This article originally appeared in the Spring 2023 issue of SwimSwam magazine. Subscribe here.
New Canaan Caimans Head Senior Coach and Director of Swimming Brian Fazzino has been with the Caimans Family since 2014. Coach Fazzino has helped coach the Caimans to one new U.S. Open qualifier, two new Junior Nationals qualifiers, one new USA Swimming Futures qualifier, 10 new YMCA National qualifiers, 11 top eight swims at YMCA Nationals, and one Age Group Champion.
Brian. He’s experiencing a mixed range of use from his senior group — swimmers who are targeting age group cuts or U.S. Open and Olympic Trials qualifying times. The younger girls do a better job of rating their workouts and wearing the units on a consistent basis. Some of the boys will forget to charge the units, forget to bring them, or forget to wear them.
SWIMSWAM: What challenges were you looking to address by incorporating data and tech into your seasonal plan?
BRIAN: I had been contacted a few times by TritonWear reps to try the product. At first, I did not think too much of it and did not pay too much attention. It was while at Junior Nationals last summer that I decided I wanted to see what the product was about. We had arguably the best swimmer we have ever had go through our program, and he was going into his senior year. We also had a couple of other senior boys that were pretty good and have been dedicated to the team through some challenges and adversity. We are also in the process of developing some talented younger girls that are going to be the next wave of our team. I felt that this is something we could and should pursue, and that if we were to do something, this would and should be the year to do it. I liked the idea of being able to have trackable data that gives the kids feedback. My older boys are supercompetitive, so I can give them something to let them see who is working better, more effectively. Plus, you can see a tangible score that will make the boys push each other and themselves. My younger girls, on the other hand, are very data-driven and love the technical feedback and the focus points that they are using to adjust and fix their strokes.
My seasonal plan has never been a very detailed thing. I have never used graph paper like Bob Bowman or color systems like John Urbanchek. I have certain practices we repeat throughout the mesocycles and certain types (regarding energy system and style) of practice we do each day. I wanted to get a little more specific to training, and I really liked the idea of the focus points that Triton brought.
SWIMSWAM: What did that process look like previously, and what does it look like now?
BRIAN: Like I stated above, the process was and is still very similar to what we have been doing. We have specific types of practice we do each day. We started using the Tritons right after our December meet, so the seasonal plan was already kind of set in motion, and we didn’t change much this year. I do, however, check the practices on Triton every day. The two things I am looking for are the readiness score to make sure the kids are not overtraining, and the energy systems they are using. Many times, I will write what I think is a traditional aerobic set, and I will see that some of them are swimming harder and they’re swimming fast enough and hard enough that they are going into some anerobic work. These are the most important things that I am checking. I used to be a very distance-based and aerobic-based coach, and I have switched to a lot higher octane and race type sets. This is important to see to add back in that aerobic base sets are still important.
SWIMSWAM: Has TritonWear changed your outlook on coaching? If so, how?
BRIAN: I do not know if after only a couple of months I can say that it has changed my outlook. However, I believe that it is giving me more clarity on which energy systems the team is using during specific practices, and it is giving me more of an idea of who may be overtraining a little bit. Unfortunately, as it is so new it is not ingrained in the kids’ daily habit to bring the units or charge them, they do not all wear them on a fully regular basis. This will throw off the metrics, and I cannot see some of the data until they rate the practice. If they miss rating a practice here and there, the metrics don’t load in until they do. This will skew if they are under- or overtrained, and I am looking forward to them getting into the habit to make it more impactful. I do not dive too much into the focus points. I explain to the kids that this is for them to see what they need to work on and how something was good or bad on a given day. I will look to them to see general themes across the board of how good or bad something is.
I love looking at the details of some practices and to be able to pinpoint what a specific swimmer swam for a time on some of the sets. I was just out for two weeks with the birth of my daughter, and I was able to look at each kid’s set and see what they did for the set. Between this and conversations with my assistant coaches and the swimmers themselves, I was able to know where each kid was at, what they were feeling, and how I needed to adjust the next practice.
