While swimming around the world still looks a lot different than normal due to the effects of COVID-19, we’re still highlighting and celebrating swim teams from across the country. This week, we’re taking a closer at the Stamford Sailfish Aquatic Club, a relatively new year-round team that’s already grown by leaps and bounds in just a few years in existence.
Barely three years ago, head coach Connie Wu founded the Sailfish with only 19 swimmers, and in the few years since then, the Sailfish have already made an impact on the national level, having been recognized as a Bronze Medal Club by USA Swimming. Just last month at the Richmond, VA, site of the U.S. Open, Sailfish swimmer Connor Morikawa set Connecticut LSC resident record with his 1:01.38 in the 100m breaststroke. Sailfish boys relays squads have also set state records, and a small bevy of swimmers have put up time among the fastest in the nation.
We spoke with Wu to help us get a sense of what makes makes Sailfish special, as well as some of her thoughts on coaching in general. Wu describes her coaching philosophy simply as, “Lessons taught in the pool can be applied to all aspects of life. Doing the right thing isn’t always easy, but it is always the right thing to do.”
When starting a team from scratch, and with only a small number of swimmers, the chemistry and the relationship between coaches, swimmers, and parents is going to make or break the team early on.
At the beginning, we started with only 19 swimmers. We have grown organically and have strived to ensure that the dynamic of the relationship shared between coaches, swimmers and their families has remained as welcoming and supportive as it did on day one. We take the time each practice to model our expectations for our swimmers. Team chemistry is everything, especially with a small, specialized team, such as ours.
For Wu and the rest of the coaching staff, part of that relationships involves challenging swimmers to be excellent in all areas of life, and especially to be leaders early on.
I always stress to them the importance of putting forth 100% effort, 100% of the time. Even from a young age, this lesson teaches character, perseverance and resilience. It is hard to teach an 8 year old to take everything so seriously, but when taking the time to explain the purpose of setting goals, I have found that when there is input from the athletes, there is a greater degree of buy in from them, too. I challenge our athletes to conduct themselves as role models, even if it is to their own peer group, because they never know who is watching and who is thinking in their own mind that “I want to be like so and so…” I work to model all of the characteristics and behaviors that responsible leaders should possess. I am not perfect, and I let the kids see that I am not perfect, so that they know that no one is infallible and everyone can learn from their mistakes, if they are wise enough to accept them in the first place.
Wu has been on deck for over 15 years, and during that time she’s coached everything from brand-new swimmers to Olympic Trial qualifiers and national champions, so we wanted to get her thoughts on how she helps manage a swimmer’s potential.
The potential of a swimmer, is just that, potential. The end goal is only an idea. Setting realistic short term goals, as well as long term reach goals, helps to keep the development and well being of the swimmer in proper perspective. My goal as a coach is not to have swimmers peak too early in their competitive career, rather create workouts and stress technique in such a way so that my swimmers will be successful into their teens and beyond, instead of having a brilliant age group swimmer, who then burns out young. Swimming is about racing for today, but planning for all tomorrows to come.
One of the biggest debates in swimming over the last decade or so centers around “yardage” vs “intensity.” In other words, is it better to have swimmers swim a lot in practice, or have them swim fast? We asked Wu to weigh in on that debate.
There has to be balance and substantive rationale when planning workouts. If there are swimmers who are stronger at distance, we might create sets that incorporate the distance necessary for cardio development, but break the set down into smaller sets to add elements of intensity as well. Yardage for the sake of yardage is not a coaching methodology that I particularly find to accomplish the results desired by me, or our athletes. Even if a swimmer is graced with the ability for distance, or vice versa, sprinting, all swimmers can benefit from distance and intense shorter sets. The key is to know when to use each, or combine them to challenge swimmers when they least expect it. Keeps them, and us, on our toes.
Another change we’ve seen in the sport is how much more crucial proper dryland training has become. When talking with Wu about this, she alluded to a number of different factors that have helped swimmers get so much faster lately: things like specificity, paying attention to the whole athlete, and of course, making sure to have fun!
In the past, coaches have had kids run and lift weights, but without specific focus on how those activities would lead to gains in the pool. The importance of kinesiology and diet cannot be stressed enough when working with our athletes. We work to build complete athletes (e.g. socially, emotionally and physically) and dryland plays an integral role in our coaching practices. We even have our juniors participate in dryland to help them learn how to feel their bodies and to strengthen core muscle groups. They think of it as game time, which is even better!
Stamford Sailfish Aquatics Club is one of 3,000 swim clubs in the United States. How can we grow that number and promote the sport?
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