Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Attendance: How Much Do You Have In The Bank?

I remember, several years ago, listening to Coach Randy Bennett talk about his attitude towards coaching. In this speech, he talked about his feelings on attendance (video here 3:20 mark). In summary, Randy says that he doesn't worry about attendance. If they miss a session, it's not a problem... mainly because everyone is there all the time: a missed practice is very rare for those guys. Most coaches who are reading this are thinking to themselves "must be nice".

I am largely of this mindset as well. I don't stress out too much about attendance, but reenforce that in order to achieve the goals many athletes have set out, they need to be there to do the work. If someone wants to make a Senior National cut, but is missing 2 workouts/week or isn't able to achieve the proper speed in practice or is unwilling to make changes, they're going to have to change that goal. I think there is a basic disconnect between work consistency today. Let me explain:

My basic rule of thumb is, if you miss 1 day, it usually takes you at least 1 practice to get back to where you were. This rule seems to get exponential over time, although there for sure is a tipping point (ie: an extra day off isn't going to matter much if you've already been off for a year). 

Many athletes reach the mid point of the season with great attendance and swim very well through the short course season. When short course season ends, it is prime cold and flu season. Some athletes miss as much as a week at this point due to illness. There is also March Break which some athletes miss for family reasons. Potentially, an athlete has missed 2 weeks of training. Couple that with any injuries or second sickness, prom, university issues, work, "school", or any other reason to miss practices, and we're now having issues.

If you count in the fact that every consecutive practice suits to make you better and every missed practice requires a practice just to get back to the baseline ability to make you better, added absences create real problems with improvement and progression. For instance, 2 weeks of perfect attendance (8 workouts/week) will help you improve. If you then have 4 weeks where you only make 6 workouts/week due to illness and school work, not only have you missed 8 workouts (equivalent to an entire week of work), but close to 16 of those workouts over the 4 weeks were spent just trying to maintain current level fitness and get back to where you were prior to the absence - obviously you need to get back to where you were before, before you can improve. 

Coaches and athletes (and largely parents, too), need to understand this concept. Coaches, if your athletes are currently struggling to maintain current fitness levels and abilities, how are they expected to improve? How does this impact their goals? Athletes, are you thinking about this consequence to your goals when you miss a practice for any reason? Athletes need to train to improve and do something different (better) than they did before. Interruptions to training create real hiccups to this improvement. 

Sickness (especially this season) and injury have historically been big reasons for absence. How can we avoid them?

  • Hydration: Keeping hydrated can help you avoid injury but also help your body recover and avoid sickness.
  • Don't share water bottles: Cold and flu knock people out for days. Why would you share a bottle (and therefore bacteria and viruses) with other people you swim with? It's like you're asking to get sick.
  • Wash your hands: Although NLS will tell you otherwise, dipping anything in chlorinated water will not kill bacteria and viruses - it takes several minutes of submersion to kill things on your skin, water bottles, whistles, pullbouys, etc. You know what kills things quicker? Soap & water. Wash your hands after every practice and when you get home!
  • Flexibility, recovery, nutrition and sleep: How often do you actually stretch when you're supposed to be... how often do you fake it and socialize? How often do you actually rest and recover on a day off and how often do you go out too late with your friends? When was the last time you turned off your phone, laptop and TV and went to bed early to get 8 hours of sleep? Mmhmm... what was that goal again..?