SWIMSWAM: What has changed about your seasonal plan now that you are incorporating data into your program?
BRIAN: The biggest changes that I have made were that I have adjusted some of the aerobic practices to make them more aerobic. I have noticed that I write a lot of descending sets that incorporate fast. My kids have done a very good job of using these words and going after these swims. By doing this, some of the kids will use more anerobic energy zones, and the practice becomes a much more difficult and challenging set than I originally anticipated.
I have incorporated a lot more underwater work into our morning practices. I have noticed that across the board, our underwaters were not fast enough/deep enough or effective enough. This is something you could see with the eye test, but it is really apparent when you look at everyone’s underwater data points and every one of them is below average and below what their competitors are doing in the “like me” section. Even some that I thought had good to decent underwater were below average. This made me think that we needed to really focus on them a lot more than we were. We always do Power Rack or some type of power set in the mornings, so there are usually plenty of opportunities to have down time. Many times, the kids would get out early, so I added in an underwater set every morning.
I have also recently added in a stroke progression that I am having the kids add into the morning sets. Again, this is something that we should have been doing all along, and with an eye test you would be able to see that some of the swimmers were not grabbing effective water. The data points show that in general some of the kids’ DPS and stroke effectiveness metrics were not great, and it is something easy that we can incorporate to get the kids thinking about what they need to focus on.
SWIMSWAM: What has been the biggest change in your program since investing in data-driven coaching?
BRIAN: I think the biggest change is what I answered in the previous question. I have incorporated a few more things into some of the morning practices that I feel will help the team here down the stretch into our championship meets. I think that these are things again I could have and will continue to add on throughout the entire season, but it was specifically due to some of the metrics that the Triton will catch.
I am excited to see what we can do with more time and more usage. We have a big senior class that will not get to experience the full effect, but the younger girls we have using it are good at using them, so to be able to have them use them for multiple years in a row is very exciting. We are going to set up a meeting with TritonWear so that they can explain to the kids what each of the metrics is calculating, and some ways to change some things in practice to try and get better at the metrics. They went through one athlete with me and explained how some metrics may be happening, and how her underwaters could be hampered because she is tall and actually either too far away or too close to the wall on her turns. They were able to derive this from some of her metrics without ever seeing her swim. As I get to know the metrics and understand them more, it will be easier to incorporate into the practices for the individuals so that they can work on specific things and get better. You can use it to find a goal that the kids are working toward, and then make practices to work on that metric and see if they are able to make that metric better over time.
SWIMSWAM: What did you discover about TritonWear that was a happy surprise? Were there any other advantages you discovered after using automated training zones more regularly?
BRIAN: The amount of data and metrics is overloaded. I made a comment that it’s actually almost too much data. I had a talk with TritonWear, and I was overwhelmed with the amount of data and metrics that it measures. For now, it has been important to narrow my focus on a few specific things that I am looking for in athletes. For now, my main focus is the energy systems and the readiness score to make sure that the kids are not overtraining. I have not always understood the training zones, and when I was younger it was one of those things that I had a difficult time with. I LOVE the zones that they have and the chart that they use. It is very easy to understand and explain to the kids what the zone they are in means. As I write about some practices that I traditionally believe were aerobic sets, I noticed that many times, not one but a few of the athletes start peeking into the anaerobic zones. Now this is, of course, based specifically on the automated zones that Triton has made, and they use anything that is in zone 4 or 5 as anaerobic. However, for someone who was never great at knowing which zone was which, this has helped me clarify what they are doing and helped me realize that they may be going too hard on some of the sets. I had to change some of the verbiage so that they don’t enter into the higher-level zones.
As far as the best surprise that I have found, I liked having the talks with Triton to go over the units. There have been some challenges along the way, but Triton doesn’t just let you go and figure it out yourself. They have a really good help system that is personal, and I feel like I am talking with coworkers and friends when I reach out with questions. They also have a great education system that is set up over a few months’ period to zoom in and really get into some of the specific things that you can do with Triton. This is key for a product that is this advanced to have it so that it is constant education on what to do and how to design sets with the TritonWear.
