? How many of those athletes consistently swim fast and how many are alright blowing off a race when it "doesn't matter"? In my books, you only earn the right to say "I'm hard on myself" if your answer to the questions I just asked was "ME" several times. Being hard on yourself after a race that went poorly can mean "I'm hard on myself" I guess... but more likely it means "I'm more interested in the result than the process" or "I'm not being fair to myself".

Finished Product
   NO ONE is a finished product in this sport, yet it is not uncommon for a swimmer to get bored practicing a skill or a parent to demand that the athlete do more "work" and less skills. I have been in close touch with Ben Titley since he arrived in Canada and one of my favourite things that he has pointed out is that no one that it top in the world has poor technique. Can we apply that to an age group base? Of course we can. Are the people that are top in the province have good technique? If not, are they the top anywhere outside of the province? How about internationally? My point is that everyone needs to work on technique routinely. Until that is perfected, no one is a finished product! Ryan Lochte isn not even a finished product - he worked HARD for 4 years to win a Gold Medal at the Olympics (and presumably perfecting chewing gum and walking at the same time - kidding Ryan, you're  a good guy despite all of the fun I have at your expense). Remember when skill work gets tedious - working hard doesn't mean that your heart rate has to be at max all the time; sometimes it means working hard and focusing on doing stuff properly and getting better technically.

"My Coach Hates Me"
   I cannot speak for other coaches, but I don't hate swimmers. I think this misconception comes from the "bad cop" relationship most coaches have with their athletes. One thing that I do not feel is explained well (especially to emotional teenagers) it's that feedback on a race or on work or a stroke is not feedback on you as a person. Doing something incorrectly or having your coach call you out on putting forth a poor effort does not mean that you're a bad person; always remember that it is your coach's responsibility to point out when something is not going right and to hold you to a high standard; it does not mean that they do not like you as a person - they just may not like whats happening in the water.

Nutrients vs. Calories:
I blame the media for this (ironically, as I am clearly one of them) because of the cultural focus on low calorie, low fat, 100% of your daily intake of ____ marketing. Here is what you need to know:
Nutrients: A substance that provides nourishment essential for growth and the maintenance of life. These include carbohydratesfatsproteins (or their building blocks, amino acids), vitamins and inorganic chemical compounds such as dietary mineralswater, and oxygen.
Calories: The energy needed to raise the temperature of 1 gram of water through 1 °C.

Although you're probably not interested in raising the temperature of water, calories are vital to an athlete because they need to replenish the calories (energy) that they used in a practice or a race. If they do not, the body gets energy by breaking down parts of the body (fat, muscle, bone) which is not usually ideal for an athlete. If you think of this in terms of a bank account, its a little easier to understand; if you get $100/week allowance from your parents and it costs $70/week to swim, that leaves you with $30/week for "other things". You need to buy food and shoes and other stuff so you spend about $40 on that and now you have -$10 in your account until you get you're allowance again... but since you have -$10 to start, you only have $90 in your account... and it costs $70 to swim so now you have $20 for other stuff... before long, this pattern will leave you in debt. And you can declare bankruptcy to an athlete's body; thats called injury or sickness... sometimes very seriously.

Athletes usually need to build, not breakdown which is why a diet rich in both nutrients and calories is crucial. Although you may have a diet rich in nutrients, you may not have one rich in calories (a simple salad, for example)... and if you eat Doritos and Ice Cream everyday after practice, you'll have one very rich in calories but very weak in nutrients. Although things like carbohydrates ARE nutrients, you need to make sure that you replenish what you use to avoid breaking down your body and stalling your development. Swimmers will use approx. 1000-1500 calories / 2 hour practice (depending on the intensity of the workout)... to put this into perspective, a banana is about 90 calories and a PB&J sandwich is about 160 calories (if it's made the way I make them).

Google is a wonderful invention; in my day, I had to go to a library or buy a book. Type the food you eat into Google and search the calories. Get an idea if you are eating enough.

Critical Thinking
Critical thinking is crucial for success; this is opposed to routine. Athletes are very good with routine, but it never fails to amaze me when athletes don't know what to do if something doesn't go to plan. For example; there isn't a lane rope in every lane or someone is sitting where they usually sit. Although some of this is confidence, I like to make my athletes think and figure things out as much as possible (which is funny to write because my math on a set is sometimes wrong or I've written something that doesn't make sense on the whiteboard in a hurry). Upsidedown-underwater breaststroke, breaststroke with eggbeater kick instead of whip kick, backwards freestyle all take the athlete away from the usual and force them to think. Although swimmers are usually amongst the smartest athletes (Ryan Lochte is the exception that proves this rule... sorry Ryan) I find that their comfort in routine can sometimes hurt their critical thinking skills. Mix it up and challenge them to use their brains.