For the few years before this season, I routinely scheduled 70min practices twice/week. This was not because of my preference, but because of the pool situation that I had with my previous club. At the time, I decided that 70min was better than nothing... after all, the options actually were an additional 140min/week or no extra time/week.
My thinking at the time was that those practices would have to be used for intense skill work and stroke "tune-ups". The issue with the condensed time frame is that there just isn't enough time to pull people out of the water and explain a set, so it forces you to have very simplistic focus and allow swimmers to work on key aspects of technique. If the situation arose where we needed to get some small quality or volume done, the explanation and prep could be done the night prior at that practice so that everyone was familiar with the parameters of the set and the expectations and could hit the water and get right to work.
I kind of miss having those 70min practices twice/week. For whatever reason, it feels easier to spend a very solid intense hour on skill work than to run a 2 hour practice where, although I am very active, I am not running to each end of the pool and giving feedback or corrections every 25 (because the athletes are not usually stopping at every end). This could possibly be because, even though the distances are shorter and the skill work is slower, there just isn't enough time to get bored. I typically liked to do quality the night before these practices and use these practices as slow skill and drill work. True "practices" to practice technical aspects of the stroke while athletes were tired and broken down. Last night, my athletes did many slow 25s and 50s of progressive drills in order to reset their skills before we do another tough quality set tonight (it helps that last night was going to be drill and recovery anyway)
A few months ago, I went to Dr. Brent Rushall's Clinic in Brantford, ON, and learned about USRPT (Ultra Short Race Pace Training). Dr Rushall spent much of his day talking about the importance of technique and the importance of being able to do "good technique" at high speeds. His adage is to never practice anything slowly because the dynamics of a stroke change from high to low speeds. While I don't necessarily disagree with his theory, I do disagree with the context of his "teaching".
I have always been of the belief of walking before you can run... in other words, you have to be able to complete the skill slowly at first, to create the neuropathways, before you are able to fully do anything well. (I would eve argue that young athletes need to be able to do he motion of the stroke out of the water before they can be expected to do it in the water). All this is to say that doing fast best technique work is a great idea when you have a master of the skill. The problem with that is most coaches in Ontario (and most of the coaches at Rushall's clinic) were not working with mastered swimmers, but it age group swimmers (some of who have only been swimming for a few years). I don't think it is a bad idea to slow things down at least once a week and make sure that swimmers are hitting the key skills.
So even though I have already been doing this routinely in 90min or 2 hour sessions, I was given a 1 hour time slot yesterday which forced me to think a little more critically to get the most out of that hour. I think it was honestly one of the best practices my group has had in months and I would wager to say that they are going to have a great quality/speed practice tonight. I encourage more coaches to try this.