CARLILE COACHES' FORUM
Produced, edited, and copyrighted by
Professor Emeritus Brent S. Rushall, San Diego State University
Volume 8, Number 1: January 12, 2006
20 EVIDENCE-BASED PRINCIPLES FOR COACHING COMPETITIVE SWIMMERS
Forbes Carlile and I recently viewed some unimpressive performances at an age-group swim meet and discussed beliefs versus evidence in both religion and swimming coaching. Forbes asked if I would list 20 coaching principles that are now beyond discussion or cannot be argued to the contrary based on beliefs. The list, in no order of preference or exclusivity as being the "most important" except for the initial placing of skill instruction considerations, follows.
Swimming coaching is largely a religion1. As each interpreter of this religion, that is each coach, selects appealing beliefs as well as imposing his/her own "insightful" interpretations and inventions, the content of swimming coaching continues to increase in its absurdity and error at the expense of what is known through replicated, scientific evidence. The dissemination of swimming coaching information appears to favor belief-based reasoning/fantasy rather than independently verified evidence. It is against that background that these 20 items are proposed. Not to adhere to these 20 tenets of swimming coaching is to act with ignorance and malpractice.
Skill Instruction Considerations
- Instruction in the manner of developing propelling forces, reducing frontal and wave resistances, and executing the non-stroking skills (e.g., dives, turns) should be the major emphasis of any swimming program for any group of swimmers.
Instruction that emphasizes flat body-head positions in all strokes should aim to reduce both frontal and wave resistance. This involves the concept of "swimming postural integrity".
- Research continually shows that technique is the single most-important discriminator between swimming performances at the highest levels.
- Swimming force production and economy are directly affected by movement effectiveness in all ages.
Propulsive forces are developed by the arms in all strokes.
- The head should rotate on a longitudinal axis and "bore through the water" with the mid-point between the crown and hair-line leading. This should reduce the amount of turbulence created by the face.
- The body should rotate on the horizontal axis in crawl and backstrokes with no lateral movements of the hips.
- The body should have restricted vertical movements in breast and butterfly strokes.
The tempo of strokes should be even and continuous.
- The propelling surface should center on the mid-forearm, not the hand, with mid-stroke positions also employing the upper arm.
- Except in breaststroke, kicking should not be construed as propulsive but primarily functions to counterbalance lateral and vertical force components created by the arms.
The application of propelling forces should be achieved with the following characteristics.
- Uneven tempos increase energy consumption and therefore, tire swimmers faster.
- Irregular stroking patterns create disparate demands on muscle groups that, in fatigue, cause disruptions to postural integrity.
- In alternating strokes, the period between the completion of force application with one arm and the commencement of force application with the other should be eliminated or at least, minimized.
- In the propulsive phase of all strokes, force application should increase so that the swimmer is accelerated continually. [The water-pressure feeling on the propelling surfaces of a swimmer's arms should be constant to achieve this effectiveness.]
- In all strokes, the finish is more important than the initiation because it governs the release velocity of the propulsive phase.
- Lateral movement components are necessary but should be minimized as much as possible to reduce slippage and force "leaking".
Physical Conditioning Considerations
- Once peak general fitness is attained, the physical conditioning of swimmers should be divided into exact stimulations and active recovery.
Remove all activities that are irrelevant to the performance of competitive swimming strokes and/or which reduce the time of relevant practice. Dispose of all paddles, fins, or other training devices and paraphernalia used in belief-based programs. The Principle of Specificity and the unerring history of neuromuscular patterning warrant this act. Swimmers like equipment-supported activities (e.g., finning, paddling) because they are easier to perform than free swimming.2
- Exact stimulations adhere to the principle of specificity. They provide relevant opportunities to function mechanically, physiologically, and mentally in the same manner as that intended for a race. Mostly, these activities should be performed at "race pace" and with "race skills".
- Should a targeted performance slow from the intended pace, that is, fatigue is of such an extent that the exact stimulations no longer can be sustained, the training segment should be terminated rather than continued with ineffective and often detrimental practice. For unfinished "repetitions", recovery activities should be substituted.
- The remaining activities of the swimming practice should focus on active recovery from overload and should be afforded no more importance than that.
Recovery within and between practice sessions is more important than overload within a session. Rest and recovery are necessary for exercise adaptation to occur. Without them, overload training will not improve performance but will degrade the health and physical status of the swimmer.
- Substitute the removals of these detrimental devices with more specific training and beneficial recovery work.
- Two indices of practice effectiveness (how much swimmers actually improve through a training program) are improvement in the volume of race-pace training and an increase in race-pace quality for a set volume of training. No improvement in either of these indices shows that swimming practice is irrelevant.
Remove high-intensity weight training and excessive stretching. High-intensity weight training damages muscle tissues, and sometimes connective tissues. Excessive stretching (now referred to as "abusive stretching") damages the connective tissues of joints, reduces performance, and in swimming, increases the likelihood of shoulder, knee, and hip injuries.
