Courtesy of Stuart Dustan
“We have always done it that way”, is a phrase I have heard uttered far too often by coaches in response to a challenge of their training methods. In a previous article I highlighted the importance of hanging a question mark over your strongest held beliefs; in this post, I challenge you to put it into practice.
I have posed a number of questions to you below and I would like you to answer them, however, I have one condition for this exercise – I would like you to assume that, whatever answer you provide, it is wrong. I want you to try and act as your own devil’s advocate. Find the flaws, the weaknesses, the limitations of your answer; assume that they exist – more often than not, if you look hard enough, you’ll find them. By becoming aware of the pitfalls in your programme you can refine, remove and replace the practices which do not stand up to this self-scrutiny.
Make yourself prove your answer. Don’t accept cop-outs such as “That’s what everyone else does,” or, “That’s what we have always done”. Instead, I would implore you to employ reason based on logic, science, scientific rationale and, evidence.
For each of the questions I have posed, I have included a potential ‘cop-out’ answer and, a possible alternative answer – a ‘devil’s probe’. Here goes.
Why are some of my* swimmers progressing and improving significantly better in comparison to other swimmers within the same lane?
Cop-out: Some swimmers work harder than others.
Devil’s probe: I have not created a programme which is sufficiently individualised for each athlete within the lane. I have not recognised the vast physiological and psychological differences which can exist between each athlete.
Why do I have swimmers who regularly become injured, particularly in the shoulder region?
Cop-out: It’s an excuse swimmer’s utilise when the going gets tough.
Devil’s probe: My programmes consist of vast swimming distances which are applying an unnecessarily large amount of pressure on the swimmer’s shoulders’. My dryland programme is having a detrimental effect on the swimmer’s performance in the water.
Why are my swimmers not meeting my performance expectations?
Cop-out: The athletes are not trying hard enough. They don’t listen.
Devil’s probe: I am overtraining my athletes. I am not communicating my technical instructions effectively. I am not creating an environment in which the swimmer’s wish to engage.
Why is it that during races my swimmers fail to replicate the technique we have worked on in training?
Devil’s probe: I have been ignorant of the link between technique and velocity – I have prescribed paces slower than race-pace for my swimmer’s to practice their race technique.
Some of the club swimmers attend a session and always seem distracted – why are they not concentrating?
Why do my age-groups swimmers appear to peak at age 16-17 followed by a decline in performance?
Cop-out: Young adult life catches up with them, they prioritise their social life over their swimming life.
Devil’s probe: The performance of those swimmers have relied on the improvements which come from growth during puberty; it shows the training programme has not been as effective as I thought it was.
Why do I struggle to retain swimmers between the ages of 16-18?
Cop-out: This is due to the external pressures experienced by teenage swimmers, e.g. academic pressures.
Devil’s probe: I have reduced my athletes to swimmers rather than appreciating their life outside of the pool. My programme does not accommodate for these other areas of life. I have placed a disproportional emphasis on quantity of swimming over quality.
Are all my training practices in line with current evidence and research?
Cop-out: I don’t care, all my practices have been learned from very successful coaches and from methods which everyone else uses.
Devil’s probe: No, I haven’t been equipped with the skills to carry out research of sport science so I avoid it. I am ignorant of the scientific process. Some of my practices conflict with scientific evidence and scientific rationale.
Should I allow my ideas to be challenged by colleagues and other coaches?
Cop-out: No, I’m a level 3 licensed coach!
Devil’s probe: Yes! It’s one of the best ways to find the weaknesses in my training programme. My beliefs and opinions are not infallible – I could be wrong.
This is not a post on how to improve your programme, instead, I hope it has revealed to you that your programme can be improved. If nothing else, employing the devil’s advocate and utilising self-evaluation can reassure you that you are on the right track IF your ideas, training and methods can stand up to thorough scrutiny.
Yours in Swimming,
*I have noticed some controversy with using the phrase “your swimmers” or “my swimmers”. It has been claimed that no coach owns a swimmer and that said terms are too possessive. I think that this response is an overreaction and, is a tad pedantic. The swimmers are the coaches responsibility during a session and, they tend to lead the team – thus they are in a position whereby they are – in essence – the coach’s swimmers.
About Stuart Dustan
Residing in Scotland, Stuart has been coaching for numerous years and has belonged to a variety of clubs across the country. He started his coaching career with Forres Bluefins ASC moving on to Perth City SC whereby he worked alongside one of the most experienced coaches in Scottish Swimming, assisting with the development of a number of successful swimmers including an Olympic medal-winner. Stuart now spends his time coaching within a large swimming club in Dundee (Dundee City Aquatics) and, he is also a long-term member of the executive training team within one of the only specialist sprint clubs in the UK – Free Style SC. Free Style utilises an evidence-based and scientific approach to training. Stuart has experience as a researcher in Medical Science and he utilises this experience to critically review scientific literature related to athlete performance. He can often be found on Twitter engaging in respectful, yet critical debates with other coaches on swimming science (@SwimCoachStu).