SWIMSWAM: What big goal did TritonWear help you achieve? How has it impacted your success and your team’s success?
BRIAN: When I bought Triton, I wanted to bring something different to my group. I felt that we were training well, and we were doing a good job. The kids were progressing and getting faster each year. However, I also felt that my current training program was getting a little stagnant. The seniors on my team have gone through the same type of practice load the last four years. We have one aerobic set we do once a month on a Monday afternoon, cycles of Wednesday sets we do in four-week blocks, and we always do pace set Tuesday that has IM incorporated into it. I like the structure we have and the practices I have written, but I wanted to add another element for the group. As I mentioned above, we have one very talented and hardworking swimmer that could be in the mix for some high-level meets in the next few years. I felt like before he left for college, I wanted to give him more than we have had in the past. I wanted to give him everything that we could to prepare him and the others for swimming in college. We also have the younger group that is up and coming that I wanted to get them to start using it more and more so that they can have it for a full four years, and we can really set up data-driven checkpoints and tech-based metrics over the next four years. This will give us something besides times that we can look to and show that they are indeed improving. This will give them something else to focus on besides if they are getting faster. If any of them go through a lull or rut, we can adjust what the focus is on, and get them thinking about something else to keep them in the sport and excited about the sport.
I can’t say for sure that it has made a huge impact after only using it for a couple of months. But I know it has adjusted some of the sets I have written and some of the extra sets of practice we have added in. It has made me more aware that I want to write something up that will incorporate more technique and stroke progressions that will help the kids with a better feel of the water and a better grab. Our morning practices were a lot of sitting around waiting for one of the other athletes to finish the rack, and then the kids would do the work and leave early. I have since changed this to make it a lot more moving around and hitting different things and using our facility to our advantage by having some kids go to the well and do some underwaters while waiting for the rack. Or do the progression of strokes after they do the rack, which in a sense actually forces them to refocus on the strokes after the rack set and actually gets them without knowing it do a warm down. Before they would just leave early and go hang out in the locker room. I feel now that we have more productive practices and use the space a lot better than we did previously.
SWIMSWAM: Have you seen notable improvements in your athletes’ performances as a result of the changes you have made in this new data-driven feedback loop?
BRIAN: Once again, only having used the TritonWear for a couple of months I can’t say for sure that it has impacted the team and gotten kids faster yet. I do think that it has given the kids something to think about, and for those that review the metrics on a nightly basis, given them more of an awareness of their bodies that they may not have had before. One girl swam the mile the other day, and one of the things we discussed afterwards was that she was flipping and extending during the flip and landing full extension instead of curling up in a tight ball for the flip turn. This is something that she has done in the past but was never aware of it. The immediate response on this specific day was that she felt it and knew exactly what I was referring to. Was this due to TritonWear? I can’t be sure, but I know I have specifically talked to her about her walls and pointed out the data that her walls were not great. She had always thought they were better, and previously argued with me that she was working on them. Until she saw the data, she didn’t realize how bad or negatively impacted her walls were. This is going to create an impact over time, and this will allow us to attack different metrics for each swimmer at certain points in the season.
I think for those that are willing to embrace the focus data points and actually read through it on a nightly basis, this will help them improve what they need to work on and focus on during practice. For me, it will help me look to which athletes are working on what they need to, as well as adjust the practices to fit into the training zones and energy systems that I want to hit on that day. This will make me adjust to the next practice if I want an aerobic set and the entire team moved into the anerobic zone for too much of the practice.
This will give me overall themes that everyone needs to work on so that I can adjust some practices, make up new drills, and make sure we work on some drills and skills that we may not have been working on.
For the above reasons, I am confident that while maybe not right now, I believe that more practices will be written with the data in mind, and this will result in improvements in the athletes’ training habits and technique which will result in higher performance and a more consistent performance in both practice and meets.