Kroll, Chuck

Despite what his critics may say, Coach Dave Salo’s alternative, “minimalist” view of training for peak performance has proven extremely successful.


Dave Salo, Head Coach Irvine Novaquatics Coach Salo has been very successful in training breaststrokers, including Amanda Beard, Dave Denniston, Jessica Hardy and Staciana Stitts (below). Salo believes that breaststroke training is significantly different from training in the other strokes.

David Salo has been the head coach of the Irvine (Calif.) Novaquatics (NOVA) since the fall of 1990. Just prior to taking the reins at NOVA, he was the assistant men’s coach and the main spnnt coach at the University of Southern California under the legendary Peter Daland.

In recent years, SaIo has coached a number of U.S. Olympians and national team, swimmers, including Amanda Beard, Aaron Peirsol, Jason Lezak, Gabnelle Rose and Staciana Stilts.

Coach Salo has served at the national level as a USA assistant women’s coach at the 1999 Pan-American Games and the 2000 Olympic Games. He was also the head men’s coach for the USA at the 2001 Goodwill Games and assistant men’s coach last year at the Olympics in Athens.

This summer he will again take the reins as the USAs head men’s coach at the Duel in the Pool.

In the midst of a very busy early summer schedule in preparation for the World Championships, as well as the USA National and Junior National Championships and the Duel in the Pool, Coach SaIo took time to talk with Swimming World Magazine.

Q: Swimming World Magazine:

You brought a number of radically new training ideas and concepts to the coaching table 15 to 20 years ago. Can you summarize those ideas and the philosophy underlying them?

A: Coach Dave Salo:

I took the approach of trying to develop a “minimal model” that would lead to peak performance. Specifically, I asked, what is the least amount of work a swimmer can do that will still allow him to produce his best possible performance? Back then, some of my critics thought I was trying to find the easy way out. Actually, what I’ve been trying to do is find the most efficient means to produce peak performance.

How have you modified your approach since then?

I don’t think I have modified my basic philosophy much at all. I still do not worry about volume. I concern myself with content-how swimmers swim, how to keep workouts interesting and fast and not worry about if we’ve completed enough yardage.

So, have you always been coaching with this “minimal model” approach?

It began in my early days with the Downey (Calif.) Dolphins Swim Club. I was still in school, and I found-both in my undergraduate and master’s programs in exercise physiology-that there was a persistent theme of underlying questions about training philosophy and practice…questions such as, “What is the purpose of doing this?” and “Why do we do what we do?”

During my tenure at USC, I was Peter Daland’s assistant coach, so I couldn’t really put my ideas to the test-at least not to the extent 1 believed they could be successful. But I continued to question traditional training methods. As head coach at NOVA, I finally was able to put my ideas to the test.

In 1989 you published a book called “SPRINT SALO: A Cerebral Approach to Training for Peak Performance.” Was that book meant to be a sort of manifesto for your thoughts and training methods?

It was more of a compilation of articles and presentations that many of my coaching colleagues encouraged me to put together and publish.

Would you comment both personally and professionally on your rise from being labeled as an “outcast” to being considered among the best in the swimming coaching profession?

I never set out to be an outcast or pariah. I simply wanted to put forth an alternative, “minimalist” view of training for swimming success.

Despite the successes I’ve enjoyed, I think I have been considered by many to be “lucky” rather than effective. I think if it happens once, or even twice, you might be lucky When your swimmers are consistently successful, though, you’ve got to suspect that something other than luck might be involved.

But if it’s luck, I’ll take it. Better to be lucky and have had the experiences that I’ve had than never to have had those experiences.

I hope that what I have accomplished is to give coaches options as they plan training programs for athletes at different stages in their careers, and to encourage coaches always to ask the pertinent questions, starting with, “Why am I doing what I’m doing?”

During you career, you’ve been very successful in training breaststrokers-Amanda Beard, Staciana Stitts, Dave Denniston and, now, Jessica Hardy. What do you consider the key elements of breaststroke training to be?

The key element to breaststroke training is to understand and appreciate that breaststrokers are not like other swimmers and that their training is unique. What I mean is that breaststroke training is significantly different from training in the other strokes.

OK, so what do you consider to be the most important elements of breaststroke technique?

There are no elements more important than others, but timing is crucial. I break the stroke down into its many components, train those components as separate entities, then put it back together to train for timing.

This is going to be a big summer for you and the Irvine NOVAs. What are your thoughts on the upcoming summer season, especially the Duel in the Pool?

As head coach of the men’s team, I am excited to lead this tremendously skilled and successful group of young men. It has the potential to be one of America’s most successful teams, yet at the same time, it’s one of our most youthful teams.

This is a team whose members have many years ahead of them. They remain enthusiastic about their role in our sport and are conscious of how they are affecting our sport.

Coach, what are your top three professional goals through 2008?

My immediate goal is to survive the next two months. I have a lot on my plate. Yes, I’m responsible for putting it there, but it makes for a very busy time. I am fortunate to have a great supporting cast helping me.

Through 2008, I hope to direct my club team from “good” to “great.” I want to create a training environment for elite athletes who expect to be competing in Beijing for Olympic medals. And I want to promote Soka University as a viable alternative for student-athletes who think outside the box.

Chuck Kroll, of Seattle, Wash., is an aquatic historian and consultant for Swimming World Magazine.

Copyright Sports Publications, Inc. Aug 2005

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