This question and answer (Q & A) document was based on an interview with Blair Tucker, Head Coach of the Ottawa Swim Club (OTTSC). Last Updated August 27, 2017
If you have questions for Head Coach Blair Tucker that you would like to see answered in “Coach’s Approach,” please e-mail your question(s) to Tanis Browning-Shelp, OTTSC Communications, firstname.lastname@example.org and your question and Blair’s response will be added to the document.
INFORMATION FOR ENTRY LEVEL SWIMMERS
What are your expectations of new swimmers?
“Entry-level swimmers are at the pool to learn to swim. We expect them to follow the three basic rules of learning: listen, learn and try. We also expect them to do their best to adhere to a consistent/regular swimming schedule.”
When special events come up, such as birthday parties, family reunions and so on, can swimmers miss their practices?
“Generally, OTTSC coaches want their swimmers to stick to a regular schedule. But for a special event such as a birthday party or another important family function, by all means go to the event.”
“That being said, swimmers will get more out of the program when adhering to a regular schedule. An irregular schedule does not lead itself to good progression.”
“Please keep in mind that our Club’s training schedule provides opportunities for the younger swimmers to make up missed swims. They are always welcome to do that if they have been absent for one of their regular practices.”
Do the coaches want parents to notify the Club if their child will be absent?
“Yes, we would appreciate an e-mail notification at email@example.com.”
How do you define a consistent/regular schedule?
“For a new swimmer, age 6 or younger, a regular schedule would be 1 or 2 swims per week.”
“For a new swimmer, age 7-12, a regular schedule would be 2-3 times per week.”
“Once a swimmer has been identified by his or her Coach as leaning towards the more competitive program, a regular schedule would be 3-4 times per week.”
How important is stroke improvement/technique for swimmers?
“Pre Competitive Swimming is about learning strokes and good technique. During the process of learning good technique, swimmers will also gain endurance and strength.”
“If a swimmer is identified as somebody who could move towards the competitive side, it is more about how they are moving in the water (i.e. are they efficient?) rather than how fast they are swimming. For example, a 5’ 10” swimmer who can do a 30 second 50 free, but who has poor technique, would be kept in Pre Competitive Swimming until he or she becomes more efficient in the water.”
Can a swimmer focus on only one stroke?
“It is important for swimmers to develop all four strokes. While a swimmer’s body is still developing, you do not know which stroke he or she is going to excel at.”
“When a swimmer is working on improving his or her efficiency in the water, each stroke helps the other stroke during training. Some of the strokes relate to one another in terms of their basic forms. Others relate in terms of their mechanics (for example, fly and breast are short-axis strokes while free and back are long-axis strokes).”
“In addition, doing all strokes prevents repetitive joint stress, especially when swimmers are growing.”
How important is it for swimmers to achieve personal best times in time trials and other meets?
“Young kids growing up will achieve personal best age group times simply because they are getting stronger, taller, etc. It’s natural.”
“Qualifying for different events is important and fun. But, generally, I believe in coaching with my eyes not my watch. I will talk more about this when we discuss Competitive Swimming.”
What if parents want to know more about the swim program or if they have specific questions about their daughter or son’s progress?
“I have an open door policy. To be honest, I much prefer to speak to parents in person than I do to communicate by e-mail or on the phone. If parents have questions, I like them to come to practice and approach me on deck. In fact, parents should talk directly to any of the OTTSC coaches if they ever have questions about their son’s or daughter’s program or progress.”
INFORMATION FOR COMPETITIVE AGE GROUP SWIMMERS
How does the training season break down?
“Competitive swimming has two peaks per year – a winter peak and a summer peak. You build to your winter championship. Then you build to your summer championship.”
“A swimmer’s year is broken into training cycles or blocks; each training cycle or training block starts at zero. For example, the season starts off with a training block that is non specific – the swimmers are building fitness, learning technique and working on efficiency.”
“The training cycles are related and progressive.”
What kinds of activities can take a head coach away from his or her program from time to time?
“As head coach I am committed to staying up to date with my qualifications and with coaching methodologies and technologies through clinics and conferences. Sometimes I have to travel for this kind of professional development.”
“I also go away for training camps and meets and, less frequently, for coaching tour teams.”
“The benefits to our team and the program of me being involved in these kinds of activities is that I bring new ideas back to our program and make contacts in the swimming community as well as building awareness of our Club.”
