Thursday, July 9, 2015

A Lesson on Intensity

One of the few difficulties I have run into with USRPT is that it seems to be very difficult for the average kid to have the mental will to do it correctly. To truly practice race pace there has to be a specific level of intensity involved, and many young swimmers are inclined to do as little hard work as they can get away with. The athletic mindset requires fighting human nature a little, and with a large team of kids who had grown up training in a way that allowed them to coast through a large percent of their time in the water, it seems almost as though many feel that they are doing enough by just showing up.  Sometimes it's like they think the comfort zone is an intentional training zone. Even worse, they can act as though a good day of training or racing is something that just randomly happens to them as though they are waiting their turn for the best time fairy and she just seems to like some kids more than others.

If I actually get a chance to fit a workout in myself, it is a completely different experience.  I start getting anxious hours in advance.  I get nervous that I might finally go hard enough to hurt myself, and I prepare myself to give the pain required it's time. I warm up with purpose, making sure I leave myself no excuse built in. I push during the set to make sure that any fail I have is caused by fatigue and not some other factor that implies a lack of focus. I can't always control my schedule, but I can control my own body and mind. I try to make the most of every minute. 

By the time I reach my third fail the lifeguards are wondering if they are going to need to call 911. 

I get pretty frustrated sometimes when my swimmers don't even look like they got their heart rate up on these sets. I can tell when the intensity is on or off. It is hard to watch when the majority of a large group just seems to be okay with mediocrity in training.  Often I make my swimmers continue beyond their third fail just so they aren't incentivized by free time as a reward for doing a lousy job.  

Last night at practice we did a set of 20x50 at 200 free pace. Only about three out of 35 swimmers made it past number 8 before their first fail. Over half took the 4 freebies easy and then failed number five. So after they finished I pulled them out. I explained that since these sets are based on their own best times, I know they weren't even trying. Many looked around as though I must be talking to someone else. It wasn't a fun moment. 

So we did the set again. I told them that if they made ten in a row with no fails (and no freebies) the set was over. If they failed any of the first ten, they had to continue all the way to twenty again. It changed the incentive. They had five minutes to swim a 200 easy if they want it before we started. Not much rest really. 

Taa-daa!  Every one of them made a better score to first fail than they did on the first round. All but two made it to ten with zero fails.  Amazingly, when I looked through the notebook, ten was the best x score of the season for almost all of them. 

So then, I got to ask them, "WHY?"

It was a rhetorical question, obviously.  I felt like I got the answer from the looks on their faces. They finally looked like they had just finished a hard race. They were breathing hard enough that there were no conversations happening.  A couple of them were sprawled on the deck like warriors wounded in battle.  

It was beautiful.

I can only hope that the message came across in a way that makes them value their time enough to not waste it.   When they get their next chance to make the most of an opportunity, I hope they remember it is a matter of choice. I would choose to take pain rather than waste time any day. 

I guess maybe a big part of my job as a coach, no matter the type of training, has always been to convince others that it's a good trade. 

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