Dennis Pursley Doesn’t Use The Word ‘Taper’

University of Alabama head coach Dennis Pursley doesn’t use the word taper.

That’s one big takeaway from a conversation we had with Pursley after Alabama’s performances at the Georgia Tech Invite, a meet where Pursley said the Crimson Tide took less rest and preparation than they typically do mid-season.

We reached out to Pursley this week in part because while many coaches remain very secretive about their own programs and rest strategies, he and his staff have been relatively straight shooters when it comes to sharing information. (A couple years ago, one of Pursley’s assistants ran us through a very informative look at season planning, the concept of ‘regeneration weeks’ and why fast in-season swimming doesn’t always imply any sort of change from a typical training cycle – you can read that here). True to form, Pursley shared an inside look at the team’s preparation for the Georgia Tech Invite, including some interesting ideas about the broader topic of rest terminology.

Taper Terminology

Taper. Rest. Preparation. Drop tapers. Swim coaches have a million words to describe the art of resting, and often it seems every coach has a different definition of each term. But Pursley says the terminology truly does matter – at least in the mind of the athlete.

“I think what you call it can potentially have an impact on the mindset,” he told SwimSwam this week. Pursley said he was interested to read a quote from rival SEC coach Gregg Troy recently in which Troy said he doesn’t use the word ‘taper.’ Pursley said he didn’t know that that was Troy’s policy, but that Pursley had made a similar lexicon change several years back.

“I stopped using it a number of years ago,” he said of the word ‘taper’. “The terminology I use is ‘peak performance preparation’.

“Too many swimmers think taper means we rest. That’s a big part of it, of course, but you’re also sharpening up, and some of the work you’re doing, you actually want it to be enhanced in the last few weeks and do it better and faster than you have all season. I think [it’s important] just to get away from that subconscious mindset that once the taper starts… that I’m just going to take it easy from here on out.”

Preparation for the Georgia Tech Invite

Despite placing three relays into the top four nationally along with several highly-ranked individual swims, Pursley says Alabama actually took less rest than the Crimson Tide did at previous mid-season invites.

“We approached it a little differently this year,” Pursley said, noting that while his general philosophy has been to swim through mid-season invites and put the main focus on getting NCAA cuts at the SEC Championships, over the past few seasons he started to follow the NCAA trend of taking more rest to go after NCAA cuts mid-season. He said he was disappointed with how that turned out for his team last season, and made a course change back to the route he felt more comfortable with.

“We didn’t really disrupt the volume of training,” he said of this year’s preparation for Georgia Tech. “We backed off the weights a day or two before we went and did some tweaking of the workouts, not so much in preparation for the meet but because we were going to be racing hard for three days.”

Take that for what you will, of course – coaches, fans and swimmers rarely admit to a full rest or even a partial one. On the other hand, Pursley gave a pretty raw and honest take about his reaction to the team’s swims and what it could mean for the remainder of the season:

“We had quite a few personal bests; I didn’t expect to see that,” he said. “I told the team that’s either good news or bad news – we’ll find out at the end of the season. That means we’re either not working as hard as we need to be or we’ve stepped up to another level. Hopefully it’s the second explanation that’s the more accurate one, but we’ll find out at the end of the season.”

Other highlights

We chatted briefly with Pursley about a few other topics:

  • On Alabama’s roster balance: “As a team, we’ve been stronger in the sprint events. We’ve been working to try to get more balance in the program. I think we’re seeing with this year’s freshman class, we’re moving in that direction.”
  • On the Crimson Tide freshmen: “I’m real pleased with the attitude that this year’s group of freshman have brought to the program. They want to be challenged, they want to be competitive. They like to work hard. That’s brought more balance to our team.” He specifically pointed out freshman Kensey McMahonwho currently sits 3rd in the nation this year in the 1650.
  • We asked Pursley what’s been powering Robert Howard‘s big relay performances so far (18.6/41.0 on relays vs 19.2/41.9 individually at Georgia Tech). “Ironically, we’re not a great team on relay starts, at least as far as the reaction time,” Pursley said. In fact, he addressed the team about that specifically before one session of the Georgia Tech invite. “We’re going to have to get better at that.” He credited Howard’s successes specifically to his mentality. “He just loves to compete. He’s the ultimate competitor. He loves the team aspect of it, the team component. He’s an Alabama boy and he takes special pride in competing for the University of Alabama and representing his home state. He’s the fireplug that gets everyone fired up.”

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John Cadigan
4 years ago

I agree with the coaches mentioned. Taper is a word that has become a third party entity upon which swimmers may project training inadequacies and assign responsibility outside their own sphere of influence. “My coach screwed up my taper.” “My coach doesn’t know how to taper.” “My taper didn’t work.” The last approaches honesty. Great coaches rest and prepare individual athletes for peak performances. Even then, sometimes “The best laid scheme’s o’ mice an’ men / Gang aft a-gley”.

Swimmer A
4 years ago


4 years ago

Well, he should

4 years ago

Taper is the greatest word in the English language. It should be used willingly and gratuitously.

Reply to  1001pools
4 years ago

Taper = Boogalooo

4 years ago

Denny is a great coach and guy.

4 years ago

Great stuff Jared thanks for sharing!

About Jared Anderson

Jared Anderson

Jared Anderson swam for nearly twenty years. Then, Jared Anderson stopped swimming and started writing about swimming. He's not sick of swimming yet. Swimming might be sick of him, though. Jared was a YMCA and high school swimmer in northern Minnesota, and spent his college years swimming breaststroke and occasionally pretending …

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