- It is better for a swimmer to undertrain (some resources will remain untapped) than it is to overtrain (the demands of training have exceeded all resources within the swimmer).
- Rest and recovery should occur at practice.
Remaining swimmingly fit for the entire year removes the need to have sustained periods of hard work. Each swimmer can achieve a maximal level of general and specific swimming fitness within a relatively short time. The majority of a competitive swimming year should be spent maintaining fitness (which requires less training than when developing or changing fitness) and occasionally boosting fitness perchance it has degraded.
- Weight training in itself is promoted as a religion. The perpetuation of this folly is promoted by commercial interests, egos that are unwilling to admit to the error of selecting a profession or activity that is irrelevant, or inertia demanded by collective ignorance.
- Stretching or flexibility work is sustained in a "reasoned" manner similar to that of weight training. Initially inspired by beliefs, current evidence has dispelled most of the mythical bases of this tangential and dangerous activity.
- The time released by performing maintenance training allows sufficient time to improve propelling techniques, skills, and mental skills.
- A swimmer always should leave a practice with a positive attitude.
Each swimmer should be able to communicate at least one aspect of swimming that improved in each training session.
Continual improvement (achievement) in skill execution, training segment performances, and knowledge about the sport should be the short-term goals of every microcycle.
Swimmers should only be expected to do in races those things that have been demonstrated repetitively at practices.
Detailed swimmer-involved strategies for pre-race and race executions should be formulated for every meet.
- A good index of a positive attitude is the swimmer expressing his/her "looking forward to the next practice".
Coaching Behaviors and Considerations
- Growing swimmers (from seven years and up) should be expected to improve by ~4% per year.
Whole life-experiences impinge upon adaptation capacity.
- Once maturation is complete, improvements will have to come from program items alone (e.g., improvements in propelling technique and race skills; mental state and competition strategies; adaptation of life-styles).
At every training session, a coach should demonstrate the following behaviors.
- Coaches need to attend to all aspects of a swimmer's life to provide opportunities for swimmers to improve in performance by experiencing specific overload and adequate rest and recovery.
- The demands and stresses of education are chronically underestimated by coaches. Reductions in training stress might be warranted in particular circumstances for each swimmer depending on educational demands.
Parents should be involved in all aspects of a swimmer's experience. They are considered by swimmers to be more significant in their lives than are coaches and remain mostly an untapped resource. [The reason for coaches' arrogance in actively disassociating parents from swimmers' experiences is an example of the absurdity of the belief-system surrounding competitive swimming.]
On a daily basis, coaches should endeavor to learn one new relevant evidence-based feature about swimming coaching and implement one new relevant evidence-based feature at practice. [This is a strategy proposed to thwart boring coaching and boring swimming experiences; boredom being one of the most potent demotivators and ingredients of overtraining.]
- The majority of coaching time was spent on technique/tactics instruction.
- Individual interactions occurred more often than group instruction.
- More time was spent coaching than in watching/managing.
- Positive reinforcement occurred much more frequently than correction/direction.
- All areas of the practice environment were supervised satisfactorily.
- Demonstrations/models were used appropriately.
- Commented to every swimmer about the quality of and performances in the practice session.
- Interacted individually with every swimmer during the session.
- Monitored and ensured that no athlete experienced excessive fatigue.
- Provided variety in the training stimuli in the program.
- Swimmers established goals for each important training item.
- Swimmers were asked or were given an opportunity to evaluate whether they achieved or did not achieve their self-set goals for each important training item.
- Asked each swimmer's opinion of how he/she felt.
- Asked each swimmer's perception of his/her performance quality.
- The training session content was in accord with a sound training plan.
- Training session content was made known to the swimmers before the start of practice.
- Swimmers were kept busy all the time.
- Swimmers were shown videos of themselves for technique analysis.
- Directions and communications were based on sound reasoning and were well thought-out.
- Each swimmer left practice with a positive feeling.
All of the above items are evidence-based, that is, published scientific studies have verified their content. Before disagreeing with any of these edicts, a coach should investigate the extent of both pro and con positions for the item in the published scientific, as distinct from the swimming, literature.
1The traditional formulation of the tenets of swimming coaching has followed similar steps as those of structuring traditional religions, although not as aged. The rejection of evidence in favor of ideas or personal convictions of subjective observations (aka "revelations") is embedded in the history of swimming coaching and has survived primarily through the acceptance of beliefs. This procedure is perpetuated by the unquestioned coaching behavior of inventing unique postulations about swimming and its improvement presumably to offer a program that is unavailable elsewhere. A motivation behind this ploy is to attract better performing customers than other coaches. Within the religion of swimming, are dogma proposed as "truths" that will affect swimming performance in a positive manner. In a real discourse, those truths are shown to be nothing more than fictions for they are not supported by objective evidence.
2 It is common to hear coaches speaking of paddles "overloading" the arms or "increasing awareness of a good hand position", or other such beliefs despite these "aids" making swimming less demanding for performers. Their being easier is one reason why they are preferred by swimmers.
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