DeSantis: How I Killed Morning Practice – Then Resurrected It

Swimming is morning practice. The conventional wisdom is that at a certain point, you get as much as you can out of training once per day, and from there on you must “double up” by making an often cold and dark trip to a cold and dark pool to do some laps. In 2011, when I was  an immature 28-year-old swim coach, I decided I would kill morning practice for my training group at Georgia Tech, and I wrote about it, you can find that blog here:

http://www.swimbrief.net/2011/08/no-morning-workouts.html

I did it for one season. By the next, morning practice had returned, although in somewhat modified form. Now I am coaching a club (as a wise 31-year-old) where Wednesday is the only day of the week I don’t stand on the pool deck at 5:45 to greet eager young swimmers. So how did I come all the way back?  Was dropping morning practice a failure, or did I learn something quite important along the way?

First off, a quick recap of why I killed morning practice in the first place. I was looking at a specific group of athletes and making the determination that longer trainings once per day were a better solution than two practices per day three times a week. The trade-off was fairly negligible in swimming time since I was able to make all the other six trainings a half hour longer and avoid some repeating of warmup/warmdown. The swimmers had by my counting a successful season, their improvement was above average and it was definitely a nice change of pace. If I had the right circumstances (pool space and time), I would probably do it again. Philosophically, I still believe in efficiency and quality in training. If it can be done in a more efficient way and there is a way to stretch the quality of a practice, I’m going to do it.

By the next season, though, adjustments had to be made. Due to the academic schedules of the kids, two of the practices in the week were  moved to the middle of the day (11-1) to accommodate afternoon labs/studios, all too frequent for Georgia Tech students. This meant no extra half hour on those days, and realistically many swimmers would arrive 15 min late or leave 15 min early. Morning practice would have to return. I made a conscious decision, however, as I still felt I had swimmers that didn’t need to come to two practices. I made morning practices available only to those who “applied” to be a part of them. Basically, you had to ask, and once you made the commitment you were in. I still do so to this day and I think it’s one of the best decisions I’ve made. The psychology of morning practice  completely changed. Instead of “having” to come to morning practice, it was a privilege, extra training with less swimmers in the water and more personal attention. The attitude and atmosphere of the practices were great, and swimmers both in the group and out of it saw great success.

Now as a club coach, I have a whole new set of challenges that required even more change on the morning practice front. Instead of having an entire half of the 1996 Olympic pool to train 18  swimmers, I am now often faced with 2x50m or 4x25m lanes to train the same amount. Morning practice four times a week allows me to spread the  swimmers out a bit with their training, and also has allowed me to make a new “sprint” group in the morning and build my team with some older swimmers who need different training.

So what’s the moral of the story? No matter what as a coach you need to think critically about what resources you have and to best use them. Morning practice is a tool, and if you need it you should absolutely use it, but you should also consider whether you really need it or not. It is not without cost that you and your swimmers wake up in the dawn hours of the day- make sure you’re getting your money’s worth.

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7 years ago

Resources are my main reason for having mornings. With a crowded pool and seven foot wide lanes it is difficult to do any quality fly work in the evening, and for specializing and using gear like cords, chutes, etc it is always better to have space to spread out. Gone are the days of “fitting more yards in.” It is now about being better able to focus on the good stuff and individualize training.

Steve Nolan
7 years ago

Question – so what’s the deal w/ your current club practices? By that I mean, are they opt-in as an option for extra training for some kids, or are they just a way to space things out a bit more? Wondering if these club kids are doing doubles, basically.

Lovely post, tho!

Chris DeSantis
Reply to  Steve Nolan
7 years ago

Hi,

So as you can read, I made a decision a few years ago that I wasnt going to force kids to come to training in the morning. I think morning practice is a privilege- not some labor to be endured. In my mind you earn your way to doubles by doing the other six trainings at a high quality. Yes I have some club kids that do this.

I have spread the kids out who want to train in the morning, so they aren’t all coming on the same days, there is more space and the workout is more tailored to them.

Another consequence of only having 2 lanes LCM most of the time is that it limits… Read more »

Steve Nolan
Reply to  Chris DeSantis
7 years ago

Yes it does! I wasn’t sure if you went back to not offering any “doubles” with the club kids, but just having some kids have their one practice session in the morning.

Thanks!

Reply to  Steve Nolan
7 years ago

Just to clarify: I think all of Chris’ swimmers are now club swimmers, as he’s now coaching in Denmark.

Swim1
7 years ago

I just did this with my club team. Morning practices feel like a special club of people who are all there for a reason. When they come again in the afternoon there is a such a positive air of accomplishment – I love it. Now the people who swim the most are the happiest and most tight knit. They are arriving earlier, talking more to each other and involved in each others goals (we do a goal session for the group every 2 weeks for 45mins). Instead of hating it – they love it. I am 100% in.

Chris DeSantis
Reply to  Swim1
7 years ago

Bravo

Swim1
7 years ago

I went from being the person “making” them to being a resource.

Ben
7 years ago

I took out mornings for the senior group this year as well. Mostly because the large body of evidence showing high schoolers are becoming severely sleep-deprived. Additionally, this summer I was in Australia for an academic conference and heard Dr. David Costill speak about his research in cutting out mornings. In addition to cutting mornings, we’ve given the kids two hours between school and practice (as opposed to directly after) and Friday’s off. At training just 5 times a week we are still seeing improvements in the test sets. Meet season picks up in a couple of weeks so we’ll see what happens then.

Eric
Reply to  Ben
7 years ago

Ben,
I’d love to hear how things continue to go for your team. I coach HS, MS, club, and AG. I have more or less autonomy in setting my practice times at my pool. I’ve felt like my younger kids might benefit from going right after school and my older kids would do better coming back later in the afternoon. Haven’t been able to pull the trigger on it though.
Currently my HS kids go 2.5 hours on non-meet days and 2-3 hours on Saturdays. No mornings. We do some doubles in the summer only. We have seen a better rate of improvement since we cut out mornings and the older kids are getting a bit more sleep.… Read more »

Young fish11
7 years ago

Love this concept!

anonymous
7 years ago

I am a fairly firm believer that 10-12 practices per week, 45 minutes per practice is optimal for improving swimming across a variety of events. But this doesn’t work well with the lifestyles of 90% of swimmers.

Jacked and Tan
7 years ago

Quick question: When at Georgia Tech, did you really consider 11-1 your evening practice and felt like you had to bring back in morning practice (assuming that’s somewhere between 6 and 8am) ?

I thought the whole idea of doing doubles was also having time to recover between practices, not just ramping up volume. Considering how much better the body performs when given enough time to fully awake from 6-8 hours of sleep, I’d rather use the 11-1 slot as the morning practice and (if possible) squeeze in another practice sometime after 6pm

Chris DeSantis
Reply to  Jacked and Tan
7 years ago

We did not do doubles on the 11-1 day. It was Tues-Thu so we did 6 ams on Mon-wed sometimes friday. I used the 11 am practices a lot for racing since that was a typical competition time for us on the weekends

About Chris DeSantis

Chris DeSantis

Chris DeSantis is a swim coach, writer and swimming enthusiast. Chris does private consulting and coaching with teams and individuals. You can find him at www.facebook.com/cdswimcoach. Chris is a 2009 Graduate from the Masters of Applied Positive Psychology program at the University of Pennsylvania. He was the first professional athletic coach …

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