Thursday, October 28, 2010

Are You "In Shape"?

There has been a lot of talk early in the season about how "In Shape" everyone is. Athletes say in passing "I'm in bad shape", or "you're in such good shape". I, personally, am in terrible shape... in that I am in no condition for any type of physical activity. But what does it mean?

There should be an important distinction between "In Shape" and "Fit". Fit would refer to your fitness level, whereas in shape would refer to your fitness level for a particular activity. For example: If you run every day, you are fit. You may even be able to run a marathon, but are you in shape to swim? Most triathletes are fit, but can they swim well? Unless they are swimmers first... usually not.

Lot of our athletes do get involved in other sports during the swim season. In some cases, they need to miss a practice in order to do other sports and I often get asked my opinion on this, so I feel it will be helpful to share my opinion in this forum for more than one person at a time.

Especially for athletes 12 and under, I have no issue with a swim practice being missed for other sports. Specifically in the case of 12 and unders, other sports can actually be beneficial because these athletes are still actively learning abilities like coordination, agility, balance. These do not need to be learned in the pool, and in some cases it is beneficial to learn them outside of the pool. What these athletes lose in pool time, they will make up for while doing the other sport. Another benefit for athletes of this age is they do not have to become sport specific at such a young age that they get bored with 1 sport. As I have said many times before, I have little interest in HHBF having the fastest 12 year olds in Canada an nothing else: I want to have the fastest 17-22 year olds in Canada. If they quit before that because they're bored, it becomes difficult to obtain that goal.

For older athletes it becomes more difficult. As athletes begin to grow, the window of learning on the above abilities starts to close so the ability to make up the difference becomes more difficult. For example, Athelete A will gain a general physical benefit from running 10km, but will lose a water specific skill session. So as athelets get older, it becomes more difficult to balance more than 1 sport (age range of about 12-13 for girls an 13-15 for boys). As athletes approach their peak height velocity (the most speed they will get from their puberty growth) dedication to swimming becomes more important, especially since these athletes will gain no more "accidental" speed from getting bigger. This is when skill and skill execution under stress becomes particularly imporant... or as some may call it: "Being in good swimming shape".

So you can be FIT but not IN SHAPE. The line doesn't really apply until you are in your early teens usually, but once there swimming needs to become a focus.

Swimming is a funny sport to try to explain. It is very complex. If you were a weight lifting coach, you only need to learn to train 1 energy system and to build muscle. Swim coaches have all 3 energy systems to train and balance, as well as over 14 athletic abilities, AND we usualy work with athletes for 5-10 years an have to adjust as they grow and change. There is much more to this sport than just swimming up and down a lane. Parents sometimes do not see that and athletes sometimes do not get involved in this side of training (especially teenaged boys... they have lots of other things going on in their brains). Its not all about the volume of training (distance/hours) but more about the type of training (quality/distance/hours).


The following video was shown in yesterday's mental training session with Anne Ottenbright. It's a Nike commercial about trash talk. It has nothing to do with my write up above, but the athletes really liked it so I thought I woul post it here. Enjoy...

Mike Thompson
Head Coach