Shouts from the Stands: How math can cure the “Back of the Lane Blues”

by SwimSwam 8

January 30th, 2015 Coach's Log, Opinion, Training

SwimSwam welcomes reader submissions about all topics aquatic, and if it’s well-written and well-thought, we might just post it under our “Shouts from the Stands” series. We don’t necessarily endorse the content of the Shouts from the Stands posts, and the opinions remain those of their authors. If you have thoughts to share, please send [email protected]

This story comes to us from Jay Smith, the level 4 head coach with the Piranhas Swim Club of Iowa.

I’ve always been a huge advocate for using a stopwatch in practice and I credit the stopwatch for a large portion of my swimmer’s success. That being said, something that always gave me issues during practice was trying to time large groups and subtract the times (do the math) for the ones in the back of the lanes. Once I got past the fourth or fifth swimmer it was difficult to subtract 25 or 35 seconds in my head quick enough to keep up with the workout. Inevitably those swimmers in the back would rarely get their times and began to swim slower than the kids in the front. It’s already hard enough to keep the kids in the back as motivated as the kids in the front and if they don’t know what their times are it becomes even harder.

Other reasons swimmers in the back of the lane don’t get as much attention as swimmers in the front could be… age, speed, gender, work-ethic, time spent on the wall, etc. What is one simple thing coaches can do to try and “bridge the gap” between lane leaders and lane enders?

Answer = Get really good at calculating math in your head.

You might think, “Oh that’s not necessary because I just tell my swimmers to figure it out for themselves.” To ask the swimmer to do the math themselves is in my opinion a cop out. The swimmer is trying to focus on as many as 5 different things during a set…when to leave, the specific distance, technique, breathing, turns. Asking them to focus on anything else can be overwhelming, counterproductive and I’d be willing to bet that most kids don’t even bother to do the math.

During practice the less a swimmer has to think, the better off they’ll be. As coaches we owe it to our swimmers to do the thinking for them. After all we’re the ones with the comfortable heart rate under 70 bpm.

Example Set
ALL Free (1800yds)

1×300 broken :10 sec @ 150 on 4:30
2×200 broken :10 sec @ 100 on 3:00
3×150 broken :10 sec @ 75 on 2:30
4×100 broken :10 sec @ 50 on 1:45
5×50 Straight for Time! @ 1:00

I did the above set last week with 6 kids in each lane and it was awesome but it was hard for me to keep track of the times because they were broken in the middle. Coaches are programmed to think for the first swimmer don’t subtract, second swimmer subtract 5, third swimmer subtract 10 and so forth. But in this set I had to subtract 10 off the first swimmer, 15 for second, etc. It was completely different from what I was accustomed to. Once I started trying to subtract 25 seconds off a swimmer’s time I had somewhat of a “bright idea” to simplify the way we look at a stopwatch.

Now for the Math stuff…

1.) Do not try to subtract the total amount of time in your head all at once when dealing with time that ends in 5
2.) Instead split the total time up into 2 parts
3.) The first part is the multiple of 10 and the second part will always be 5 seconds

So for instance- if you’re trying to subtract 25 seconds, start by subtracting 20 then subtract 5 seconds.

1:37 is the time on the stopwatch and you must subtract 25 seconds

A.) 137 – 20 – 5
B.) 137 – 25

Which is faster to calculate in your head…. A or B?

Let’s try it again…this time with 35 seconds

A.) 246 – 35
B.) 246 – 30 – 5

Try it out at practice one day and test it for yourself.

Something so simple can make a world of difference to swimmers in the back of your lanes. You’ll see them become more engaged, more on task and pumped about swimming fast in practice.

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6 years ago

“To ask the swimmer to do the math themselves is in my opinion a cop out.”

“As coaches we owe it to our swimmers to do the thinking for them.”


Mike DeBoor
6 years ago

Nice set, but when doing broken swims I suggest you start your watch :10 back or :20 back etc…So if you are doing broken 200’s with :10 rest at the 50’s, you start your watch :30 back and then you just need to subtract the “normal” :5 or :10 back. If looking to “promote” the swimmers in the back , you may try doing workouts from both ends of the pool, kid’s love it. If you have 6 lanes, and 6 per lane you go from 6 leaders to 12 leaders , etc… I normally MAKE the swimmers who historically go last head down to the other end and you will see many flourish. Kids are weird, some like to… Read more »

6 years ago

Thanks Mike…old habits die hard. Hope things are going well for you…i know your stoked about the CATS being 20-0 right now 🙂

AA: What I meant by that comment was just pertaining to this instance on this set. Swimmers should always think for themselves but sometimes they need help especially if their focused on other things. And i think its a cop out bc thats just a sign of a lazy coach in my opinion.