“While away, I am in close contact with my assistant coach. I prepare the workouts and follow up on how the swimmers are doing. If a swimmer isn’t working hard or doing the workout properly, I hear about it.”
Do you have your swimmers approach every competition in the same way?
“We do competitions to learn how to compete. Some meets are referred to as ‘in season meets.’ By this I mean that the swimmers compete while they are still training hard. For these meets, the athletes are learning how to race properly by working on particular elements of a race during a competition. We do this so that when they get to a championship race they will be able to put it all together.”
“At the end of a training cycle, the expectation is for swimmers to perform a bit higher. At this point in the season the bodies are resting a bit. Swimmers go to practice, but their volume of work is reduced. Sometimes, the Coach will also have swimmers do high-intensity practices at this point in a training cycle to keep their bodies regenerating (I am talking about the neuromuscular system here). The intensity of their training must stay up before the peak otherwise the body will get confused when the swimmers race.”
How do you measure a competitive swimmer’s performance?
“First of all, an athlete has to go through a full block of training before having any expectation of performance.”
“An athlete’s performance is not always based on the time on the scoreboard. As I said earlier, I believe in coaching with my eyes not my watch. Performance, from the Coach’s perspective, is an evaluation of what the swimmer has accomplished throughout their training cycle.”
“For example, did they have 100 percent attendance? Did they achieve all of the elements of that particular training cycle (by elements I mean working on their energy systems, speed and endurance)? Did they perform all training tasks properly and to the specifications set before them (by training tasks I mean things like the number of sets, speed, quality of work and technical skill required)? Did they maintain good health?”
Parents in the stands may think that their kids should always be striving to achieve personal best times. What is your perspective on that?
“Performance, to a parent, usually means a best time. But when we are at an ‘in season meet’ and parents are looking at personal best times in the program, they need to consider that instead, the Coach might have the athlete focusing on something else – something that the team is working on at that point in the training cycle (for example, starts, negative splits or stroke count).”
In your opinion, what do swimmers get out of training and racing competitively?
“What these kids do on a daily basis will provide them with unmatchable life skills. Getting up at 4:30 in the morning, doing a two-hour workout, going to school, then doing a second workout after school takes the discipline and dedication of someone who has set a goal and is willing to work hard to achieve it.”
“They learn time management, social skills, how to deal with pressure and how to deal with winning and losing. They also learn decision-making – to back off or push through when ill, for example. They make race plans, but also learn to make quick decisions mid race when the unexpected happens.”
“A former swimmer of mine approached me many years later and thanked me for everything he had learned from working with me. He said he learned through perseverance (setting a goal and sticking to it) and through doing the work to achieve a goal. And he said he also learned that ‘staying the course’ instead of ‘stepping out’ pays dividends.”
Why do we call it a swim team? Isn’t swimming an individual sport?
“When they do compete, swimming is an individual sport. But it is a team environment during practice every day. To be successful, swimmers learn teamwork. That means doing the work with others through good and bad and, over time, learning to deal with peoples’ emotions and perspectives. It also means learning to support one another.”
“These are the skills that these kids will take from their sport into their lives – and eventually their careers – where they will find themselves able to adapt to new and challenging environments. They will also find that they are well equipped for dealing with peoples’ emotions and stressful situations and for being supportive in these situations.”
What philosophy do you subscribe to when you guide our children in swimming?
“I’ve always liked what Terry Orlick (the author of In Pursuit of Excellence) has to say about that: ‘We want not only to live but to have something to live for. For some people this means to pursue excellence through sport.’”
“Now everyone’s definition of excellence is different. But as swimmers, whether you want to become the next champion or not, you still go through the same process of work, dedication, commitment and discipline. And, in my opinion, the end result is to bring out the best in yourself.”
“I think it is important to get the kids to understand why they are swimming. Is it for themselves? Is it for their parents? Our goal as a club is for every swimmer to enjoy and embrace the sport.”
“I remember the Gatorade commercial ‘Be like Mike’ and the impact it had on young kids. They were referring, of course, to Basketball champion Michael Jordan; kids just jumped on that campaign. They wanted to be just like that champion. The journey to becoming a champion involves everybody – athletes, parents and coaches. And when you think and work like a champion, you become your own champion.”
“A swimmer’s expectations should be in line with what they are willing to put into it. As the expression goes, ‘The more they work, the luckier they will become.’ Or, even more simply put: Show up. Work hard.”
“And sometimes, I believe you just have to stop thinking and swim!”