Planning Age Group Practices
It is a good idea to plan, in writing, the progressions for workout sets, total yardage per week, and moving from a stroke development oriented practice to aerobic development to racing development. While progressing, always maintain stroke development, aerobic development and racing. With age groupers, work on everything, but shift the emphasis every 3 to 6 weeks for variety and to coincide with the meet schedule. Of the components listed below, the coach can determine the relative importance of each component and how that importance may change during the season. Creating a general plan based on those priorities then leads to a more specific weekly plan and finally to a detailed daily workout.
Basic Components of an Age Group Practice
With an age group practice, yardage is more important than with a novice group, but still does not have the importance that it has with a senior group. Many coaches are used to designing sets or thinking about yardage as the primary goal. Just as we mentioned with novice swimmers, age group swimmers are not miniature seniors. They continue to have special needs and considerations, just as the novice group does. The primary goal is to get the swimmers ready for moving to the senior group. By focusing on what it takes to develop age groupers into senior swimmers the coach creates appropriate components of the workout. The most basic elements to teach are:
- Progressive Aerobic Development. Begin to introduce aerobic sets of longer duration (approximately 15-20 minutes) on predetermined intervals. An example would be 5 x 200 free on 3:00 or 4 x 200 breaststroke on 4:00. On these sets, work on stroke count or other skills that need to be emphasized. Turn the same sets into challenge sets by reducing the intervals each week. It’s fine to build up to 40 or 60 minute aerobic sets. Vary the distances, strokes, and intensity to keep the sets interesting. Doing a set of 20 x 100 free on 1:20 or doing a 6000 yard workout in 90 minutes are both laudable workout goals for an advanced age group team but they should not be the singular and everyday focus of the age group workout. Getting to this level should be the result of reasonable progressions over time while continuing to develop the other components listed below.
- Kicking. Quality kicking should be incorporated every day. Kicking is the foundation of good stroke technique and shouldn’t be de-emphasized just because the swimmers have graduated from the novice group.
- Long Quality Swims. Timed 400m, 500y, 800m, 1000y, 1500m and 1650y swims. Swimmers don’t turn 13 and suddenly and magically know how to swim a distance event. Teach them early.
- Race Preparation. Learning how to race. Do 50’s, broken 50’s, broken 100’s, and broken 200’s on a 1:2 work-rest ratio. It is not physiological training as much as “brain training.”
- Sprinting. 25’s or less on lots of rest. Let ‘em race!
- Test Sets. On a regular basis incorporate some type of test to monitor improvements in aerobic ability and workout ability.
- Stroke, Start and Turn work. Not drills, but actual teaching. (Do drill work as part of aerobic development.)
- Games and or Relays. Let them have some fun! Keep safety in mind.
- Dryland Training. Young swimmers benefit greatly from calisthenics, body-weight exercises such as push-ups and core body abdominal work. A program as short as 5 minutes up to 30 minutes is appropriate for age group swimmers, depending on age and ability. Dryland can be incorporated either prior to or following pool time.
Working with Multiple Groups
A coach should always write a workout that challenges the best swimmers. However, with a large group of swimmers, this may mean that some of the slower swimmers can become discouraged. So the challenge for the coach is meeting the needs and challenging the swimmers of all levels.
Some coaches will use the “same but less” method in writing workouts where the sendoff interval stays the same but the distance will vary. The top swimmers might be doing 10 x 100 on 1:30, a second group might be alternating 75’s with 100’s on 1:30, and a third group might be doing 10 x 75 on 1:30.
Another method is to write two or three or more separate and distinct workouts for each ability group on the age group team. The down side of this is that it requires careful planning and excellent discipline. The upside is that workouts are designed to be suited to each ability level. A recommendation for dealing with multiple distinct workouts is that to divide the workout time into 15 or 20 minute blocks of time and design all sets to last 15 or 20 minutes so that each group begins and ends at about the same time. The coach can then rotate from group to group at the end of the set. This requires that one group can do a set on their own with the pace clock, while one coach works with one group and another coach works with the third group.
Whichever method is chosen, remember that the goal is to meet the needs of swimmers of varying abilities within the group.