Road to Success
Preparing 14-and-under swimmers for championship meets
Proper preparation, training and taper-along with an abundance of talent-have enabled Blue Tide Aquatics of Houston, Texas to enjoy a great deal of success over the years.
The metropolitan Houston area has had a strong swimming tradition for many years. The area northeast of Houston, where Blue Tide Aquatics (BTA) was formed in 1980, has enjoyed being a part of that tradition.
With the good fortune of having a strong, supportive swimming community and interlocking cooperation among the YMCA and other fitness clubs’ lesson programs, summer league and high schools, Blue Tide has built on its original foundation. The team currently consists of approximately 325 competitive swimmers, 100 pre-competitive and 65 Masters swimmers.
Blue Tide’s vision is to be consistently strong and successful in all age groups from 10-and-under to senior.
The focus in this article will be on the preparation, training and taper of BTA’s top 14-and-under swimmers.
Yes, we do “taper and shave” our younger swimmers. The majority of these swimmers have continued to develop and improve both their times and their love of the sport. We currently have approximately 15 swimmers competing collegiately.
Our planning for the short course season typically revolves around four six-week training cycles.
For example, this year’s plan includes an “A” meet in early November, our Gulf LSC Championships in midDecember, a prelim/final “A” meet in late January and the Texas Age Group Swimming Championships (TAGS) in early March.
During the first training cycle, perfect stroke mechanics are the emphasis of training based on each individual’s ability for retention and correction. This is accomplished with verbal and visual aids with a priority placed on each swimmer understanding the purpose of a particular drill or exercise.
After this cycle, our yardage volume gradually increases while the swimmers and coaches maintain responsibility for proper stroke mechanics.
During the peak workload period, our 13-14 swimmers are offered seven workout sessions per week, totaling approximately 40,000 yards. The 11-12 swimmers swim six workout sessions weekly, adding up to approximately 28,000 yards. Our more advanced 10-year-olds (and a few 9-year-olds) attend four practices a week and swim nearly 15,000 yards.
Throughout these practices, leg work makes up nearly 30 percent of these totals with very little isolated pulling. Dryland and stretching exercises are encouraged on a voluntary basis and administered by our coaching staff in addition to our pool time.
Balance, coordination, timing and strength are developed through a regimen of calisthenics, plyometrics, light medicine balls and stretch cords. Each of these is added incrementally by physical (and mental) maturation throughout these particular age groups. This dryland exercising continues during each of the four six-week cycles, stopping two to three weeks before the end of the second and fourth cycle.
The athletes are prepared for the competitions at the conclusion of the first arid third cycles with a minimal amount of physical rest and more mental preparation. These mini-preparations lead into our mid-season and season-ending championship tapers.
Just saying the words, “taper time,” to the swimmers brings about an aura of excitement. This time can bring a magical glow to the eyes of swimmers, parents and coaches alike, but as we all know, taper is not a magical thing.
Simply put, the harder each individual swimmer works throughout the season, the greater the odds are in their favor for the big payoff during their championship meet swims.
Certain elements have to fall into place for the taper to be successful. With this in mind, there are some specific aspects that will increase the chances of each swimmer’s taper being successful.
Resting your swimmers is one of the main ingredients to success in tapering. We feel that our 14-and-under swimmers can rest an extreme amount since most of their races are based on speed and middle distance ability.
This may have an adverse affect for longer races such as the 500 free and above. However, since the 500 free for the 10-and-under and 11-12 age groups as well as the 1000 free for the 1344 year-olds are the first races at TAGS, the effect is minimal.
Swimmers are encouraged during the taper process to rest as much as possible outside the pool. They are advised to stay indoors as much as possible and not to participate in energy-consuming activities. This emphasizes accumulating energy away from the pool in addition to keeping the mental focus sharp.
They are also asked to get ahead with schoolwork and any other responsibilities that they may have so that nothing will be looming over their heads when it comes time to perform.
Sleeping patterns that are going to be similar to those at the big meet are encouraged. We also try to have practices at the time of day when, the swimmer will compete. A few morning practices leading up to the championship meet acclimate the athlete to the routine of waking up early and swimming fast.
In the workouts, attention to detail and speed arc the main areas of focus. Some of these details include:
* Technique work
* Building to full speed and working perfect finishes
* Pace work
* Timed swim just prior to the meet
* Full speed starts, turns and finishes
* Race situations-broken 50s, 100s and 200s
* Age group races-using their peers to race and get speed
* Maintenance of leg conditioning
* A small amount of light resistance work
We, as coaches, encourage our high’ level 9-year-olds and above to shave. Our staff has seen no evidence that shaving hampers their shaved-and-tapered performance further down the road. Quite the opposite has been true. These athletes are better prepared for the championship routine and have continued to have great drops in time from their in-season swims.
The swimmers are also to be in “fast” suits for their championship meet. These suits are different from the “team” suit they wear during in-season meets. This season, they are to wear the “fast” suit at the end of their second, third and fourth cycles.
Possibly the most important factor in the tapering process is the psychological aspect of the swimmers’ preparation. We strive diligently to get them to believe in themselves and the team.
During our ten-day taper, we read to our swimmers each day about preparation and success. Our swimmers lie on their towels with their eyes closed in a relaxing environment. They hear about successes in the distant past (championships, finalists, records) as well as our most recent ones.
The swimmers are also taught how to handle disappointment (i.e., not swimming up to their standard, disqualifications, not finaling) and to plan on some things not going as planned. They are told of their teammates’ successes and disappointments in the past and how they’ve dealt with both in a positive, mature manner.
We discuss the “psyche sheet” and how it is just a listing of names and numbers on a piece of paper and how nothing from the past matters now. They are reminded of BTA swimmers who have made finals at the state championships while swimming in the first heat.
We facilitate a bit of pre-meet revelry with a festive dinner/pep rally, but the focus needs to remain on the swimming, keeping in mind that a championship meet may be exciting, but it’s not a party.
The state championship is a long, emotional meet; therefore, it is extremely important to keep the focus of the swimmer, parent and coach on an even keel. We try not to let the highs get too high or the lows too low. In the grand scheme of things, it is important to remember that it is just another swim meet, and there will be many more opportunities in the future.
The Blue Tide coaching staff has had the good fortune to work with many incredibly talented athletes. This abundance of talent has produced numerous accolades throughout the years.
Our team currently holds 23 Texas state records and many Gulf LSC records. In the past seven years, our athletes have held two national age group records. The NAG record turned in by Eric Mai, Paul Kornfeld, Scott Sorge and Kevin Leckey in 1998 for the 10-and-under boys 200 yard medley relay still stands. Madeleine Stanton’s 11-12 girls 200 yard back record was just bettered this past season. We’ve had numerous No. 1-ranked swimmers and relays in addition to many other athletes making USA Swimming’s National Top 16 Times list.
Some of Blue Tide’s most recent successes have been bolstered by our senior age groupers who have grown up through the training philosophy of our program. We won our first state championship during the 2002 short course season, then repeated that finish during the 2002 long course season.
We also captured our first Gulf Senior LSC Championship in December of 2002. In addition, our swimmers representing Kingwood High School have scored the most combined points for men and women at the Texas State High School Championships in both 2002 and 2003. Finally, our senior age group swimmers won both the men’s and combined team titles at the 2003 National Club Swimming Association Long Course Junior Championships in August.
Steve Wilson is the head swimming coach of Blue Tide Aquatics in Houston, Texas.
Copyright Sports Publications, Inc. Jan-Mar 2004
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